How to communicate, responsibly.
The contents of this article refer to a conference I am holding on a regular basis and that is obtaining remarkable feedbacks from the participants. The idea is born from a series of studies and reflexions that I have been developing around the subject of communication in 2023.
As we all know, the context surrounding business is changing quickly from all points of view : we are living in a volatile economy, under social uncertainty and surrounded by ecological issues.
If all this was not enough, expectations from stakeholders are raising (to know more about stakeholders click here) together with the risk to destroy the reputation of a brand if these expectations are not met. A post on social media, a poor choice of words, a cultural bias that slipped in the message, a negative feedback from a reliable source: any act of communication has de facto become potentially tricky and it may generate a chain of events leading to a catastrophic backlash.
As a consequence of all this, communicating in 2023 has become as difficult as walking on ice.
Given these facts, it has become evident that the only way to protect your business from negative consequences is to communicate responsibly.
But what does this mean? And where do we start from?
Understanding the structure.
Either you are a sustainable-native business or you are facing a transition toward more sustainable practices, your objective today is to go from point A (business) to point B (sustainable business).
You will then need to integrate a series of good practices in your long-term strategy and then down to your daily activities This means thinking out of the box, working in an agile mode and being ready to continuously transform and adapt your activity to a changing context.
This also implies knowing your stakeholders and taking into consideration their thoughts, with a special attention to the internal ones (your workers, partners, collaborators etc.) who will be your first supporters and ambassadors.
Once you have understood the structure of your project and set the basis for trusted relationships and an efficient teamwork, you can get to communication.
From action to communication.
Communicating responsibly starts from understanding the meaning of these two words:
Communication and Responsibility..
Not only you need to know what communication is but also how it will be conceived, structured and deployed in your specific project or business. It is essential to avoid the mistake of following precompiled solutions without an alignment with the identity and DNA of your activity.
Following the same reasoning, not only it is vital to know the basics of responsibility but you will also need to give your interpretation of the term, based on the values and vision of your business. It is important to note that even if your employees may have their own interpretation of these two terms, you will have to align of what Communicating Responsibly means for your business and agree on a shared policy in terms of communicating inside and outside the company.
What to communicate.
You will then get to the point of deciding what to communicate to the external stakeholders : this is a crucial point in sustainability, cause you will have to put together the need for transparency with a respect for confidentiality, in order to inform the public and protect your activity from aggressive competitors at the same time.
Communicating to external stakeholders also means to establish different contents and styles based on the stakeholder category you are addressing your message to. You will then have different levels of contents as well as different communication styles if you are working on institutional communication or sending a feedback to your supplier or starting an advertisement campaign.
Choosing what to communicate also means translating an idea into an action, and to integrate this action in a whole process. This takes into account not only having to estimate the environmental and social impact of your campaign, but also to be able to manage the relationship with a variety of actual or potential stakeholders. You will need to estimate the possibility of positive or negative outcomes and prepare a procedure for corrective and preventive actions in case of negative feedbacks.
You have to keep in mind that while doing this, you are also acting in a context where climate and social changes are becoming a urgent matter; moreover,communication itself is spreading in all directions at a growing speed and through a variety of channels. This translates into an undergoing process of degradation of the contents and a rising difficulty in establishing if a source is reliable or not.
Creating your own communication environment and being able to follow the path of the information is a good way to hold the conversation, stay in control and avoid any deviation from the original message.
Your employees and collaborators will need to be prepared to face any kind of situation, and be able to work as a team in order to manage any positive or negative consequence all along the communication process. Remember to provide them with enough tools and structure so that they will feel at ease and supported all the time.
Every decision is a piece of communication.
Last but not least, you will have to remember that communication also occurs while performing any daily action, even when there is no official campaign linked to it. In other words, we communicate all day long even when it is not your primary purpose to do so.
There is a quote by Simon Sinek I cherish a lot, that says:
“Every decision we make is a piece of communication”.
This helps me to remember that each and every time we act, we communicate something, right or wrong, good or bad.
To better understand this, just think about how many greenwashing accusations started with remarking behaviours of entrepreneurs or staff members: taking a private jet to reach a holiday location, being photographed while wearing non sustainable garments or while driving brand new but super-polluting car, supporting a non-sustainable cause, choosing the wrong partnership etc.
It is exactly for this reason that I mentioned among the first elements to be respected, the one of the alignment and agreement of all internal stakeholders (here included the higher management and the CEO) with regard to the values and vision of the company.
You have now received a first overview of the vastity of this subject and you can imagine why the related conference has had so much success. As a matter of fact, we need to find the time to reflect on such matters and to profoundly understand how and why communication is important in the era of digital development and sustainable transition.
As we have seen, it is all a matter of will and determination: even in a challenging and volatile context, we can decide to communicate responsibly.
In order to do so, it becomes a responsibility of communicators in our age not only to consider a priori the impact of their actions , but also to question themselves from an ethical point of view on the necessity and appropriateness of the message that is going to be delivered to the public.
In other words, take the time to think about what you are going to say before you do so, because once you have delivered your message the recipient will have a certain reaction (positive or negative) and at that point it becomes very difficult to undo or correct the course of action.
Want to participate to one of the next scheduled conferences on this subject? Visit the events page for more information.
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