What can communicators learn from last week’s terror attacks in Paris?
No matter what your position on the issue – whether or not the satirists at Charlie Hebdo were right in publishing caricatures of the Muslim prophet – the outcome of their editorial choices cannot be ignored. Extremism and satire make strange bedfellows.
In my view there are 5 key thoughts for communicators to take away:
- Freedom of expression is a powerful shared value. Free speech as a value overrides nation, religion and politics in the western world. People are united by this value in ways that run deeper than previously imagined. This is both a freedom and a burden, as it puts the onus on communicators to respect that freedom, and its limits, in the context of their business.
- It takes courage to live that value, both as individuals and communication professionals. Religious extremists and zealots of all persuasions will go to unimaginable lengths to avenge their gods. Sometimes there is a cost associated with speaking our minds or sharing certain truths. We need to be aware – and sometimes beware – of the consequences of our communications.
- We are better – and worse – in adversity. A crisis can bring out the best in people. The heroic actions of certain individuals and the massive show of support as citizens rallied in France and around the world were positive and inspiring examples of that truth. But adversity also brings to light our weaknesses: witness the failures in French intelligence that allowed three terrorists to fall off the radar, and the resurgence of Islamophobic acts.
Communicators can also become better or worse in a crisis. This London hotel group provides an example of what not to do in the aftermath of events in Paris.
- The right message at the right time can be incredibly powerful. The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is one of the most popular in the history of Twitter. The creator of that campaign understood what to say, how and when to say it. There are no limits to what communication can achieve.
- Social rules the day. #JeSuisCharlie is further proof, if it were needed, that social channels are key to communication today. That does not mean the death of print or audiovisual media; it simply means that the world has changed and we must change with it.
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