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Current Challenges of Strategic Organizational Communication

“Strategic communication encompasses all communication that is substantial for the survival and sustained success of an entity. Specifically, strategic communication is the purposeful use of communication by an organization or other entity to engage in conversations of strategic significance to its goals.” (Zerfass et al. 2018, S. 493) 

Even though the above is a very sophisticated statement that appears to be logical in this context, it is only one of many suggested definitions of Strategic Organizational Communication. This already brings us to one of the main challenges in the field now: even though many scholars have attempted to bring order to the chaos, there is no one universally accepted definition that is used in the field. This leads to a rather broad practical application, as there are several traditions of thought that are followed. Naturally, this brings confusion, as the same term can be used differently by different people and understanding the filed becomes increasingly difficult. 

From the very first definition being “Strategic Communication is the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission” (Hallahan et al. 2007, p. 3) we have come a long way to a much more multidisciplinary, and interactive approach. 

The environment in which Strategic Organizational Communication operates is made up of four main areas: the media context, the socio-cultural context, the technological context, and the economic context. Each of those different aspects is facing challenges on their own at the moment – and this just makes it more complicated when all four of them come together. 

The complexity of our new world has increasingly added chaos to the field. Not only the above-mentioned confusion as well as a lack of unified definitions of terms, but also disinformation spread through primarily online media via fake news contributes to that. The trends that we can observe here also pose challenges to corporations, with stakeholders becoming somehow caught in the middle. This co-dependence entails declining trust in corporations, as well as rising demand for transparency. Which brings us to one of the megatrends that currently have a major influence on the field: mediatization!

Megatrend Mediatization

The omnipresence of various media platforms not only in our personal but also in our corporate life has added pressure on long-standing business models. Due to the fast- changing environment things become outdated much faster, and a general unsettledness is the result. It is no longer an option whether one wants to be digitally present or not, it has become a must to be able to communicate in a contemporary manner. That has led to an overall increase in media use, and naturally also strengthened the importance of the corporate image. 

Strategic Organizational Communication is continuously faced with a change in its external environment to which one must adapt – but on the other hand, it is also an influencing factor and creator of change. This co-dependence is often hard to predict accurately in advance, leading to a necessity for accelerated reaction times, which is also reflected in an overall trend towards speed. In addition to that, new formats occur regularly on different platforms. 

Especially when following strategies that are often long standing and meticulously planned, it is challenging to adopt emerging channels, and produce effective content for them. 

Current Challenges with Mediatization: A Personal Experience

Being self-employed, I am highly dependent on getting the word out about what I do for a living to acquire new clients. Even though in this case I am a small “organization”, strategic communication with different stakeholders (particularly clients) is crucial in this case. What I increasingly noticed in the past is that even I as a digital native perceive the communicative environment as too fast paced and hectic for me to keep up. 

Let us have a look at one example: I would like to draw more attention to my business and my portfolio, and therefore need to reach people in my target audience that are no paying clients yet. For that, I would like to start an online campaign to increase my reach. I have chosen the rather traditional Social Media Channel Instagram to do so and would like to find out what needs to be done so that I achieve my goals effectively. The time during which Instagram was about posting and liking pictures on your feed is long gone; it is also no longer about stories, or fancy curated IG TV Videos. Reels are the “new” (well not that new after all…) hit, and the algorithm has changed drastically. Reels are also not the reels they used to be – they became much more like TikTok, since that format was more appealing to most of the user group. And the algorithm doesn’t care that much about likes after all but is much more concerned with the times a post has been saved, or shared. 

So, what do I need to do to achieve my goal through a reel? I need to provide my target audience with a well curated, short, entertaining, and perfectly cut clip that also answers their potential questions and shows them the added value in my services before they were even aware that they had a question. And to round that off, ideally, I should also compose a beautifully SEO optimized caption, so that the wonderful algorithm shows my post to people that are looking for things that are similar, or in any way related. 

Now you might think that doesn’t sound so bad – but consider the following: Instagram used to be an app that you could easily fill with content on your own. You could share your proudest moments captioned with your funniest thoughts, and even as a company that would trigger emotions in your followers. Now, it has become a platform that is not only time-consuming, but also requires a rather advanced skill set to be used correctly, especially when it comes to producing content, that often cannot be found within a single person. 

In my opinion, this is a great example of a case where the cross-influence of Strategic Communication and the Media Context becomes visible within the usability and purpose of a single app. The increasing complexity comes with an increase in confusion amongst the users – and results in a much faster pace, and a lot of chaos.

This article was inspired by a lecture on “Strategic Organizational Communication” held at FH JOANNEUM in the Content Strategy Masters Program. The lecturer for the course was Prof. Dr. Lisa Dühring.