Did you hear it and feel it? First a few squeaks, then a gush of wind and finally a loud, deep thump. Without warning, a large wooden gate came crashing down: communicators, PR professionals, and marketers on one side and customers, constituents and stakeholders on the other.
A few weeks ago, Facebook announced changes to its algorithm, prioritizing content from family and friends over content from news sites, companies and organizations. Mark Zuckerberg closed the proverbial gate on the free lunch for brands to communicate with their constituents.
Facebook was a game-changer for those whose jobs it is to connect, communicate and build relationships with others. Anyone with a computer and the ability to create halfway decent content could connect, build awareness, develop understanding, shape opinion and drive behaviors with little financial investment. Facebook allowed those with little strategic acumen and even less understanding of cognitive and behavioral science to connect and influence others. (See “fake news”.) It was a Shangri-La, Nirvana and every other description of paradise for brands and organizations looking to communicate directly with their constituents.
The easy access to stakeholders through Facebook was intoxicating. It was easy, cheap and effective to use. Some brands lost sight of the fact that the access provided by Facebook provided was tenuous. Bloggers and so-called social media experts continue to pontificate about the best way to move forward.
My suggestion is to look back.
While Bob Dylan’s lyrics “the times they are a-changin’” accurately reflect the current state of affairs, these times are not new. I remember my public relations professors at the University of Florida in the late 1980s telling us that publishers, editors, and reporters were “gate keepers” to getting our message to stakeholders. As future communicators, we would continually need to not only find ways to get the gatekeeper to open the door every once in a while, but to use our creativity, ingenuity, and imagination to forge our own access.
I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge. It is probably because I have built my career and agency on creativity and thinking outside the box.
For example, I could have just created a video on Facebook to educate stakeholders about how solar thermal power plants can provide electricity after the sun goes down. But I wanted to diversify my communication channels. The solution was to create a transportable working model of a thermal solar power plant built so that it could travel around to state fairs, schools, and community events. This diversification allowed me to exponentially increase the effectiveness of my campaign and mitigate the risk caused by relying on one communication channel. Going forward, being able to create and implement these types of out-of-the-box ideas is going to be more important.
So while Facebook may have closed easy access to constituents, reaching them is still obtainable. I am ready for the challenge. Are you?