How are businesses responding to digital disturbances?

More than ever before, digital disruption is now a reality. The future has never looked more uncertain. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Due to digital disruption, public relations has evolved in terms of communication, decision making and market analysis.

  • It is definitely not a magic wand that can change our lives. We need to view and utilise technology only as a resource to create solutions that make our life better.

  • It is easier and cheaper to engage consumers through influencers who have good numbers of loyal followers online.

Over the last 10 years, nothing has been talked about quite as much as the effect of technology on businesses. Every day, a new technology is invented, thereby altering operations in any field, creating new possibilities and eroding others. More than ever before, digital disruption is now a reality. The future has never looked more uncertain.

But is this phenomenon worth its hype? How are Kenyan businesses responding to digital disturbances? Are we getting things right? Who is wining? What are the losers doing wrong? What are the misconceptions surrounding digital revolution? How best can we prepare for the foggy future?

This week, professionals from different fields who have been caught up in the waves of digital volatility answer these questions.


How has technology disrupted practices in Public Relations?

Due to digital disruption, public relations has evolved in terms of communication, decision making and market analysis. Organisational strategies and work plans have also changed to accommodate the new wave of PR. Press releases are now being phased out as influencers take over communication for corporates and other brands.

PR practitioners can now build more solid relationships because they can do reviews online and post them for the public to see and share their views.

It has also made it possible for people to share information faster through multiple sources, which in turn creates room for quick response. There are so many channels available, and PR professionals are no longer limited to mainstream media.

Under this new dispensation, the CEO and PR manager are no longer the only people who speak on behalf of the company. Information is put out through several channels and in many formats. As a result, companies find themselves having to deal with a lot of rumours and inaccuracies.

Through digital data, it is now easier for organisations to get the finer detail about their customers such as their preferences, tastes and habits. This way they can make more informed decisions for their clients.

Has technology created more opportunities within the PR domain?

There are now better ways of packaging content and making stories more appealing to audiences, and it is also possible to collect feedback instantaneously thus the stories can have a much bigger impact.

Social media has created a whole new space from where information can be sourced. PR budgets have, as a result, been slashed tremendously as organisations seek to save up on costs.

Does the direct interaction between customers and corporates translate into better services and products?

Brand-client engagement through websites, e-mails or social media platforms helps businesses offer better customer service, and is a sure way of fostering trust and loyalty among customers.

Are these gains quantifiable?

Before the advent of new media technology, the reach of a PR campaign was measured in terms of print circulation, TV viewership and radio listenership. Now, results can be measured instantly through the use of high tech software that also guides practitioners in identifying the channels of content that best interests their target audience.

 What myths exist about digital disruption?

Some people assume that any change in operations is as a result of digital disruption. Disruption occurs only when there is a remarkable shift in a system or environment. Slight changes do not necessarily constitute disruption. Only a major shift qualifies as a disruption.

Another misconception is that technological disruption is a bad thing. While it poses some threats especially to traditional industries, disruption can be turned to opportunity with the right strategy.

Any advice for young professionals hoping to venture into PR?

You snooze, you lose. The digital age is continuously redefining dynamics in PR. Be sure to use technology to improve your brand and that of your organisation. Also, stay alert. Keep abreast with technological changes and trends. Utilise online platforms to your advantage and build meaningful relationships with journalists, bloggers and influencers. Also, institutions of higher learning should think of incorporating this shift in the curriculum.


Why do organisations now prefer to use influencers to market their products?

It is easier and cheaper to engage consumers through influencers who have good numbers of loyal followers online. Consumers easily identify with such individuals.

Social media influencers are not just mouthpieces. They are opinion shapers who can generate exciting conversations, encourage brand engagement and set trends. They can also spread an organisation’s message to the intended audience in an authentic way.

What are the limitations of digital influencers?

Most advertisers are opting for niche marketing. They prefer influencers who have a well-defined demographic block as their followers because they can be sure that the message will reach the intended audience, and this limits influencers’ output.

What is the place of traditional media in advertising?

