Why we communicators need to do more to leverage off digital

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"Today, anyone can now easily share, comment and create content. The growth of mobile has also transformed how we interact. We live in a region with some of the highest penetration rates globally for smartphone ownership, where individuals own multiple phones and regularly upgrade."

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It seems like an obvious choice for me to blog about digital communications – Accenture has been heavily promoting digital as key for businesses – and explain why digital is the most effective option for communications today. However, I’m writing this article for different reasons. As a Gulf national and as a digital native, I’m always connected and communicating with my friends and family in ways that were impossible only a couple of years back. What I’d like to see today is that same paradigm shift taking place in how businesses and governments communicate with their consumers and citizens.

Whilst I believe that the Gulf’s public not only understands the digital world but that they’ve embraced the freedom to communicate through social media, we as communicators need to better understand how technology, the internet and social media have caused fundamental shifts in how our different stakeholder groups communicate and why these shifts have made digital communications not only possible, but essential.

We’ve seen how the marketing world has shifted from traditional marketing to digital; from mass media to one-to-one communications; from low accountability in marketing spend to accountability based on analytics and measurement; and from limited connectivity to always-on connectedness. Technological advances have changed how stakeholders interact with each other and with brands. For example, a consumer will often search online before making a purchase. What they discover via Google, social media and other digital assets has more influence on a consumer than most of us can imagine.

Social media has taken communications to a new level; essentially, sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken the complete control of brand communications away from businesses and into the hands of the consumers. Today, anyone can now easily share, comment and create content. The growth of mobile has also transformed how we interact. We live in a region with some of the highest penetration rates globally for smartphone ownership, where individuals own multiple phones and regularly upgrade.

Despite all of these changes to how we as individuals communicate and what we communicate about, it’s a common misconception that digital and social media are easily-adaptable, low-cost means to communicate. Firstly, what platforms should we be using? There are now so many different digital channels to consider that it has become a challenge for communicators to decide which channels are best to use and to apply a consistent message across these channels to successfully reinforce messaging and better reach stakeholders.

We often feel the need to use the latest social media channel, as a me-too exercise. But digital doesn’t have to be complex. For example, there are few better digital tools than a blog in terms of executive messaging or an e-marketing product. While both require a good deal of content and design, they enable communicators to engage with different stakeholder groups as well as measure that engagement through back-end analytics which can be used to refine your messaging for greater effect. Tools such as blogs have been proven to be particularly effective for investor relations in Europe, and yet no company listed in Dubai is using them to communicate.

As an industry and a region, we have to take on digital communications, take control of our brands and messaging online and effectively reclaim this space for the communications industry. Unlike traditional media, the digital space enables us to engage in a direct dialogue with stakeholders. We have to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the digital space, and start developing a dialogue, listening to what our customers are saying about us online, and adapt our communication accordingly.

The pace of change can be daunting to many communicators, but at its core digital is another means to communicate stories and connect with our audience. The way we interact may have changed thanks to these new online tools, but what we are saying may not have drastically changed. The region has possibly the most digitally-connected and accessible public worldwide. It is time that we, as communicators, set a similar standard through our use of digital.

 

 

 

Jehan Abdulkarim

Jehan Abdulkarim is the Marketing& Communications lead for Accenture Middle East. Jehan’s career also spans publishing and journalism. She founded the first Saudi-based technology and business magazine and is frequently sought out to speak on and provide commentary on business and technology issues.