Dr Kunle Hamilton is a seasoned reputation manager and the CEO, Virgin Outdoor, a leading perception management/brand communication consulting firm in Lagos. In this interview with UCHE AKOLISA, he speaks on the influence of social media on image management, Excerpts:
Recently you instituted the HamiltonStyle Award to promote child nutrition. Why?
Journalism around the world changes society most effectively through advocacy. Advocacy is several steps beyond reporting news and writing features. Advocacy is a deliberate attempt to cause change; policy changes, changes in the action of government, changes in the quality of governance. I find that, because of the so many peculiarities of the Nigerian environment, the journalist tends behave more like professionals in every other industry. A banker just want to do banking, get his salary as at when due. You will not see him want to think out of the box, because, he is not paid to do so. The journalist cannot afford to do that.
In any country where journalists want to just report news, what will happen is stagnation, oppression. If journalists do not make it their business to bring institutions; religious, financial and political institutions to book for wrong-doing or not doing enough, then the society will not change as fast as possible. Suing people to court, getting injunction does not change the society. What changes society is to get the society to move in directions that are progressive. Rather than order society, you give society reasons to shift.
If our mass media would bring in advocacy in those areas that affect our lives collectively as Nigerians, Nigeria would change faster. I see health writers as occupying a prime position in causing change in how our hospitals (public or private) are run; in taking on isolated cases and making a show of them either for good or bad to cause change or influence government action. It goes beyond writing to fill space or writing to earn salary. It is professional advocacy.
As someone who has had a relationship with brands that are women/child health -related, what kind of support do you think men could render to their wives, daughters and sisters around such issues like breastfeeding, child nutrition and other maternal and child health issues?
It is foolish if not outright wicked for any man who holds down a job just as his wife does to say that feeding and raising the children should be the wife’s exclusive portfolio. Even, if the wife is a full-time housewife. According to Gary Chapman, doing acts of service is a language of love. Your children will remember you better if you take part in feeding them, carrying them.
Companies are responding around the world, Nigerian companies should do the same. As soon as you announce that you have a new baby in your family, the HR looks at the schedule and gives you paternity leave because, they know that no matter the provisions you make in the house for a nursing mother, it cannot replace your presence. Nigeria companies should follow that same pattern and encourage men who are father, husband to give that kind of support to their wives and daughters.
What is the difference between Public Relations and Advertising?
There are many limitations to advertising these days. You can’t advertise cigarette. There are limitations to advertising alcohol, condom, advertising this and advertising that. The entire world is becoming very rigid as regarding what you can advertise. Public relations presents the flexibility that advertising does not. It allows so much flexibility in pushing brands, in using softer strategies in influencing decisions of consumers regarding issues, products and services. They still complement each other as vehicle of communication of product values. By and large, Public relations is a lot cheaper than advertising. So you are able to do more with more people, more institutions than you would with advertising.
The impact of the social media on the conventional mass media cannot be overstressed. How has it affected the practice of Public Relations?
The first thing I will say is, thank God for the social media. Thank God for the advent of the internet and the many social media platforms that have sprung from the availability of the information highway. Without the internet, we will not have all the social apps and platforms. Someone like me would have needed a battery of 20 staff to what I do myself. With technology I have found myself doing what 20 people could do and reaching what it will take 20 people to do. As an academician, I have written about how the social media made and broke former President Goodluck Jonathan. It was Facebook that gave him the edge over his opponent in 2011. Some people said that about 22 million votes he got was a fluke but it was not. It was almost proportionate to how he gapped and stayed ahead of his opponent on Facebook. At the time he won the election in 2011, Goodluck Jonathan was the third highest user of Facebook amongst Presidents in the world, second only to Obama and Prime Minister of Britain or the German Chancellor. Of course in 2015, social media brought him down because those who can’t speak against him in traditional media, went to town on social media.
Now the beautiful thing about social media may not look so beautiful when you look at the other side of the social media. To a large extent, it is difficult to control. It is difficult to know who the source of information is, because, it can be a fake name or fake identity. All you need to bring people down is to create a fake identity.
When you look at the basic definition of Mass Communication which social media qualifies as (because you are reaching a mass at a time), social media does not qualify truly as mass media if you look at old traditional definition, which very importantly says your information is reaching a large mass from a recognizable, identifiable source. So, when you can no longer identify the source, we must identify the dangers of social media. I have been saying in my earlier research works that the Nigerian government and in deed, all African governments and all governments of the world must try and bring kind of control to the use of social media. We have seen what it did with the Arab Spring-the power of Twitter in moving rebels, moving protesters and not needing traditional media to group and do things. It is the same social media that in empowering ISIS and Boko Haram.
On one side, we see the plus, on the other side, we see the minus. But we can take steps to minimize the minus.
As a perception manager, do you have any advice for the new government as regards managing the social media?
As elderly as our new President, Muhammadu Buhari is, he has displayed a very insightful capacity to use technology even when perhaps, he cannot handle it himself. He has his own twitter handle. We can trust that he would use the social media effectively to carry the more than 160 million Nigerians along with him in understanding where he wants to take the nation to in the four years of his government. Social media is more effective in doing that because of the immediacy.
Before the advent of social media, what we called ‘immediacy’ took 24 hours. The radio and TV came and reduced it to a few hours. Now traditional media have online presence and update all the time. We have to use it. As a government, he must use it to make sure everybody stay on the side of his government, so that people understand what he is doing. He must not allow the opposition to be louder than him on the social media. The trick is: Don’t allow your enemy to be louder than you.