ITL #527 Musings about trees and shadows: influencers and reputation3 months, 3 weeks ago
Incorporating digital influence into PR activities continues to pose risks. By Paulo Andreoli
"Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." (Abraham Lincoln)
Reputation is one of the most important non-financial intangible assets a company can have. It is supported by the beliefs that motivated the creation of the business.
Entrepreneurs have purposes, dreams and beliefs that translate into profits. When the enterprise is consolidated with beliefs as its roots, reputation – which is also responsible for the success of the business – is its legacy. Therefore, such beliefs – or values – should compose the business plan of any initiative. Reputation is responsible to a large extent for the success of the enterprise and its perpetuity.
But it's no use having values if we don't have attitudes compatible with such beliefs. Each professional is responsible for practicing them daily in order to consolidate, in the daily practice of their functional attributions and in their relationships, the values of the company in which they work. The greater the affinity between attitudes and values, the better the image of the company and its reputation as perceived by different audiences.
In a globalized world, with companies operating in different markets, building and consolidating reputation is a great challenge. In addition to different geographies, cultural differences and local peculiarities demand special attention. A solid and respected reputation in the country of origin does not necessarily guarantee immediate recognition in other markets. Having a famous brand in the market of origin does not mean the immediate acceptance of that reputation in still embryonic markets.
Proper time to bloom
Reputation can’t be exported. And it is not built with advertising and misleading promises. To be accepted and recognized, it needs time, just like seeds that don't turn into dense trees by adding more fertilizer. There is a proper time to bloom.
Entrepreneurs' beliefs were not created to make a picture at the reception of companies. They were the foundations upon which it was built, and certainly were the attributes that motivated its creation. Maintaining and preserving them in everyday attitudes requires, from everyone, the perception of how much they are the beacons of success. Every single person who makes up the company must respect them in deference to those who created them.
If we accept the previous assumptions as consistent, a question remains: would you delegate (or pay) to an influencer the representation of your character so that the perception of who you are would get enough likes to transform your reputation?
Consider now a company, built on ingrained values and beliefs for decades by its founders. Would digital influencers have the authority to speak on behalf of such attributes? Would the thousands or millions of followers guarantee that the hired influencer's beliefs and attitudes represent the values of the corporation that hired them? I do not think so. It would be the same as considering it possible for a tree to hire more branches from other trees to increase its own shade and, by doing so, increase its coverage and presence in the forest.
The digital world induces us to believe in almost anything. The real and the fictional. And each day we are more mistaken in the perceptions of which side we are, because the new generations forgot to research and know the original sources of disseminated information. The practices of conventional journalism, which shoulders the responsibility for what it publishes and checks information sources as a matter of principle, were replaced by the number of followers. Delegating influence based simply on the number of converts to the disseminated content means neglecting the fact that many such influencers gained fame by resorting to bizarre content and attitudes to attract the attention of those who enjoy the exotic, the bizarre, the futile.
There are numerous cases of companies that have been forced to back off their communication strategies as a result of the incompatibility between the influencers' attitudes and the company’s values, as well as the habits generally accepted by society. It is better not to mention them here, so as not to embarrass the brands that picked them or expose readers to the attitudes of those who represented the values and reputation of the entrepreneurs – who one day created their business based on their dreams and purposes.
References, attitudes, and testimonials have always been the traditional ways of influencing the perception of people, companies, or products. You would buy an old car from a stranger if you have good references for it, in addition to the testimony of people you know about the seller's attitudes. I can buy a product from a certain brand if my friend tells me he has it and likes it. But if I found out that the person who referred me to the old car received money to praise the seller or the car, I believe that I would be, at the very least, suspicious.
Public relations activities have always been based on the so-called spontaneous media, when companies, the executives who represent them, talk about their business, their products, and the agents reproduce and attest with their credibility, after checking the qualities. Today, paid digital influence significantly replaces traditional media testimony. Journalists are replaced by celebrities hired by PR agency clients.
Risk and vulnerability
In this context and in this reality, how to exercise digital influence through influencers? Before announcing an answer, it is important to consider that risk and vulnerability will always be present in the purchase of an old car from a stranger. But perhaps there are ways to mitigate such risks. Agencies now have sophisticated software that can select and elect influencers by number of followers, region, age group, income range, subject, etc.
There is still no software that can monitor beliefs and attitudes over time, or something like a parameter on things that are also important such as character, emotional balance, and common sense. But the recruitment techniques and professional selection of a good headhunter can at least filter out a few of a hundred candidates. A good conversation with executives or shareholders could help to identify the compatibility of candidates with corporate values, or its absence. This process requires plenty of caution and responsibility from those who would choose. In general, not enough caution would be given, and time would always be short due to the pressure to start campaigns.
Successful examples of influence exist. A major watch manufacturer has its brand ambassadors. Celebrities selected based on their credibility, character, balance, example, and personal, family, and professional history, as well as their attitudes towards everyday challenges. The choice follows lots of requirements, and many professionals, executives, and shareholders are organized in a council to approve it. In this case, the model of influence is the exposure of the product, in this case the watch on the ambassador's wrist. The image of the ambassador, elegant, polite, respectful, discreet, merges with the product and the brand, in a symbiosis that translates their shared values.
As the English philosopher Bertrand Russell said some time ago, not referring to the digital influence - which in his time did not yet exist! - “the fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt...”
Unfortunately, I still have doubts about how to safely incorporate digital influence into PR activities. It is necessary to mitigate the risks when choosing influencers, not basing our choices only on the scope and number of followers, but on the quality of the content they disseminate and, if possible, some references on their character.
If we resort to our own character when selecting who represents us as values and beliefs, perhaps we will be able to preserve the tree and still produce a refreshing shade like those offered by the leafy trees that border the great lakes.
We would already be contributing something.
Paulo Andreoli, Chairman Latin America, MSL – Publicis Groupe.mail the author
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