Firebrands insight: BBC. Milestones amid scandal.

For the BBC, it has been a time of milestones. The 90th anniversary of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s very first transmission – planned to be met by all 60 radio channels playing in perfect unison – was greeted instead with the untimely exit of the corporation’s shortest standing Director General, multiple consecutive scandals and an entirely divided organisation.

It was all planned out so precisely; a specially commissioned composition combining key moments in broadcasting history and played simultaneously over all BBC radio channels, and would have been at any other time, a wonderfully nostalgic moment. But in an organisation rocked by two major scandals in as many months, may not have been heard over the lynch mob.

In a heavily publicised effort to rebuild public trust in “Auntie Beeb”, the departure of George Entwhisle after just 54 days in office marked the beginning of a ‘radical overhaul’ of the BBC structure. The coverage since has focused on one theme: will these accusations concerning Jimmy Saville, Newsnight and a very damaging libel claim finally and irrevocably unseat the mighty BBC? Recent polls suggest the public aren’t quite so easily swayed, but instead a change in brand perception could be part of a more widespread social trend.

According to YouGov, trust in the BBC has been in steady decline for almost 10 years, since facing the Hutton inquiry over the late Dr David Kelly Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But to assume this downturn was as straightforward as scandal affecting brand image would be simplistic; A combination of banking failures and governmental and journalistic let-downs have radically altered the public perception towards major corporate bodies in general. This combined with the ability to voice opinions en masse through social media has enabled a shift in a reliance on ‘expert’ sources to trust in peer and like-minded recommendation. According to YouGov, this has resulted in a marked drop in trust of media broadcasters, some by up to 40% in the last 10 years.

As we have recently discussed on this blog, brand and media relationships have been rapidly evolving into multi-way conversations, where brands no longer hold the majority of control. Geared with this in mind, journalistic and broadcast accounts can thrive in social media. On Firebrands, brands like the BBC, CNN and ESPN sit high in Rankings, with followers expecting reliable, breaking news updates and also the opportunity to share, compare and influence opinion.

The BBC has been particularly successful with an established social following and a focus on bulletins and news across their accounts. But like many of their competitors, conversation is kept to a minimum, something that has become ever more apparent in the lack of response publicly during the past few weeks.

This success with their audience extends to viewing figures, which appear to have been unaffected during this time. On the contrary, the BBC has seen it’s greatest viewing numbers in the past year, and after 90 years of broadcasting and generation upon generation of viewers, the BBC is unlikely to lose traction as a public force in the near future.

For it is not the current viewing figures or follower count that is of biggest concern; the BBC will weather out this scandal as it has others before. Today’s audience will watch and follow their news just the same going forward, but they will do so with more detail, more criticism, more opinion and the tools to vocalise both.

What is most troubling about this entire process has been the lack of communication both internally and externally from the day the scandal broke. By limiting twitter use by employees and keeping public communication to a series of formal hidden away statements, the corporation is effectively halting the conversation that underpins their brand relationship.

The BBC now has a rare opportunity to connect with a community that is already listening. If they are willing to be frank, honest and open to criticism they may well build a relationship with their public that not only outshines their competitors but overshadows the 90 year old BBC culture that has come before.