To say communication is evolving is like suggesting Meryl Streep can act. It’s a given.
I’m not quite old enough to have used drum beats, smoke signals or carrier pigeons, but I remember telexing and snail mail. And I was ecstatic when smart-faxing revolutionised sending a press release to multiple media outlets.
Social media has provided another quantum leap in the way PR professionals interact with target audiences and our new crystal ball app has shed light on future trends, with real-time engagement (once reserved for crisis management and events) an absolute given.
Billboard content: Social media has put more emphasis on succinct communication. We have become a ‘sound bite society’ prone to scrolling through memes, rather than a 10-page in-depth feature, to be informed and/or get a bead on public opinion. Communicators adept at billboard content will be increasingly in demand.
Visual communication: The wordy media release is a relic. Pictures are the lure to snare customer attention. The proliferation of infographics, photo sharing and visual storytelling means that key messages conveyed visually can cut through in a crowded market.
Short vids: Twitter legitimised short-form communication; Vine and Instagram are doing the same for visual comms. While an appetite remains for more meaty offerings on YouTube, the abbreviated vids are finding a willing audience. The ability of ever-evolving smartphones and tablets to show moving images so clearly, coupled with the convenience of lower file sizes, will ensure short vids will become even more fashionable.
Medium & message matching: Because new media is creating so much content and so many channels, messages need to be specific, compelling and relevant.
Mainstream media and bloggers don’t have the time to dive in, find their own angle and re-shape a standard media release from PRdom. It is, therefore, advantageous to provide one-to-one offerings by developing several angles and re-working headlines and introductions to appeal to specific media outlets.
Key influencing: How would you describe mamamia.com creator Mia Freedman? Is she in media, communications or marketing? Or is she a modern-day hybrid using all aspects of social media (often integrated with mainstream media) to connect and engage with a clearly defined audience?
Whatever your take, there’s no doubt Freedman is increasingly influential and a trend-setter, having used digital platforms and social media to create her own channels to develop her own soapbox.
The suite of products on Facebook now allows anyone with access to a smartphone, tablet or computer to reach and build a similar audience without even needing to set up a website or blog.
If you have content the masses value – and can put yourself on your target audience’s radar – you, too, can garner almost 900,000 followers like @TheTweetOfGod.
Patience in tribe building: Social media is a long-term process and the public will be more receptive to communicators that understand them and content that interests and assists them.
The challenge is to tell your story and those of your community in a credible way that adds value to their life/online experience. Trust will increasingly be earned on social media, particularly over a period of time, and communicators will be under pressure to genuinely be part of a tribe/community in order to have a beneficial two-way relationship.
Prized design: Brands may have a presence on any number of social media platforms, but they won’t be accessible to consumers unless they make the layout intuitive and display their most valuable content coherently. Social media sites need to be well organised and agile, with no loading difficulties and no formatting problems when activated on a different device.
Social media as news: Some of the greatest media hits in recent times have been from responding to news, rather than trying to create news.
Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan has become something of a media darling by retweeting the greatest hits of his followers, including: “…if the royal baby was an Australian batsman he would’ve been out by now”. The re-quote to his 400,000+ Twitter followers was picked up by media worldwide.
More authority for PRs: Because of the need for speed to market, many PR and social media managers are being authorised to find the client’s voice and post to agreed protocols without going through the usual client sign-off systems. With such power comes great responsibility.
Pass-on PR: Physical PR events, such as launches, conferences, stunts and photo opps, will be developed with social media pass-on rates increasingly top of mind. ‘Sharing-of-photo’ is the new ‘word-of-mouth’ and the share-factor will become an important means of measuring the effectiveness of a post/campaign.
User-generated content: Reality is a big deal. Social media users are increasingly turned off by the manufactured nature of PR photos and stock shots that don’t match the honesty of real images taken by real people.
DIY PR: Social media training courses and workshops are becoming more prevalent, providing corporates and small businesses alike with the opportunity to set up their own form of communications department.
But it’s all very well appreciating the technical aspects of social media interaction, it’s another to develop content that engages and elicits a positive response as part of a cohesive integrated comms strategy.
Disseminating content is just the start. The follow-up phone calls, relationship-building and clear understanding of the media’s editorial policies and audience are still vital, as is knowledge of individual journalist’s predilections and previous stories.
Get your content or timing wrong and the backlash on social media can be much more vitriolic and damaging than it would’ve been in old times.
Your carrier pigeon going to the wrong address or your smoke signal being mis-spelt doesn’t seem so distressing these days.
Jackie Crossman is managing director at Crossman Communications.
To read more about the state of PR, see the current issue of B&T magazine, out this week, which includes a main feature dedicated to the sector.