December 4, 2023
By Thom McLachlan, Aprio Group: Head of Digital Operations
Businesses worldwide are making progress toward achieving their digital transformation priorities and will continue to make this a top priority in 2024. This shift encompasses not just the adoption of new back-office or operational technologies; it will also transform the ways in which companies communicate, both internally and externally.
Companies that are underprepared in terms of digital transformation may find this extends to their communication capability during a disruption or crisis. According to PwC, 96% of businesses have experienced some form of disruption in the last two years. Of these, one of the top four threats to business being able to maintain resilience during a period of disruption is inadequate technology and resources.
In other words, at-risk companies are less likely to have the necessary tools in place, “including the latest data and analytics”, to support their resilience, and are less likely to have an established network of experts to provide guidance and support when needed.
Clearly, any deficiency in digital capabilities within the organisation is likely to also extend to the corporate communication department.
Building strong digital communication that connects the organisation with stakeholders is crucial. This doesn’t necessarily mean engaging on social media; it could also entail utilising useful digital tools, purpose-built apps, direct email campaigns, or simply making sure that your website – as it stands –meets their needs: Anything that shows you’re adding value to their lives and recognises that they add value to the business.
Traditionally, consumers have been the primary target of digital communications. However, in today’s digital landscape, all stakeholders are predominantly online, necessitating a shift in the way messages are crafted and delivered. Companies should be conducting a thorough analysis to understand how their communications resonate with diverse audiences. This practice is commonplace for customer engagement, yet it often falls by the wayside when considering the broader stakeholder spectrum.
It is crucial to recognise that during any form of business disruption, be it digital or otherwise, it is likely that your broader stakeholder base, rather than your customers, will be the ones who ultimately see you through. Therefore, understanding your stakeholders is paramount, and digital tools provide an invaluable resource in this regard.
Making assumptions about stakeholder needs and wants is risky and a strategic, targeted, and measurable approach is required. Fortunately, a well-executed digital strategy enables the measurement of any audience and outcome. This data can be immediately applied once you actively engage with your stakeholders, providing insights into their preferences and guiding your communication strategy.
We are currently experiencing a communication revolution. AI and emerging technologies, such as machine learning, are becoming integral to operations and are likely to play a significant role in communications. While these tools enhance efficiency, reduce manual effort, and minimise errors (except when they don’t), they also introduce risks into organisations.
The benefits of these technologies extend beyond operational improvements, promising tangible impacts on profitability while also catering to our inherent desire for convenience and productivity.
By 2024, it is predicted that even the most sceptical amongst us will be utilising some form of generative AI, with Forrester forecasting that 60% of those not yet using AI will be converts by next year. Communicators will require guidance on using these tools effectively, understanding when and how to employ them, and determining which content needs to be secured or meticulously reviewed before dissemination.
The global risks are evident and Africa is not immune. An increase in unemployed individuals or those with more time on their hands, spending extended periods in digital environments and on social media, will inevitably lead to a significant rise in engagement. This, in turn, increases the potential for reputation risk and for a crisis to escalate more rapidly.
We need to fix the underlying issues – that’s for certain – and initiatives in South Africa, driven by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), Business for South Africa (B4SA) and Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) and the launch of the CEO Pledge earlier this year, and which Aprio Group is proud to be associated with, will certainly help in this regard. But the top-line of defence also needs to be in place to ensure your reputation is protected, today.
In 2024, prioritising and implementing future-focused digital systems will transition from being a competitive advantage to a business imperative. Organisations must find their digital voice to stand out amidst the noise, crafting compelling digital narratives and responding authentically to the evolving digital mindset.
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