As the year careens toward a close, pundits are pondering how PR will change in 2020.
If you’re keen to keep pace with hot trends and emerging technologies, prioritize these four issues:
Greater vigilance against fake news
Communication professionals should take a more vigilant attitude toward fake news and other forms of misinformation in 2020. Two out of 10 communication professionals in the U.S. and Canada say their organizations have been affected by fake news already, some more than once, according to a survey by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.
Nearly 60% of the respondents call fake news a “serious threat,” yet few have systems or tools in place to spot or respond to fake news stories.
That will (or should) change next year. More businesses and nonprofits will adopt policies, technical systems and processes to detect and manage fake news and misinformation. More PR teams will use media monitoring services to scour social media, news media outlets and fake news sites for mentions of their brands and products, and more will add “fake news response strategy” to their PR crisis management plans.
A mounting battle against deepfakes
Deepfake videos will pose new threats to corporate reputations. Advances in video editing have enabled fraudsters, pranksters and criminals to create videos that portray people doing things they never did or saying words they never said. Free or low-cost video editing tools for producing the fakes are now becoming widely available.
“If they’re so inclined, these mischief makers could create a massive public relations nightmare for brands,” says David Pring-Mill, a filmmaker and writer who has written about the topic. “People are currently talking about deepfakes within a political context, but the business landscape isn’t immune.”
Social media platforms and technology companies will try to develop tools to detect deepfakes–and some will ban them outright. Meanwhile, lawmakers and regulators will consider solutions. In the meantime, prudent organizations should closely monitor all social media platforms and devise plans to respond to deepfakes.
“As professional communicators we also have the responsibility to protect the organizations and executives we serve from the potential risks associated with deepfakes—and any fake news, for that matter—or at the very least be better prepared to quickly respond to it,” writes Kirk Stewart, founder and CEO of KTStewart, in the Relevance Report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.
More brands will take stands
Brands that speak out on polarizing issues can increase customer loyalty and win respect from consumers. Of course, the opposite is also true.
Either way, expect more organizations to take stands on social and political issues next year. Also expect some brands’ stands to fall flat or be criticized as inauthentic or hypocritical.
Corporate positions and actions must reflect corporate values. When making corporate decisions, it’s worthwhile to ask: “How will that play on page one of The Washington Post or The New York Times? How will activists react?”
It’s also important to conduct extensive research to understand your target audiences and how they feel about polarizing issues. Corporate communication professionals can play a leading role in completing that research and promoting their organization’s social responsibility contribution to society.
“Americans have an outsize appetite to take action on issues and drive change,” states the Doing Businesses in an Activist World study from Global Strategy Group. “They expect brands to do the same—and to engage with them as consumers and employees.”
Global Strategy Group recommends organizations follow the example of political campaigns that shore up their base, persuade swing voters and largely ignore opponents.
AR and VR become a reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will finally proliferate in 2020. Communication pros will seek creative ways to use the emerging technologies to better deliver corporate and brand messages to consumers.
VR presents 360-degree, three-dimensional videos that fully involve viewers in an immersive experience.
AR superimposes images onto smartphone cameras or other screens to combine physical and digital worlds. Users can shape their experiences, unlike VR, which is entirely digital.
Consumers generally turn to VR for excitement and entertainment, but tend to use AR for practical applications, such as showing what furniture looks like in their home or what clothing or makeup looks like on them. The technology offers a plethora of other practical applications that go well beyond games.
More than any other cutting-edge technology, AR causes consumers to view a brand as innovative, according to recent research. Early adopters of AR technology are finding that augmented reality is more than a high-tech plaything. The question is: How can you use it and other emerging technologies to get ahead of the competition in 2020?
A version of this post first ran on the Glean.info blog.