New Media is Redefining the Way We Build Brands, Reputations: Top 10 Trends from the 2010 PRSA International Conference

Even though it is difficult for me to get out of the office for a few days, each year I attend professional conferences to stay on top of the latest consumer trends and new media technologies. This year I attended the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference Oct.16-19 in Washington D.C.

My education started the minute I landed at Reagan National Airport and continued throughout the conference, at the workshops and during the networking sessions, where I interacted with respected peers and educators throughout the world.

Here’s a summary of the top ten trends I learned — or confirmed — this year at the PRSA Conference that I hope you will find valuable as you prepare your strategic plans for 2011:

  1. New media have created new opportunities and challenges for communicators. Reaching our target audiences today is becoming easier — and more difficult — with the emergence of new communication channels. New social media platforms to mobile marketing devices make it easier to engage with more diverse, niche audiences. However, keeping abreast of these new opportunities requires organizations to dedicate more staff time, training and resources to utilizing these mediums effectively. Due to the recession, some organizations do not have the additional staff or resources and are asking communicators to do more with less and still outpace their competition.
  2. Self-proclaimed experts are the new influencers. Self-proclaimed experts who shout the loudest, know how to use new media effectively and have built online communities are quickly becoming heard and are influencing our target audiences and our brands.Like it or not, these new influencers should be taken seriously. Our audiences no longer seek information only from the traditional experts we used in the past, such as doctors, professors, researchers and journalists, to educate or endorse our brands.
  3. Print media should still be taken seriously. While newspaper circulation across the United States has been declining, niche, community and trade publications serving unique audiences and regions are holding their own or growing. We still rely on traditional news media to provide balanced, timely news, which is routinely picked up by  new and old media.
  4. Good content and storytelling is paramount to breaking through the clutter. Since consumers have so many competing sources from which they can receive their news, communicators must create new and interesting content using a variety of channels to capture their audience’s attention. Ultimately, the more conversations that communicators can ignite through storytelling, the more likely your brand message will be heard.
  5. The competition has a new face. Since the recession began, I have seen more experts and gurus emerge in nearly every profession, industry or trade. New technologies have made it easier for dilettantes to rise, especially in the area of social media. While it may be easy to dismiss their claims, communicators and their organizations must monitor how their target audiences are responding to their claims. Perception is reality, and if your audience cannot tell the difference between an expert or someone claiming to be your competition, then it’s time to re-engage with your audiences to demonstrate the difference.
  6. Keeping up with new technologies can derail strategy. More than 30 new social media courses were offered at the 2010 PRSA International Conference, and public relations professionals were hungry to learn the latest new media trends. While it is important to stay abreast of these ever-changing technologies, communicators must not lose focus on incorporating new media into a well-thought out strategy. The strategy is what separates the self-proclaimed social media gurus from the professional communicators who know how to plan and execute strategic campaigns and monitor results.
  7. Maintaining ethics and intellectual property rights has become more challenging. As professional communicators, it’s wonderful to have at our fingertips so many new media channels and information on every subject. At the same time, it’s much easier for people to borrow information and images from the web and to ignore copyright and trademark laws. As professional communicators, we must continue to educate and mentor others about maintaining the highest, ethical and professional standards. Doing so will separate the professionals from the amateurs.
  8. Tracking and communicating ROI is imperative. One sure way to stand out among your competition and to prove value is to demonstrate a return on investment. Tools exist to measure audience reach, influence and impact, especially when a campaign involves audience engagement online. Take time to learn these tools and engage the experts when necessary.
  9. Stakeholders expect an immediate response following a crisis. Before the rise of social media, organizations were expected to respond to stakeholders within an hour following a crisis. Today, stakeholders expect organizations to respond within seconds. If there is a delayed response, audiences will assume the organization has something to hide. Now more than ever, organizations must have a crisis response plan in place prior to bad things happening. A good crisis plan will reduce the harmful impact on a reputation due to a delayed response.
  10. Reputations are at greater risk today. Reputations are volatile because it is much easier for bad news or inaccurate information to spread like wildfire through new and traditional media channels. The number of influencers we need to communicate with regularly also has skyrocketed. These trends, which can dramatically impact a company’s reputation and stock value, clearly point to the need for on-going, strategic public relations and reputation management.

Linda Welter Cohen, APR, is founder and chief executive officer of The Caliber Group. Linda has more than 20 years of experience providing reputation and issues management consulting; crisis planning, management and training; message strategy development; and brand marketing, public relations and interactive strategy. Linda currently serves as an executive committee member of the PRSA Counselors Academy. Previously, she served on PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, during which time the board revised PRSA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Standards now used by more than 20,000 PRSA members internationally. Linda also served as chair of PRSA’s Western District and president of the Southern Arizona Chapter of PRSA.

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