Digital (life) change is progressing inexorably and both young and established companies are facing new challenges. This applies not only to new demands on the organization, working environment, and corporate culture but also to internal and external communication within the company. This is particularly evident in the area of employer branding, where a radical turnaround has been observed for some years now. In times of a balanced work-life balance and work-life integration, companies must increasingly present themselves as attractive employers to potential employees. Figuratively speaking, the employee no longer applies to the company, but the company must present itself positively to attractive employees and actively apply.
Changed rules in a digital world – what does that mean for communication?
New media has changed the way we communicate. Constant availability, immediate reactions via social media and a direct exchange with customers, employees and partners are just some of the changes that this brings with it. The need to adapt communication itself, however, is not only a consequence of new channels such as social media, e-mails, corporate apps and blogs on the intranet, but also of changing expectations in the way people are addressed.
Instead of one-sided, passive messages, direct dialogues, personal relationships, emotions and messages tailored to the target group increasingly play a central role. Communication has become faster, more direct, more open and more transparent, because digitalization not only brings about technological change, but also a change in how we live together. Even companies cannot ignore this change and must adapt existing concepts to the new challenges.
The principles of digital communication
We have to realize that in times of social media, employee apps, messenger tools and feedback portals, every single employee becomes a brand ambassador. The classic role of the PR spokesperson is increasingly being replaced by the communicator, moderator and networker role of each employee.
The traditional communicative division of tasks between companies and the media has changed. But what is communication today? It has changed into an equal exchange between the partners. The needs of customers, partners and employees must be actively addressed and an open dialogue must become an integral part of corporate communication. Authenticity comes from openness, truth and credibility. This is the foundation of successful brand building, which must take place both internally and externally.
Digital communication has led to irreversible changes that we as a company must accept:
- Communities have great power.
- Knowledge is freely available everywhere and at any time.
- Consumers have become producers of information
- Each person decides for himself when, how and what he wants to inform himself about
- Hierarchies disappear
Through networking, the reputation of a company or a product becomes one of the most important, if not the most important success factors of all. Digital communication therefore requires that it be accompanied by active reputation management in order to be able to act and react in real time. It is a matter of accepting the principles, defining new frameworks for action and establishing a new mindset on this basis.
The change in the division of roles between media and companies
If you consider how two decades ago we established new products on the market and communicated the advantages, the extreme change quickly becomes clear. In the B2B area, for example, circulars, product presentations on site and classic channels such as radio, print, and television were the central elements of the product presentation. New content was delivered by the company and disseminated by the media.
Traditional forms of communication are increasingly put under pressure by the digital transformation and require a rethinking in the areas of public relations, marketing, product launches, and internal information exchange. Communication on the Internet, for example, does not have breaks because it takes place in real-time. Mass communication has changed into a communication of the masses.
The new forms of communication have a positive effect on the conversion rate, especially in product launches and public relations work. Direct addresses to relevant target groups with suitable instruments turn interested parties into fans and employees as well as customers into brand ambassadors – also known as brand ambassadors. The sharing of content, direct feedback and the communication of emotions and visions play a central role.
Through sustainable storytelling, transparency, openness, authenticity and the development of topic leadership in core competencies, it is now possible to reach a large number of relevant dialogue groups within a very short time. The reputation and prestige of a company have become the new currency of the digital age. Subscription advertising for ringtones in the late program of a niche channel or the detergent woman holding the bright white laundry in her camera may still work for some addressees, but such approaches have long since ceased to be sustainable. Due to the abundance of information, it is important today to address customers more directly, quickly and emotionally. For example, short and concise explanatory videos adapted to the company’s guiding principles and culture can quickly turn into native advertising within a dialogue in which the company itself assumes the role of moderator. Where customer criticism used to be optional, it has now become a central component of public relations in our audiovisual digital world.
Why agility also leads to new communicative challenges
If you look at how internal communication has changed over time, one term stands out from the crowd: agility.
Agile communicators such as Scrum, Design Thinking and Kanban are booming today because an ever faster and more complex working world requires ever faster – more agile – action and reaction. Self-organized, cross-functional teams, iterative product development, and shorter release cycles also require new communication concepts within the company, especially internally.
