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Reputation in an unmediated world

Roger Parry spoke at the PRCA 2018 National Conference. Below, he's a post inspired by his presentation 'From Traditional Media to an Unmediated World: Implications for Truth and Reputation'.

New technologies such as the web and smartphones have created dramatic disruption in many industries by putting the consumer in closer and more direct contact with the supplier. Commerce happens quicker and usually with more choice - as we all experience with Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber.  It’s the disintermediation of the traditional retail channel. 

In communications, the disruption has been just as dramatic. The creation of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the rest has undermined the economics and power of traditional media. It has led to a huge increase in peer-to-peer communication. We the audience are also the broadcasters.

The past few years have seen a marked reduction of trust in institutions and a greater suspicion of political and business leadership. There is much argument about the degree to which social media are a causal factor, but there is no doubt they are now part of the solution.

When traditional media channels were the only game in town, seeking to control corporate or indeed personal reputation was a matter of influencing the gatekeepers: journalist, editors, and high profile opinion formers. But now peer-to-peer, enabled by numerous social channels, demands a new approach.

The core is for an organisation to write its own narrative and control its own facts. People need stories they can rapidly understand, reference to other stories, relate to personally, and then share with others. The reduction in trust and the decline of deference for authority means we are all far more cynical of what often feel like inauthentic attempts to boost a reputation with paid media. To form a positive judgement we want to know where a company has come from and what it is for. Success comes from a credible and attractive “creation myth”, and a clear and realistic statement of purpose of a company (or brand).

Communication will ideally be in sharable form - short videos, infographics, picture captions. Emotion is usually more effective than fact-based argument. And when real crises happen or fake news and malicious false rumours are perpetrated reaction must be rapid and engaged. The bland “no comment” or the unattributed corporate statement no longer work effectively. Like it or not, leadership, often the CEO themselves, have to be seen to respond and rebut. This does not suggest they all must become active tweeters – on balance that probably does more harm than good. But the mechanisms must be in place to engage with social media if the need arises.

View Roger's slides, and all the updates from the 2018 National Conference, here.