Posts about Communications

Do we trust? What does the research say?

Trust.  Now there is a word.

Trust.  Who do you trust?  At work?  At home?  As a consumer?  As a person?  Who do you trust?

Trust is an area of interest that has had an interesting evolution.  Over the last decade or so, people and researchers have come to have a fascination with trust, and for good reason.  As people have become more connected and more knowledgeable, they have become more skeptical.   The question is why?  Why are people, regardless of where you are or what socioeconomic background that you have, just not as trusting as they used to be?

Even employers are doing research to understand how they need to communicate with their employees because of this very issue.  IBM for example, carried out a survey in 1997 and then again in 2003 looking at what the most trusted communication tools they had for their employees.  The results are interesting.  News media and employee’s immediate managers were two areas for example that took a big hit between 1997 and 2003.  Employees just did not have the same level of trust when it came to these sources.  On the other hand, executive letters and the company Intranet became the most trusted source in 2003.  Flash forward to 2008 however, and you see yet another picture.  The BlessingWhite Employee Engagement Report 2008 reports that only 53% of employees trust their organization’s senior leaders- not their managers, but the organization’s senior leaders.  In North America only 75% of respondents trust their immediate manager, slightly down from the 2006 report which showed that 79% trusted their managers. (This report is available at

Let’s look at the consumer side of things.  According to research and Erik Qualman, a marketing expert, 14% of consumers trust advertisements whereas 78% trust peer recommendations.

Why do we see a trend that shows employees and consumers becoming less trusting?

I may be overs simplifying things, but I believe it comes down to the history of control.  Companies, through their marketing and communications teams have traditionally had the control.  They created the message, the timing of the delivery and they held the purse strings.  In other words, they could embark on “campaigns”.  As an employee or a consumer, what could we do?
Enter Social Media.  With mobile devices that can upload stories and images in seconds, a different story could emerge and a conversation could start.  Control eroded as did trust.

In my next posting, I will continue on this theme of trust and explore trust from the employer perspective.

Two-way dialogue, the New Paradigm

Let me start off by saying that I truly believe that this is the first time in history when there really is the possibility of having a two-way dialogue.  On the one hand, technology has developed to the point where we actually have tools that enable not just word-of-mouth, but world-of-mouth.  On the other hand, we seem to be in an age when people want to speak out and they want to be engaged.

You may have heard this term – world-of-mouth – being used more and more in reference to Social Media.  When you stop and think about what these words mean, they really do have a big impact.  In a previous posting I mentioned the letter to the editor.  Sure, that was an interesting tool and you could potentially have hundreds or even thousands reading your letter on the day that it was published in the paper.  With Social Media however, your “letter” can be forwarded, re-posted, and more importantly other people can comment in real-time and a conversation can emerge.  Rather than a one-time event, depending on the topic, the interest and even the passion of people, this “letter” could become a cause that thousands support.

To emphasis my point, let’s take a real life case.  Back in August of this year (2010) Tanner Bawn, a 10 year old from Vancouver, who has muscular dystrophy and is immobile without his electric wheelchair, travelled to New York with his aunt.  According to an August 5, 2010, Globe and Mail post, when Tanner and his companions arrived in New York, his wheelchair was damaged beyond repair.  This trip was part of a wish request that the terminally ill boy made.  Unfortunately Air Canada was not immediately forthcoming to replace the chair.  In fact, according to the article, it was going to take several days before they could get a loaner.  For Tanner’s aunt, this was unacceptable.  She knew in order to get results, she would have to take action.  She went to Twitter and told her story.  A quick Google search for the terms “Air Canada” and “Twitter” and “wheelchair” bring up 112,000 results and if you read the various articles and postings, there are numerous comments within each.  This was a public relations nightmare for the airline.  Not only did traditional media pick this story up, but it went viral in the Social Media world.  (For those not familiar with the term viral, think of how a cold spreads when just one individual coughs in public – it isviral.)

If this were five years ago, or even 10 would this have occurred? In all honestly, likely not. We didn’t have the tools and perhaps not the wherewithal either. This is just one example where world-of-mouth occurred and forced an action to take place. Again, this information lives on. Unlike the old letter to the editor, in this new world of marketing and communications, opinions, posts and public relations nightmares live on and on in the digital world. Case in point, one Google search today brought me the full picture of what happened to Tanner almost two months ago in just .19 seconds.
Just think about what world-of-mouth can do to your business, your charity event, or quite frankly to your personal brand when you act or react to each and every event in your day!

In my next posting I will continue to talk about the impact of Social Media and world-of-mouth. In particular, I will review what research is telling us about trust.

Traditional Marketing and Communications

To fully appreciate the power of Social Media, we first need to review where we have been and where we are now.

Traditional marketing and communications have been rooted in some very simple principles – message generation, control and what I like to call “telling.”

Let’s look at each piece.  Whether you are creating a marketing campaign for the public or an internal communication for employees, you always start with the question:  what are we trying to achieve?  Is it increased revenues?  Increased awareness?  Increased sales?  Or, is it to influence certain behaviours?  Once we know what we are trying to achieve, and know what message will help us achieve our objective, we then decide what tool(s) we are going to use to reach our audience(s).

If you are launching a campaign, you will be very specific in knowing what medium you are using to reach and “tell” your audience what you need them to know in order to influence their behaviour.

If you want to share organizational changes or an announcement of some important initiative with employees, you will determine what is the best way to share that information and when.

Regardless of the audience, your marketing and/or communications department will want to have a very tight reign on the development, execution and even measurement of the effectiveness of said activity.  In other words, they want to control the message and hopefully control the resulting behaviour.

So, regardless of whether or not it is the campaign or the employee communication, as marketers/communicators  we are “telling” people what they should do, think or believe.

To make a long story short, traditional marketing and communications is ALL about having control and “telling” people something.  There has not been any real true two-way dialogue.

Let’s not kid ourselves here please.  We all know that Best Practices cite that marketing and communications is all about two-way dialogue, but in all honesty how was this done before?  How could it be done?  If you see an ad, how do you generate a dialogue that involves the company and other people?  Sure, you could buy their product and maybe tell a friend.  Or, you could send them a letter, but how does that really generate two-way dialogue?  If you get a memo from the president of your company, how do you get more information?  Can you ask someone in the company in another location?  I suppose, but not easily.

Enter Social Media….I would dare say that this is the first time in history that real dialogue can occur and is occurring.

In my next posting I will speak more about this two-way dialogue and how it can impact you.

Delving into Social Media?

Thinking about your company taking the plunge and getting to Social Media? Are you wondering where to start and which tools should you use? Do you have questions about whether or not you can trust your employees?

You can take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Many communications and marketing professionals ask these questions every day.

Through this blog I will share with you some of the experiences that I have had over the course of my marketing and communications career and also some new experiences that I encounter.

My next posting will look first at traditional marketing and communications and the impact that they have had.