Six strategic steps for succeeding with digital communication

Georg Kolb

Georg Kolb

If you google “communication tips”, you will get a large number of articles such as “Three ways to use [insert latest hot digital tool]”. While simple tips like these are great, they usually won’t help you beyond the current season. In times of constant change, we also need something more substantial that we can strive towards.

By Martin Paludan and Georg Kolb.

I called communication specialist and managing partner at Klenk & Hoursch, Georg Kolb for a talk on six maxims that are inherent to all good communication. Georg has more than 25 years of experience within communication, as well as a complex educational background in mathematics and literature with a Ph.D. in the latter. Without further ado, here are his six maxims - or steps. When remembered, they can help every communicator a fair bit a long the road to success.

1. Switch from reach to relevance

In 2016, the data produced worldwide amounted to over 16 Zettabyte, that’s 16 trillion Gigabyte, a number with 21 zeros behind it. If we had to store this data on 128 GB IPads, the tower would reach from here to the moon…2.4 times.

Now, certainly, people in marketing and communication aren’t responsible for all those zeros, but we are the ones who have to consider the implications of them. In the early days of communication and marketing, commercials were an almost cherished part of the information flow. Today, people are bombarded 24/7 on multiple channels and devices, and we’ve lost interest in messages that are clearly not relevant. Georg’s advice is simple, but it requires a certain self-restraint:

“Don’t always distribute to as many as people as possible, don’t aim for reach only. All of us are confronted with too much information we cannot process, even if we wanted to. As a result, it’s not a good strategy to just add to this noise; it’s like entering a room full of people shouting and then pull out your drum to drown out the others. We should rather whisper the right messages to the right people at the right time. They will be keen to listen to what’s relevant to them.”  

2. Use automation  

In the digital era, delivering the right message to the right people at the right time requires automation. There is no way around it. In today's matrix of channels, opinions and constant changes to our lives, coming up with the right piece of content at the right time is such a huge and complex job that it can’t be done with human resources only.  
Georg is certain that we have only just started with our automation journey. In the future, we will see more sophisticated forms of automation, creating and delivering content matching the audience’s interest. Of course, there are risks related to increased automation, but if communicators keep the third step in mind, Georg is confident that automation can be positive for customers and companies alike.

3. Shift from sender to receiver

Focusing on your audience rather than your product is a question of attitude.

“Many organizations and companies will say that they are already focused on their audience, but that typically means they create their own message first and then think how to reach their target audience, which is to put product first, audience second. A real shift to the audience means to pick it up where it is and then adapt the content on the customer’s journey from awareness through consideration, purchase and use of the product, which is to put audience first and product second.”

In terms of execution, Georg adds that this does relate to multichannel marketing, delivering the right design and the right content at the right time and making sure it’s all connected.

4. Understand the inequality of participation

With social media, it seemed everyone would soon be their own publisher and participate in shaping public opinion. For corporate communicators, this was first a threat to lose control and then became a promise to easily engage people. But as in offline conversations, people participate with varying degrees, and we can’t expect them to behave differently, just because the conversation turned digital:

“Whenever you are planning a digital communication program, you have to take this into consideration: you’ve got a very active minority and a majority of followers. Work with influencers first to create content, then make the participation for others easy, for instance by voting on the content. It’s a bit like in a representative democracy - everyone has the right to vote, but that doesn’t mean we all will be professional politicians. We are equal in our rights, but unequal in participation, and that makes a huge difference to your strategy.”

5. Balance hierarchy and network

Today we all understand the power of the network, but to Georg, this doesn’t mean that we should try and dismantle the hierarchy altogether. We have moved on from Taylor's concept of top-down management to the analogy of the organization as a networked organism. Still, we need hierarchy:

“People need a reliable source of information top-down, delivered through an information hierarchy to always be clear on a company’s direction, especially in times of constant change. At the same time, communication in networks is needed to drive innovation, share ideas and stay close to an unpredictable market environment.”

Take the hierarchy of an old school intranet. It has news delivery directed by the editor who is briefed by leadership, with no options for employees to give feedback. On the other end of the scale is a social intranet with a social feed at its centre, a timeline without hierarchy or structure where employees are forced to find the important information themselves. In Georg’s experience, we need both, with the balance depending on the business model of the organization.

6. Make people believe with a powerful plot

Human beings have always loved a good story, but today it seems we have an almost acute need for it. There are constant changes in our lives; with society coming off much more fragmented than just 20 years ago:

“We are desperate for good stories to unite us. This is true for all of us. Employees. Customers. Citizens. Every stakeholder you can possibly imagine needs a plot to get involved. It all boils down to the story you tell, and how you tell it. Stories are the social glue that makes us live together and believe in the things we follow, be it a an employer, a brand or a nation. ”

Stories are in other words how we build trust. It’s been the case since the very beginning of our species with religion being the prime example, and it just as - if not even more - important today, since the grand old stories have lost much of their power for integration:

“If you can communicate to people, where you’ve come from, where you want to go, and why they should follow you there, it can be truly the most powerful thing in the world. Following substantial crises, we currently lack some big stories for important social, political and economic powers such as Europe or key industries such as automotive, finance or energy to name but a few. Communicators should embrace this challenge, it’s present in everyone’s field of work, and who should do it, if not us?”  

If you are interested in more ideas, strategies, and tools for your communication, the Boye 18 conference in November has a track dedicated to communication professionals.