What Does the Communications Industry of the Future Look Like?

To kick off FutureComms in earnest, I asked a dozen thought leaders in my network, six from each side of the Atlantic, what they feel the future holds for the communications industry; how the field will develop and what the implications are for those working in it. Their answers make interesting reading.

Among the key themes are the convergence of PR, SEO, marketing and advertising; the associated diversification of skill sets of a communications professional; and the necessity for companies to adapt their culture to embrace the developing comms environment. These are key challenges that both in-house comms teams and agencies alike are currently facing. Opinions vary as to how well we’re responding to those challenges; some feel we’re on our way, while others feel that we’re (as a generalisation) reacting far too slowly.

Personally, I’m in the latter group. Andrew Grill’s comment below about PRs not actively using social media resonates strongly with me, and I find it extremely frustrating when I look around the industry and see the lack of desire or interest to skill up in the tactical use of social or mobile tech, learn the basics of SEO, or even to read relevant and beneficial blogs.

But enough from me for now. What follows are the opinions of twelve top communications authors and bloggers; people far wiser than me. Take a read and let me know your reactions by leaving a comment…

Jason Falls, author of No Bullshit Social Media and blogger at SocialMediaExplorer

That’s a very broad question. I think the best short answer is the communications industry will continue to adjust to the infusion of technology and walk that balance between automation and personalization. Communicators of tomorrow will have to be more technically adept than those of today, but those with a foundation in solid principle and practice of yesterday will thrive because they won’t see digital as the only way to communicate.

Deidre Breakenridge, author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and blogger at DeirdreBreakenridge.com

The communications industry will grow in size and scope, as a result of the information revolution and the highly connected consumer. All areas of marketing including public relations will integrate and work closely together. Businesses will learn to adapt to new processes and communications technology, to facilitate more relevant communication, and to shape brand experiences people will feel compelled to share. Of course, communications still rests in the hands of the consumer, as their behavior continues to dictate how professionals create and co-create content with them. In the future, communications will remain at the heart of every business, creating the connections and engagement that lead to stronger relationships and customer loyalty.

Gini Dietrich, blogger at Spin Sucks

Communication is going to converge even more with marketing. Until now, we haven’t been held accountable for achieving goals that tie to the P&L. If we don’t learn the skills necessary to do that, we’ll be out of jobs.

Mark Schaefer, author of Return on Influence and blogger at {Grow}

“Communications” is a pretty big category! But let’s break it down to corporate communications and even further into “social media.”

I think we are at a crossroads where there is a growing gap between the social media “haves” and “have-nots.” The best marketing companies “get it,” and are distancing themselves from the competition. This is largely a function of company culture. Companies that are customer-focused, responsive and adaptable are most likely to become a “social” enterprise. So really the key to future success is not a focus on tools, or techniques or blogging … it will be a focus on organizational change.

This is curious to think about … future success in social media marketing may very well depend upon HR change management. Not an easy thing.

Andrew Grill, CEO at Kred and blogger at LondonCalling 

Communications is no longer just about controlling the message and “protecting the brand”. It now needs to include those conversation channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Many of us are brilliant at conversation in our private lives, however when at work our ability to communicate properly seems to be removed by corporate rules and culture.

Social media gives us the platform to communicate with clients – now all we need is companies to change their culture to allow feedback, admit mistakes and acknowledge that things have not gone to plan and are going to be made right “thanks to our valued customer feedback via social media”.

Communications professionals also need to ACTIVELY use these new tools to even hope to be in a position to advise clients. When I see PRs from well known firms with only a handful of Twitter followers (or worse still – no account) it telegraphs to me that this particular firm “doesn’t get it” as they don’t care about employing those people who do get it, or provide training so that everyone in the practice is up to speed.Just as in 2002 it was all about “getting our web presence in order”, in 2012 it’s all about “getting social”.

Neville Hobson, blogger at NevilleHobson.com

A huge challenge for communicators is being relevant. It’s a time when anyone with an opinion, an internet connection and a place to share that opinion is regarded by others as a communicator. Behaviours online (and offline) are rapidly and radically changing, where news and unverified opinion travels globally at the speed of, well, the internet: judging the difference between the two requires laser-like attention and very quick action.

To be relevant, communicators must also rapidly and radically change their own behaviours – let go of practices of the past that mark communicators simply as “talking messengers” and evolve into counsellors, creators and curators that enable their employers or their clients to play a more effective and influential role in their communities of interest, whether those communities are in the wider external marketplace or within their own organizations.

Listen first, talk second. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.

Stephen Waddington, author of Brand Anarchy and blogger at WaddsPR

The issues currently being debated by the profession are almost exactly the same as those that occupied the industry a decade ago. The topics are familiar to both student and veteran: ethics, formal definitions, diversity, measurement and skills. With the right leadership and attitude, the PR industry has the opportunity to become the management consultants of the 21st century. We need to claim our ground.

Sean McGinnis, blogger at SeanMcGinnis.me

The communication industry will become more important than ever. As short-form communications takes over the culture at large and as attention spans shrink, people skilled at the art of communicating important thought in a professional manner will command a premium in the marketplace. We are all communicators now. More than ever.

Danny Whatmough, blogger on Econsultancy

The democratisation of media has already reshaped the way we all approach PR and communications. But we’ve really only seen the tip of the iceberg. Whether or you ever thought that it was possible for a business to ‘manage’ the way it communicates, when every single employee (and every single customer) has access to social networks at the click of a button, communicating becomes a hell of a lot harder. But for those that ‘get it’ there is a wealth of opportunity too. Therefore the ‘communication industry’ (if that is what it will look like) needs to diversify and realise that it must permeate through all parts of a business to be truly successful.

Euan Semple, author of Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do and blogger at TheObvious

The clue is in your question. How did we ever get to a place where communication could be considered an industry? We have professionalised talking to each other to such an extent that many in business have forgotten how to do it. In the future there will be rewarding work helping people to communicate well – but less in doing it for them.

Gemma Went, blogger at GemmaWent.com

It HAS to be about integration. People bang on about this already, but very few actually achieve it. Those comms folk that understand how to tell a strong story across the various channels are the ones that will win.

Catherine Daar, blogger at CommNation

[The future holds] the death of traditional advertising: nobody believes in it anymore. Instead we will see brands sponsoring “niche” contents like specialized podcasts, videocasts, blogs etc. Internet users will start to rate online press releases so they can be ranked by user interest (Digg like). And hybrid communication will rise. We will use online and offline tactics to benefit from the best of both worlds; driving offline campaigns online in order to better measure results.

That’s what they think. But what about you? Leave a comment…