Managing Director of PR Worx, Madelain Roscher, shares what to expect for 2020 in the public relations and communications sector.  

As we embark on a new decade complemented by the fastest technological growth we have seen in human history, we can expect ample new trends and advancements to sweep across the various industries, ushering in a different approach to both new and old challenges. Public Relations is no exception, and 2020 has launched with much optimism.

More empathy less machine

Algorithms are now the managers of the digital world. This automated movement will lead to PR specialists embodying a more human element to sustain relevance because meaning comes from relatability. This does not mean PR practitioners will be relying on AI and machine learning less, but their approach to PR will have a larger empathy focus because the audience of any messaging or campaign remains human.  

The evolution of the strategy

In the age of artificial intelligence (AI), mass digitisation, and big data, strategies can no longer be based on perceptions but must be supported by quantitative facts, analytics, and statistics. This is also translating to the media. Journalists are after stories that are supported by analysed data that they can use in turn to inform larger stories. 

Furthermore, all communication strategies, to be effective, will have to factor in the various platforms available for disseminating information. With broadband’s omnipresence, with an estimated 6 billion Internet users by 2022 (75% of the projected world population of 8 billion) accompanied by the eruption of the Internet of Things (IoT) such as wearable technology, which is expected to reach $51.6 billion (R774 billion) by 2022, most consumers will continue to receive their news, social media feeds and information on a host of new devices. 

Live long live streaming

Whilst live streaming is not a new trend, no 2020 trends piece would be complete without it. Compared to traditional video, live streaming outperforms the former. In one study, 79% said that live video facilitated a more authentic interaction with their audience than other formats. Whilst some marketers see live streaming as a fading fad, more than 90% of buyers are persuaded by interactive content. More brands will move to stream live interviews, discussions, panels, and live events associated with their strategy. Live streaming can also be used to make announcements on organisations’ developments or products.

Tik Tok goes the clock

The explosive growth and reception of the social media app, Tik Tok offers brands a direct connection with Gen Z. It’s left out of their marketing and communication arsenal; companies will miss out on a huge proportion of the market.

According to Sensor Tower, Tik Tok has now been downloaded 1.5 billion times and is outperforming Instagram in terms of new downloads, with a significant uptake across the African continent, especially with young South Africans, Kenyans and Nigerians in particular. 

Storytelling never gets old

Storytelling does more than simply relay your message. One study found that 92% of consumers preferred ads that were in the form of stories. Through storytelling, we are able to emotionally connect with other people, brands and companies more effectively. Leaning on the human element, brands will continue to use storytelling as a method of imbuing themselves with their respective audiences. But words simply aren’t enough, the more stimulating and hyper-real the story, the stronger the connection. Multimedia tools such as augmented and virtual reality assist in bringing a story to life, coupled with the IoT organisations will be leveraging various mediums such as A.I. and social media.

Cleaner concise content

Content remains a consistent force for any brand wishing to engage with audiences, prospective or current. Public Relations exist to connect brand with their stakeholders and to positively affect a brand’s reputation.  Well-curated content achieves this through speaking to particular topics, either in print, video or audio format. As your audience sees your expertise in action, your brand’s awareness will grow. If the message resonates with them, your brand’s reputation will grow. Due to the perpetual information exposure, shorter insightful content that relates to the audience will be the focus this year.

There will be further growth in user-generated content in 2020. Brands will have to find ways of integrating their customers’ content with their own marketing messages. As we’ve seen many times over, when people find content that they like and that is useful, they’ll share it. This also helps to spread the word about your brand organically and bolsters your strategy. Organisations that continue to speak solely about themselves and offer nothing for their audiences will be drowned out by the clear messaging shared across the various platforms by companies speaking directly to their audiences. This is further supported by YouTube’s reveal of uploading more than 500 hours of fresh video per minute. 

Building brand trust

Brand trust has eroded over the past couple of years, with more brands caught to be abusing their customers’ trust.  One report even estimated that brands lose around $2.5 trillion (R37.5 trillion) per year because of a lack of trust from audiences. This year we will see a greater shift towards organisations aiming for transparency and authenticity.

One of the biggest ways to win trust is through your expertise, superior customer service and honest communications, especially during the tough times.

 Another layer of this trust comes from being helpful. Having already spoken about the importance of content creation — it is vital organisations produce content that is pertinent and helpful to their audiences. 

Given all the data organisations will use to inform their various strategies, there will be a huge focus on how that data is managed in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI). This means that on top of ensuring consumers’ data privacy, companies’ communications efforts are expected to be more accurate, efficient and effective. 

The age of A.I. and machine learning will require PR professionals to continuously assess what tools are available to utilise in assisting their clients. On top of that, with more data being produced daily, organisations, including PR firms should leverage this information in informing their current and future strategies.   

The year 2020 promises to be an even more exciting year for the marketing-communications fraternity, all we need do is spot and pursue the vast opportunities that lay ahead.

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