This article was originally published on Financial Express.

In 2021, content will be the backbone of digital success.

As 2020 became the year of ‘virtual everything’, leaders and brands bolstered their digital content to build and maintain relationships with stakeholders. We saw an unprecedented acceleration in digitalisation, e-commerce and remote working. Businesses navigated the cycle of reset, restoration and recovery; as did their content narratives, underpinned by shifts in the market, customer preferences, economic landscape and societal needs.

In 2021, amid the continuing uncertainty, leveraging content to create value is imperative. I see individual leaders and corporate brands increasing their investments in digital assets and social media content as per the following trends:

90% of financial readers and 80% of employees expect to hear from a CEO on social media during a crisis, according to Brunswick’s Connected Leadership research. Different stakeholders have different expectations of CXOs. Customers expect the same service remotely. Employees want reassurance as they work in isolation from home; shareholders seek performance. C-level leaders stepped up their internal and external communication, including social media advocacy, during the pandemic. A prominent example is that of Goldman Sachs’ chairman & CEO leveraging LinkedIn to inform, inspire and influence others about safety and health, supporting frontline workers, adjusting to the new normal and the importance of mental health. Messages around prioritising workforce well-being led to increased productivity, innovation, and work-life balance.

With more businesses investing in digital content, there is more noise out there than ever. This clearly brings the focus on authenticity and thought leadership. Being real in your conversations and concerns is the key to engage stakeholders. Authenticity can help cut through the noise quickly in a cluttered space. If your content is genuine and relatable, readers trust you, value your advice, and buy your products and services. The right tone for these times is authentic, not opportunistic. Customers do not like being pushed with salesy content when looking for answers. Focus on sharing real experiences, reporting on facts, and giving insights and knowledge to benefit and educate your audiences. Brands such as PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle shared impact stories and educational Covid-19 resources with audiences.

2020 saw more leaders embrace vulnerability openly. More people engaged in calls and webinars, with their children and pets playing in the background. Many shared their own challenges of working remotely. Leaders grounded in reality fuelled more robust relationships and performance. For instance, one of the LinkedIn Top Voices 2020, Radhika Gupta, MD and CEO, Edelweiss AMC, shared her innermost thoughts and feelings with experiences from her journey and tough realities, like job loss, that leaders often don’t talk openly about.

Leaders were okay with not having all the answers. They were okay with not being okay. Probably it was the unprecedented and universal nature of the crisis that made leaders open to being publicly vulnerable.

In an unpredictable environment, the outlook and perspectives that different organisations took, shaped conversations. Brands that found a positive, useful pivot to craft helpful content, created an impact. Brands that chose not to feed fear, by focussing on connections not isolation, on hope not speculation, on compassion not differences, emerged winners. Examples like Nike’s Play inside, play for the world and Lego’s #BeAHero campaigns stood out.

Whether it was to motivate employees, build confidence or demonstrate ESG-driven conduct, discovering untold stories from stakeholder experiences required brands to dig deep internally. Stories of simple acts of kindness from employees, of leveraging technology to thrive, or supporting communities — true stories went a long way in reinforcing trust. Personal observations and stories of hope, fostering new connections virtually and receiving care and compassion made for powerful content.

Zahara is the Co-founder & COO at Rite KnowledgeLabs. Passionate about Thought-leadership Content, Communication and Customer Engagement.

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