As this year draws to a close, PR pundits have pondered how PR will change in the coming year. Those in PR who keep up with emerging technologies and changing consumer perceptions and expectations increase their chances of surviving and thriving in 2020.
These are among the new PR priorities to expect.
Greater Vigilance Against Fake News
Communications professionals will take a more vigilant attitude toward fake news and other forms of misinformation. Two out of 10 communications professionals in the U.S and Canada say their organizations have been affected by fake news, some more than once, according to a survey by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Nearly 60% of the respondents call fake news, also sometimes called false news, a “serious threat,” yet few have systems or tools in place to spot or respond to fake news stories.
That will change next year. More businesses, nonprofits and other types of organizations will adopt policies, technical systems and processes to detect and manage fake news and misinformation. More PR teams will use media monitoring services to monitor social media, online media outlets, and known fake news sites for mentions of their brands and products, and more will add fake news to their PR crisis management plans.
A Mounting Battle Against Deepfakes
Deepfake videos will pose new threats to corporate reputations. Advances in video editing enable fraudsters, pranksters or criminals to create videos that portray people doing things they never did or saying words they never said. Free or low-cost video-editing tools for producing the fakes are now becoming widely available.
“If they’re so inclined, these mischief-makers could create a massive public relations nightmare for brands,” says David Pring-Mill, a filmmaker and writer who has written about the topic. “People are currently talking about deepfakes within a political context but the business landscape isn’t immune.”
Although results are not guaranteed, social media platforms and technology companies will try to develop tools to detect deepfakes, and lawmakers and regulators will consider solutions. Prudent organizations will monitor all media and devise plans to respond to deepfakes.
“As professional communicators we also have the responsibility to protect the organizations and executives we serve from the potential risks associated with deepfakes—and any fake news, for that matter—or at the very least be better prepared to quickly respond to it,” writes Kirk Stewart, founder and CEO of KTStewart, in the Relevance Report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.
More Brands Will Take Stands
Research shows that brands that speak out on issues can increase customer loyalty and win respect. Expect more companies to take stands on social and political issues next year and thereby gain positive publicity and good will.
Also expect some social pronouncements to fall flat or receive some backlash and be criticized as inauthentic or hypocritical. Taking a side on a controversial issue can alienate potential customers, investors and other stakeholders.
Corporate positions must reflect corporate values; all corporate actions must support corporate values and positions. It’s critical that corporate and brand decisions support those values and for company communications to reflect and promote those values. When making corporate or brand decisions, it’s worthwhile to ask: “How will that play on page one of the Washington Post or New York Times? How will activists react?”
It’s also important to conduct extensive research in order to understand the organization’s or brand’s target audiences and how they feel about topical issues. Corporate communications professionals can play a leading role in completing that research and promoting their organization’s social responsibility contribution to society.
“Americans have an outsized appetite to take action on issues and drive change,” states the Doing Businesses in an Activist World study from Global Strategy Group. “They expect brands to do the same – and to engage with them as consumers and employees.”
Global Strategy Group recommends companies follow the example of political campaigns that shore up their base, persuade swing voters and largely ignore opponents.
AR and VR Become a Reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will finally proliferate Communications professionals will seek creative ways to use the emerging technologies to better deliver corporate and brand messages to consumers. VR presents 360-degree, three-dimensional videos that fully immerse viewers in an experience. AR superimposes images onto smartphone cameras or other screens to combine physical and digital worlds. Users can shape their experiences, unlike VR that’s entirely digital.
Consumers generally turn to VR for excitement and entertainment, but tend to use AR for practical applications, such as showing what furniture looks like in their home or what clothing or make-up looks like on them. The technology offers a plethora of other practical applications that go well beyond games.
More than any other cutting-edge technology, AR causes consumers to view a brand as innovative, according to recent research. Early adopters of AR technology are finding that augmented reality is more than a high-tech plaything.
Bottom Line: 2020 will bring new risks and opportunities for corporate communications and PR. Protecting and promoting corporate reputations will require thoughtful research and careful planning. Creating communications programs using new technology will become a priority.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.