It’s time to stop pretending business and communications are separate things. They aren’t. Successful brands and organisations have elevated communicators to their management boards, acknowledging the growing importance of reputation on their ability to conduct business, attract and retain talent, and preserve their license to operate. In addition to their day-to-day roles, today’s managers and leaders are also required to be excellent communicators, whether through their brand’s voice or, increasingly, their own. Compared to a few years ago, they also need to be skilled at integrating online with the offline.

So what are the skills that senior executives are now expected to develop and understand? We explore the most important:

Be relevant. Think back to a different age when mass communication meant broadcast, newspaper and TV ads. For this 31-year-old communicator, these are largely memories. For millennials, they never existed. Then, the medium was legitimately mass. Today, the internet has increased multifold the opportunities to push messages to publics and consumers. At the same time, it has also democratized the communication process, and given the opportunity to virtually everyone to become producers of content. Today more than ever, you must craft your messages in a way that is relevant to your audience, if you want to stand out of the crowd. Get yourself in their shoes, understand their agenda, analyze how and when it is listening to someone else’s messages rather than yours.

Be open. The increased transparency fostered by digital technology also means increased scrutiny. As every citizen or consumer can join any public debate without intermediators – especially via social media – public and private organizations must develop a natural inclination towards openness and transparency. As futurist Don Tapscott once famously said, “if you’re going to get naked, you’d better be buff.” This will come more easily when you have long, established traditions of consumer and media relations, but sooner or later everyone will have to adapt to the new paradigm. You can be more transparent on someone else’s terms or on your own – which will you choose?

Be engaging. The next generation of consumers – say, today’s kids and teenagers, in ten to twenty years – will be a key demographic whether you are selling products or “ideas”. They will have more than a natural inclination to using digital, whether to consume or engage in fast, ever-changing conversations – according to a recent survey, 90% of millennials say their life is “always online and connected” or “a mix of online and offline”. Becoming tomorrow’s influencers will require you to go the extra mile. Your content will have to be more memorable and engaging than your competitors. You will need to talk to opinion leaders, whether “on your side” or not, get outside your bubble, look and learn from what’s leading to success in other sectors.

Be fresh. Planned obsolescence – that is, designing products with a limited useful life ingrained in their fabric – is a well-known concern in consumer technology. Web and social channels are more used to battling against another challenge: perceived obsolesce. Thanks to the net, not only is information consumed more rapidly but also design and usability trends seem to have shorter life-spans. Websites become rapidly outdated, preferences and patterns change behaviour almost overnight – did you know that 60% of all internet searches today start on a mobile device? Remaining competitive and attention-grabbing requires monitoring, strategy and continuous recalibration.

Be agile. In the first years of social networking, new platforms sprang up like mushrooms and fell like flies (Myspace, anyone?). The new, next best thing was around the corner, ready to sweep the whole field and become “The One True Channel”. That has not happened, and today’s social landscape appears the most stable in years. Online giants – Facebook and Google above all – are tightening their grip by acquiring and integrating the best new technology – WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, live-streaming, etc. Being able to identify the best channels, produce outstanding content and shape it accordingly to what and how works best will remain key to success. It’s not about matching the message to the medium but the mediums.

Ultimately, the distinction between online and offline is becoming more and more blurred by the day. The CEO of tomorrow will not be busy thinking in binary terms “digital and non-digital” but will focus on aligning the purpose of business and communication. And this assumption is, contrarily to any prediction one makes about the future, a very predictable one.

Fabrizio Colimberti, Digital Strategist

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