The Future Of Communication

How Will Public Relations Evolve In The Five Years To Come ?

As a futurist, I spend much time thinking about what technologies have the higher potential growth. The Internet of things (IoT) is a prime example of this. Yet, beyond technology, subtler issues affect more and more people daily. One of these is what has been dubbed the economy of attention.

We are increasingly busy competing for attention. Whatever your field, your niche, your market, can you be sure people will even notice you exist or remember you do? Are you sure you will be read or listened? The Internet is full of contents and of far-reaching individuals. If you attempt to exist on the Internet, there is a high risk for you to be overlooked.

This new situation creates new challenges. What are they?

The first challenge: being genuine or authentic

Markets are flooded with concurring labels. Take a walk to the nearest high-end shop and you will be faced with organic, label rouge, eco-friendly, controlled appellation of origin, eco-responsible, traditional, homemade, original recipe and whatever this-and-that products. Among all these, who’s “real”? You don’t know anymore. There are too many labels, too many products. We don’t have neither time nor desire to investigate in-depth over such things. Then we are left in the dark.

Many young people – the millenials – do not believe anymore in labels. Too many of these only cover up sheer emptiness, and millenials are not as stupid as more than one seasoned marketers seem to believe. Even overexposed to advertisements and products that compete for their attention, millenials feel the void behind the circus. Greenwashing still goes full swing, fashions are followed, and an increasing number of sobered men and women feel the hollowness… the result is plain: they stop buying in.

Still, an exception must be made from the labels carrousel. I noticed it among millenials. Sometimes, the young feel genuineness in someone, and then they pay attention to him.

Genuineness or authenticity is more than an umpteenth money-making scheme. It is more than sheer intellectual, abstract considerations. Genuineness reaches the heart, the guts, the intuition – it is primarily felt.

The second challenge: being close

If genuineness or authenticity is the first feature to stand out for anyone proposing content, the second feature, I think, is proximity or closeness.

What does it mean to be close on the Internet? Well, it consists simply in being there and answering requests. Perhaps this would be a trivial matter had we not lost the habit to even count on it daily.

Banks tell us in their ads they are on our side. If we call them on the phone, we are immediately diverted to a maze of pre-recorded choices, and at the end of it we only find some off-shored call center. The same thing is true on big name sites such as Upwork or AirBNB, where you can find a sometimes-detailed FAQ, but who also systematically delegate all requests on their “community” and in the end cannot be even reached. We are lost among the crowd. No matter if we are the customers or workforce, or both.

The very fact of being there, available to reach, answering people, is enough to change much. French websites such as Bonne Gueule (roughly, “good looks”) or Kumiko Matcha (disclaimer: I am mentioning friends) managed to stand out, not only because of their quality content, but also because if requested they usually answer quickly and precisely. Pay attention and attention shall be paid to you as well.

More than communication or public relations: conversations

The twentieth century was marked by mass media and ads (or propaganda) campaigns of great scale. The twenty-first seems to lead to a more traditional method: conversation. Unless you are an established “big name” – and even then, who knows if you won’t be rivaled by some ambitious black swan? – it is all about conversing with one’s community or followers.

If you want to get attention, give some, and have something substantial behind whatever face you choose to assume. Genuineness and closeness. That’s it.

Note that until there, I only spoke of contents to put forth or of existing publically. If you also have something to sell, you have to think of a marketing strategy, for many people can pay attention yet buy nothing. And then, you must sell an experience which features genuineness and closeness prominently. How do your communication, products, actions… lead your customers to experience or feel something? Do your customers feel different later, as if something happened?

If you have anything to sell, you must create a feeling, both before and after the selling. Then your reach grows through word of mouth, and so does your community.

So, what will public relations turn into in the course of next five years?

As for the exact technologies, platforms… that will succeed, I find it difficult to predict exactly. However, if we focus on the big trends, I am sure that

  • Getting attention
  • Being genuine, authentic, substantiated in what motivates us
  • Being close from one’s audience, available to reach
  • Knowing how to discuss, converse, not merely “communicate”

will prove decisive. The particular platforms, social networks, and technologies that will suit these needs best will in all likelihood remain on the market or take it away.

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