Get out of your comfort zone to succeed online
Business executives who want their companies to be hubs of online engagement are going to have to implement messaging they are not always comfortable with.
The cacophony of competing voices across the Web has made it exponentially harder for businesses to stand out online. To further complicate matters, many businesses fail to create content that drives meaningful, long-term online engagement. These business “scarecrows” build pretty online properties that suffer from a lack of content that has the authority to stimulate user engagement.
Scarecrows believe the Web’s primary purpose is for peddling company messages, a practice that more often scares off consumer engagement instead of encouraging it. It’s not that companies can’t use social properties to promote their own products, but that shouldn’t be the primary communications driver.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to be scarecrows because the relevant content coveted by the public is often predicated on bold, opinionated, and controversial messaging. Generally, the riskier the content, the more potential there is for audience engagement, which is one reason news organizations continually sensationalize news headlines, and blogs often drive the news.
Of course, audacity has never been an underpinning of a traditional corporate communications strategy. Companies aren’t generally in the business of trying to stir up controversy in order to garner attention. Businesses also don’t have the luxury of simply competing against other businesses for attention – they have to account for any and all online content creators.
Shinseki was right — if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less
Competition for attention leaves businesses in a precarious position. Does a business incur more damage from garnering potentially negative attention with a strong, attention-grabbing voice, or from the irrelevance that milquetoast content earns?
Consider this example: A popular conservative radio host recently had choice words about a female law student who testified before Congress about the need for more contraceptive coverage among health care plans. Had health care providers, say, hired liberal and conservative bloggers to host an online conversation about the kerfuffle (even if they included a heading that said the bloggers opinions don’t reflect those of the company), it could have acted as a unique engagement tool.
Could they have gotten away with commenting on such an explosive story? Probably, and here’s why: The amount of personal information people share in a public online setting has increased over the years, and modified what people consider acceptable forms of sharing – especially for Millennials. A recent study found that those aged 18 to 29 use Facebook for personal use more so than for professional reasons, even as they are “friending” co-workers on the site. The Web has not only realigned the way people communicate, it’s transformed even the most docile individuals into confident sharers. We’ll share just about anything with each other.
It’s time businesses take these social cues and run with them just as the entertainment industry has evolved, and now produces content often centered on sex, drugs, and violence. In fact, by the time an average child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence, according to a study by Jeffrey Johnson.
Take a cue from pop culture
When the playing field grows larger, and the rules of what content is acceptable for sharing are fewer, businesses must adapt to capture more attention. While businesses might always be held to a stricter standard because of the size and scope of who they are and what they do, cultural change affects public and corporate behavior.
Even if the goal is far less earnest then stimulating conversation, traditional corporate content is far less likely to resonate amid tens of thousands of online publishers who are on a level playing field with more stimulating messaging.