No aspect of our environment has been changed more by digitalization than our way of communicating. This applies not only to our private communication via WhatsApp and Co., but also to the way we interact with companies.
Public relations departments have been hit almost unprepared by these innovations and have largely not recovered from them to this day. Corporate communication is not only on the move, but in a phase of complete reorganization.
Since best practices hardly exist, it is therefore impossible to recommend procedures with absolute certainty. However, digital transformation brings with it a variety of trends and new technologies, many of which directly and specifically influence the work in the field of communication.
The new standard
For the longest time, corporate communications consisted of companies that were able to send their communications to the world through a very limited number of channels without receiving any significant feedback. The fact that this image is a thing of the past is still ignored in many places and the astonishment at the inefficiency of one’s own communication seems to be shrugged off.
In times of social networks and digital news channels, communication between all participants, whether private, company or institution, is always multi-track, direct, continuous and temporally independent. Even if many of these properties are difficult for companies to realize, they are equally expected.
The modern relationship of corporate communications is multi-pronged, i.e. it functions as a conversation and not as a proclamation of information to a group of pure recipients. The reason for this is very simple: Absolutely no one is interested in announcements of a company. For every niche market, there are now hundreds of providers, for which you can view all the important news via Instagram Story if necessary and take note with a few seconds of time.
Public relations departmentsthat still regard classic press releases as a primary, important or even meaningful medium have failed in the digital context. Their only chance of relevance is to wait for the invention of the time machine to return to the early 90s, when this form of communication still fit.
Today, the image of a brand in public is no longer determined by the company concerned, but by the entirety of users who speak to and talk about it online. The same effect can be observed in the marketing areas; however, it has generally been absorbed and implemented more quickly and better. Your own image consists of the opinions of the social networks, customer reviews, contributions from relevant bloggers, influencers and more. The best result a company can hope for in this context is to effectively manage this image, but by no means to independently determine it.
The framework conditions for communication today are also completely different: direct, continuous and without time constraints. This means, for example, that waiting times are unacceptable – digitalisation has created certain standards in communication, which are clear here: we expect an immediate response, not only after the press office has compiled an official statement after 10 working days.
Modern conversations don’t have a real end/conversations in a messenger service usually don’t end with a goodbye. Even if a conversation with acquaintances is not continued for weeks, a new greeting or the like is not necessarily necessary at the next message. Communication could be divided into individual conversations, but is considered more like a constant conversation (with corresponding pauses). The same expectation is also with regard to brands and companies.
It seems absurd and un-authentic today for every answer to an informal, informal question to be answered by an official, unnamed press office. Instead, communication is expected in the same form that should at best have a human face. A formal e-mail that is sifting requires a response on the same channel and in the same tone. An Instagram direct message, in which an interested customer wants to know what the environmental balance of the product they are interested in, is also answered in the Du form. It goes without saying that prefabricated blocks of text are taboo here.
This is exactly the kind of customer centering that is constantly being talked about in the context of the digital transformation. If you can’t find the right tone, moment or channel to meet the customer’s desire for communication, it’s hard – because the young start-up, where the CEO answers direct messages himself after work, is guaranteed to make a better, more authentic impression here.
In the following, concrete changes and new possibilities are listed, which have a special effect on corporate communication. For better clarity, a distinction was made between the classic tasks of customer, press and internal communication.
As mentioned above, there are hardly any best practices, to-do lists or the like. The following aspects also vary from industry to industry. They are therefore by no means complete – but they form a good starting point for the topic.
Digitization in customer communication
24/7 Accessibility and Omnichannel Communication
This point is largely self-explanatory; however, its importance is often underestimated. The customer’s lack of accessibility during working hours and similar restrictions is rapidly and massively decreasing. More and more companies are already using nearshoring solutions, cheap call centers abroad or other methods to be accessible at night and on weekends and holidays. This is increasingly creating an expectation that must now be met by other companies.
In addition, communication should also take place independently of the channel and flexibly between them. This means in concrete terms that a customer who arrives via Facebook message with a question to a brand does not come up with a “Please contact our hotline…” or similar blocks of text. No matter which medium the sender chooses, a company must be able to respond to exactly this. Internal social media policies that prohibit certain media or similar nonsense do not interest the customer. In a matter of seconds, a competitor is found that offers better communication.
Channel flexibility, on the other hand, should take the form of quick and uncomplicated switching of communication channels. An interaction can begin on a social media channel, lead to the company website, then require the upload of a document via a link, and end with a phone call through a messenger service. Regardless of the medium used, the customer’s data must be directly available and transferred between the various contact points in a way that allows the responsible employee to react directly and appropriately. New registrations, repeated retrieval of credentials, or historical messages that are not available in a current conversation are not acceptable here.
In order to enable such flexible communication, customer relationship management systems have become established in many places. These capture all interactions between customers and the relevant company and enable the comprehensive analysis and derivation of recommendations for action. Resulting predictions can provide better customer communication and ultimately more success.
They thus form an important part of an omnichannel strategy, a buzzword that is an extension of the multichannel approach that is still widely used today. Customers are provided with a consistent customer experience across all available channels, ideally of high quality, useful and personalized.
