Published on April 8, 2019, at 7:27 p.m.
by Olivia Lake.
Public relations professionals regularly serve as advisers and give trusted guidance to business leaders. With new technological developments reshaping the communications landscape daily, there is a need to stay current on what is being released and how it is impacting the profession.
The following quotes on this topic were pulled from a roundtable with The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations board members on technological developments and their implementation in PR hosted by master’s degree students and PR undergraduates in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama. Other conversations in this series include topics on transparency and protection and on diversity and inclusion.
“Wild Wild West” was how Rick White, formerly with The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, described the social and digital landscape and the difficulty of when professionals were first deciding how to manage it.
Daniel O’Donnell, with AIG, said, “The lack of full control over social channels still presents risk, but significant enhancements in the ability to target and monitor engagement mean things have come a long way.” New technological developments on social media platforms allow organizations to measure content with pristine specificity. With the ability to properly attribute metrics to owned media initiatives, PR professionals can persuade CEOs to invest in these resources and communicate the impact they have for return on investment. Essentially, this technology is helping professionals understand exactly who is digesting the content being released.
“With the digital, and the ability to monitor what we can do, we can change so much more from a business standpoint now than we used to with the mainstream media,” explained Gary McCormick, with GMc Communications. Combining these developments with PR professionals’ expertise, Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, with Southern Illinois University–Carbondale, believes this “suggests more importance of PR in the organizational structure.”
Social media, specifically, gives organizations the opportunity to serve as their own newsrooms, according to McCormick. There is a trend in thinking outside of the traditional media and focusing on the value of owned media. He asserted that organizations’ reputations reside in the owned media, and “if they don’t have their owned space right, they have nothing but external problems with their messaging.”
Active generations on these platforms take large notice of organizations’ owned media. According to Brooke Bailey, a senior at The University of Alabama, “If I go on someone’s Twitter and they haven’t tweeted in 10 months, that gives me a certain perception of the company that they don’t care enough.” Not every organization needs to be on every social media platform. She suggested organizations make “a calculated move” in ensuring the resources to maintain the upkeep of each platform are readily accessible.
Even though the technology is out there at an organization’s disposal doesn’t mean it should necessarily be capitalized upon. To give a bit of perspective on how many channels exist, Brian Solis created his conversation prism, which breaks down the social media landscape. If an organization isn’t strategic about what it wants to accomplish and whom it wants to reach, it can get lost in the black hole of channels.
This emphasis on owned content has revolutionized third-party endorsement. Organizations are now utilizing influencers to build on their credibility. For example, Bailey is impressed with Disney’s approach to influencers. She said it is using influencers to reach young parents and college students to get them into the parks, sometimes on solo trips — which is new. McCormick, who worked on HGTV’s “Dream House” for many years, said its numbers skyrocketed when it used influencers to gain third-party endorsement.
But working with influencers can be tricky water to navigate. McCormick tied the risks back to the overarching theme of the Wild Wild West. They can do or say anything, and you have to let them. While simultaneously being cautious, professionals must trust the influencers will reach who they need to and ultimately drive awareness. “It is definitely a balancing act,” noted Bailey.
Technological developments, such as artificial intelligence, are also leaking into the profession. White said, “I have a really sneaky suspicion we better know what the heck is going on here because I think AI is going to be everywhere, and it is going to be in our profession as well.”
According to Bill Heyman, with Heyman Associates, the communications function is very much a function where organizations expect professionals to see around corners. The predictive analytics that AI brings to the table will assist professionals in making strategic moves.
McCormick said in order for the AI to function at the levels developers want them to, they need to be fed through research that is thoroughly understood by PR professionals. Heyman added, “You can never do this without us,” reminding professionals that these technological developments will assist us with job responsibilities rather than diminish jobs.
Even though the landscape of the industry is constantly evolving with new technological developments, PR professionals should not be worried about the diminishment of jobs. In reality, the developments are helping them to better complete their responsibilities through more detailed monitoring, strong owned media, new ways to garner third-party endorsement and AI. The Wild Wild West is a gold mine for the profession.