Monday, October 29, 2012

Dis-intermediating Public Relations

We are distracted by the tactical approach to the internet that goes under the catch-all heading Social Media.

Tiny dots of information such as a tweet or blog post may affect the sentiment expressed about an organisation and the ripple effect on volume or price of a shareholding transaction may be slight but significant. Garnered by algorithmically-driven high-frequency trading (HFT) and aggregated,  they have a big effect and generate high returns for the institutions that use them. Over eighty percent of market volume is traded in microseconds this way. Your Tweet is important.

This effect has huge implications for public relations as practised.

Although all the causes of the 2010 Flash Crash have not been identified conclusively, HFT was identified as the primary contributor. Such algorithms carry very real economic, not to mention social, risks. For the corporate affairs manager and financial PR practitioner, the financial world is changed. It was once dominated by gossip, speculation, research and strategically-timed trades – by people, for people

This unprecedented socio-economic Flash Crash episode, as Executive Director of the Bank of England Andrew Haldane observed at the time, exposed the precarious frontiers of algorithmically- and digitally-driven financial ‘innovation’: “Trading in securities generated trading insecurities,” he remarked, adding that “the impatient world was found, under stress, to be an uncertain and fragile one.”

If we then step back and look at the digitally driven news coming from countries under stress (but already much more effectively that during the Arab spring) we see it too is having a profound effect. No serious government is dependant on gossipy political advisers to put the East Coast hurricane, US election, Iranian bomb and Syrian shoot outs into a perspective to secure the present and future of the nation. There are computer algorithms to help. No one can gainsay how good the Google crisis map is http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy-nyc .  But look what it has done. It has created an environment to provide real time news, link to real time reporting (including cameras where no sensible journalist would tread). Furthermore it has been done in such a way that anyone can feed or add content. The Red Cross was in early and has a significant presence on the map.

For the PR man the ability to re-act is paramount (do I see the dog rescue charities in there yet? Can I use the map to find a purveyor of generator sets?).

We already have a similar Google map of Syria and Iran? This can be extended to oil fields in Nigeria; new land owners in Africa? Or lots of other politically, commercially or personal issues. A lot of the content can and will be provided using automated functions. Its a far cry from gossipy political or corporate advisers offering research 24 hours later. This is real and real time.

But this is small beer. I will announce a new semantic engine for PR academic PR's in the next few months. It will allow students to create semantic website clusters to show where relationships exist between organisations and people. The software can update every hour if needed.

Now we will have ordinary PR students able to automatically monitor relationships as they evolve! It is a PR applications that has only ever been taught in two universities worldwide. It will also take more than gossipy political or corporate advisers and publicists to affect the direction of relationship travel (if you would like to join in and play, let me know).

Once again we see those pesky algorithms at play.

But lets get in even deeper.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has exposed its hand in reporting automated, deep natural-language understanding as a solution for more efficiently processing of text information. When processed at its most basic level without ingrained cultural filters, language it offers the key to understanding connections in text that might not be readily apparent to humans. DARPA created the Deep Exploration and Filtering of Text (DEFT) program to harness the power of language. Sophisticated artificial intelligence of this nature has the potential to enable analysts to efficiently investigate a huge corpus and discover implicitly expressed, actionable information contained therein. If you read the slide show it is evident that the same approach is just as good for organisations as much as governments.

What then is the role of the gossipy political or corporate adviser and publicist?

What is more this is not at internet speed, it is much faster than that. This year BGI demonstrated data transfer at nearly 10 gigabits per second between US and China in which data transferred in 30 seconds is compared to the public internet which took over a day.

PR is now as much under threat as the high street. This is not about the Social Media tactic, important though that may be. This is about using the internet to deliver strategies but faster than the speed of thought.