The end of the year is near, which means it’s time to indulge in some list-making! As traditional media are preparing their annual reviews of striking people and events, we at akkanto are using this happy occasion to provide an overview of the most remarkable communication trends of this past, rather eventful year.
This is of course not an exhaustive list. What you will find below is an overview of some noteworthy developments in terms of (crisis)communication strategies explained by our experts.
The right communication channel for your message
All professional communication experts will agree that you need to use the right channel for the right message. And yet, some remarkable choices in communication channels were made in 2021. In response to a Democratic proposal to tax unrealized gains for billionaires, Elon Musk, for example, resorted to Twitter asking his 65 million followers whether he should sell 10% of his shares in Tesla.
Through a simple poll, Musk asked his followers to vote “yes” or “no” and he tweeted he would “abide by the results of this poll, whichever way it goes”.
Much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock.
Do you support this?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 6, 2021
Another communication channel choice that has not gone unnoticed in the past year is that of Vishal Garg, the founder and CEO of the US mortgage lender Better.com. He infamously used videoconferencing software Zoom to fire 900 employees in a matter of minutes. This choice of channel prompted a wave of backlash among the people involved and the general public.
The fact that Garg also considered it necessary to zoom… in on what the announcement meant for himself only made things worse. Following the employee and public outcry, Garg issued a reaction, this time in a letter published on the website, addressing the (ex)-team directly and apologising for his blunder.
My heart went out to the 900 employees sacked through Zoom by Vishal Garg. Totally wrong! Do it on a one on one basis. And in person. And not before Christmas and after a $750 mn recent infusion. This is how Corporates get a heartless tag!pic.twitter.com/9aPoFNybKp
— Harsh Goenka (@hvgoenka) December 7, 2021
The importance of transparency and consistency in crisis communication
A golden rule in communication in the event of a crisis or disaster, such as the huge floods in Wallonia last Summer, is to always be transparent and consistent to the outside world. If you adopt this key practice, as did the NMBS/SNCB with its regular updates on the repair work on the rail network, the general public will look kindly on you. Even if you have to report that something is not going entirely according to plan, the best option is to communicate about it honestly, without looking for excuses or running ahead of things.
🔄 Laatste update over de overstromingen.
✅ De treinen rijden opnieuw normaal tussen Spa en Pepinster.
🙏 Dank aan de teams van Infrabel voor het harde werk van de voorbije weken. pic.twitter.com/uMMRp15Gnf
— NMBS (@NMBS) October 4, 2021
This golden rule was sometimes overlooked by our various governments when announcing the latest measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. While this was done with the best of intentions: ministers, experts and top officials tried to offer much-needed perspective. But who today does not roll their eyes to the politicians’ coined expression “the kingdom of freedom”? By repeatedly holding out the prospect of that mythical kingdom, be it with mouth masks, a ban on mass events, vaccines or the Covid Safe Ticket, only to have to backtrack on it again, the government undermined its own credibility and reliability in terms of communication.
Sustainability: credibility is COP-concern
A theme that takes center stage again each year is, of course, sustainability. 2021 is no exception to that. Prominent on this year’s calendar was COP26 in Glasgow, where a record number of delegates from some 200 countries signed green (e)missions. Everyone can agree on the importance of sustainability for our future, but how you communicate about it has a clear impact on your credibility.
A survey by Bubka, UGent and iVox shows that Belgians are highly sceptical about ‘green’ advertisements and campaigns. Only 9% of the campaigns that promote a form of sustainability are truly credible to the 600 Belgians participants of this survey. What is clear from this study is that you are not automatically considered sustainable by adopting ‘green’ language. On the contrary. The reader now expects even more transparency: why and how is it sustainable? People want clarity and solutions.
2022 will be a year that offers companies the opportunity to make their actions as concrete and tangible as possible. Measures such as bonus calculations based on environmental criteria, as at B-post and Proximus managers, lead the way for more concrete actions in the coming year.
Social media: from megaphone to weapon
Social media has long been an outlet for public dissatisfaction. These platforms breed a fertile breeding ground for fake news and often vitriol-soaked attacks against institutions and individuals. Yet, this year we have seen that social media is increasingly becoming a weapon that is purposefully used to mobilise the vox populi.
Strangely enough, the traditional media are – unwittingly – cooperating in this. Those who rightly see it as their task to build a dam against fake news and hate speech that are spread via social media, are in a certain sense partly responsible for the cracks that are slowly but surely fragilizing that dam. How, might you ask?
The storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021, a live event mediated around the world and prepared and facilitated by social media, brought worldwide notoriety to a number of previously unnamed figures. One of them even made it to ‘person of the year’ on the cover of Knack Magazine.
De schreeuw van de onderbuik: Bizonman is Mens van het Jaar https://t.co/LxHo7U4s6s
— Knack (@Knack) December 8, 2021
Closer to home, the fake festival La Boum I that initially existed only as a ‘joke’ on Facebook became an – admittedly very dubious – success, partly due to the media attention it received in the run-up to the event itself. Are they coming or not? The media wondered. And with every article that appeared before the announced date, the number of people registering as ‘interested’ on Facebook increased. The illustrious unknowns behind the initiative were able to make themselves known to a growing crowd of supporters and enjoy their status as freedom heroes…
The same happened with the Facebook group ‘Als 1 achter Jurgen’, a motley crew of conspiracy theorists who saw a hero in the fugitive soldier Jürgen Conings, which made the news in prime time on 23 May with a silent march that mobilised 150 people. The media attention further increased the number of group members on Facebook in the two days that followed to almost 46,000, after which the page was taken offline by Facebook on 25 May.
Individuals or groups who want to put themselves or their issues in the spotlight have become increasingly skilled at using the megaphone offered to them by that social media. They know how to make themselves ‘news’ and attract the traditional media’s attention, which in turn further strengthens their influence. Spurred on by these and other examples, somewhere in the dark depths of the Internet new keyboard warriors hone their writing skills in order to mobilise the vox populi for their great cause. You have been warned.