At the end of March, Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to officially announce his run in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Within the next several weeks, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio all jumped in with their own announcements.
But unlike past election cycles, the first four candidates didn’t use the dusty old communications playbook of the past. They didn’t deliver a big speech, invite journalists to cover it, and hope that their sound bites made it onto the evening news and onto the front page of the next day’s newspapers. Instead, the candidates bypassed mainstream media to get the information out — telling their story themselves and in their own way directly to their constituents — all in real time.
Ted Cruz was first up, announcing his candidacy on Twitter and other social networks. When Rand Paul declared next, I was impressed that he did a live Facebook Q&A following his announcement. Not only that, but the Q&A was also broadcast in real time on video via Periscope. The fact that Paul embraces multiple social media channels means he and his campaign have developed a real-time mindset. Hillary Clinton also announced via Twitter and her website, and she pointed people to her YouTube video called Getting Started to introduce the themes of her candidacy. Marco Rubio also chose to embrace real-time communications by including a video with his tweet, writing: “I just recorded this quick video on my phone. Thank You all for the awesome support.”
The candidates now communicate directly with supporters in real time! The ability to connect instantly with constituents — bypassing the media and without the use of high-cost paid advertising — is a huge benefit to all organizations, not just candidates for office. Consumer brands, business-to-business companies, nonprofits, and many other outfits can now reach their existing and potential customers at the right time.
It takes a real-time mindset to succeed in today’s always-on 24/7 world. Unfortunately, most organizations actively discourage employees from instant engagement.
Connecting With Your Market Instantly
After nearly every talk I deliver about real-time communications, audience members challenge me. Most executives have trouble with the idea of instant engagement — they are steeped in the tradition of doing business at a slow, careful pace and familiar with running communications past a slew of lawyers, public relations people, and hired agencies. Their comments during the Q&A or when they approach me privately are very similar and more or less go like this: “It’s very risky to communicate in real time because in your haste, you might say the wrong thing.” What they are really saying is they are fearful because they are not comfortable with instant engagement. They haven’t developed a real-time organizational mindset.
Really? It’s too risky to communicate with customers and buyers (and voters)? I think the opposite is true. It is too risky not to communicate in real time.
When organizations don’t communicate in real time, they neglect customer complaints (and praise) on social networks like Twitter. That’s risky. When people don’t engage on social networks, they tend to focus too much on the competitors and too little on the potential market. That’s risky too.
A Real-Time Mindset
We’re in the middle of the biggest communications revolution in human history. Never before have we been able to communicate instantly with nearly every other person on the planet.
But to be successful in this new world, organizations must embrace the idea of real-time communications. They need to overcome their fear of what’s new and encourage employees to work directly with customers via social networks.
The more people you have in an organization, the tougher it is to communicate in real time. In a command-and-control environment — where no action can be taken without authority, without consultation, without due process — any individual who shows initiative expects to be squashed.
Companies that do have a real-time mindset push decision making as far down the ladder as possible. Frontline service reps decide how best to deal with customer issues. Marketers are free to blog about their work and comment on other people's blogs as appropriate. Public relations staffers are empowered to respond immediately, without asking management or the lawyers.
Developing that capacity requires sustained effort: encouraging people to take initiative; celebrating their success when they go out on a real-time limb; cutting them slack when they try and fail. None of this is easy.
If your organizational culture embraces the real-time mindset like those four U.S. Presidential campaigns, everyone is recognized as a responsible adult because success depends on it.