This is just a guess, but when David Bowie wrote “turn and face the strange” in the lyrics to Changes in 1971, I don’t think he was referencing the communications industry some 47 years in the future.
But let’s withhold disbelief for just a second and assume I’m wrong. What absolutely incredible foresight the man had! Because it’s hard to imagine five words as pertinent to us today as those.
All around us things are cha-cha-changing at an incredible rate. I count myself as someone who’s at least aware of and trying to be informed about what’s happening, and yet it honestly scares the bejesus out of me sometimes what I don’t know.
Founder of Don’t Cry Wolf John Brown wrote this week that “there is something wonderfully liberating when you realise how utterly stupid you are” prior to evangelising about the benefits of ensuring you set aside chunks of time just to learn.
It’s something I completely agree with him on. It’s all too easy to keep going, head down, day after day after day, and go through an entire year without reading that book or subscribing to that podcast or attending that conference.
In the spirit of prompting you to think about what exactly it is that you don’t know, here are four vital statistics that everyone working in communications and public relations should take on board and research around.
1. Within the next two years, 50% of all searches will be voice searches
‘So what?’, you might ask. ‘I work in communications, not SEO or advertising.’ Well consider this. Voice search queries are both longer than text searches and different in structure, and that affects what results Google displays.
Whereas when searching Google with a keyboard you might write ‘best meeting place Kensington’, when searching using your voice your behaviour changes. You’re more likely to say ‘where is the best place to hold a meeting in Kensington?’ When we use voice search we tend to explicitly ask questions with the expectation that our device will reply with an answer.
So if voice search is becoming so prevalent and we want our company or our clients to be found on the web, we need to start changing the way we write content.
Google’s voice recognition system understands over 95% of the spoken word. That’s about the same as an adult. The Apple HomePod is reported to understand over 99% of all queries accurately, although it only answers 52% correctly (compared to 81% from Google Home).
The point being, the AI behind voice-activated devices is getting smarter and smarter. If as communicators we want to stay relevant, we need to start to understand context and the intent behind the questions we ask search engines, and we need to learn to write content in a natural, conversational voice that answers the specific questions consumers are asking.
Still not convinced? The number of millennials who use voice-enabled digital assistants will climb to over 39% within the next year. Get on the bus now or you’ll be running behind it waving your arms frantically to get it to slow down before you know it.
2. 45% of jobs could already be automated using currently demonstrated technologies
Source: McKinsey & Company
Let’s not beat around the bush with this one, artificial intelligence is going to change the face of the communications industry for good. It’s up to you ensure that you keep abreast of it and adapt to new technologies as and when they arise. Because if you don’t, you could very well find yourself with a redundant skillset.
As an example let’s take copywriting, one of the most fundamental skills of any communications professional. Automated writing is already in use by organisations like the Press Association, the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post. And it’s only a matter of time before technologies such as Arria’s natural language generation tool (already used by the likes of Vodafone, Deloitte, PepsiCo, GE and a whole load more) start working their way into the mainstream.
AI and automation won’t necessarily lead to job losses, but they will lead to job redefinitions.
Many of the activities currently undertaken within the PR function can (and will) be done by machines in the near future, necessitating the transformation of business processes and the demarcation of job roles.
It could actually be very good news for those willing to understand and embrace the technology. But the key is just that: learning about and embracing it, and not running from it.
3. 23% of the UK population listen to podcasts every month
The podcasting boom is showing no signs of slowing down. 15.3 million people in the UK have listened to a podcast in the last month, and those working in communications and public relations are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this.
Acast’s quarterly Audio Intelligence report shows that podcast listeners in the UK tend to be millennials, with 71% falling into the 16-34 age bracket, and one in five of those listening to five or more podcasts per week. To be clear, that’s 2.3 million millennials listening to nearly a podcast per day.
The average podcast listener spends over three and a half hours listening each week, so the demand for interesting and good quality audio is clearly there. And yet comms people are still very slow to recommend podcasting as a tactic, with many people I’ve spoken to admitting to being a bit blinded by what seems to be a very technical area.
The thing is, we may not be technical wizards but we do understand what makes a good story.
(And by the way, you don’t need to be a technical wizard; anyone can make a podcast, trust me!) So before podcasting becomes yet another medium saturated with mediocrity, get in there, learn the process and come up with some ideas.
4. Facebook’s Daily Active Users Grew by 3.4% in Q1 2018
Why’s this significant? Because Facebook has just gone through the most tumultuous time in its history. It all but killed organic reach for brands when it revamped the newsfeed, and then it faced massive criticism over the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, resulting in Mark Zuckerberg having to testify before Congress.
But it’s becoming very apparent that Facebook’s user base couldn’t really care less. It’s not that we’re not concerned about our personal data, it’s just that we consider giving access to our data to use the platform for free to be an equitable trade.
And so between January and March this year Facebook added 48 million daily active users (1 million of them in the UK) to hit 1.449 billion. It now has 2.196 billion monthly active users, and both are up 13% year-on-year. That’s quite a lot of people.
There’s a lot of negativity in the news and the blogosphere surrounding brands using Facebook as a result of the newsfeed changes. Is it a waste of time? Is it impossible to get a financial return?
As I said in a recent post, what we are seeing is not the end of Facebook marketing, it’s the end of non-strategic Facebook marketing and publishing content for content’s sake. Learn to use Facebook strategically and there are still huge opportunities.
Want to find out more?
Stephen Waddington, Deirdre Breakenridge, Emily Leary, Jim Hawker, Michael Taggart and Daryl Willcox are all joining me to discuss each of these topic areas and more at Digital Download Live in June. The event will address the key challenges for the PR and communications industry in a varied mix of audience-led Q&As, interactive workshops and highly informative presentations.
Digital Download Live is built around the concept of collaborative learning, with spaces limited to just 50 people to ensure you can get fully involved and get answers to all of your questions. It takes place on 7th June at the rather awesome London Art House in Islington.
For more details and booking information, click here.