What’s in store for communicators, PR pros, and marketers in 2012?
It’s that time of year again! It’s time for the PR, communications, and marketing world to look at the challenges and opportunities ahead. It’s time we determine what’s in store for our businesses, our industry, and our way of working.
We spent weeks scouring the web, talking to industry experts, and listening to our customers. We wanted to boil down the changes we see shaping the PR and marketing landscape to ten essential trends.
After doing our research, we noticed a red thread going through the majority of the trends we highlight below. The changes in the PR and media landscape distinctly reflect the changes in human behavior we’ve been observing and experiencing ourselves over the past few years – changes brought upon by new technologies. Think about how we consume information nowadays, as well as what we expect from the creators of this information in terms of presentation and access. Think about how you as content creators aim to share and spread this information in order to gain maximum exposure and engagement.
For us, the trends below are about understanding these changes in human behavior, the technologies that affect them, and the engagement you can create from giving your audience a sense of achievement, empowerment, authenticity, and fun. Hopefully our research will give you – the communicator, the PR pro, or the marketer – the tools, the motivation, and the knowledge to tackle the challenges head-on.
We live in amazing times, but it can only get even better in 2012!
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Table of Contents
1. Digital First
We’re seeing a big shift happening – a shift that will most likely continue throughout next year. Companies and organizations are now, finally, giving digital marketing channels precedence over traditional, analog media. Of course an integrated marketing approach remains key, but digital comes first, both in strategy and in budget.
An important example of this is the Guardian newspaper in the UK. They are describing themselves as a digital organization, even though the majority of revenue still comes from print. However, a story published in print media is self-limiting. It forces stories to have a beginning and an end. It cannot adapt or keep up with rapid developments that might change the story.
However, if a story lives online, in social media, it can develop organically, quickly. It’s a new way of working for the journalists, but it’s clearly more effective in meeting the needs of their readers. This concept of social journalism, as Jeff Jarvis puts it, allows journalist to involve the people, the audience. You see things like live reporting a developing story to a broad audience, allowing them to interact and engage. A story becomes more expansive because it is open to outside, real-time influence.
The same concept can be applied to the business world. What this really reflects is a behavioral change that has been in the making for a number of years. A brand or organization’s audience is increasingly found online and is demanding the companies to be digital too. The consumption of media now happens through the web, through apps, through social media. It forces a structural change like the one Guardian is going through.
When it comes to PR pros and communicators, the focus will be to meet the needs of your online-savvy audience and influencers, needs that are actually quite similar to those of the Guardian’s audience. This means re-engineering your business, much like the media business has done. In other words, you must involve your stakeholders in your business. You must encourage your influencers to develop, share, and spread your story digitally.
2. Decentralize Social Media
Is social media decentralized at your company? Or is social media is controlled by a single department, or even just one person? Chances you would answer yes to the latter. Last year, we mentioned Jeremiah Owyang’s Frameworks for Social Business.
We believe that social media will become increasingly decentralized, forming the holistic “honeycomb” pattern, where everyone is socially enabled, has access to a company’s social networks, and represents the company even on their private accounts.
Concrete examples of this are Dell, SolResor, and, you guessed it, Mynewsdesk.
What we’re seeing is that social media is becoming integrated in to the whole organization. Ownership is spread and social media becomes a tool for conversation, not just a marketing, PR, or client services channel. And why? Because it’s now about people, not logos. Every employee should be a brand ambassador.
But there are risks in socializing your enterprise. You must relinquish control of your brand story, trust non-marketers to represent your brand, and accept an inconsistent brand message. But according to Paul Holmes, “the more consistent a company’s message, the less authentic it sounds. […] Any consistency should be organic – a natural result of shared values and cultural cohesion, rather than imposed by the message police.”
For PR and communications people, it will be vital to empower every employee and enable them to be the different faces of the company, each with a similar, but not identical, understanding of the company’s values. This means that cultural values must be communicated internally.
This could require a fundamental organizational change. If the employee is not “good” at social media, or isn’t willing to be represent your brand in this landscape, you might have to rethink your hiring criteria.
3. I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
We’ve all heard about user-generated content, and maybe even attempted to get some. However, what do we do with this material once we have it? Unfortunately, not much at the moment. But in 2012, crowd-generated digital storytelling will (finally) be fully embraced.
The trick is to find your crowd, to find the people that will help you tell your story digitally. These are your influencers, your colleagues, or your friends. They are the people nearest to you. Southwest Airlines is a strong believer in this. According to Brooke Thomas, emerging media coordinator, stories can be found everywhere, especially on Twitter: “Every tweet is essentially a story idea.”
