Why we need to be more inclusive than ever in our daily life

After a General Election the one thing you can guarantee is knee-jerk reaction and hysterical responses by supporters of whichever parties lost.

And so we have seen following the surprise Conservative victory in the 2015 General Election.

None more so than the assertion by philosopher Rebecca Roache that Labour supporters should unfriend any Tory friends on social media.

Quite aside from the sweeping generalisations about people who support the Conservative party, Ms Roache’s suggestion will only serve to cement the problem that existed on social throughout the whole election campaign: namely that we surround ourselves with people who think the same as we do.

The shock to many (in which I include myself) on Friday was that we couldn’t believe anyone could vote any differently to us.

And here is where we fall into Nigel Farage’s oft-quoted ‘liberal metropolitan elite’. We don’t hear the opposing voices, or at least we dismiss them.

What we all – no matter of your political leaning – need to do is to spend more time listening to each other and understanding our concerns, hopes and fears.

We need to debate and discuss and talk through what each other thinks. Let’s actively seek out those with differing views.

Each of us may not manage to persuade the other to change opinions, but at least we’ll be less surprised by the outcome.

Will the General Election 2015 sound the death knell for traditional print media influence?

Sun front page 1992It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice in the UK that there is a General Election about to happen. There has been coverage almost everywhere on all possible media channels.

But how you have engaged with the election is the thing that may well have changed in 2015.

For years, the daily newspapers have wielded huge clout. The infamous Sun front page in 1992, after Neil Kinnock failed to unseat John Major’s Tory government is a classic example.

Fast forward 5 years and Rupert Murdoch’s endorsement of Tony Blair in 1997 was considered enormously important to the first Labour victory since James Callaghan in the 1970s. 

And it’s not hard to see why. Up until the mid-2000s, front pages of national newspapers were seen and read by millions.

This was, of course, before the mass adoption of the internet and, specifically, social media, both of which have contributed strongly towards the huge decline in newspaper circulation.

To give you some idea of the seismic dip, here are the 1997 and 2015 figures for four popular newspapers:

Newspaper 1997 2015 Drop (%)
The Sun 3,877,097 1,978,702 ?49
The Mirror 2,442,078 992,935 ?59
The Telegraph 1,129,777 494,675 ?56
The Guardian 428,010 185,042 ?56

The campaign in 2015

Not all ‘old’ media is taking a hit, though. TV is still an extremely important medium for all political parties. Although ‘linear’ watching has declined with the rise of catch-up services, the viewing figures for the ITV Leaders debate shows that people are still switching onto important events.

However, as demonstrated above by dwindling newspaper figures, the sway that newspapers hold is much smaller.

And where newspapers’ influence is shrinking, so their fear of online is becoming clearer and clearer. Case in point this week was the news that Ed Miliband was interviewed by Russell Brand for his YouTube channel The Trews.

The reaction of the right-wing media has been, frankly, hysterical, as shown by tweet below.

And the reason for this is quite simple. To misappropriate a popular ad campaign from the 80s: people like Russell Brand reaches the parts of the electorate that newspapers can’t reach.

Brand’s online demographic is the young, the disaffected, the new generation of voters who couldn’t give a stuff about what The Sun or The Telegraph is saying.

The newspapers fear this. And the only way they can think of to counter this is stir up their own brand of fear (pun not intended).

How the web is unravelling spin

What’s also noticeable during this election is that only the most robust of facts is being allowed to stand.

On 27 April, The Telegraph published a letter signed by 5,000 small businesses saying they support the Tories.

Before the end of the day was out, it was revealed that the letter had been orchestrated by the Conservative party itself, contained duplicate names and not every signee agreed to have their name added.

Once again proof that the power that newspapers once had has been slowly undermined. The media landscape has changed so greatly that they will never achieve that might again.

When ‘tone of voice’ goes wrong

Among the many ‘buzzphrases’ that you hear in content circles, ‘tone of voice’ comes near the top. (Hell, I even wrote a post about it earlier in 2013)

And if you take a straw poll of most, big, public-facing organisations, the way they want to seen (which is reflected in their tone of voice) usually includes the words ‘friendly’, ‘warm’, ‘chatty’.

Unfortunately, what a lot of the very same companies fail to take into account is the situation in which they communicate with their customers.

Lack of empathy

Virgin Media's poor tone of voiceTake the social media complaint, for example. We awoke this morning to discover we had no broadband connection at home…

A phone call to Virgin Media casually told us (via a recorded message) they were carrying out work to improve our service.

Leaving aside the fact they hadn’t pre-warned us about this, or the merits of carrying out standard improvements (not emergency, I hasten to add) first thing on Monday morning, my homeworking, self-employed partner took to Twitter to bemoan Virgin’s poor performance.

Within a short time, she received a return tweet delivered in that ‘chatty’ tone I mentioned earlier (see photo above right).

In case you can’t read it, it says: “Hi, now and then we need a little time to make the services better for the future. noon is just around the corner!”

What the (I’m sure very nice) customer service person on social media failed to pick up on is that a genuine complaint doesn’t warrant a patronising, ‘chirpy’ response.

A half-day broadband downtime is a big deal if you’re self employed and rely on fast response.

In this instance, the complaint requires an apology that attempts to sound sincere and at least tries to empathise with the complainant.

I’m sure this was just (or can be passed off as) an idle, one-off error of judgement, but the push for companies to ‘do an innocent’ and pretend they’re your friend when they talk to you will lead to many more poor exchanges with customers.

Guidelines required

This is why tone of voice guidelines that encompass differing scenarios are vital, not just a general 3-paragraph.

It’s really important to make sure you know how a brand will communicate with its audience in as many situations as possible, both difficult and easy. In other words, not just the fluffy, fun stuff.

A great (and probably over-used) example of how to do it is Mailchimp, who have even published their tone and voice (note the ‘and’) on a separate site.

Brands may not need to go to that length, but it’s a great benchmark to start with.