Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
Fake news, Cambrige Analytica, Huawei, Trump, Brexit and the rise of the gig economy are causing enormous changes in opinion and tastes. Just keeping pace with prevailing psychology and affections is a challenge for most communication professionals. Is it more difficult or easier to build an image and reputation of a brand today? How do fake news influence on transparency?
Media Marketing talked about these issues with the lecturers, and the owner of the London School of Public Relations, which will be re-launching on March 16 in Sarajevo and Belgrade.
John Dalton, the owner of LSPR from the UK, although biochemist by profession, has diverted his interests to public relations and reputation management 30 years ago. He teaches on topics of management, crisis management, CSR and other topics from related disciplines in over 30 countries. John also provides consultancy services to multinational companies, especially from the pharmaceutical and oil industries, and is engaged as an advisor to non-governmental organizations and governments. As a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, John has great interest in building reputation and mitigating the risks posed by international security threats to corporations and non-governmental organizations. He is the author of many books and has published countless business and economic articles.
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo graduated in criminology, and holds a master of public relations and corporate communication from the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Sciences. She worked in the media, at the Student Union of the University of Sarajevo, and as a PR manager in the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was the president of the Youth Affairs Commission at the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and since 2007 she also works as a lecturer for the PR School “Publikum”, of the Sarajevo based Media Center. From 2005 until today, Nađa manages public relations department of Bosnia’s national telco BH Telecom.
PhD Borislav Miljanović is the founder and owner of the Represent System, which consists of agencies specializing in communications consultancy in Belgrade, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Skopje. Prior to that, Bora worked as a journalist and editor of numerous media in Serbia. He is also responsible for establishing the Public Relations Department of the BK Group as well as the PR Service at the Dvor, and was the official representative for public relations of the Crown Prince Alexander the Second. He was awarded the recognitions for personal contribution to communications field from the Serbian Taboo magazine, specialized in marketing communications, and the Best Manager Award from the Serbian Association of Managers, as well as the Recognition for Contributing to the Development of PR Profession, awarded to him by the PRO.PR Awards.
Do professional communicators facilitate or even propagate fake news?
John Dalton: As part of their work, professional communicators should always check the facts and the truthfulness of any claims or statistical data. They should take into account the background of their sources in relation to subjective attitudes or hidden political goals. This is in a way obvious, but it is true that people have become lazy and easily accept information from the internet without careful scrutiny of their etiology or bias in terms of political attitudes or activism. Many professional communicators do not propagate fake news knowingly, but often do so unintentionally. Numerous PRs move in a gray zone. They do not lie intentionally, but do construct facts and topics. They also play with statistics and biased narratives. Thanks to the complexity of many topics (especially if they are scientific by nature) many commentators are simply not sufficiently educated in terms of details and logical arguments. A good example of this is the huge amount of fake news about vaccines (mostly on Facebook), which is causing children to suffer from rubella and even die from it, even though it is a preventable disease. Anti-vaxxers and fake news being propagated online do not understand the basic science and the importance of herd immunity. All this reminds me of the historical debate between creationists and evolutionists – the creationists spread fake news and always have the answers that give rise to disbelief. Fortunately, this debate is almost set to rest, and the theory of evolution is becoming valid in many countries (except in the US).
Bora Miljanović: Professional and ethical communicators do not propagate, the experienced communicators do not run to the crisis. They have experience in assessing the public and media consciousness, however, apart from those who actually have sinister intentions, many information today aren’t being checked due to the pace of business. The first thing we can certainly do as professionals is to be more precise in our expression and more detailed in our research. If we are authentic and our actions match our messages, then the trust will not suffer.
Does your company have a system set up to fight fake news?
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: Everyone today faces deliberately propagated misinformation in real-time – ie. Fake News. BH Telecom has established systems to fight fake news, although I think this fight is lost in advance because well-crafted fake news undermines your reputation. We always pay great attention, whether it’s about the first steps in detecting false information, their processing, and ultimately by adjusting our response strategy towards media and channels through which fake information is being placed. We believe that if we miss something in one of these stages, we literally risk doing more harm than the one who originally made false information.
