Every company strives to be successful within its own market and follows the ultimate goal of being well established within the industry it operates in. Besides the quality of the products and services a company offers, communication strategies are a vital part of the success journey of a company that seem to be regularly forgotten or not prioritised in the way they should. A company’s reputation is closely linked to their quality of stakeholder communication but in order to efficiently benefit from that and survive as a corporate institution in the long run, teams responsible need to be aware of the interconnectivity of internal and external stakeholders. Techniques such as the communication value circle (CVC) can help to uncover pain points as well as areas with more potential in terms of strategic decisions as it connects internal and external spheres with the prospect of increasing the value of communication.

Communication Value Circle CVC
The Communication Value Circle (University of Leipzig 2016)

Without strategic communication companies may survive but may be outrun by competitors who have mastered to connect their products with well established campaigns that are targeted towards specific stakeholders. Keeping the individual interests in mind will help prioritise stakeholder groups and determine which ones have the most significant impact on the companies success. Whereas keeping financial benefactors updated is important, every decision maker in a company must not forget about the importance of those who actually buy the product – the customers. And especially nowadays, with the internet and its power being omnipresent, being smart about strategic communication decisions is even more important.

Communication with awareness

Whereas before the rise of the web corporates mostly relied on being the sole deliverer of strategic communication and were either using a one way symmetrical system or a two-way asymmetrical model of communication with stakeholders such as customers and those with low power within the stakeholder system, nowadays a company is almost forced to incorporate all its stakeholders to acquire success.

The web has become a place in which people can express their opinions freely and can therefore shape the reputation of corporate institutions. This does not only include independent blogs but especially concerns social media platforms such as Instagram and twitter. In order to communicate in the realm of Web 2.0 and to make use of the trend towards digitalisation it is important for companies to be aware of the audience which uses the specific platforms. Social media communities in the 21st century are much more politically and socio-culturally aware of issues and don’t tend to hold back on their opinion in regards to the perception of corporate communication campaigns. 

Being aware of the state of society and current socio-political events is therefore crucial for companies big and small in order to not damage their reputation with badly worded campaigns that can go viral within minutes due to the great impact of the web. In the past multiple big companies have faced uproars on social media due to badly timed ads, an example being KFC who sent out a push message during the remembrance day for Reichsprogromnacht suggesting people to get chicken from one of their stores. They did apologise publicly online afterwards but still faced justified backlash by users on social platforms.

The Associated Press sharing an article about the public apology on Twitter

Strategies with Pros and Cons

Another challenge in this context is that whereas ads could be targeted towards a specific audience more easily before digitalisation, social platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have exacerbated this process due to the ability to share content with everybody in the world as an individual. Even if you’re not classified a traditional stakeholder due to no connection to the brand, you still have the power to impact a company’s reputation. Sponsored content, however, might be useful in order to meet a desired target audience but might also be perceived as irritating and intrusive if it is used excessively. Many brands use intensive influencer marketing to promote their items, which ends up annoying potential customers and creates a bad reputation for the brand in terms of their marketing communication strategies. 

Power to the Consumer

The power of social media can, nonetheless, also be used in positive ways. Being aware of social issues can give companies the possibility to raise awareness and be an advocate, though it is important that the message fits the brand identity as it might otherwise be perceived as unauthentic. Great company strategies can also end up creating stakeholder-driven marketing campaigns with no prior involvement of the company whatsoever.

Spotify for example creates playlists of most listened to artists and songs for its users and people non-related to the company have started to put their own creative twist on it by building different websites you can connect your Spotify with and create different kinds of graphics with your most played songs. An example is „Receiptify“ which creates a digital receipt of your list or an iceberg your favourite artists. People share those graphics on their social media channels and therefore inspire others to sign up for Spotify as well – generating new users for the company only because they initially provided „most listened to“-lists.

Building trust with Communication

It was mentioned above that awareness is key in todays strategic marketing but equally important for companies and their stakeholders is to be open about processes on an internal level. Corporate blogs and a well kept intranet are therefore a great opportunity to keep stakeholders of all kinds updated about developments within the company, building trust in the process. Holding back on information concerning vital information about things like finances and, becoming more important, sustainability can quickly become damaging for the company. Nowadays, stakeholders demand a certain level of transparency when it comes to topics such a mentioned sustainability and scandals which aired to the public can’t be hidden as the internet doesn’t forget. With the possibilities of corporate communication and the amount of stakeholders broadening due to social media, derives another challenge: content being adapted according to the specific audience each platform covers. 

Therefore a dialogue strategy between the company and its many stakeholders is the only way to go in order to prevent backlash at some point. Companies can benefit greatly from open dialogue with their stakeholders as issues might be identified at an earlier stage instead of even being overlooked, furthermore it also gives everyone a sense of involvement and appreciation. Investing in stakeholder engagement might be time and financially consuming but it also creates value in a different shape. In order to do so, the smart balance of resources is the key. Surveys with consumers, regular meetings with employees and investors and the correct identification of important stakeholders and those who need less attention is vital for each company but demands a team who really puts in the effort to do so.

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