Digital Revolution, the Key to Business Reputation

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In 2009, when I wrote The Horizontal Revolution, I pointed out that people had appropriated from communication the types of power that communication had appropriated (or at least, tried to appropriate) for itself: political power, the power of facts, and what I now call the power of social control.

Ordinary people, consumers, voters, citizens: Anyone who comes into contact with an organization, a government, a company, a business or a brand not only can acquire information and use it to make decisions, but also take advantage of this capacity to influence others.

Bus drivers, policemen, bank tellers: People from all walks of life have discovered the impact they can have by sharing information and experiences.  Users are aware of the social control they can exert; as a result, businesses and organizations are now submitted to a degree of analysis and criticism that did not exist 10 or even 5 years ago.

The Horizontal Revolution explained the need to transform marketing and public relations to adapt to new channels and platforms of communication. The challenge now is understanding that those channels imply a back and forth communication that manifests itself not only in how people express themselves in relation to a business or organization, but also how they use the same channels to complain, critique or control that business or organization’s activities.

As the first generation of adults born and bred in the digital era, millennials are well prepared for this task.  The Internet is their comments book, and it is on display 24 hours a day for everyone in the world to read and add to.  The effect is immediate, profound and lasting: Any incident involving a brand, organization or company is recorded online forever.

No matter what precautions these entities take, at some point or another a crisis is inevitable.  Someone will have a complaint and decide to spread it through social media, creating a communications problem with the potential to affect reputation.

That doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t take preventive measures.  Employee training is essential to encourage efficiency and improved customer service, as well as an awareness of the consequences a single disgruntled client can have.  Satisfied customers, a positive post-sales experience, and quality products are all key to a company’s reputation.  Even with these efforts, however, the risks increase every day.

Armed with cellphones, clients can record unsavory working conditions or their interactions with an employee and post a video instantly.  In my experience in the corporate world and as an external consultant to many different types of organizations, however, communication is not on the list of CEOs’ top priorities.  Only in rare cases is the communications team involved in decision making, and all too often this area is secondary to marketing.  Given the size of the threat, things are beginning to change.

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