Lydia Lee
Jun 4, 2018

Community before communication

Mentorship, training and pathways are essential for any company seeking to communicate effectively, says Campaign's Women Leading Change Mentor of the Year.

Lydia Lee
Lydia Lee

Over the past 10 years, we’ve moved far beyond the framework of one-way communications.

These days, we’re living in an era of engagement, of two-way communications.

Because of that, many organisations have turned their gaze (further) outward. This is especially true of some of China’s most ambitious companies. Eager to capitalise on the sustained global interest in China’s growth as a market, many have made major moves to engage new international territories.

But, for any brand to engage in true growth and genuine engagement, there needs to be more than simply reaching out to new territories and new audiences. Growth is more than just expansion. And, engagement is more than addressing an audience.

When I advise companies on expanding their business beyond China, one of the first things I will tell them is—you have to be willing to adapt. When entering a new market, a brand needs to listen, understand and be willing to adapt to the needs of their new community.

‘Community’ is the key word. When I was growing up, my father worked as a diplomat. At times, I thought of following in his footsteps and becoming one as well. And, even though I took a seemingly different path, I often think I ended up continuing the family tradition, in my own way.

As communicators, we should always be mindful that our role is to act as a bridge between different communities of people. We bring people together. But, brands should also remember. They’re not just addressing some grey mass of consumers. We’re engaging with communities—people with their own desires, dreams, thoughts and opinions.

This has never been truer than now. Again, we’re no longer operating in a world of one-way communications. Regardless of industry or product, every brand is now interacting with communities that expect to have their values heard and respected. It’s consistently borne out by research, too: brands with communal outlooks enjoy a distinct advantage over those without.

As I train and mentor others, they also support, challenge and train me. We all learn from each other; becoming more creative, more experienced and better problem-solvers for our clients.

However, it’s important a brand’s understanding of community extends beyond just their customers or stakeholders. After all, in an era of two-way engagement, there will always be more than just one community involved. In addition to the culture of a brand’s consumers, there will also be the culture and community of their people; a workplace community.

To truly engage in this era, a brand needs to invest equally in its own community and that of its consumers. From a professional standpoint, the increased scrutiny of the social media era and greater ethical priorities of younger generations has ensured that any brand that doesn’t treat its own community with respect is liable to suffer substantial public backlash.

There are also numerous benefits to successfully cultivating shared communal value as a company. Our 2017 research on the subject found that brands with strong workplace communities enjoyed higher rates of retention, employee advocacy and overall staff performance than their competitors; all of which can have a profound impact on a business’s success or failure.

But, put in more immediate practical terms, it’s really quite simple: If you wish to engage someone in conversation (or, better yet, build a relationship with them), it helps to be a person of authenticity and substance. If you’re expecting somebody to truly connect and communicate with your community, it helps for that community to be something truly authentic and substantial.

This is one of the many reasons why I’ve always invested in sharing my experiences as a professional. Once upon a time, we used to think of that a business succeeded because of its leadership. While leadership is important, we now know we can only truly succeed when we share our knowledge and use it to grow together. A business is only as successful as its people.

At Weber Shandwick China, we have WE Academy. This is something we developed to provide training, peer support and mentorship to help our people progress in their careers and their personal growth. Globally, Weber Shandwick has developed its own Value Based Communities around various skills and perspectives. In addition to helping with things like career pathways, these communities can prove invaluable in ensuring the people of our business feel supported in all of their different roles—they have peers around the entire network to lean on, if they need assistance.

The benefits for each initiative have been manifold. Aside from the outcomes discussed earlier regarding retention and advocacy, there’s also the exponential inspiration of a truly supportive culture. As I train and mentor others, they also support, challenge and train me. We all learn from each other; becoming more creative, more experienced and better problem-solvers for our clients.

Many of us still think of things in terms of one-way communication. It’s still far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can just shout out our message and sit back and enjoy the benefits. But, the challenges of our two-way engagement era should be viewed as more than obstacles. They’re opportunities. Provocations, even. They encourage us to think differently and embrace a wider view.

In the end, our lives, communities and businesses will always be richer for the inclusion of more people and more ideas. The more we listen, share and engage, the happier we will be.  

Lydia Lee is Executive Vice President of Weber Shandwick China, Head of Technology for Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific and Women Leading Change’s Mentor of the Year 2018.

Campaign Asia

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