What are the rules of engagement for Indian communicators?

Here’s a quick question. When you  think about Mahindra or Nike or Coca Cola today, is it just the product that comes to your mind or is it also the Nike fitness apps or Mahindra Rise or Coca Cola’s open happiness campaigns?

The rules of engagement are changing quickly for Indian communicators, giving rise to a complex matrix of trends that are influencing what strikes a chord with people and what does not, in the age of social media. MSLGROUP’s report released in June this year, Now & Next: Future of Engagement, highlights the ten most important frontiers that will define the future of engagement for marketers, entrepreneurs and changemakers: Crowdfunding, Behaviour Change Games, Collaborative Social Innovation, Grassroots Change Movements, Co-creation Communities, Social Curation, Transmedia Storytelling, Collective Intelligence, Social Live Experiences and Collaborative Consumption.

The report has important cues for communicators in the social media age. Pascal Beucler, SVP and Chief Strategy Officer of MSLGROUP and a member of the Cannes PR Lions Jury 2013, says, “The digital and social revolution has led to huge transformations in how people receive and share information. As a result, all businesses and organizations need to rethink how to engage with their stakeholders.”

Beucler says that as creative storytellers, communicators must learn to navigate complex engagement scenarios’, today and in the future. He points to the Samsung We are David Bailey campaign for crowdsourcing of content, Dove Real Beauty Sketches for social media as an example of a campaign that emanates from the social media rather than the other way round and the now famous Dumb Ways to Die, by Metro Trains, Australia for creating key conversations.

Social changemakers are influential communities for PR: Mahindra Spark the Rise

The new rules of engagement mean that brands are stepping beyond the traditional product or services based communication strategy and looking at creating actual value through social change. Such campaigns help companies become influential change makers who drive communication by combining grassroots social innovation and individual self-expression in their engagement strategy. Mahindra Spark the Rise, which provides an online platform for change-makers across India to connect with one another, procure volunteers and donors, and to compete for monthly grants from Mahindra, is an example of such millennial engagement. These campaigns understand that good communication flows from genuine stakeholder engagement and change.

Says Akhil Almeida, Senior Manager - Corporate Branding at Mahindra & Mahindra, “With the advent of social media there has been a huge shift from people receiving a “mass communication” to becoming “mass communicators”. Today there is a democratisation of tools for innovation and self-expression which makes it easier than ever for people to convene, and to co-create value—we have been given the tools to build a movement in the 21st century. Spark the Rise has showed us the power of mobilizing communities, and how much can change when a group of individuals rise to the challenge, make meaningful connections with their communities, and partner to make their ideas a reality. Through voting on Spark the Rise, these innovators reached out to their networks, and were consistently surprised at how supportive and energized their communities are. If we can play a role in triggering those connections, then we will be able to build a movement of Rise. “

Adds Almeida, “With Rise, we’ve committed to creating products and services that enable people to build better lives. We feel deeply connected to our customers, and therefore our success isn’t just a matter of our bottom line, but a reflection of how our customers flourish, and how their communities thrive.”

For communicators looking to incorporate this spirit in their own programmes so as to enable long term platforms for communication, Akhil Almeida, offers this insight: “I would say that the first step is for companies to ask themselves: what do we stand for? What do our businesses stand for? Articulate that vision. The programs you create, your communications, your platforms are all a manifestation, of that vision. With “Spark the Rise” we asked ourselves how we could communicate the whole philosophy, the idea of Rise, to the outside world. We wanted to provide people with the tools they would need to innovate and drive change in their own communities. So whether it’s a grant to a renewable-energy entrepreneur in Uttarakhand who is providing off-grid communities with access to clean energy, or connecting a young rural innovator with mentors and accelerators – we wanted to build a movement whereby ordinary people could have a significant impact in the development of their communities – enabling them to Rise.”

Behaviour change as a communication strategy: Nike

MSLGROUP’s“Now & Next: Future of Engagement”, also outlines how Nike went about creating its engagement strategy based on behaviour change gamification as well as putting individual greatness at the heart of the campaign. The Nike Find your Greatness campaign that ran during the London Olympics 2012 encouraged everyone to find and share their own greatness via a hashtag on Twitter. Another strategy that directly works around the product helps people meet their fitness goals through Nike apps.

Nima DT Namchu, Creative Head and ECD, Cheil Worldwide, South-west Asia HQ in Gurgaon, a regular user of the Nike running app says, “Apps like Nike+ and products like the Fuel Band have taken the brand beyond just shoes. From being just about winning and talking to professional athletes at all times, I think these initiatives have made the brand more inclusive. If I may, from 'Just Do It' they are now more like 'Anyone can do it'.”

Namchu agrees that this does help to keep him engaged with the brand, “Definitely. I engage with the brand every time I go out on a run. I am using the brand. It's a part of my routine. I am engaged.”

Social media’s influence on future communication

Social media is the single biggest factor that is influencing engagement today. T. Anand Mahesh, Managing Director, Mavcomm Consulting Pvt. Ltd, who works with auto clients such as Audi India and Polaris India (ATV's)  says, “The PR business is all about connecting with relevant stakeholders and the emergence of social media has made this task easier as now we can reach homogeneous groups in a much more targeted manner. Some companies are also developing algorithms to evaluate potential behaviour of users in actual situations based on their social media behaviour. I feel it's an exciting time for PR agencies to make use of the changing social behaviour to create more direct communication channels while reducing reliance on mass media."

Adds Anand, “PR Professionals have to keep upgrading themselves constantly to remain relevant. PR has a much larger role in marketing communications than the general audiences perceive. Companies have understood the need to build brands and credibility through PR rather than rely on other marketing communication tools which in most situations can never go beyond creating initial awareness.”