Under “normal” (whatever that is) circumstances, 2022 would be a year where the professional communicator would be focused on major messaging opportunities like the Olympics, FIFA’s World Cup and a bunch of important elections.
But 2022 will be anything but normal. Brands are tossing their “return to office” plans into the shredder. Most of those elections appear to be a hot mess as far as brands go – nothing good will come of any messaging around them. And who knows what sporting events will actually happen. Just dealing with the vagaries of daily life will occupy most professional communicators.
But if I put on my communications prognosticator hat, I’ll venture a guess that a few of these scenarios will be highly likely to occur in 2022:
1. Employees will continue to tell employers to “take this job and shove it.”
Communications will be increasingly tasked with both retention and recruitment.
Media efforts will be focused on polishing corporate images to help attract the best and the brightest, even though they have no control over the monetary incentives offered. Brands will also increasingly turn to the communications experts as they try to retain their internal staff. Messages around flexibility, empathy and advancement potential will take precedence over the usual brand benefits and feel-good sentiments.
Talent today wants to work for a brand that isn’t going to wreck the planet or degrade civil society, and the reputation protectors will be called into the breach.
2. Diversity will dominate audience discussions.
Diversity will influence communications, not just in terms of recruitment but in terms of the stakeholders that are important, the messages that need to be crafted and the reception that both have with your new, more diverse target audiences—both internally and externally. The people we are selling to and the editors we pitch will both be increasingly diverse. As a result, comms will be expected to do more than just talk about diversity intentions.
They will expect actions, diverse voices among your spokespeople, and new messages, as well as diverse faces pictured in the media we distribute.
3. Mistrust and skepticism will continue to define your “key media.”
A large swath of the population no longer trusts “media” as we know it. They rely on like-minded “friends” in social media, or their neighbors and friends for recommendations. That doesn’t mean you can ignore mainstream media, but it does mean that you have to pay attention to interest-specific Facebook groups and local sites and influences like Nextdoor.
The great divide in our society will impact your audience regardless of who they are or where they reside.
4. Data analytics will replace writing ability as the most sought-after skill for communications pros.
If an artificially intelligent bot can write articles, it can also write press releases. As a result, excellent writing skills will be much less valuable than an ability to optimize messaging for SEO and measure results in G4 (that latest version of Google Analytics.)
New tools can far more quickly identify influencers, create media lists, and craft SEO-friendly messages, so the value of your digital “rolodex” will vanish. Instead, the 2022 ideal new hire will be someone with Google Analytics certification, experience in data analysis and who is a whiz with Excel.
5. Do you want to be “right,” or do you want to be persuasive?
You can throw out your Strunk & White. What will matter in 2022 is speaking in a voice that sounds empathetic and authentic to your target audience. If that means abbreviations, emojis or contractions, with all due respect to Miss Vicary, my most excellent 8th grade English Teacher who taught me the very best “proper English”—in 2022 I will never let perfection get in the way of persuasion.
6. ESG is your new reputation.
Increasingly ESG (environmental social and governmental) scores drive stock price as more and more investors rely on ESG scores to assess corporate risk. Additionally, new talent is looking at your environmental record before it even considers apply for your jobs, and, if you aren’t delivering on social promises, the Twitterverse will come after you.
Therefore, you will need to prioritize those efforts in all of your communications. If you don’t, either your enemies or your competition wlll.
7. #winterOlympics, #blackhistory month, #TedLasso—oh dear!
Whatever is in the news will bring a flurry of bad puns, worse hashtags and a lot of brands trying to capitalize on the news of the moment in vain hopes that people will “engage” with them. It’s much more likely that they will cause kerfuffles on Twitter and fail to make a difference to their profits. As long as communicators believe that likes are all that matter, they will strive in vain to create content that will win our hearts.
I predict, however, that sometime in 2022 communications will come to terms with its obsession with the wrong metrics, wake up and realize that you have to measure your impact on the business, not just on your Instagram account.
Katie Delahaye Paine is publisher of The Measurement Advisor and CEO of Paine Publishing, LLC.