Populism. It’s a term most often used in political circles and basically refers to policies and rhetoric which appeal to the “ordinary person”.
Populism is often named as the main reason why Trump got elected and the Brexit vote went through.
But, as a business owner or manager in little ol’ New Zealand, you might be lulled into a false sense of security thinking, “That’s got nothing to do with me”. I beg to differ and believe there are four lessons all of us can learn from the global populism movement.
As populism rises, trust declines
Right across the world there is a battle for trust. While governments are less trusted than ever before, corporates are too.
A great annual research report is the Edelman Trust Barometer (Google it), where trust levels are surveyed each year in communities around the world. This year, the survey found 59 percent of New Zealanders thought CEOs are driven more by greed than the desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Not only that, but New Zealand CEOs are one of the least trusted spokespeople, with 41 percent of those surveyed trusting their voice. Even your average company employee is trusted more than a CEO, with 47 percent trusting company staff.
How do you counter this rise in mistrust? Practise a few core communications skills: be authentic and genuine, quickly admit when you get it wrong, empower a range of people in your organisation to be spokespeople, foster great community relationships, value your employees, encourage great word of mouth through positive actions.
Everyone has a voice
Gone are the days when you held a public meeting to understand what’s on the minds of your stakeholders. You can literally go on social media now, pose a question and get a range of answers in minutes if not seconds.
Every average Joe can find a public platform: while social media is the largest, other channels are also accessible. Overseas we’ve seen a rise in protests and rallies in the world’s largest cities. Will New Zealand see a rise in protests, rallies and marches in the near term? It’s highly probable.
Companies will be most successful when they embrace this phenomenon, rather than resist it. You’ll win more fans and increase trust when you proactively put feedback mechanisms in place that make it easy for your employees, customers and communities’ voices to be heard. If two-way communication with your company is difficult, it’s time to find a better way.
Truth matters less, emotions rule
Populism has contributed to the rise in fake news.
But what’s also happening is that populism is giving rise to laziness when it comes to people’s desire to seek the truth. That’s because citizen journalism is on the rise and emotional headlines create impulsively shareable content.
With around 75 percent of New Zealanders now on Facebook, many people read their news from social platforms. But how often is this ‘news’ a trusted and truthful source? How often do we dig into a news story or test an article’s validity with our own research?
Although we may be more cautious consumers of social news following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we’re still a lazy bunch.
What are the implications for corporates? While truth is obviously paramount, your company communication needs to appeal to emotions as well. Your content needs to find creative ways to grab attention first, then keep attention long enough to inform, educate or urge action.
Bite-sized impact statements win
In an interview on December 6 former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “It troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues, that they are satisfied with 128 characters”. He said this wasn’t a criticism of the US President, but rather a concern he had for society as a whole.
Are New Zealanders much different? I think not.
We live in a sound-bite world where we read a headline and call ourselves informed. This is particularly true when the headline we read matches our existing paradigm or opinion. Our ‘water cooler’ is our social world where we’ll share the sentiments that grab our attention and resonate with our own ideas and ideals.
Again, what can business learn from this trend? KISS – keep it simple, stupid. And, while you’re at it, make sure your short and sharp communication has high impact. You don’t have time to ‘build to a crescendo’ when it comes to your corporate communication. Sometimes you need to start with the exclamation point first and work backward from there.