Thursday, June 21, 2007

What has changed for communications professionals

In its simplest form, PR management consists of planning, executing, and monitoring. In traditional PR, there is little needed to represent a client other than a close brief, data and personable time leavened with creative approaches to impart knowledge. Mostly its a two step (press agentry, lobby or event based) activity. It is assumed that human planners, (seldom even using formalised risk management tools) will generate the “best” network of activities. The plan is expected to be the same as the execution which is seldom the actualitie. There is a fundamental difference between a Plan and the execution of that Plan. Emerging events alter the execution and no more so when using social media.

The one thing we know is that we do not know what channels for communication will be relevant in 2009 or 2011. In the last four years a number of changes in the way people communicate show that change and the rate of change is important for future planning. What we are aware of, is that for large parts of the population Internet mediated channels for communication is very important such as in maintaining relationships with journalism and, for many, it is the dominant protocol for interaction, by example, gamers.

Where once mass media made it relatively easy to offer content to a wide audience, and even a strong media sector with many titles of a few dozen TV and radio channels was manageable, reaching an audience is now more complex. The range of platforms such as digital radio and TV, cell phones and iPods as well as PC's, games machines and other devices adds to complexity. New platforms are arriving fast. Each platform offers a different experience which means that reception and intervention of even the same message may be perceived differently at the point of consumption.

Added to this range of platforms the common and, frequently, convergent channels for exchange of information means that to reach any segment or group of people changes communication from 'silver bullet' outlets to 'silver buckshot' multi touch. The compounding effect of new channels for communication (such as MySpace, YouTube, Twitter) add to complexity in relationship and behaviour motivation planning. Channels for communication can also be part of the message. For example, using a PDF file suggests that further debate is not encouraged while a blog has the opposite effect.

The evolution of the Internet from a platform for communication of data to an application that encourages the manipulation of that data, not just through human intervention but by Intent enabled technologies that act as agents, is now very apparent. It is readily evidenced in the form of the relatively benign web widgets and gadgets to complex capabilities.

New Media does not kill off old media. Old media tends to adapt. Newspapers are now also broadcasters; the BBC is using Twitter ( and interpersonal telephone conversations include text, pictures and video from home phones, PC's using Skype and mobile devices. Channels also remain available long after they fall out of fashion (e.g. FAX and Usenet) and often morph (e.g. Google Groups) and so there are legacy channels to be considered.

There are further devils in the detail.

The nature of local versus global communication online is a consideration.

These is a notable tendency for publics (or market segments or stakeholders) to give way to online user generated segments where, given that information is online, users gravitate to it and do not conforms the profile identified by the organisation. Online community portals offer rich evidence of this tendency. Groups form that defy their market geographies, age profiles, income and anticipated interests.

People who will never use the Internet are influenced by it at one step removed.

In addition, because a lot of information is made available in the form of 'User Generated Content' (UGC) there is a symmetry in communication which influences both organisations and its public.

Control of 'messages' is largely a thing of the past, messages are changed by human and machine interventions and hop from channel to channel. An organisation now competes with a wide range of other actors in the development and dissemination of, what now becomes the development of value systems across a network of authors and channels.

Finally, there is an issue of attention deficit. People once did not have to multi-task when interacting with data or knowledge. Now to acquire knowledge it comes to people as a constant, always updating stream of images and texts. Once, to compete in such an environment, attention was gained by dominating channels. Huge postercampaigns and mass media advertising was a sure fire, if expensive, magic bullet. Now, there is resistance. People 'tune out' these attempts, they also select channels that are either less intrusive or compromise a little interference for cheap access to what they want. They pull information and select methodologies to remain informed without dedicating time to searching to satisfy information needs. RSS is an example.

In developing both traditional media and online strategies there is a need to be take into account such volatility as well as the growing complexities. This means that practitioners have to be able to deploy advanced management techniques to optimise motivations among people.