Forging effective, sustainable brands and stakeholder relationships in the digital age sounds like it should be a given, but many companies fail to take a crucial step.
Instead of leveraging their digital media and social media connections as “engagement platforms” to actively involve stakeholders and the public, they remain stuck in what John Friedman might call an old-school approach from the 1990s, or PR 1.0, if you will. These companies use all the tools, such as email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media, as simple “distribution channels” to disseminate messages, much like press releases, in one-way communications.
That’s all wrong, says Friedman, a Huffington Post Sustainability blogger. He authored a slim but highly instructive volume, "PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build a Sustainable Brand," designed to take companies to the next level in their sustainable branding approaches.
Basically it’s all about taking better control of your brand by using digital media better. “Many of the duties traditionally associated with communications departments, such as building internal buy-in and enhancing reputational capital, require that the organization maximize the effective development, implementation, management and communication of sustainability efforts across its value chain,” Friedman writes.
He notes that “80 percent of the market value of companies is contained in relationships with its stakeholders.” Therefore it’s vital to build a “strong connection between your digital communications strategy and your sustainability efforts.” This will refocus a company’s thinking “in order to more effectively engage with people about what matters to them.”
This connection between sustainability and corporate communications goes beyond the philosophical, Friedman continues: “It is a strategic necessity.”
Once that realization is in place, the question then becomes how to effectively manage relationships with customers, employees, owner/investors, suppliers, competitors, communities, and government agencies and regulators.
“For each group the principles of integrity, authenticity and engagement (engaging in open dialogue rather than treating them as audiences who receive information) apply. And digital media offer avenues for each of these stakeholder groups."
Digital media are powerful, Friedman says, when used as a part of an overall communications plan. But it is not easy either. He explains that one of the challenges that communicators face when advocating the use of digital media “is the paradox that people alternatively fear the power of digital media, and on the other hand find it frivolous.” They question how tweets, for example, can really drive brand value, while at the same time they fear that something negative will go viral and destroy brand value.
Friedman’s answer is that Twitter, though simplistic, can occupy a great place in a communications strategy, when used in combination with other tools. A company should have clarity around objectives, context and the players when developing a communications plan, and then define how success will be measured.
"PR 2.0" is full of insights with perhaps the most important being that digital is not a strategy in and of itself. It’s not enough just to send out a blur of tweets and retweets. Digital media must be incorporated into and support a company’s overall communications plan; its availability should not be the driver for their use. Another worthy insight is that some things do not lend themselves to digital outreach.
Image: "PR 2.0" cover