It is just not enough to use the modern communication tools for spreading messages. It is much more important to keep an eye on what others do with those tools since negative postings get picked up and spread faster than forest fire, writes B N Kumar, Executive Director of Concept PR & National President, PRCI.
Anybody with a smartphone in hand is a potential journalist. While journalists do post development related to the news, other smartphone holders post what they see, hear and experience. For a smart (pun intended) phone holder it does not require even 140 characters to post something nasty like “JJ Flyover sucks” and the message goes viral in no time. Negative postings get picked up and spread faster than forest fire. No one viralises posts like “I love India”. Sad but true, trolls get noticed.
Having said that intro part, communicators face real challenge here. As Vivek Suchanti, CMD of Concept Communication says “reputations build over decades of hard work can be demolished in just five seconds”. Yes, that’s all it takes – five seconds – to post a two word negative message. And this is where rumour mills do not have to work overtime, as it used to be ten years ago.
Communication has been evolving right from the Adam-n-Eve days. Rajas and Maharajas engaged town hailers to spread official announcements. As a child I saw and heard, in the early sixties town (shall we say, village?) hailers, shouting about cultural and religious events in my maternal grandpa’s village Agarru in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari District.
Telephones, fax machines and of late mobile phones have changed the way we eat, drink, live and has helped us communicate with the speed of thought.
It is just not enough to use the modern communication tools for spreading messages. It is much more important to keep an eye on what others do with those tools.
I know of my friends who get disgusted with a telecom service provider, wait endlessly trying to talk to the call centre executives or at the operator’s galleries. But they get respite as the service provider attends to their two-word message on their facebook pages or twitter accounts.
As a communicator, I always wonder as to why companies wait for the complaints get worse and allow the bad word spread before even attempting to take corrective steps! It is like waiting for a lump to develop into a stage-3 cancer.
Doctors tell us that even cancer is curable if detected and acted upon early. It is foolish and suicidal not to go for that detection process and utter foolish not to go for prevention.
Over the past four decades of my practice as a journalist and then PR professional, I have seen many realty builders waiting for their buyer to make noise, approach media and ultimately move courts before attending to even genuine complaints. One can guess the trauma the Corpcom teams and PR agencies undergo during this entire process trying to douse negative media stories.
In buying a house, an average Indian makes the costliest investment of his or her life and toils for ten to 30 years to pay EMIs. And anyone who plays with this dream purchase has to pay for it, not only in hefty penalties, but in terms of reputation that gets damaged with the speed of thought, thanks to social media.
Gone are the days when a corporate could get a negative story killed in a particular media. When geography is history, it is next to impossible to get a story killed because today you have the option of instant media if newspapers or TV channels do not take note of your complaint.
As TV news anchor Rajdeep Sardesai tells us, social media has the potential to shake the traditional media which is forced to sit up and take note of the trolls! We have seen it happening many times in the recent past, the latest one being the episode by the AIB comedian Tanmay Bhat’s Snapchat post that not only made Super Prime Time news but also headlines in some leading newspapers the next morning.
Communication professionals too now need to wake up and go beyond consultancy and do counseling. Your boss or client may not immediately accept what you say because traditionally they are not used to getting advice from whom they consider as their juniors or even rank outsiders. We PR practitioners need to thicken our skins. Remember what Kames Hadley Chase said: Vulture is a patient bird!
For corporates, my sincere appeal is: please develop the habit of listening. It is a good habit not only for children and communicators, but for seasoned corporates as well. Else, social media will make mince meat of you. And that story can never be killed. Moreover, it will remain somewhere on the Net – much longer than diamonds!
(The author is Executive Director of Concept PR & National President, PRCI)