We are aware that users place much more trust in traditional media – radio, TV and print media – and through these channels we try to provide our answer. However, we do not neglect web portals and social networks as an interesting medium on which fake news is mostly spread. Social networks have tremendous power to influence people’s opinions, and by doing so, in the PR world, they create a fairly more complex field in providing an adequate response. Just imagine the situation where someone starts an online petition and gathers thousands, or even tens of thousands, signatures around a fake or incomplete information. Since we have our own channels of communication: a website, an info channel on Moja TV, Moj radio, social profiles, a Viber channel, and other forms of direct communication, I’m sure we come reach a large number of users in placing true information.
Is the problem more in news, or in the storytellers?
John Dalton: Clearly the problem is in the narrative, because news are a logical result, while story is the instrument of news.
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: The problem in general are some media who have the tendency to publish fake news in order to gain likes, all under the pretence that the market dictates the content. The ethics and social responsibility of the publicly stated word have somehow been lost. You can quickly deny some news if you have arguments on your side, but it’s harder to deny an influencer or a storyteller. The current phenomenon in the world of big brands is the emergence of influencers, who can be on the list of advertising mix of your competitor, and are then “unsatisfied with services or products” you provide, so they post this narrative in a series of YouTube videos and other blogging and social networks. It is inevitable that this phenomenon will become an important segment of advertising for our companies as well. Until then, the struggle against fake news published in the media or in commentaries on web portals and social networks will remain our everyday life which we will have to manage somehow.
Bora Miljanović: The point is that we can be convinced in a story even though we know it is fake. We need ethical storytellers, independent journalists and free and relevant media if we want to live in a democratic society.
How would you explain the fall in trust? Wasn’t internet supposed to make brands more transparent?
John Dalton: There are various causes for the erosion of trust, and some of the major ones are:
easy access to materials through internet, which means everyone can be a journalist. In the 80’s of the last century, there were just a few newspapers and TV stations which were the source of information, and now there are thousands of them.
standards of behaviour in public life have fallen, and many no longer think that lying, beautifying or intentional misleading are unethical.
complexity: numerous issues are now so multidimensional that it’s too hard for an average person to process them.
lack of depth and scrutiny: people now want “something concrete”; they do not want indepth, detailed arguments, thesis and antithesis. This brings to the fact that complex issues are framed in a simplified way which usually twist arguments.
evolutional reasons: we live in small groups, usually with our relatives, so there’s a gap in the modern way of life, where people live in big cities, and communicate with hundreds of millions of people over the internet – we are naturally inclined to distrust, because our mind is simply resisting such complexity. Social contracts are constantly being broken, which is causing distrust in people in all of us.
poor political and religious leadership: it is obvious that most of politicians deal with politics out of personal interest, and there are very few true statesmen. Politicians constantly lie and deceive, which leads to negative reactions from people, even towards those few politicians attempting to do something good. For example, the Catholic Church was accused of corruption and paedophilia, and many extreme Islamists are twisting the western narrative and are lying to achieve their own dogmatic worldview. All this makes people sceptical and reduces trust
growing inequality: there is an increasing inequality in terms of education and income – a UK CEO currently earns more than 120 times more than a regular worker, while in the US the ratio is up to 300:1. Many fail, and yet get huge severance pays – which additionally underscores the cynical conclusion that failure is rewarded.
fall of democracy: the erosion of trust is also connected to liberalism. Liberalism is one of the best political, international movements ever to be established, however it has an inherent and irreparable flaw – its own success in protection of tolerance and minorities leads to the fact that these same groups use these achievements to push their own, sometimes toxic arguments. A good example is political correctness, which is now stifling freedom of speech, or the extreme right and the religious groups who are trying to undermine the existing order.
and there are also the fall of family, disappearance of social traditions and destruction of small communities.
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: The internet has definitely made the brands more transparent. It brought us enormously greater level of information. Today we have web services that compare the strength of brands, services, quality, prices and so on. The internet has also left a great room for the user to present their customer feedback in the form of positive or negative opinions – which is great! In that context, the word of mouth has been intensified, which is now delivered in the form of user reviews or feedback, which may have a considerable influence on the user’s choice of a product or brand.
When we are traveling we look at the ratings of accommodation left by previous guests, when we buy a car we read the experiences of other people on the forums, and even when selecting telecom operators, apart from the ratio of the offered benefits, packages, prices and offers of mobile phones, an essential segment will be the user experience. The loss of trust occurred because everyone was given the opportunity to place their own opinions and it is simply impossible to respond to all customer requirements. Still, quality always comes on top.
