Rethink communication plans in wake of social media
Dr Wilfred Marube
Discussions on public platforms in Kenya and elsewhere have attempted to interrogate the role and impact of media and communication in socio-economic development.
Delegates at the recently concluded Annual Media Summit and Global African Forum for communication in Nairobi and Kigali respectively, reflected on the preparedness and capacity of organisations to influence stakeholders to overcome challenges facing society.
Let me put this into perspective. How well do organisations understand the prevailing communication context and how deep are their insights on their audiences? The current communication environment requires a different approach.
The rise of digital and social media platforms of engagement has changed the flow and control of information. However, some institutions haven’t fully exploited the power of social media or even developed social media strategies. Some do not have social media presence at all!
The explosion of digital and social media has led to information overload and noisy communication environment.
There is increased public interest in the conduct by government and corporations, heightened demand of information and participation by citizens and; a more skeptical public that has deep mistrust for government and big corporations.
Citizens and the media also feel frustrated on many layers of “firewalls” in institutions they have to go through to access information.
Fortunately, strategic use of communication has the power to manage the foregoing contextual challenges and bring about the much-required societal change. Institutions and professionals must secure insights into motivation of audience beliefs and behaviour. Ultimately, cutting-edge understanding of audiences is key in communication.
The profile of audiences has made a dramatic shift, with more millennials and “generation Z” at decision making roles. These audiences have shorter and fluid attention spans.
This calls for renewed capacity to track, find and engage. Aspects to consider in audience engagement include how best to connect with audiences in a timely manner, with the right content and through credible channels.
Traditional channels are still with us, despite the digital explosion. Face to face conversations, handshakes and hugs are important in creating connections with key audiences.
However, there is need to measure engagement with audiences to ascertain if there have been any changes in behaviour or attitudes of audiences and what they have done as a result of the communication is critical.
Here is what organisations can do to be more responsive to the changing dynamics in communication. The increased demand of information and engagement by citizens, together with complex audiences has seen organisations and governments doubling the number of communication staff.
The role of communication has to be elevated from a one- (wo)man department to a full-fledged department.
A full-fledged department avails a unique combination of skill sets of staff, away from the traditional view that public relations departments only existed to deal with the media, other forms of publicity or when a crisis emanates.
The communication department ought to be part of the strategic thought processes of the organisation so that advice and input is provided at the conception stage. This helps shape engagement and messages from the onset.
Recruitment of competent staff is key. Public relations strategies are not learnt over coffee tables and lounges. Universities and colleges offer such courses, and professional bodies offer continuous development programmes in thematic areas.
Essential resources and road maps such as communication policy and communication strategies are a must have. Institutions have marketing budgets but do not have communication ones.
A clear budget line that goes beyond publicity should be introduced in the budgetary lingua. This is because publicity and awareness are no longer the primary focus for communication, rather engagement which goes beyond the use of mass media channels. — The writer is the President of Public Relations Society of Kenya.