The Changing Communications Business. The communications business is a tough one these days, although every aspect of business also seems challenged in many many ways. For communicators its not just about the change, but also about all the news and noise. The media landscape is askew from almost any angle you choose to assess it –the traditional business of print, radio and broadcast are intermingled; the traditional news outlets are challenged by all kinds of newcomers; publishing models are in turmoil; readership and viewer metrics are being completely overhauled. The emergence of paid, owned and earned media working in tandem with the the growing developments of native advertising and concept of “brands as publishers” further changes concepts around traditional media relations. Examining how media is found and digested in social media also changes how we think about the value of stories we placed in publications.
Beyond the who and what of media relations, the communications business is also being changed because delivering that “corporate message” is no longer easily controlled through scripted performances at events or that well-placed media story. The concept of controlling and managing a few corporate spokespeople is considered out-dated, not to mention just plain unworkable. A speech at a conference can be tweeted about with subjective commentary. That media placement will get shared online with both positive and negative commentary by anyone and everyone. The noise level and fragmentation of how people find and digest information makes it impossible to control and garner sustained attention for those traditional “corporate messages.”
Stakeholder groups are no longer loosely organized. They are using online tools to be more connected with like-minded organizations, globally. They also use social media to drive more public awareness of their views and perceptions. The very definition of who is an “influencer” is undergoing change to include individuals beyond those traditionally considered business influencers. And, identifying who those newly minted individual influencers are and figuring out a way to build a relationship with them requires a whole new tools set and new kinds of considerations by the communications pro.
Traditional PR crisis management plans, often focused on communicating with employees and then the public via media in a controlled manner (which can still have its role) runs the risk of being overrun by the vast volume and speed of online commentary. Worth pointing out too that the inappropriate use of social media by someone in a business can lead to its own crisis. The traditional concept of crisis management is upended by the need to communicate more immediately and in an ongoing way to keep issues from flaming out of control.
This list about changes impacting communications could go on, and there are “solutions,”or at least interesting paths forward, to all the challenges noted above. However, if the response from communicators to these kinds of challenges is merely,“oh yes we have incorporated social media into our Communications plans (ie we tweet our news; we have some bloggers invited to the media event; we are incorporating the relevant online media into our media efforts, we tweet events and speeches),” then you might want to dig a little deeper. The changes are more far reaching and have bigger stakes than that.
The bolting on of some social media tactics to the usual PR efforts is really not good enough to deal with the onslaught of digital and social changes coming at the communications profession and businesses that we work for. Several stories struck me this week. They include:
- PR and Adoption of Technology: PR firms are missing a vital component in their operations notes Tom Foremski in a ZDnet story this week. In “The technologies of public relations are on their way“, Tom says: “Public relations has been pulled into the modern world (complaining about the extra work of social) but not much has really changed. It’s still very much a hand-crafted, artisanal business, its use of technology is a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares. But without a significant tech component PR is at a big disadvantage because it can’t scale, it can’t grow without growing more people.” He goes on to suggest that in addition to more and better technology inside PR operations, the public relations business has an opportunity to help lead their clients/business in the new field of “brand as publishers” – given the professional expertise related to media relations.
- PR’s Next Big Challenge: Tooling Up For The War With Ad Agencies was another post this week in which Tom Foremski makes a similar argument about technology and automation in public relations, especially as it relates to competing with the advertising marketers. My views is forget the advertising/PR family feud or competition or cooperation perspective. The real fundamental issue here is the need of professional communicators (agencies and in-house people) to work hard to get their heads around a whole new way of approaching what we do and the things we deliver. Certainly as Tom points out this involves the more rapid adoption of technology as a tool. However, I believe that is just a starting point.
- Advertising Facing Challenges; They Talk about New Landscaping or Gutting The House and Rebuilding — Perhaps that applies to PR Too? To Tom’s point about the importance of technological change, and challenges in the advertising industry, advertisers are taking these changes seriously. Just as communications agencies and professionals should. This week in “Let’s Tear Down the Advertising – Industrial Complex and Rebuild for a Digital Age, three new rules to break from your fathers media plan” Bryan Weiner writes, “The fact is, the future is already here, and it’s being driven by consumer behavior that is disrupting the marketing model. Like it or not, we’re in an attention economy – and have been for more than a decade, mind you – where consumers are increasingly in control of media they consume and how brands are perceived. Yet our industry is operating at its core much the same as it was in the pre-digital era. Sure there have been changes, but it’s more like a paint job or landscaping, rather than a gutting of the house that is so badly needed.” His solutions include a completely fresh look at budgets and allocations; re-architecting success metrics; and real and right time marketing of nimble and integrated teams.
- But Digital and Social Media is not considered among the Most Important PR Skills: In another piece of news, according to the PR News’ 2014 Salary Survey, “mastering traditional disciplines such as written communications and media relations remain the top two ways to advance in PR.” They were cited by about 52% of respondents. No one disputes the importance or value of those two skills. I am certainly not suggesting we downgrade good writing and solid media relations. They are pre-requisites in my mind. While progress is being made, Digital/social media was only cited by just more than a third of respondents (38%) as one of the most important skills needed to get ahead. Only 18% of the respondents cited measurement as the most important skill in PR. Yet in today’s online social media environment, metrics and measurement is a strategic advantage and a business plus for delivering PR programs.
