The media has gone through a period of major change in recent years, moved by a digital revolution that strongly impacted them long before other industries, many of which now find themselves immersed in similar transformations. The media started to think about adapting as soon as the digital ecosystem we know today came into being, some 25 years ago. Back then, Netscape and Yahoo made browsing and searching for online content something everyone could do. Then came Google, YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, social media channels, the iPhone, the smartphone boom and the iPad and its (unfulfilled) promise to enhance publications.
What really catalyzed these changes for media was the boom in access to all these technologies, which, though they appeared in the most developed markets first, have recently come to emerging markets as well. The number of people with internet access jumped from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.9 billion by the end of 2018, according to International Telecommunication Union figures.
The media disruption caused by this mass access to new technologies has led to a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, many traditional media outlets have responded by reducing their size, cutting staff and decreasing space for journalistic content. Nonetheless, even with fewer people, the editors of these outlets are producing more content than ever due to the need to populate their websites and apps.
This newfound access to technology also means there are more content producers than ever. These new producers are shattering the traditional oligopoly on information, formerly ruled by established media outlets. This had been enforced by both an economic structure (with fixed and distribution costs) and purely technical restrictions (the limitations of the electromagnetic spectrum, for example.)
“The media disruption caused by mass access to new technologies has led to a paradoxical situation”
Although there has been talk of a media crisis for years, the media is more important today than ever before. It is more present in consumers’ lives now than it was when print newspapers were thriving. In the United States, the average person spends half their day in front of a device that transmits information, opinions and entertainment. They must also work, study, sleep, eat, spend time with family and use other forms of entertainment somewhere in this media-saturated day. Even if we take the substantially smaller numbers from major developing markets, we see media still occupies large blocks of time in people’s lives: 6 hours and 39 minutes in China and 4 hours and 59 minutes in India, for example.
Despite its predominant position, the “post-disruption” media economy is still a work in progress. Many digital platforms have found ways to make a profit off large volumes of data-based micro-advertising on Google, YouTube and Facebook. There are also those who use subscription models, such as Spotify Premium, Netflix, Amazon Prime and The New York Times itself, which now has over 3 million digital subscribers. In these cases, the new structure requires major investments in content creation and purchase, but it has proven effective, especially for platforms with an international reach. It is up to traditional media to reinvent itself or be trapped in a vicious cycle of smaller audiences, less advertising income and less investment in product quality, leading to further drops in audiences, income and quality.
This new media perspective creates both opportunities and challenges for brand reputation managers. One new factor is the increased number of “agenda setters,” i.e., people and platforms that influence what issues, news and opinions are important to the public and determine how this content should be ranked. We must increase our efforts to communicate our brand’s narrative, which must now not only reach the four or five media editors who used to monopolize content, but also an ever-changing world of influencers and connectors in our communities of interest.
“New media perspective creates both opportunities and challenges for brand reputation managers”
Another newfound challenge lies in managing faulty information and fake news, which are related but not identical problems. In the case of faulty information, we have increasingly stressed writers who are being forced to multiply their output rate to win battles against SEO and clicks. It is not merely inaccuracies or mistakes in journalistic content, but changes in production models, which now have fewer filters. Under tight time constraints, journalists do not hesitate to be “flexible” with certain basic precepts of their work, such as calling the parties involved to fact-check. Today, that call can form a second “follow-up” or “reaction” article. To combat this, it is essential to maintain ongoing monitoring, as well as a high enough reaction speed to make contacts and fine-tune information.
Fake news, however, is a different species. This deliberately false content seeks to appear believable and is produced to chase audiences, damage reputations or defend ideological positions. In this case, careful listening and quick reactions are essential, but an additional line of defense is to have advocates—such as our collaborators—already active in the digital world, ready to share the real version of events. We can tackle fake news with radical transparency. The more we open up to our different communities and interest groups, the less traction fake news will have.
To sum up how brands should manage their reputations in a disruptive media context, there are 4 key C’s:
- Construct a brand narrative that has purpose and a positive social impact.
- Communicate intensely without fear to exaggerating.
- Converse, don’t announce, engaging in conversations on equal footing between brands and citizens.
- Counter crisis situations quickly, in order to avoid damage to the brand’ s image.
In short, in an era of profound and exponential changes in the media and communication channels, brands not only face great challenges; they also face the opportunity to assume their own role in defining and transmitting a narrative that no longer depends solely on third parties and in which there are many protagonists, including the brand itself.