Where is the public relations field going in 2011? That’s the question that will be put to a panel convened by the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Here are a few things that are on my mind:
Technology: the “universal internet” is dying, and is being replaced by what Josh Bernoff calls the “splinternet.” Think about it: your amazon.com experience is different from mine. The site uses what it knows about us as consumers to deliver a tailored experience. And that’s good. We also expect to be able to access web content from our phones, our tablets, even our televisions. Our challenge is to be able to present our message – fluently, of course – where people expect to find it. Each channel, each mode, has its own set of rules and “superpowers.” So don’t expect to get by simply pushing your Tweets to Facebook. And be ready to face the technical hurdles necessary to reach your audience on the device of choice. Other technologies to watch: HTML5. Web content delivered to televisions. The rise of Android phones and tablets. Location-based services.
Trust: Edelman Trust research shows that trust is fragile, and in some cases, in decline. Moreover, our daily experience shows it. We’ve had it with lying politicians, polarizing “news” channels, and companies that tell us one thing and show us another. On the technical front, the very infrastructure of the web is shaky, as we contend with web beacons, Flash cookies and other tracking technology. Learn more about these technologies in a series at the Wall St. Journal, What They Know. While e-commerce is most immediately threatened, any technological development that undermines trust curtails the effectiveness of otherwise promising new channels of communication.
Attention: it’s getting noisy out there, and consequently it’s getting harder to actually reach people online. Overall, the best approach is to be findable online and to create compelling content. Apps are costly to develop and not yet universal – your iPhone app won’t play on an Android phone – yet offer a protected oasis for your message. When someone is in your app, you’ve got their full attention. When someone downloads your App, you know that person is in your tribe. Social sharing will continue to grow – look for increased sophistication on Facebook pages, and explosive growth of “expert” sites like Quora, Yahoo! Answers and Google Knol. A new class of influencers – some work for one employer, others are unaffiliated or have multiple affiliations – will gain increased attention, authority and trust, competing with and supplementing the mainstream media.
How to prepare students to thrive in this environment? Public relations fundamentals, such as campaign development, are as valid as ever. But we must increase our technological “vocabulary” and teach new tactics. In short, students must be classically trained, but also ready to play jazz.
What do you see as the major trends affecting public relations in 2011?