Events

The Networked Age: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Saskia Kendall

The Networked Age provides a far more complex environment in which to communicate, presenting challenges and opportunities for communications professionals. Whatever the aims, the first questions you should be asking are about what your organisation stands for and what your audiences believe.

There are rumours that Facebook may finally be taking action to shut down one of the biggest anti-vaccination group on its website. The group, which has 163,000 members, has violated dozens of community guidelines about sharing false and misleading information. Some may say this is too little too late and the damage of this movement has been done. Measles outbreaks, for example, are being found across the globe including in the Philippines where an outbreak in Manila earlier this year killed over 55 people mostly in children under the age of four. Online communities and social media have been instrumental to this movement and its role should not be underestimated.

This is just one example sad example of how communication has changed in the last decade. This Networked Age, where influence has replaced authority and how the role of individuals has changed, was the focus of MHP’s most recent roundtable event held in Singapore with senior communications experts.

Attendees hotly discussed the role of online communication in high profile events such as the 2018 Malaysian general election, Hong Kong’s recent political unrest and the fallout from the SingHealth cyber-attack; and what these changes meant for communicators both strategically and tactically. We debated whether the balance of power had fundamentally shifted in many parts of Asia, as governments and traditional media, have given ground to individuals and social media.

To understand the implications of the Networked Age for communications professionals, MHP worked with the Affective Brain Lab, part of the University College London, to understand how communication is changing, the psychological principles underlying it and what the new rules of influence are.

Our research concluded that although technology is driving change in the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ is communicating, our fundamental drivers for searching out information and why we communicate remains the same as it has always been. As the lead researcher noted, neuroscience shows that both consuming information and sharing information is treated by the brain as a reward – like food and water. It is no wonder that 350,000 tweets are sent every minute[1].

But all information is not created equal in our eyes – we suffer from confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. We are more receptive to facts that agree with our world view and will seek out information that reaffirms what we already think, rather than looking for the most thoroughly researched ‘facts’. We like statements that feel right and we tend to go with our gut. No matter how well researched a fact with the best minds behind it, we will disregard them if they are contrary to our world view.

What the rise of the Networked Age has done is amplify this innate behaviour. The traditional role of the media of imparting important information has given way to search engines and our ability to find things that prove our worldview. Social media algorithms have served up content that you already agree, doubling up our confirmation bias and pushing worldviews into much more extreme hardened positions. Objective facts have given way to opinion.

What does all this mean for us as communications professionals in Asia? MHP has outlined how to engage your audience, the importance of influencers, passion and the art of persuasion. As you would expect of a room full of communicators, the discussions were extensive.

Engaging audiences effectively requires a good understanding of what you stand for, authentically and honestly. Audiences are less trusting, particularly younger generations. Many attendees at our event reflected on how critical this is but while day-to-day priorities occupy our time, not enough time is given to how we communicate our purpose. Authenticity should be felt internally and purpose is a particularly important tool to engage employees in a company’s vision.

Particularly interesting discussions examined what the changing roles of patients and doctors. Historically, patients have had a referential attitude to doctors is potentially shifting with other ways to get information changing how people engage with healthcare services. Do people check google before they attend a GP appointment? How does this affect the interaction? Do people come to consultations with pre-conceived ideas about treatment and diagnosis which may be unhelpful to their health, or is it enabling them to have a more informed role in their healthcare and potentially have better adherence to treatment plans and therefore better outcomes?

Much thought was given to external influencers, but internal audiences also play a vital role in showing the values of an organisation and representing them with their key stakeholders. Many of the healthcare organisations present reflected on the challenges that they face in joining up with these colleagues and maximising the impact of these relationships.

The Networked Age provides a far more complex environment in which to communicate, presenting challenges and opportunities for communications professionals. But as anti-vaccination campaigners have clearly shown, the outcomes can have far reaching impacts on individuals and populations globally. Whatever the aims, the first questions you should be asking are about what your organisation stands for and what your audiences believe.

[1] https://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/

Read more about MHP’s Rules for the Networked Age.