Vilma Luoma-Aho, catedrática, doctora por la universidad de Jyväskylä.

Vilma Luoma-aho is Professor, PhD at the University of Jyväskylä, one of the largest and most popular multidisciplinary universities in Finland. They have seven faculties, hosting some 15 000 students from all over Finland and from nearly 100 countries around the world.

Vilma is worldwide known for her researches on intangible assets as capital for organizations, changes in media and new forms of public relations, public sector organizations and stakeholder relations and, besides, for her contributions of stakeholder expectations and emotions to organizational legitimacy.
She has conducted national and international research projects such us «Transparency of New Forms of Media Advertising Online», “What is Expected of the Media in a Reputation Society?”, “Organizational evolution and dynamics» and, also, the Reputation Barometer (for the Finish Ministry of Social Affairs & Health).

Vilma belongs to the International Communication Association (ICA), to the European Public Relations Association, to the Public Relations Society of America, and, she is full member of the Finnish Association of Communications Professionals. Among her most recent academic publications we highlight the following ones: “Broadening the Concept of Expectations in Public Relations”, “Understanding Stakeholder Engagement: Faith-holders, Hateholders & Fakeholders” and “Do public sector mergers (re)shape reputation?” and “Public relations as expectation management?”.

Por David Redoli, @dredoli, Presidente de ACOP

In your opinion, what is the role of pu­blic communication at building intangible asset­s in the public sector?

I think communication is the only way you can build intangible assets. Intangibles are formed based on experiences and stories, both personal and mediated, and communication makes all the difference. Though it is not as simple as we often perceive it to be, communication should always resonate with the reader/citizen/enduser.

Sometimes public sector communicators just put out press releases or pitch stories to the media without first considering is this actually the best way to reach these individuals within their cultural bubbles. One message does not fit all anymore. Commu­nicators need to get into the “streams and feeds” of citizens, and which of these are ideal, well it depends on the issues as well as the context, not to mention citizen pre­ferences. Intangibles are built over time through good experiences and practices, so it takes long before any clear proof show up of doing a good job in building intangibles such as trust or reputation. Hence communicators building intangible assets need to be patient: their fruit will show in years to come.

As a relevant academician in Finland, you have coined the concept of “Faith-holder­s, Hateholders & Fakeholder”. How do they act to understand stakeholder engagement in public organizations?

These concepts are established to simplify the often complicated stakeholder environment and their measurement. Stakeholders are always a question of prioritization, and then the next question is, well, what now that our priorities can change in real time? What if some activist groups get together and interact in ways we have not prepared for?

The idea of faith-holders is the loyal colla­borators. They matter the most for all organizations. Especially in times of crisis and difficulties. Who are the people who trust you, like working with you and are helpful? There are always such citizens as well. In this dynamic new environment, the value of faith-holders is priceless. When there are multiple conflicting stories to be told, we believe the ones with actual experience with the organization/politician/party. We do not believe the official source or organization, but the real people like us, with their experiences, them we trust. So Faith-holders are your net-promotors in a way, who stand up for your organization. Maintaining Faith-holders should be prio­rity one for communication, as their value is far more than “potential stakeholders” that many organizations focus on. Moreover, with strong faith-holder recommendations, you will eventually have more followers, members, recommendators, customers etc.

Hateholders are those that harm your organization, and publicly comment on their negative experiences or opinions. Many organizations spend a lot of effort on fixing or diminishing these groups, but sometimes they cannot be fixed, as in the case of trolls. An important lesson is to take Hateholder feedback seriously and really listen to them, because sometimes these are the first weak signals of a bigger issues. Sometimes negative feedback may even lead to innovations you never yourself though of! If you take good enough care of your faith-holders, hateholders should not be your top concern, but merely a ground to monitor and listen. We are currently doing research on how hateholders could be turned into faith-holders, and interestingly enough, already merely listening seems to be very important. Moreover, if hateholders who have actual negative experiences are heard and their problems are solved, they may become your strongest faith-holders. Remember, they care enough to complain. Some would just switch and ignore if problems arise.

Fakeholders are fake influence such as astroturf or false petition signing or grassroots activism appearing to either support or oppose the organization or its ideas. Especially in the online environment with persona management software it is possi­ble to create profiles that seem like real people. With fakeholders, if you suspect there is no real person behind it, it is important to look deeper into their profile. There is always a hidden influencer behind the fakeholders and if possible, the hidden influencer should be invited into discourse. But here again, if you have enough faith-holders, you do not have to worry about fakeholders that much.

According to your experience, how re­levant is expectation management for public sector organizations?

Expectation management is a new a­pproach to most organizations, not just public sector. It goes one step further than reputation or image management, because it addresses the WHY we feel this way about the organization/politician/party, as we compare their performance to what we expected. I think it is the next big thing, because if you set the expectations right, a good reputation will automatically follow. If not, nothing you do might be enough.

How would you assess the legitimacy of the media industry in the European Unio­n?

Wow, This is a complex one. The media as an industry? Entire industry? Legitimacy refers to the acceptance and conditions for operation within a certain context. There are certain challenges in the business mo­del that are currently being re-negotiated, as the traditional model of selling reader attention for advertisers is broken online. There are questions of whether we need “traditional media” to burst our interest bubbles and how they can maintain qua­lity journalism in an age of algorithms and crumbling media institutions. Media claim to report what readers want, and that gives us the question of do the rea­ders know what is best for them? Legitimacy of the media industry in this aspect could be changing from the unchallenged institutionalized general acceptance to ha­ving to prove their value through individual be­nefits and va­lue, but as long as there are accep­ting consumers and readers for the media industry, it will maintain its legitimacy. Now whether the increasingly sponsored and entertainment focused media contents are ethical and supporting of societal values, that is another question.