Traditional media cannot be replaced. Not everyone is tech savvy. Therefore, to build powerful and sustainable marketing strategies, brands need to combine traditional media and digital tools.

Why are some companies reluctant about conducting their businesses online?

Remember the saying: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Offline and digital spaces both play different roles in the life cycle of a business. There are operations that can only happen offline, while others are easier conducted on the web. Any successful business should cater for the needs its diverse consumers.

What are the main concerns that young entrepreneurs should be aware of?

To build strong online presence, young business professionals need to keep tabs with any changes in trends and respond appropriately.

To attain the best results from your online team, allow them to work at their own convenient hours and from outside the office. Millennials thrive best in flexibility, and they greatly appreciate independence.

Try to only engage influencers who are dedicated to their jobs, and not those who are doing it for the money. Scrutinise their record before you hire them.


How has technology affected business operations?

Competition among brands has steadily increased because there are now more channels for information dissemination. Social media has created a wonderful platform where organisations can connect with audiences from around the world.

On the flip side, managing risks has become more difficult. Negative reactions by dissatisfied consumers can be made from any part of the world, and this happens mostly on social media.

How does Kenya compare with other African countries in online branding?

Kenyans are yet to fully embrace digital branding unlike in other countries such as Nigeria where companies are known to allocate significant budgets to online branding.

Companies in Nigeria are no longer engaging marketing firms. They are collaborating with popular names on the entertainment scene such as Davido, and Wizkid, and this has helped companies there achieve international success. It is no surprise that global music giant Universal Music Group has set up base in Nigeria.

How can one become a successful brand ambassador?

First, you must be authentic. Find a way of making your brand relatable to your target audience. It is not enough to just be photographed wearing a T-shirt with your brand name emblazoned on it. Stay updated on the latest trends and be flexible because the dynamics within this industry are constantly changing.

Is digital disruption for everyone?

When a brand masters the digital path well, success will almost always follow. Technology is a new brand in the market that people are hesitant to use. But once it catches on, everyone will be scrambling to get on board. Technology is here to stay and to survive, businesses must constantly innovate.

What does online brand strategy entail?

A brand is a perception that consumers have with a particular business. Developing it requires a good strategy, and this entails defining and articulating your message clearly, and then relaying it through relevant channels where consumers can interact with your business.


What are local businesses doing wrong when responding to digital disruptions?

Deploying technology as the ultimate game changer, and not as an enabler of faster and more effective communication with internal and external stakeholders. This is one blunder that most organisations commit. Technology should not stop businesses from exploring other business techniques.

Lack of technical know-how is another thing that puts companies at a disadvantage. You can’t adopt something you don’t understand. Companies should ensure that their personnel understands the changing business landscape.

Focusing only on the technology at the expense of the client is another gaffe. Technology should enable businesses to serve their clients better. All investment in technology should be done with the client in mind.

Is technology to blame for the declining fortunes of most businesses?

This is a wrong perception because there are several factors that affect the performance of any organisation. Today, consumers who used to walk into supermarkets to do their shopping are now buying goods online. It’s the same wallet, only that the business model has changed. Businesses have to focus on the impact of technology on consumers. If businesses don’t take into consideration the impact of technology on consumers, the customers will just adopt other models that are more efficient, cost-effective and faster.

To what extent has Kenya capitalised on the opportunities available online?

We have only managed to scratch the surface. The cost of data and smartphones is still relatively high, but I believe we are making great strides towards full adoption. The mobile money payment and borrowing, for instance, has grown exponentially in Kenya.

However, the government is clawing back the gains by shutting down technology-driven enterprises. Suspending technological inventions such as SWVL and Little, for instance, was counterproductive. The government should engage innovators in drafting policies that are beneficial to everyone.

Do you think technology has been overhyped?

It is definitely not a magic wand that can change our lives. We need to view and utilise technology only as a resource to create solutions that make our life better.

How has technology impacted business strategy in terms of ethics, sustainability and human rights advocacy?

Organisations are now redrafting their culture and code of ethics in response to the effect of technology in business. Digital technology has created new channels of communication which can be accessed by everyone. Also, social media has made human rights activism easier.


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