These days, people involved in PR and brand marketing are asking themselves a lot of big questions. This includes some of Vero’s clients and partners, who want to better understand views on the current communications dynamics.
We all recognize that this can be a sensitive subject, but we also think it’s important to share information and a framework for viewing current events.
Communicators today are asking a wide variety of questions, including:
- Is it possible for brands and businesses to totally separate their missions from polarizing social issues?
- Can media and business leaders truly take a “no politics” stance?
- Does social tension permeate more of the media and brand ecosystem than ever before?
While there are no easy answers, one thing is clear: executive leaders have more social issues to navigate than any time in recent memory. These include those in Thailand, where ongoing political tensions require that some (though not all) brand and company leadership must consider new ways to navigate social issues and decide how their companies manage communications with all of their stakeholders.
Historically, brands in Thailand – like brands in most of the world – have tended to avoid controversial topics and hot-button issues for fear of alienating large segments of their consumer bases.
The conventional wisdom was that voicing social opinions could create far-reaching and unforeseen repercussions.
However, today, some leaders in business and media are being asked to be more involved in social issues. And it’s vital, more than ever, that leaders are keenly attuned to issues impacting society as a whole.
Silence speaks volumes, and some consumers may interpret a brand’s unwillingness to speak up as agreement with the status quo – which may run counter to its expressed values or the personal values of many of its customers. However, there are also risks in speaking out and potentially appearing cynical, tone-deaf or opportunistic.
Ultimately, there is no universal solution, and each business leader must navigate their own path based on a combination of data analysis and their estimation about what is best for both their business and broader society.
With all this in mind, here are some observations and insights about the state of brand and corporate communications in Thailand today.
Dialog with influencers about their stances.
A common flashpoint for brands in Thailand are their relationships with politically active and vocal influencers.
The key for these brands is to be aware of each influencer’s views, and to have open, respectful conversations with them about how they express those views. For many influencers, authenticity is their top priority and primary appeal. So it is critical that brands have a clear understanding of where influencers stand, because the brand may be judged by the company it keeps.
Social media users across Thailand are mobilizing through hashtags and demanding brands and celebrities be a force for change. Millennials around the world have a desire for positive social and environmental change, and likewise, in Thailand, the majority of both Gen Z and Millennials say they expect brands to be part of the debate, promote more progressive values, and play a more meaningful role in society, according to Spotify’s Listening to Southeast Asia’s next generation study.
Help brand representatives manage challenges regarding pressure from their audiences to support political points of view.
Some brand representatives – from top management to brand ambassadors and KOLs – are facing pressure from all sides. It’s up to communications professionals to help brand ambassadors strategize a path that meets the needs of the current situation in Thailand.
Pattanee Jeeriphab, Vero’s Chief Communications Officer, advises brands to consider the “four Cs” in managing communications during this time, ensuring that all communications are Correct, Clear, Compassionate and based on consideration of all Consequences.
Be aware of the politicization of media and think through the potential political ramifications of content appearing in certain media.
Today, the majority of prominent news and media organizations in Thailand are safe destinations for content, particularly if the content is non-exclusive and widely distributed across the media spectrum.
But communications professionals should be aware of the potential for a shift in the media landscape.
Moreover, brands should carefully consider what media titles they choose to share across their social channels, as sharing could appear to be an endorsement of a news organization.
Use analytics to help determine when and where to engage with consumers and break through.
Leverage all channels to the greatest degree possible – using earned, owned, shared, and paid media to reach audiences. Brands need to remain vigilant and cautious when considering where to place ads, especially during times of political unrest or in media outlets that have a strong stance towards one side or another. Brands must also, of course, carefully monitor sentiment among their online communities.
Provide digital opportunities for comfort in socially tense situations – such as using gamification or other content to lighten people’s moods and ease tension.
During the 2020 US election, easily among the most divisive in the country’s history, Calm, a San Francisco-based meditation app, strengthened its value and identity by purchasing a sponsorship with CNN in which Calm’s logo got prime placement on the screen throughout the network’s election coverage.
Not only has Calm gained massive online attention on Twitter thanks to its brilliant sponsorship campaign, but the data from mobile app data analytics firm Sensor Tower also showed that Calm was downloaded about 35,000 times on Nov 3 and again on Nov 4, up from its daily average of 26,000 downloads the week prior.
In Thailand, following a tense evening of conflict between the police and student protestors, ooca, a Thai psychology telemedicine app, offered a free consulting session with its psychologists and psychiatrists for those emotionally impacted by the incident.
For communicating internally, brands should closely monitor the situation and sentiment.
Internal communications is more challenging than ever. There is no one-size-fits-all approach because virtually every situation is unique.
What is clear is that the stakes are high in internal communications because weighing in on a tense situation or ignoring tensions can both lead to turmoil. This is why it’s so vital for internal communicators to continuously monitor and analyze the situation and the sentiments. For some companies, this may mean putting policies in place to defuse tensions.
Coinbase is an example of a company that sought to put policies in place on political discourse as its CEO declared a new policy that bans politics and social activism from the office – resulting in 60 employees quitting and taking severance.
If executives choose to develop internal policies regarding political and social tensions within the company, it’s important to communicate very clearly the details of the policy and what it means for employees.
Ultimately, business requires authentic cooperation among people. We also must respect each other and recognize diversity. And at times like these, where tensions may be on the surface, it’s vital for executives and internal communications professionals to set the right approach because how business leaders respond to the current tensions may help to define the future.