The four trends communicators can’t afford to ignore

"Get Wired or Get Fired"
- Elliot Maisie, 1994 Computer Training and Support Conference

In 1994, I was just starting my career in training and development and was admonished by a conference speaker to “get wired or get fired.” The speaker was talking about the upcoming sea change in technology-enabled learning, as brought about by CD-ROM courseware development tools and the availability of the internet. Today I think we’ve reached the same crossroads in communications. Those who embrace new trends and the technologies that drive them will flourish, while those who prefer to stick to established models are going to be left behind.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the shortcomings of senior communicators. From the mismatch between the self-assessment and team assessment of communications leaders to the apparent reluctance of senior PR leaders to embrace social media, there’s growing evidence out there that a good percentage of our ranks either can’t or won’t keep up with the latest changes in our field.

"But I don’t have time", you’re probably saying at this point. "There’s so much out there to learn!" It’s true that the rate of change in PR and communications overall is accelerating day by day. But there are some things that you can focus on to help keep your communications skills and company programs closer to the leading edge. Here are four trends that communicators today simply can’t afford to ignore. Concentrate your efforts here, and you can make your learning workload a bit more manageable while delivering state-of-the-art results.

Trend 1: Communications is getting more visual. Looking for an excuse to add design expertise to your staff or contracting budget? The science supports visual communication as your most effective tactic in engaging your audience. Not convinced by the stats generated by those wearing lab coats? Then look no further than what journalists are demanding from the modern online press room.

In a world where, as Cision’s state of the media report says “all things are visual now,” most online press rooms or press releases lack any video or images to go with their text content. One look at the explosion in the use of infographics should tell you that marketers and PR professionals have discovered how highly engaging this kind of content can be. And they’re taking it up in record numbers. And with visual content able to be processed in as little as 13 microseconds, visual media is beating text for engagement in both internal and external communications. Consider this: One in four U.S. adults watches original digital video programming at least once a month. That video is being produced by your competitors.

 

Trend 2: More content is being consumed on mobile platforms than anywhere else.
When search giant Google decided recently to downgrade page ranks for sites that don’t have a mobile-friendly design, it sent an important signal to those managing web content: Get mobile now. Even old-media stalwart Advertising age advised marketers to not only think mobile-first, but mobile-only for digital advertising strategy. The next opportunity for advertisers in developing market is on smartphones, and represents an $80 billion potential market, according to the World Economic Forum. And mobile is being seen more an more as a credible alternative to the intranet for engaging employees who don’t spend time at a desk. Even wearable devices such as the Apple Watch are being seen as a potentially huge opportunity for both field workers and white collar internal communication and collaboration.

 

Trend 3: And it’s getting more social. 
We’re in an interactive, not broadcast-based world, as any formerly employed newspaper journalist can tell you. Today trusted communication is about peer-to-peer interaction, both within the enterprise and out in the marketplace, with nearly 70% of consumers surveyed believing social media was a necessary customer service channel. And the B2B space is not immune, with social media becoming more and more important to reach those millennial employees researching purchasing decisions on behalf of their organizations.

 

Trend 4: Corporate Communication is getting more integrated over time.
As I noted in a previous post, the lines between internal and external communication in the enterprise are blurring. Social media is a game changer for all communications roles, and content is now accessible to employees and the media through more channels than ever before. The fundamentals of good communications campaign management still apply, but the field of engagement with stakeholders has become far more complex, forcing PR pros to understand more about engaging internal audiences to promote brand activation, and IC specialists to understand how to handle messaging that goes external thanks to employees using social media.