What does the New Year have in store for the business of public relations?
That was the question posed to me by Marketing Magazine for their annual round up of PR industry trends for 2016. It gave me the chance to reflect on accessible new technologies that are beginning to make it easier to build the reputations and increase the profiles of companies and their senior executives via social media; a practice that more and more companies are asking their PR agencies to manage.
Based on Canadians' deep attachment to their smart phones, I believe we'll see significant growth in 'Real-Time Communication,' aka 'RTC'. This term refers to a new integrated communication medium that allows users to access a vast array of multimedia, including video, audio and chat capabilities -- all in real time.
Periscope, the innovative live streaming mobile video app, was among the first to introduce RTC. It quickly became popular with anyone who wanted to record and live stream video recordings on-the-go. Their community of followers who could then instantly comment and ask questions, creating buzz around a topic at lightning speed.
Since Periscope was acquired by Twitter, and recently named Apple's App of the Year, its popularity among content-hungry audiences that crave fast, un-polished access to news- and trend-makers is rising. And RTC's impact is bound to skyrocket, in light of the recent launch of Facebook Live, a similar concept that enables public figures and VIPs to transmit mobile videos to their legions of followers among Facebook's astounding reach of 1 billion social media users.
What does this have to do with the practice of PR? Plenty, since RTC makes it easy to create a mini, mobile broadcast station to share video and audio and interact directly with targeted local or even global audiences.
So far we've seen this new platform used mainly for bold, behind-the-scenes reporting on product launches. For example, trendy design houses and fashion bloggers are using RTC to broadcast live from runway shows in Paris and Milan to stir up shopper buzz from New York to Montreal.
Beyond turning haute couture into fast fashion, RTC has considerable potential to shake up traditional corporate, analyst and investor communications as well. For example, with the public's hunger for immediate, authentic access to news-makers and opinion leaders, RTC creates a new avenue to help corporate communicators bring senior executives into the spotlight as personable and credible, 'on-the-ground' experts.
- Imagine using RTC to help the owner of a trendy restaurant broadcast live from a celebrity-filled Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) party, enabling followers to join the party and post questions to favourite stars via their smart phones.
- Or, picture how RTC could spotlight the foreign travels of a national grocery store executive to exotic village markets in search of new organic products, with foodie followers tagging along on social media.
- How about using RTC to enable media, investors and analysts to observe and interact with an energy company CEO as he examines the progress of a west coast pipeline project, including on-site interviews with environmental inspectors, community leaders and project engineers?
Now doesn't this sound more exciting than your run-of-the-mill press release, analyst call, executive blog post or on-location Twitter message?
And what a great way to help introduce gun-shy corporate communicators to fresh, creative uses for social media that build their brands and elevate the profiles of their senior leaders.
Now if you're thinking that there are risks for companies that wade into these new social media waves, you're right. It's absolutely critical that corporate communicators educate themselves on the technology, observe its application, and test the waters before diving in. The RTC trend speaks to the need for tech-savvy, forward thinking PR advisors who can help clients prepare for and expertly navigate these emerging media opportunities.
Also, the astounding speed and unedited nature of RTC reinforces the important risk mitigation role of PR practitioners, by helping clients develop crisis and issues management plans to protect company reputations should something go "off script."
With the right preparation and planning to mitigate risk as well as a large dose of courage and curiosity, 2016 could reap solid benefits for PR industry trailblazers ready to sample the waters of Real-Time Communication.