A recent example of Southwest embracing crowd-generated content was when frequent flyer Paul Lovine proposed to his girlfriend on a Southwest Airline flight and then tweeted that she had accepted. Southwest picked up the story, contacted Paul, and wrote a blog entry about it.
Why would Southwest Airlines go through this trouble for one passenger? In our personal lives, we are judged and defined by the company we keep, by the people that surround us. It’s the same for brands and companies. A brand is defined by its customers, its friends, and its influencers. Engaging with them and sharing the stories they tell about your brand ultimately reflects what kind of company you are or want to be – your influencers can add to your credibility. It is therefore essential that PR pros and communicators start building and interacting with their networks, both internally and externally.
But there are pitfalls, as Coca Cola can attest to.
The first video depicts one of the largest social media campaigns Coca Cola has ever made. The second is an initiative of Duane Perera, a regular Coke fan – an entirely grass-roots effort, so to speak. Coincidentally, both have similar concepts and both occurred around the same time, but Duane outshone Coca Cola’s official, corporate campaign in terms of subscribers, views, and mentions.
Why wasn’t Coke’s campaign more successful? The one thing to keep in mind with user-generated content is that authenticity is rewarded, while artificiality is, at best, ignored, if not condemned. However, the biggest problem is that Coca Cola haven’t made concrete steps to engage with Duane, despite talks earlier this year. Essentially, Coca Cola are ignoring the social network Duane built around his travel videos.
If you come across something that one of your influencers did or created, on their own initiative, embrace it. It will lend more credibility and authenticity to your brand than anything coming from an official corporate campaign.
4. Customize This!
Personalized content will make the Internet more effective, as increasingly the needs of the individual are catered to, rather than a larger demographic or target group.
A clear example of this is in the news world. Last year, we discussed the emergence of applications like Zite, Flipboard, Pulse, and Trove. What these and other tools do is allow the news to find us. We don’t look for news anymore, because we automatically receive news about the specific subjects we’ve asked for from our networks and services.
The behavioral change we observe is that people are choosing their own content, on their own terms. We don’t like being pushed suggestions by people we don’t know or trust. We are more interested in what our friends say is newsworthy, not what a news editor says.
A similar pattern can be seen in the continued rise of social commerce. Recommendation services have been around for a while, like on Amazon.com, but recently social commerce has been developing most rapidly on Facebook. As Mark Zuckerberg puts it, “If I had to guess, Social Commerce is next to blow up.”
Zuckerberg might be biased, because if the numbers add up, Facebook stand to gain big – up to 10-15% of total consumer spending could occur through Facebook (social commerce on Facebook even has its very own buzzword: f-commerce). Facebook is the perfect platform for a company to sell their products, because of the sheer number of active users and the way they interact with each other. Not only will this mean that users can recommend products and services to others, but it can also lead to a completely unique variety of products for each user to see.
What does this mean for you, the PR pro, marketer, or communicator? Remember that the concept of personalized news or social commerce relies on people creating a trusted and engaged network around them – a network that will help them achieve their expectations. Communicators have to be keyed in to those networks.
Companies, too, can build networks and have influencers – both externally and internally. As stated before, the people in these networks need to be empowered to share your products, services, and stories with their own network, on their own terms.
5. Brand News World
We’ve seen companies and organizations take a clear step towards being digital first, towards embracing crowd-generated content, and towards empowering both their external and internal influencers. But on top of all that, companies and organizations will start thinking like journalists when creating and curating stories around their brand.
What is Brand Journalism then, and why do we need to distinguish it from content marketing? According to a panel discussion at this year’s SXSWi, brand journalism is described as:
- An editorial approach to brand building
- A nonfiction attempt at advertising
- Thinking more like publishers
- It’s all about real time marketing, brands acting as media in real time, as life happens
- It’s the responsibility of companies to help their customers succeed
The purpose is to tell stories, but this method of content marketing emphasizes a neutral tone, lending credibility and trust to the brand. This tone does not slant to favor your brand, nor is every piece promoting an aspect of your company directly. Stories could be about industry leaders, trends, or events too – anything that would be deemed newsworthy for your audience, in the editorial sense.
That’s the key to brand journalism – taking out the middleman by thinking like the middleman (in this case, the journalists). Nissan is a great example of this. They hired a bunch of journalists (victims of a downsizing trend among news organizations) to run the Nissan newsroom. Simon Sproule, head of global marketing communications at Nissan, says, “It’s about killing press releases. We decided that if we’ve got good stories to tell, we’ll tell them ourselves.”
We talked last year about companies and brands becoming media houses and we see that continuing next year – even going a step further by convincing media people to make the switch from journalism to PR.
As a communicator you need to start thinking of your content in terms of newsworthiness. Offer value, think of all audiences, not just journalists, and don’t always talk about yourself.
You’ve made it half way! On to Part 2 >>