From your point of view, what is the main agenda for research on political communication for the forthcoming years?

Intangible assets, expectations, and transparency. Much of the value of politics is built on the intangible real, yet we know little about it. Expectations shape the way we approach anything. Transparency is the most challenging one: I am hopeful that with big data available, we could concentrate more on the actual deeds than on how things sound or appear. I am hopeful that algorithmic fact- checking and crowdsour­cing will make politics more transparent and interactive, and that this way we could build in a new form of engagement that has been missing even in the “social media” environment. And I say this because much of social media is really not social but one-way communication among people who already agree with you and think like you do. I would hope an increase in transparency would lead to increased trust, but this co­ming from a Nordic welfare system citizen.

Is “public communication” so relevant to shape reputation?

The communication practiced by communication departments of public sector entities? I think listening is important to reputation, and creating the right expectations. My research shows that there are quite strong sector reputations to public sector organizations that shape or even distort individual experiences and assessments, so considering that public sector communication could easily fall into “as usual”. Communication should be two way, and much of public communication is planned for the world where we had clear causal relations between issues and we could just “communicate facts of what has been done”. This seems arrogant and one way in today’s environment, so I think that reputation can be shaped via multiple factors one of which is communication. But I would highlight experiences, and if communicators wonder how to create good experiences, well, the key is listening. Not hearing, but listening.

Could you, please, explain for ACOP reader­s what are the meaning and the scope of your famous concept “Antifra­gile Communication”?

Yes, with pleasure! The idea is borrowed from Nassim Taleb, and the idea is via commu­nication to make organizational communication survive turbulence, because that we have plenty of in society. These are principles to aim at, so I would talk of to which degree is your organization becoming antifragile or at least less fragile in communication. Let me explain by three main ideas (there are more, but to summarize).

First, Antifragile communication is stakeholder optimized, it starts from actual needs of end-users such as citizens. Traditionally organizational communication is organization focused where the aim is to communicate your messages, and this is done however is easiest for the organization and its structures and departments and managers, and the end-user needs get lost in the “which department gets to decide and why”. Building the entire process from an individual need up is the idea. User experience is central: to enable the best possible experience for both employees and stakeholders (or citizens, or endusers) there should not be silos between departments, but all knowledge and information should be shared and available. This way, say, if I citizen approaches the organization with a problem, everyone at the organization could help and contribute, without the citizen ha­ving to explain the same issue five times for each service center or authority they talk to.

Second, Antifragile communication is about engagement and empowernment, which is much more tempting for collaboration than the traditional control and mana­gement. This goes for both employees and stakeholder­s; if workers in an organization feel they are trusted, they are much more willing to collaborate with stakeholders and end-users such as citizens. This means that interactions is all about listening and creating realistic expectations in a positive settin­g. There is less need for defense when everyone feels appreciated and listened to. So, if public sector employees feel that they are not suspected and controlled, they are open to concentrate on their job of service.

Third, Antifragile communication is based on establishing a strong organizational culture that guides actions, so no indivi­dual policies and strategies and guidelines need to be consulted to be able to answer simple questions and make decisions. This would save up a lot of time. Say for example, that the values of an organization says we are “open”. Then communicators should together with HR make sure that everything in the organization supports openness, and that processes and services enable this openness. Ideally the endusers should be able to describe the organization using the values and cultural traits it has decided to emphasize. Transpa­rency is central here, and not just transparency from the point of view of the organization, but from the point of view of the citizens (or endusers, or stakeholders).

So how is antifragility approached in practice? I see five moves organizations need to take.

1) Move from reputation management to expectation management.
2) Move from “Humans as Resources” towards employee enabling.
3) More from messages to listening.
4) Move from attention to interaction.
5) Move from strategies to cultivating a strong internal culture.

Intangibles & Innovation: What are their role for a democracy?

If democracy is about involving all individuals in society, and innovation about creating new value and changin­g social practice, I would say that intangibles ena­ble both innovation and democracy. Without trust there is very little possible to do in democracy. I would say lis­tening is central for both. You can only achieve trust via listening, and innovations often result from intellectual cross-pollination of ideas, where you listene­d to how some other cha­llen­ge was solved somewhere else. And for democracy today, I guess we could be more innovative and listenin­g instead of trying to push our own agendas and do things the way they have always been done?

Finally, do you think social media and internet communication are overvalued in political communication?

Do I think social media is a bubble? There was so much dissatisfaction with legacy media before social media that I guess the expectations were too high for it being able to solve all kinds of challenges, ranging from networking and access to engagement, so I do see disappointment. Social media is not a magic wand, I would say it is a rea­lity check, a cocktail party. Do you expect the cocktail party visit to change the whole campaign? It might, if you go to these parties conti­nually and it might rea­lly add some fantastic features, but again it might also backfire. Has social media increased engagement? Yes and no. It has increased awareness and visi­bility of issues and indivi­duals, but it still fails to penetrate the same bubbles we always had of surrounding ourselves and our feeds and streams with people that have ideas like us. We are seeing now Clicktivism instead of activism, but if you truly want to make an e­ffect, meeting people in person is important. Once you have met, howeve­r, internet allows us to maintain that connection stronger than before.

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