Dr. Ulrike Buchholz, Professor of Corporate Communications, even exaggerates and says:
“Agile leadership is communication“
On closer inspection, however, this hits the nail on the head, because agile leadership requires a constant awareness of all alternatives. Once set up and irrevocable plans, as known from the waterfall model, have no place in times of constant change. Cycles become shorter, self-organization becomes more important, and a controlling grip from above becomes an exception. The essence of this agile organization is to grow and develop together. If this is successful, the organization will become more resistant to fluctuation, knowledge can be collected and built up centrally across departments and teams and, above all, can be maintained in the company through a high level of loyalty and loyalty. This, in turn, can develop into a decisive competitive advantage.
How can this be achieved? By making the corporate culture, the guiding idea and the communication as agile as the organization itself. Modern instruments and tools such as messenger services, internal blogs, central knowledge databases (wikis) and collaboration through networking independent of the hierarchical structure lead to a completely restructured communication within the company. The classic view of communication as a pure management function is outdated. Of course, the management function is still important, especially in large companies. In addition, however, it must be clear that the development of uniform models and autonomous, communicative teams is becoming increasingly important.
New communication models in existing structures – a contradiction in terms?
Of course, all this is easier said than done. Especially organizational structures that are not (yet) agile do not offer the possibility to integrate agile communication; do they?
If the famous management consultant and author Simon Sinek is to be believed, it is of decisive importance to implement and establish agile communication methods, especially in companies with a rigid hierarchical structure. He preaches the building of trust and security as the two key factors of a good leader. In addition to combining old insights with new methods, he believes that this includes three core principles that need to be internalized:
- Everything is communication – also entrepreneurial decisions.
Executives must abandon the belief that they can plan all communication structures and processes. Every single decision is communication and belongs in the dialogue with all persons involved as well as a speech or a meeting. Rigid instructions and decisions from above are the exact opposite of agile communication.
- The turtle always beats the rabbit.
This refers to the investment in long-term psychological security. Man as a social being reacts to his environment and wants to be picked up in his comfort zone. A prime example is a boss who comes into the office and says: “You forgot to present the numbers” and completely forgets that the circumstance itself is perhaps only a symptom. Why did he forget her? Is there a personal problem? Is something wrong? To ask this question and to let the personal level flow into critical situations is a core aspect of agile communication. To be able to react quickly to changes and establish a culture of error. Such situations can be prevented by often communicating little instead of seldom much.
- Not at any price.
Managers in particular inevitably associate communication with negotiation. Negotiations with employees, with suppliers, with customers and so on. Many have learned in the past that the winner is the one who adopts the other’s opinion. In everyday working life, however, opinions are often only adopted because of the rigid hierarchy. They are far from being lived with it. It’s not a good idea to want to impose an opinion on the devil. If employees do not follow a core idea, an idea or the corporate philosophy and insist on their own opinion, they do not support the company’s guiding principle. But why is that? Is it really due to the employee or should perhaps the initial thesis be checked. This can only be clarified through dialogue and self-reflection. Accepting other opinions, valuing them all and accepting opposing opinions as given and concentrating instead on early adopters can also significantly strengthen the innovative power and agility of a company without having to break structures and tilt hierarchies.
Emotions, Security, Honesty, Openness, and Agility
If we take these five buzzwords to heart in our everyday work and consistently incorporate them into our corporate culture, internal and external communication and organization, we can have a lasting positive influence on the success of our company.
This applies equally to all those involved in the company and to internal and external communication and ranges from individual team members to strategic planning and marketing to the mission statement and management personalities. Communicating at eye level with customers, employees, partners and the public, establishing a credible brand and building a network of loyal fans, employees and partners over the long term are among the cornerstones of good corporate communications in the 21st century.
Digital media open up unprecedented possibilities for us through communication and organization tools as well as social media. The aim is to enter into dialogue, to address and listen to employees and customers emotionally and to create self-organized, motivated teams that support and shape the company’s mission statement cross-functionally and on their own initiative.
The goal of communication in the digital age is to inspire, fulfill and communicate security to customers, employees, teams, and partners. This is best achieved through emotions, openness, honesty and agile communication in real-time.