Wadim Schreiner says organisations should take a leaf out of Sanral’s book to see what not to do when needing to communicate with the public.
The supposed hard times that Sanral is experiencing highlight a fundamental change in the way in which organisations need to communicate and use media to address issues. Sanral claims to have done everything right, such as engaging with various spheres of government, with business through Nedlac, and via public hearings. It also advertised in newspapers and on radio.
This does not, in my opinion, constitute engagement. Simply because something is legally correct does not mean that it is socially acceptable. The fact that Sanral’s reputation, together with some of its related governmental organisations is at rock bottom, affirms that having been legally compliant is irrelevant if what has been done is considered ethically unacceptable.
Limited, time-lapsing and legally required information-sharing channels are relics of the past. These channels offered one-way communication with audiences. To respond, people could complain via a call centre or attend a public hearing that was no doubt as inconveniently scheduled as possible.They could even write a letter to the editor. One-sided communication boxes were ticked by companies and government alike. No one complained.
Social media has changed all of this. Suddenly, there are blogs through which people debate issues. People rant on Twitter and make things ‘trend’, resulting in traditional journalists often picking up on such issues. Of course, a debate is not always desirable for organisations. A compliant, accepting audience, one that avoids the tough questions and readily continues paying would simplify the use of information – but consumers no longer turn the other cheek.
Consumers have direct channels through which to raise awareness of their unhappiness and increasingly make use of these. As a result, organisations must accept that dissemination of information is no longer good enough. People need to be offered multiple, convenient channels of engagement through which their interests are served.
In this regard, the National Planning Commission deserves a thumbs up: having invited people to a jam over a few days, where everyone had the opportunity to engage with experts and members on a variety of issues. The result seemed to have been taken into account in the release of a comprehensive policy document that raised few objections when published.
The change in communication is also applicable to corporates. Stating that “Ts&Cs apply” simply will not work in the future. Failure to engage properly could lead many corporates down Sanral’s road. Herein lies massive opportunity for the media industry. Reeling from a drop in revenue, the industry could create additional channels where consumers, voters or the general public would be able to voice their sentiment.
Much less like the traditional gatekeeper or representative of the people, media could aggregate public sentiment much more effectively. Naturally, media must learn that this public sentiment could also turn against it, if indeed the public feels that the media is wrong. This is a healthy mechanism, which would make media more relevant and return some of its lost power.
Wadim Schreiner is owner of Media Tenor.
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