What does the public relations industry have to look forward to in 2017? What’s in stock for us as practitioners, as agencies, as companies seeking to build awareness, reputation, and trust?
Three mega-trends are already on their way and will arrive at our industry’s shores before the year is out. Let’s see if we’re ready for them.
In 2016, we saw more content created than ever before. Just in news publications alone, we saw an astonishing 72 million news stories written in 2016 according to Google News, an all-time high.
Throughout the past year, we averaged close to 200,000 stories per day. In 2017, the tsunami of content will only increase. As machine learning and artificial intelligence improve their capabilities at generating natural language text, we will see more and more content by machines than ever before.
The most cutting-edge public relations and media relations professionals will be investigating the forefront of artificial intelligence and how it can be used to generate massive amount of relevant content. How can we use data, analytics, and algorithms to achieve awareness at scale?
For those brands and professionals who do not engage machine learning technologies in their work, they will see their relative share of voice decline. We may get a great hit in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, but that hit will be one story among 200,000 or 300,000 for that day. Individual hits will become less impactful; the frequency and quantity of hits will matter more. Better to have 100 hits in trade publications, or 0.05% of the day’s news, than 1 hit in business press. Buzzsumo explored this phenomenon last year when it compared the content generation strategies of the Washington Post and the New York Times; quantity win when quality is equal.
Peak Attention and Owning Audiences
The logical corollary to a massive tsunami of content is that consumers’ attention is not growing at a commensurate rate. The amount of attention a consumer gives to any individual piece of news or coverage must therefore decline if they increase their consumption of the massive buffet of news every day.
Our goal as public relations professionals can no longer be to simply try to reach everyone through the media en masse. We cannot afford to advertise to everyone on the one network that reaches everyone – Facebook – and the reach of individual publications continues to decline.
The solution to this quandary is the owned audience. We public relations professionals, whether in house at a brand or at an agency, must take ownership of our audiences. We must become proficient in tagging audiences, retargeting and remarketing, email marketing, one-to-one communication in social media, and working with very specific audiences so that our message has the most impact for the effort and resources available to us.
Just as the email marketing world has had to evolve from “batch and blast” email messages to everyone to refined, segmented, and targeted communications, so must our public relations work also evolve. Public relations professional must become adept at working with remarketing software, custom audiences in social media advertising systems, email marketing and marketing automation, and any technology which lets us communicate with the audience that our brands already own.
Dark Social and Influence
The trend of influencer marketing will certainly not decline in 2017; however, those engaging in influencer marketing will be called to account for more tangible results, more concrete measurements, more demonstration of thought behind the methodology for finding, scoring, and engaging with influencers.
Influencer marketing as it currently stands is very much in a bubble; influencers are paid outlandish sums of money for barely quantifiable results. Few, if any, influencer campaigns measure the impact of the influencer or even something as straightforward as intent to purchase among the influencer’s audience.
However, the year that the bubble bursts will not be 2017. The increase in prominence of “dark social” – the amount of communication which occurs behind closed doors and messaging apps and private groups – will continue to dominate social media marketing.
Globally, social media software company Radium One estimates 82% of social media sharing now happens in apps like Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, WeChat, and private groups where digital marketers receive no analytics data at all. In the absence of advertising systems which reach into those communities, we must continue to rely on influencers who can act as a brand ambassadors into those communities for the foreseeable near term.
Until brands and marketers have a way to reach the “dark social” communities, influencer marketing will still be the most effective way – when done well – to reach those communities. However, we also see the content shockwave at play here. A brand might be better off with 100 relatively minor influencers rather than one rockstar; activity and the creation of content will matter more in a saturated media environment.
The most progressive public relations professionals will improve their influencer management and analytics capabilities this year. New measures of influence, driven by machine learning technologies, will begin to surface as machines can ingest far more data than humans are capable of. Want to find out what’s trending on Instagram so you can adapt your own Instagram strategy? A machine can look at the top million photos of the day and give us insights about who and what is popular in seconds. Instead of picking the one obvious influencer, our tools will be able to help us identify those 100 or 200 influencers who form a network which reaches into the communities we care about.
The Future Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think
For those PR professionals who doggedly pursue business as usual, doing things the way they’ve always been done, landing individual media hits will continue to be more difficult than ever as the journalism and publications landscape changes. Each individual hit will count for less amidst the tide of media saturating our audiences every day.
However, the opportunities for progressive public relations professionals have never been greater. Aided by our machines, we will be able to do more, create more, measure more, and demonstrate the value of public relations – of connecting brands with the people who matter most – better than ever.
Which future will you be part of?
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology