What does the public relations industry have to look forward to in 2017?
What’s in store for practitioners, agencies and companies seeking to build awareness, reputation and trust?
Three mega-trends are on their way and will arrive on our industry’s shores this year. Let’s see if we’re ready for them:
1. Content shockwave
In 2016, we saw more content created than ever before. In news publications alone, we saw an astonishing 72 million news stories (an all-time high) written in 2016, according to Google News.
Throughout the past year, we averaged close to 200,000 stories per day. In 2017, the tsunami of content will only increase. As machine learning and artificial intelligence improve their capabilities at generating natural language text, we will see more and more content by machines than ever before.
The most cutting-edge public relations and media relations professionals will be investigating the potential of artificial intelligence and how it can be used to generate massive amounts of relevant content. How can we use data, analytics and algorithms to achieve awareness at scale?
Those organizations and professionals who do not engage machine learning technologies in their work will see their share of voice decline. We may get a great hit in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, but that hit will be one story among 200,000 or 300,000 for that day.
Individual hits will become less significant; the frequency and quantity of hits will matter more. Better to have 100 hits in trade publications, or 0.05 percent of the day’s news, than one single hit in the business press. Buzzsumo explored this phenomenon last year when it compared and contrasted the content generation strategies of The Washington Post and The New York Times; quantity wins when quality is equal.
2. Peak attention and owning audiences
The logical corollary to a tsunami of content is that consumers’ attention is not growing at a commensurate rate. The amount of attention a consumer gives to any individual piece of news or coverage must therefore decline if they increase their consumption at the massive buffet of news every day.
Our goal as public relations professionals can no longer be to simply try to reach everyone through the media en masse. We cannot afford to advertise to everyone on the one network that reaches everyone—Facebook; meanwhile, the reach of individual publications continues to decline.
The solution to this quandary is the owned audience. We public relations professionals, whether in-house at a brand or working for an agency, must take ownership of our audiences. We must become proficient in tagging audiences, retargeting and remarketing, email marketing, one-to-one communication in social media, and working with ultra-specific audiences so that our message has the most impact for the effort and resources available to us.
Just as the email marketing world has had to evolve from “batch and blast” email messages sent everyone’s way to refined, segmented and targeted communications, so must our public relations work also evolve. Public relations professional must become adept at working with remarketing software, custom audiences in social media advertising systems, email marketing and marketing automation, and any technology that lets us communicate with the audience that our brands have already own.
3. Dark social media and influencer marketing
The trend of influencer marketing will certainly not decline in 2017; however, those engaging in it will be called to account for more tangible results, more concrete measurements and more demonstration of thought behind the methodology for finding, scoring and engaging with influencers.
Influencer marketing is in a bubble; influencers are paid outlandish sums of money for barely quantifiable results. Few, if any, influencer campaigns measure the impact of the influencer—even something as straightforward as intent to purchase among the influencer’s audience.
However, the year that the bubble bursts will not be 2017. The increase in prominence of “dark” social media—the amount of communication occurring behind closed doors and messaging apps and private groups—will keep dominating social media marketing.
Globally, social media software company Radium One estimates 82 percent of social media sharing happens through apps such as Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as private groups where digital marketers receive no analytics data at all.
In the absence of advertising systems that reach those communities, we must for now continue to rely on influencers who act as a brand ambassadors in those communities.
Until there’s a better way, influencer marketing will still be the most effective tactic to reach the “dark social media” communities.
We also see the content shockwave at play here. An organization might be better off with 100 relatively minor influencers than with one rock star; activity and content creation will matter more in a saturated media environment.
The most progressive PR pros will improve their influencer management and analytics capabilities this year. New measures of influence, driven by machine learning technologies, will surface, given that machines can ingest far more data than humans can.
Want to find out what’s trending on Instagram so you can adapt your own Instagram strategy? A machine can look at the top million photos of the day and, within seconds, provide insights about who and what is popular. Instead of picking one obvious influencer, our tools will be help us identify 100 or 200 influencers who form a network that reaches into the communities we care about.
The imminent future
For those PR professionals who doggedly pursue business as usual and keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, landing individual media placements will grow ever more difficult as the journalism/publications landscape changes. Each individual hit will count for less amid the content saturating our audiences every day.
However, the opportunities for progressive PR pros have never been greater. Aided by our machines, we will be able to do more, create more, measure more and demonstrate better the value of public relations—of connecting brands with the people who matter most.
Which future will you be part of?