- The Future of Digital/Social Business, Can We Get There? If those numbers raise questions about the PR professions interest in getting ahead of the social and digital communications curve, a recent Forrester study suggests Executives are equally skeptical of all aspects of their business getting in front of digital and social change. According to Forrester’s recent “The Future of Business is Digital” only a third of the executives surveyed said they believe their company’s approach to digital is the right one. Even fewer (21 percent) said they believe that they have the right people working on their digital strategy in the first place. A paltry one in six executives believes their company even has the skills and ability to execute these digital strategies in the first place.
The Opportunities for Communications to Push Ahead: Wouldn’t it be sweet if the Communicators and PR teams could actually prove executives wrong and get ahead of the game? Imagine informed social and digital strategies from Communicators that actually take advantage of social media, and the related new technologies, to deliver more effective and targeted communications programs. I know some agencies, individuals and teams are well on the way. But what might it take for all of us in the communications business? Here are a few thoughts of some opportunities:
- Technology: Tom is right. Automation, software, new technologies and tools will be important. We should experiment, apply technology where we can and keep this moving forward. Beta test new efforts and lets be curious about what we can use and how to do it…both to automate and that help us get better at other tasks that make us more successful in our relationships.
- Social media should be a strategic consideration, not a simple add-on to communications efforts. We need to add new strategies and tactical implementations that make use of social media, not simply bolt social efforts on to traditional PR strategies that rely on “third party” events and media. Instead, use social media as a way to focus (and deliver and measure very precisely) direct relationships and engagement with business stakeholders/influencers. And, in this regard, conversations, not messages are what build relationships
- Direct and meaningful engagement with business stakeholders: That means driving new and innovative initiatives that connect directly, and establish relationships with people who matter to our business. Laser focus on connecting with your stakeholders get you out of the avalanche of information and makes your business special. This is not a broadcast medium so take it for something different and apply new thinking to it. In our social efforts, it should be “we had message pull through because event X had our target audience in attendance” or “we reached X thousand through out Twitter account.” Lets get real. It should be something like “we engaged with people who matter to our business” and “are establishing relationships that are a priority for our success.”
- Social and Traditional PR has to work in tandem and it will deliver even more bang for the buck. Just to be clear, this post is not in any way advocating that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the baby. We are adding new bathwater to do even better things for business. I’m a huge proponent of traditional and social pr working in tandem
- Data, metrics and measurement: They are at our disposal, more than ever before and are tremendous assets for communicators. Access them and use them for research about what stakeholders care about, and who they are. Plans informed by, built and implemented around data can be measured and positive outcomes demonstrated. And by the way, give solid thought to what you measure and why. Because its about a whole lot more than “likes” and clicks. Check this Time article out about measurement, clicks and how to find real value in your efforts. We had a great time last fall at the European Digital Leadership “conclave” using Katie Paine’s model here and applying it to CSR and IR matters.
- Internal Communications efforts. Are you thinking about how to make internal communications more social, behind the firewall. What about opportunities outside the Firewall, but related to your team of employees. For example, LinkedIn Groups or how you use your own LinkedIn page updates—these can be ways to keep employees informed.
- Media Relations in the social news environment: I had shared some thoughts on this earlier, here.
- Your Corporate Website and the Corporate communications newsroom. Do they meet the needs of today and has it been re-envisaged for the social web? For example, where does visual communications play in your current corporate newsroom or corporate Website? Related: Facebook is screwing with your brand and what does that mean for your own Website and future plans. Mack Collier has thoughts for you about this – and I think he is right. How strong is your home base on the Web.
- Evolve your Corporate Communications “media” training to “social training” (and revisit policies and procedures about corporate spokespeople, mentioned above). Things you might also consider in this respect are: how to spot a crises in social media; what teams across business should do about it (to contain it and get the right people involved).
- Employee Advocacy efforts: Communications should be leading efforts on this front to incorporate these efforts into the broader communications programs for business. Social Training is important to move forward with sharing the expertise of your employees and driving additional value to business. Afterall, they are among the most trusted. More on employee advocacy here.
- From an Executive Communications perspective, should the business leadership team be involved in social media? According to a recent report by CEO.com, 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence whatsoever. If you, as the Communications Counsellor, think the Executives should be using social media, what is the plan and purpose; what can your team do to support that – and I don’t mean ghost write the tweets or posts. You could support with recommendations about followers and following, so it makes sense; deliver the analytics to show status of progress on purpose. Articulate the communications strategy behind that Executive presence and suggest the kinds of things that make sense to be used to bring these efforts to life
- Some additional thoughts about social communications are here
- Have you thought about the skills you need to forge ahead. For example, is it time to have someone with deep Social Web analytics join the Communications team? Do you have the visual expertise, as the Web becomes more visual. If you need assistance in that regard, I am thrilled to team with Shel Holtz and Mark Dollins for our SME² (Social Media Excellence x Expertise)offering.
- Work Together and Explore: Give each other time to learn and experiment. Share best practices and conundrums. Do some brainstorming about how social media opens new doors to communicating for business. Are there technologies you need or access to services that would help you create and deliver better communications programs. For example using GetLittlebird.com is a way to identify and track people who generate really great content around specific topics. With its daily reports you can find ways to engage with these people and stay abreast of what they are sharing and who they impact. Get creative about finding something new on the Web and applying it to your job as communicators.
Help each other build social communications skills that enhance our ability to do things effectively and efficiently. At the same time, lets use all the wonderful opportunities in front of us to achieve new and even better relationships with the publics for the businesses and organizations we work for. The tracks are wide open to move forward and be better at what we do….all of us in communications and PR should be moving forward together because it is about succeeding and driving into a bright new future for our businesses. What are your ideas about things we can do to move ahead?