|A customizable Web and mobile apps and augment users’ already formidable clout
From banks and Big Three automakers that needed rescuing, to the governors and golf pros who couldn’t master monogamy, 2009 may well go down in history as the year of the bailouts.
Public relations professionals have spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to fix things for their clients while the news broke faster than birds can tweet.
So, what’s in store for 2010 in the communications industry? That depends on whom you ask, but a common theme is the idea that consumers will have even more control, whether they are consumers of a product or of information about that product. In short, communications professionals will have to fight even harder for their client’s reputations.
“As social networking adoption continues, frontline communications and PR will become the responsibility of everyone inside a company,” said Charlie Wollborg of Curve Detroit. “Social media will stop being ‘some newfangled doohickey the kids play with’ and simply become the de facto way business is done.”
If Wollborg is right and social media use continues to grow, which is likely, will consumers eventually reach a saturation point?
“As more companies build an online presence, the ability or desire for consumers to keep up with all the content generated will max out,” said Amy Mengel, a communications professional from the capital region of New York.
Mengel believes we’ll see increased filtering in 2010, particularly in the field of tools that allow people to sort, rank and prioritize content.
The sorting of information is going to be especially important to keep tabs on if you have a client targeting the younger population, says Becky Johns, communications coordinator for Delta Dental of Michigan and a member of the Millennial Generation.
“We don’t find the news anymore; the news finds us,” Johns said. “As PR pros, we need to package our messages in a way that they will actually reach young people who aren’t out trolling for what’s going on.”
She said that for the younger generations, the source is still important because the information needs to be credible, but they care more about how relevant the information is than where it comes from.
“The Internet has made everything so customizable that there is no need or room for anything not relevant to what someone is looking for,” Johns said.
“We grew up typing a set of words into a box and being fed information about whatever we want, whenever we want it. We have choices beyond the mainstream media and dealing with that reality has to be a priority for PR pros in 2010.”
A year of transition
For Jason Kintzler, founder of PitchEngine, 2010 will be the year social media is tested as a resource, perhaps because people like Johns aren’t as concerned about sources anymore.
“We’ll see some ethical questions raised,” Kintzler said. “False reports, investor mishaps and other fails will likely spark some mainstream dilemmas. People flocked to Twitter and Facebook in 2009. They began to consume news in ways never imagined. Many of them even shut off their televisions and closed the newspaper. In 2010, questions of trust will run rampant.”
Johns and Kintzler do agree that metrics will be tested this year.
“We need to take ownership of the way communication has changed,” Johns said. “Social media is still widely considered broadcast media, and the focus is all on ‘What can we put out there?’ when it really should be on ‘What can we learn from it in order to do business better?’ ”
Kintzler said success in PR and advertising will need to be measured on more than impressions alone. “With marketers getting savvy to the ways of the social web, they’ll adopt more organic ways of reaching consumers and new forms of reporting,” he said.
Get familiar with mobile apps
The use of video and mobile applications also will see an uptick in 2010, according to Kintzler and Wollborg.
“Company YouTube channels and video blogs will replace company text blogs and news feeds,” Wollborg said. “Company iPhone and Droid apps will become as ubiquitous as company Web sites, and you’ll see PR and communications firms rebrand as ‘community relations firms.’ ”
Kintzler said startup companies will see a boom as retailers find ways to connect fans and followers to their brick-and-mortar stores. “Consumers will use their smart phones on a transactional level, and retailers will salivate,” he said.
With all the buzz about social media, mobile devices and online interaction, will there be any room left for old-fashioned PR basics? Absolutely, says Sam Sims, APR, account director at Jones Public Relations in Oklahoma City.
“With the outburst of new communications tools, mediums and vehicles, successful PR practitioners will root themselves in the foundations and be successful regardless of hype,” Sims said. “What’s new to PR in 2010 is really not new. It’s the four-step process centered on communications theories. Call it retro, antique, rustic—it’s good old-fashioned PR foundation.”
Ari B. Adler is a media relations professional with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.