BUILDING A DATABASE: WHAT CAN CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS LEARN FROM GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY?
By Andrew Bragg who was recently pre-selected on the NSW Liberal Senate ticket. He was also the National Director of the 2017 ‘Liberals & Nationals for Yes’ campaign in support of same sex marriage which delivered ‘yes’ majorities in 71 of 76 Coalition seats.
Business groups and corporations have been slow to adapt to a rapidly changing communication landscape driven by advances in technology, data management and advertising.
Traditionally, business has sought to influence public opinion through newspapers and television. For example, businesses typically use op-eds and news stories on TV to protect its interests.
In the past decade, anti business groups and causes have been able to successfully build a direct communication channel with the public which does not rely on mediums such as newspapers.
Business has been slow to respond and has kept writing submissions to Canberra that few people read while being cut to pieces on social media.
Campaigns to stop tax cuts or trade deals, privatisation plans and the development of mines have been driven through digital and social media.
In the process, this has built databases for groups such as Getup, the Australia Institute and Greenpeace.
Databases with the details of millions of middle Australians or swing voters have become a highly valued asset. The databases held by groups like Getup would hold information which is akin to a synthetic electoral roll: a picture of swinging voters interests and their direct contact details.
Databases allow for ongoing communication and activism. At the same time, left of centre groups have pioneered the use of technology in the form of apps, algorithms and voter engagement tools to ensure the databases are always growing and engagements are meaningful. The close links between the Democratic National Committee and left groups in Australia means as soon as a new political tool is created in the USA, it appears in an anti business or labour group in Australia.
Business groups and conservative organisations have started to create counter organisations such as For The Common Good (BCA) and Advance Australia.
With public opinion being shaped by direct engagement on social and digital media, businesses that do not seek to create a direct dialogue with the community are taking a big risk. Therefore the counter groups have limited utility for individual companies.
Some companies are starting to step into the direct to consumer space. Rio Tinto is highlighting its contributions to local communities and Wilson Asset Management has created a giant petition on Labor’s proposed new tax on superannuation pensions (franking credits).
Organisations should be prepared to step into the space and make their case on social and digital media. Social media is a bit like talk back radio in the 1980s. It was used to “go over the top” of the media directly to consumers.
Building a direct to consumer platform contains risk. This risk can be managed and the risk of not doing it may be fatal for some companies or some industries. Losing public confidence is not worth it!
The governance and risk management systems around having a direct to consumer presence relies on having experienced staff and due process. In short it can be done.