Bora Miljanović: Availability of information today is certainly the most difficult adversary for brands, but this is also true of brand arrogance. Around 60% of adults today don’t believe without seeing a concrete evidence of fulfilment of promises. Internet has brought us priceless opportunities, but also a great fuss into the essence of all we do, and in every aspect of our work. Brands have to get closer to their users. Today, everyone explores other users’ opinions before buying a product. People no longer react to ads, and many aren’t even reached by them because they simply don’t watch television. A bunch of paid ads appear on the social networks every day, but if there are no brand ambassadors and openness in communication, there’s no one to attest to quality.
How much are today’s brands ready to fulfil promises, and how much do they relate to the buyers?
John Dalton: I think today’s brands are more willing to be seen as consumer-centric, but they are so defined by the company’s policy that this policy and the fulfilment of a promise to a buyer simply collide. I think that depends on the company, the sector, and the main competitors. In general, many brands have improved and there is a remuneration mechanism and the possibility of your complaint to be heard. Social networks and UGC have also created that environment and many brands live in fear of bad criticism.
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: Mass media, primarily the Internet and social networks, have given voice to consumers, and thus invited companies to be accountable for the promises they communicate through their brands. Two-sided communication forces the brands to more or less fulfil their promises, or users will make their dissatisfaction public. This probably doesn’t have much to do with compassion for the consumers, but more with the revenue industry that expects some results either in revenue or in increase in the number of users.
Bora Miljanović: A proof of purpose and fulfilment of promise are in high demand, and we are yet to meet the notion of radical transparency, where the consumers will play an increasingly important role in creating a brand. Today, the boundaries between teams that manage brands and those who manage reputation are disappearing, and this is a logical sequence of things – people are overwhelmed with information and everyone needs a more successful strategy. Today, the company must know exactly who they are and what they represent. Empathy in marketing is necessary – the ability to hear – not just talk, but meet people’s needs. Building a corporate culture based on complete transparency is perhaps impossible, but it is all the more necessary.
Do you expect reaction of brands to consumer attitudes when it comes to data collection? And do you think someone from the academic community or the government should get engaged in educating consumers?
John Dalton: This is a complex question and I’m not sure I can adequately answer it. Let’s just say that customer data is a very complex and sensitive issue, but organizations such as Google are collecting too much information about individuals, so I’m not sure that the GDPR rules helped a lot. States should always have laws that protect the rights of their citizens and fight against the excess of multinational companies and their data collection. It is possible that the tech companies may become a threat to democratic institutions in the near future.
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: In the wake of recent changes coming from the EU and their aspirations to strictly regulate this area, I think it will be interesting to observe further market developments regarding data collection. We already see that companies are beginning to manage their user bases. Additional customer opt-ins are being sought by phone, point of sale, or websites. All of this tells us that the regulations brought in Brussels are being taken seriously, and that companies are trying to adapt their brands to the end user. We must not forget the fact that consumers are now much more informed about their rights, and there are numerous mechanisms available to them for sanctioning companies for sending promotional text messages, push notifications, and so on. I believe that involving the academic community and the government in educating consumers through education, information and targeted campaigns would certainly contribute to better level of information on the rights to use personal data.
Bora Miljanović: It is clear that technological progress that we have achieved creates greater expectations and concerns of consumers, who require a new approach in engagement and communication. If everyone is communicating today, it is important that they convey true and consistent messages. I expect that the introduction of GDPR will soon begin to work outside the EU, as Internet giants face the consequences of their failure to adjust, so the companies will also be pressed to increase transparency.
Who will be the most successful communicators in 2019?
John Dalton: My wife, because she always succeeds in making me spend money!!!
Nađa Lutvikadić-Fočo: It will be those who have a quality product or service, and are in constant touch with the market. Those who listen, react, correct, and most importantly, communicate. I believe the key to success of a brand, and a company, is in opening to the outside and transforming, adapting to the fields where it can achieve digital transformation.
Bora Miljanović: Those who manage to prove their influence through metrics. Analysts in communication will be in ever higher demand, because measuring investments in marketing and communication is being sought more and more.