The internet is enabling people everywhere to express an opinion and link up with others to influence public policy and commerce at an unprecedented scale. Shareholders, community members and interest groups spanning environmental, animal welfare and industry agendas are getting more sophisticated in advancing their cause. However, opinions are not facts and not all influence is beneficial for rural and regional Australia. The key question is how do organisations respond?
In our experience, the first and most significant challenge to overcome is in avoiding the trap of denial. There is a common sequence of behaviours:
- Leaders are at first dismissive of online activism -“these guys are extremists and this is a one-off event“
- Rationalisation – “these guys are bending the truth and their whole campaign is based on deception and misinformation“
- Mitigation – “we’ll take legal action and that will bring them to heel”
- Confrontation – “internet activism is an important strategic risk/opportunity for us. We need a new business model“
The challenge for leaders in government, rural industry and environment groups is how to dramatically reduce the time and cost of getting from denial to confrontation of the need for a different business model. As always, some organisations within and outside your core area of interest are innovating faster than others and offer clues as to how you might respond.
Those organisations and industries that have felt the blow torch of internet advocacy are reorganising and ramping up their online presence. For example, look at the current scaling up cattle farmer involvement in online media following the Indonesian livestock export incident.
By looking outwards, you can also observe that a lot of organisations in your sphere of interest still have a muted web presence and some are yet to engage in social media at all. For these, the risk is that they may not be able to catch up. For you, the opportunity is to take a stronger position in your ‘market’ while others are asleep at the wheel.
But increasing your organisations online presence is only part of the response. Investing effort to develop your own compelling narrative has to go beyond opinions and spin. Look to the leadership of industries like cotton, which have invested strategically over the past 20 years to gather independent evidence of industry environmental performance.
Governments, NRM bodies and rural R&D corporations and companies have a potentially powerful role to play in synthesising knowledge and becoming trusted sources that inform and shape industry and environmental policy and programs. The alternative is to allow the opinions of organised interest groups to shape the perceptions and actions of decision-makers, and the community at large.
Contact us if you would like a rapid assessment of the readiness of your organisation or industry to stand out from the crowd.