Reading the signals in the noise - Five takeaways from the Bowen Craggs Conference Berlin

Our theme at our annual conference last week was ‘Where will communications go and what route will they take?’ Jason Sumner shares five quick highlights from the event.

1. Scrutiny of corporate behaviour means old-fashioned honesty will matter more than ever

Futurologist Ian Pearson opened the conference with a look far beyond the future of digital corporate communications, forecasting a world where self-driving vehicles are commonplace, people can link dreams and download themselves into the cloud. New technology will continually challenge public trust because people will depend on it more, but understand it less. How should corporations respond, Ian was asked, when surveillance over business practices will increase and bad behaviour becomes increasingly difficult to hide. His answer, ‘Be honest’.

2. Technology will change, but the fundamentals of good online communication will not

Scott Payton of Bowen Craggs returned us closer to the present, exploring technology being implemented by companies now, which shows ‘glimpses of corporate communications tomorrow’. Scott looked at real-world examples of new tech in action on the corporate web – virtual reality, augmented reality, personalisation, chatbots and voice. However, no matter how much technology changes, the tried and tested rules of online comms still apply. ‘Corporate communications needs to be easy to find, clear, engaging, relevant to the audience and effective at communicating your company’s key messages,’ Scott said.


3. Can we measure hopes and fears?

Most digital communicators know they need to move beyond measuring ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ into more sophisticated metrics of ‘engagement’. This was reflected in a quick poll of delegates who said their top measurement concerns were – ‘Measuring the impact of digital communication on company reputation’ and ‘Linking data sources together’. Siemens is moving ahead quickly in both of these areas, and provided a possible glimpse of the future of engagement metrics, with its new algorithms that emphasise the emotional aspects of social media. The company’s content strategy for engaging on social media is changing too; adapting to a world in which an unexpected tweet by the CEO derails a carefully thought-out comms plan. One to watch.


4. Channels old and channels new

David Bowen of Bowen Craggs explored the trends emerging from this year’s Index of Online Excellence, our ranking of the best 30 companies in the world at corporate online communications. Old channels such as podcasts and blogs have been reinvigorated by the likes of Daimler, Shell and Verizon, proving that no idea ever really disappears on the internet. A newer ‘must have’ channel is Instagram, David said, with careers-specific feeds booming. For the moment, it is also less likely to receive hostile comments than Facebook.


5. Digital communications in 2030

A panel discussion on future tools ended with a crystal-ball question – will we have corporate websites in 2030? A quick poll of delegates indicated yes, with 76 per cent of the audience thinking they would still exist in 11 years. On stage, panellists from Eni, Norsk Hydro and Siemens believed it would likely exist in some form, but ‘trust’ is the issue that will need to be addressed, no matter what the specific channels will look like. Digital corporate communications, in whatever format, will need to be the place for ‘truth’, and a channel for jobseekers to check up on corporate values. In the future, corporate communicators need to have more ‘ongoing conversations’, not just jump in when a reputation crisis blows up. 

First published 24 June, 2019
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