The strategy for manipulation of media used to be simple ‘flood the information landscape’ with your message. Manipulate the news cycle and place your disinformation in the centre of the media conversation and you will shape opinion in your favour.
During 2022 there were hopeful signs that this model is starting to breakdown or at least be open to countering strategies. In various elections, in Ukraine, and in lots of clumsy government propaganda efforts, countering voices closer to the truth held up their end of the debate.
For corporate communication professionals there is a lesson in these failures. Many of the techniques of corporate communication have depended on their control of the information landscape. It was easy for corporate communicators to ‘flood the landscape’ and hard for other voices to compete, especially when combined with cultural pressures against speaking up. Put together a fancy video, email from leaders, post on the intranet and add in some posters and you will be no longer be fine.
What is changing to weaken the power of the flooding strategy?
- Fragmentation and Distrust of Mainstream Media: the continuing collapse of media’s influence and its fragmentation weakens the ability to dominate discussion. Is there really a 24 hour media cycle to win now that much is online? Who believes an email or press release as a source of truth?
- Manipulation savvy: We are more savvier to the more blatant efforts at manipulation, especially in younger generations who are the consumers of the media most susceptible to influence. We are learning to recognise and loathe spin. Even the real ‘fake news’ of false images and videos are now deconstructed quickly by online sources.
- Countering Voices: The bar on producing countering voices is so low that any phone is a capable production video suite. Manipulative messaging can be easily undone with video, podcast discussion and other deconstruction.
The challenge for corporate communicators as these trends enter the corporate information landscape is to find new strategies to share messages and influence debate.
- Conversation: No communication is once and done. Allow for and plan for discussion and conversation. Invite it as a learning exercise and foster the fact checking and understanding that will ensure that countering views are subject to the same scrutiny.
- Avoid Explanation through Engagement: The old adage of ‘if you are explaining you are losing’ also comes from a model where solutions are presented complete. Co-design helps employees engage with the changes and the compromises in the process
- Leverage all the tools: use social communication from a wide range of voices, use your social collaboration platform, use video in multiple ways, particularly to share the voice of your employees discussing the changes.
- Be Genuine: Trust in 2023 is fragile. Be consistently genuine and real in your communications. Call out the weaknesses and trade offs.
Organisations want capable employees who can make the most of their information to do great work. No organisation wants drones who blindly follow propaganda. Take that into account in how you plan corporate communication and help your employees to learn.