Adapting comms for the social media generation

Kevin Furniss is head of HSSE & sustainability, AP Moller Maersk

We are all part of a storytelling revolution and most of us haven’t even noticed.

For two millennia, stories have been told that have shaped our identity and culture. They are part of the fabric of our lives, providing a valuable reference point so that we are able to make sense of what is going on around us. Today, the relevance and value of storytelling as one of our engagement tools is being challenged. This is both a significant risk and a huge opportunity for us.

As a profession we have used storytelling as a key part of our leadership and employee engagement strategies. Those real-life safety experiences we shared with others – mostly to deter similar behaviour – are still regarded as an effective way of getting our message “out there”. But I believe the time has come to change.

Welcome to the new normal of storybuilding. We are all unknowingly becoming storybuilders. The average person has five social media accounts and spends around an hour and 40 minutes a day browsing these networks, accounting for 28% of our time spent on the internet.

During this time we are actively contributing and shaping – in essence building – the stories that emerge around us every day. From our “likes” and “shares” of other people’s offerings to the comments we make and the images we post, we are all part of constructing and reinforcing narratives.

A message going viral is what ‘good’ looks like in engagement

It’s clear that in today’s always-connected society people are no longer satisfied by just listening; we want to be part of the story. We want to be curating the content and sharing our creativity, allowing others to engage with us and embellish what we started to take the story further. A message going viral is what “good” looks like in engagement today. The story is live and not simply a representation of something from the past.

The way we want engagement has also changed.  The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) phenomenon, driven largely by millennials, dominates the current thinking on engagement with younger workers. More people want their engagement live and with images. Or, if they have to downgrade to text, they want the message to be in 140 characters or fewer. They have a new outlook for self-expression, allowing them to engage when they want to.

Conversations are happening every second and, as safety leaders, we can’t afford to let these opportunities pass us by. Holding on to the belief that reaching our audience through telling our stories and convincing ourselves that this is still relevant somehow is old thinking.

The risk is that we fail to change. The opportunity is that we can act now and become more innovative with our communication and engagement campaigns.  We need to empower our teams, invite our people to take control and create things together. We should make ordinary people the heroes of our engagement culture and embrace the power of authenticity that storybuilding brings.

Storytelling has undoubtedly withstood the test of time but it may be time for it to move over. Long live storybuilding.


Kevin Furniss is head of HSSE & sustainability, AP Moller Maersk

Add new comment