The fundamentals of communications are timeless. The art of telling a great story, the science of selecting the right channels to share our story in and the nuances of language always have been and will continue to be critical to success.
The environment in which we tell stories, however, is evolving faster than ever. In its wake, the role of the communications function is changing completely.
The reason is simple. Technology has empowered the entire audience to tell a brand’s story. This shift in capabilities is a game changer. As a result, it’s time for courageous leaders to change the communications function with more urgency than in past years. Our customers will benefit from the work of a next generation of audience architects.
Below are several market shifts that cry out for the communications function to change forever.
Audience Overtakes the Outlet: For media relations, our definition of “audience” is changing due to how technology is empowering the “9%” in the 1, 9, 90 model. For years, we have focused on the 1% of a marketplace who create content and act as influencers. The influencers are still important, but now the 9% or those who share content, also are driving the market. The 1 and the 9, together, reach the 90% of people who lurk and learn and benefit from what the 1 and the 9 do.
We used to be able to focus on five to 10 journalists, get them the news and they would share it and everyone else would follow. Now, we have customers joining in to share and interpret our story as they ensure their communities are informed.
Action: We need to know who matters in the 9%. And in many markets where 9% of the audience is in the hundreds of thousands or millions of people, we are realizing that finding the right audience to share content with is more important than getting coverage in an outlet. The former moves markets. The latter adds impressions. CEOs want to move markets.
Flipping PESOs: Since the 1% are important and the 9% now shape markets, this translates into “earned media” and “shared media” as being most important. In today’s world, when we get news coverage via members of the 1%, we want to have it shared via the 9%, either via shared media channels or paid media used strategically within shared to drive the content through a community.
Action: Since paid media will support and follow conversations and news, communicators must become fluent in how to effectively use paid media along with earned and shared. It’s no longer a bad word for communicators. Paid is in. It is becoming a core skill of communicators.
Markets Don’t Wait for Campaigns Anymore: The agility of our campaigns must match the agility of the markets. Communicators are experts at knowing when to pivot on a story. Now, we need to partner with our creative colleagues and embrace the concept of “agile creative,” so we can share content that matters with a market in real time, based on the needs of the market. The idea of taking weeks or months to develop a campaign has become old school.
Action: We need to develop a library of content and stories that are preapproved and ready to share based on real-time insights. This will lead to a new definition of media planning for earned and shared.
Micro-Segmentation Replaces Personas: We always knew top-down, persona-driven segments of “five audience types” were wrong. Now, we’re realizing that each person actually represents his/her own media ecosystem. For example, if I am a cardiologist, I may follow healthcare providers, other MDs, nurses, journalists, patients, insurance companies and other professionals on my social channels. If we are going to track what 1,000 cardiologists care about, we can look at the online media ecosystem of all 1,000 of them and determine which outlets they care about, which channels are important, what content is relevant to them, what time of day they go online and much more. The roll-up of these ecosystems defines the media network. We just flipped segmentation on its head. Now we look from the bottom up and must understand how content is shared and consumed within each person’s network.
Action: We need to become fluent in the use of data and excellent in developing insights from these data.
Fragmentation of Media Means Something New: We used to say fragmentation referred to the proliferation of media outlets. That was an old-school way to look at change. What we see now is that an audience decides where and when it participates, which leads to real fragmentation. Fragmentation of people’s attention is far more important.
No longer are many of us CNN or ESPN fans. We consume content and have conversations in multiple channels with multiple communities and consume content on multiple devices from multiple platforms. We are news or sports fans and decide where we participate and consume content. The result is our definition of audience is very different today.
Action: We are entering an era where we must become audience architects, able to identify, develop and track the right audiences, learn from them and then align with their needs. If we’re not aligned, we may just be talking to ourselves.
CONTACT: Bob Pearson is president of W20 Group and author of “Pre-Commerce: How Companies and Customers are Transforming Business Together” (John Wiley & Sons, 2011). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @bobpearson1845
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.