The ReputationTime conference took place in Paris on 11 March dedicated to the ‘Transformers’: individuals, activists, nongovernmental associations but also outstanding companies who are conscious about the meaning of their actions and get inspired by the expectations of the communities surrounding them. They manage to have an impact on society and make change happen. The conference was an opportunity to look at what we can learn from the way they operate and the communication techniques they use to influence the audience.
There are 4 key learnings that emerged from the various presentations that are particularly relevant for people dealing with corporate reputation.
Executives and rulers have lost the monopoly on leadership
There is common confusion between the notions of having an executive position in a corporation or in government and being a leader. Those who assume they are leaders just because they have a specific title are often making a mistake. They claim to be leaders but they don’t behave as such.
There is no doubt that the concept of ‘governing’ has become an illusion in today’s world. Those who are in charge of ruling countries or companies are in reality governed by various influences that dictate their decisions.
The margins of manoeuvre that heads of state really have are shrinking; confronted by globalisation, international finance, foreign affairs, trade… It is now farfetched to say that they have autonomous decision power on fundamental issues.
It is exactly the same for CEOs of publicly listed companies. They must report every quarter to a group of shareholders who don’t expect anything less than two-digit growth leading to generous dividends. How can they combine these expectations and the need to sustain a long-term strategy? They don’t.
For most, the expectation and pressure of being appreciated conflicts with the ability to do their jobs. They try to build compromises to remain popular but innovation is rarely the result of a compromise.
Creativity is an innate ability of human beings
We must never consider creativity as an outstanding performance, like a rare talent, or something mysterious that comes from a gifted few. ‘Transformers’ are helping us to demonstrate that, on the contrary, creativity is part of human nature.
‘Transformers’ are not especially gifted. They start to do something because they understand the urgency of a situation. They realise that change must happen and that they can make it happen by acting instead of standing by. Darwin said that every species needs to adapt to their environment to survive, and creativity is a form of adaptation. When transformers face a challenge or a blocking position, they have the natural ability to invent a solution and use social networks to make the solution public.
Young children provide us with the perfect illustration of this capacity. They are creative by nature and are generally open to new influences and ideas . As they get older, they too often slowly lose sight of this creativity and society conditions their behaviour.
In come the Transformers: they are people using their inner nature to have impact.
The crowd has become a type of media
The real new media can’t just be defined because it is online, in contrast to traditional offline media. No, the real new media is the crowd and this is a fundamental aspect of the digital revolution.
Since the mid-90s, seduced by the possibility to enhance social interaction and attracted by the most fascinating features of social networks, millions of Internet users have colonized online platforms that literally belong to them now and where they have dramatically modified their relationship with information and, by extension, with leadership.
Social network users have created links where emotions occupy a predominant position, where top-down information and communications have less impact than shared experiences shared by “someone like me.”
This has a major impact on how Transformers have become so influential.
Reputation is about cooperation and co-construction
Everything that the ‘Transformers’ show us is a total paradigm shift in the way we approach reputation. You work on your image but you earn your reputation. You do not control all the building blocks of your reputation. Everything you are saying can be challenged by other users and is tested against your behaviour in public.
Top-down statements are just another source of information among many in a world where fact checking has become the norm and reputation building a social activity.
Corporations and governments need to take this into consideration and start cooperating with members of their communities be it employees, customers, or citizens impacted by corporate activities.
While some consider this as a threat, we need to understand this as a fantastic opportunity to better understand what the audience wants. And this will help to have an impact and make real change happen.
Christophe Ginisty is the organiser of the ReputationTime Conference and Head of Digital at FTI Consulting in Brussels.