Modern technologies are used to achieve these effects. For example, chatbots are increasingly used, which are able to better understand different requests and deliver useful results through natural language processing. With the help of big data, further improvements are derived from the (ideally) extensive data treasure of a company and new potentials are identified. Artificial intelligence is also used in predicting relevant topics,products or best search results to ensure consistent and targeted communication
Demographic and cultural fragmentation
The division of the customer base into milieus or personas for the purpose of marketing or brand strategy has been common for decades. However, due to the extremely wide reach of social media networks and the associated, stronger mixing of communication partners, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify such uniform groups.
With social networks, digitalization gave us the technical possibilities to show our own individuality and push it to the extreme. While this is becoming more and more extreme, from generation to generation, it influences even older generations in a profound way.
This pronounced individualism is also reflected in the expectations of corporate communication. We expect companies to adapt their image and text language, positioning and strategy to us, our age group, communication methods, humor, etc. Anyone who publishes glossy pictures in a print magazine as part of an advertising campaign and then posts them as a YouTube ad or recycles them in an Instagram story without added value is stuck in old patterns of thought and action.
The enormous range of communication possibilities that has become the norm in our digital world has quickly made us accustomed to the luxury of being approached individually by companies. We do not want to give up our individualism or adapt our demands and habits just because we have to communicate with a bank or an insurance office from time to time. Instead, we expect companies to adapt to our reality of life – in terms of content and communication.
Unfortunately, there are no simple technical solutions that could meet such expectations. Sensitivity and an experienced public relations department as well as well-trained account managers with a diversified cultural background seem to be the only way to make conversations authentic and appropriate for each participant.
This ultimate form of customer centering is already common in product design and business strategy. In the area of public relations, digitalization also leaves few alternatives.
Complexity of modern communication
The days when people were generally interested in news from a company are long gone. The amount of information, conversations and impressions that today creates the image of a company or a brand is unmanageable – even for the actual PR professionals.
The idea of controlling every aspect of brand perception is not only absurd; it leads to dangerous misjudgments. If a product is inferior to the competition, the technical platform is not mature or does not exist, or if the company itself is not on the cutting edge in the area of social repability, no image campaign in the world will help.
In a matter of seconds, customer reviews are discovered, better competitors discovered, or embarrassing meme-shaped bugs distributed millions of times. Today, one’s own image cannot be determined, but only managed. Companies that engage in every Twitter discussion about their products to try to save what can’t be saved are an example of the failed attempts to gain control of their own image.
Again, there is no simple technical solution that would help companies to deal with modern communication opportunities. While good software integration can help connect with customers faster and through multiple channels; however, this does not change the difficulty of managing one’s own image.
The empathy and quality of the responsible employees seems to be the only way to develop a positive reputation in the long term through positive interactions.
Digitisation is changing our work reality like no other event in recent decades. This is accompanied by major concerns and difficulties. Once highly qualified people suddenly experience how their previously sought-after expertise is being replaced by artificial intelligence and the like. Successful companies literally lose all influence overnight in markets that once dominated them – just because a fast start-up has relaunched their product uncompromisingly and better adapted to customer needs. Horrostories are numerous and spread quickly.
In most cases, corporate communication also has internal communication, and this is not a sugar-coating in times of change.
It is of fundamental importance that current and future employees, investors, executives and even business partners understand what changes in a company are (must) and where they will lead. The problem here is that there is no fixed endpoint in digitization that can be issued as a target. The constant change as a new normal can only be accepted with profound cultural change.
It is therefore of fundamental importance to prepare digitisation campaigns with appropriate information material before the start. Events, flyers, newsletters… whatever it takes to convey what lies ahead. Digital transformation appears to be a dangerous monster that eats jobs; in fact, process automation and technological innovations meant simplifications in everyday work and the creation of new, interesting and varied tasks. To this day, it is not possible to detect the actual loss of jobs due to digitalisation.
In addition to the good preparation and timely information of the employees, a contingency plan for emergencies is also recommended. This does not only apply to tangible disasters, such as a hack of customer data, for which one must be prepared. Problems in the digitization process itself can also become major dangers. What if the introduction of the new BI warehouse, on which the use of the planned Internet of Things system for production and other steps depends, is delayed by a year and everything seems to be on the rocks?
Another, often overlooked point, is the importance of employer branding. The company’s external representation to potential new employees is of fundamental importance. Numerous specialists from different disciplines are in high demand today, and filling such positions is extremely difficult. In order to be able to stand in this “War for Talents”, a correspondingly high-quality communication of one’s own advantages is important
Entrepreneurial public relations is subject to digital change, but is often less reliant on specific technology – instead, human and cultural aspects are often of greater importance here.
Sensitivity and comprehensive knowledge of digital processes and their importance are necessary to raise public relations efforts to a modern standard and to meet the demands of customers. A high degree of flexibility is required, as preferred channels and communication methods are changing at enormous speed today.
Digitalization, among many other effects, has made it increasingly inevitable today to meet the communication partner on the channel he prefers. If a customer wants to get in touch with a company, the decision should be made by phone, email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… only with the customer.
Companies are now finding themselves in a weaker position, which requires them to meet the needs of customers. Similar changes can also be observed in internal communication. The days when communications from a company were important messages, the content of which was considered important and much to be heard, are over. Away from crisis communication and the quarterly figures that are interesting for stock market magazines, it is now up to brands to attract the attention of customers.