It would be wrong to call this 'Top Predictions for Communications in 2012' or anything of the sort. One obvious reason being, it is nearly two months into said year.
So, here are a few observations I've been ruminating on and pontificating about regarding what awaits in 2012 for communicators.
Content curation will be king (or queen)
It has been hard to avoid the push for companies and agencies to shift to be more adept content creators - those who develop the information to facilitate conversations, rather than merely trying to influence the flow and consumption of information. With the glut of information out there we saw a rise in content aggregators; collectors of what flowed through the ether who pulled it into RSS feeds or hashtagged twitter streams.
2012 will be the year of content curation, when we don't settle for mere collection but seek perspective. When we value those who turn a critical and knowledgeable eye towards gathering and grouping content in a way that shows context and deeper insight.
In the words of Rohit Bhargava: A Content Curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online.
I believe that this is the natural role for journalists, particularly 'newspaper' folks as they evolve into true multimedia journalists. While we have become a society which consumes snippets, clips and posts there is still an appetite for full and deeper knowledge. Those trusted sources who have established themselves in the 'speed of thumbs' news cycle as resources but who can also provide the breadth, depth and true roundness of a story or issue.
To get to that point, media will need to embrace the following...
Collaboration among competitors
In the who-has-it-first-who-cares-if-it's-right world we've seen source checking go by the wayside in the need for speed. And beating the other guy - whether that guy is a blogger, tweeter, live cable scroll, news website or livecast - is paramount.
But at the end of the day we consume our information, breaking news or otherwise, from a wide group of sources. When there is a topic at hand we find interesting we aggregate it ourselves through hashtag streams, google alerts and live searches. So it stands to reason that by news sources collaborating on large-scale ongoing coverage with the goal of making it more easily findable and consumable for their audiences - all will benefit.
At a local level this could mean television, radio and print journalists using a consistent and shared hashtag or post tags for events like elections and significant breaking news events. At the national level - cross-linkage with sourcing ala Huffington Post or live web and twitter chats with multiple media source responses.
Upstream and Downstream Social Networks
In the social media sphere I won't dare to predict what is coming next. Heck, how'd I know a year ago I would be one of many Pinterest addicts or kicking the tires on Path? Networks will emerge, rise, gain relevance and following or die. The cycle is the same as it's been for genrations as we develop and dismiss technology. It's just on hyperspeed. But as Tac Anderson (Futurist. Digital anthropologist. Blogger: @newcommbiz Head of Digital Strategies EMEA for @WaggenerEdstrom) notes in a post, these new networks are falling into two distinct categories and will continue to do so.
Something that I haven’t posted about yet but have been working out in my head is the concept of Upstream Social Networks (USN) and Downstream Social Networks (DSN). Social networks like Path are USN where our updates originate from and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are DSN, collecting all those updates. In fact if I look at my Facebook page it’s mostly posts from Posterous, Instagram, Path, GetGlue, Goodreads, SoundTracking, and the occasional Foursquare checkin.
Part of this is workflow and part of this is features and control of content and privacy. Path allows me to choose who I share what with much better than Facebook and their groups setting does. I also see using Path much easier than managing Google+ circles.
Trendspotters over reactionary gatekeepers
For public relations professionals, the gatekeeper role is truly a position of the past. Besides being conversation facilitators between companies, organizations, stakeholders and the public - PR pros must increasingly shed their tactics hat and truly become trendspotters and counselors to provide ongoing value to their clients.
Being 'the person that knows everything and everyone' is what PR pros of 2012 and beyond need to embrace. Being social and connected - and not just by having thousands of Twitter followers - will be a key skillset for our craft. Having the breadth of knowledge, good instincts and sharp insights to be a business counselor will be more valuable than how quickly you can write a tweet, pitch a news release or craft a statement. Can you curate content to help guide business decisions and provide insights to the reactions certain actions will cause? Can you predict potential human behavior responses? Can you identify national and global trends as they emerge so your business and clients can be at the cusp instead of in the dust?
Short-Term Memory Trumps Nostalgia
I'm a college football fan, but not a fan of the system. I've always been frustrated (especially for my recently woeful Longhorns) when a late season loss creates more havoc than an early season loss. While their overall records will wind up the same, a loss towards the end of the season will have significant repurcussions on a team's post-season chances.
That had me thinking a lot about our memory, and how the speed and mass of information filtering through our mindset has essentially relegated our long-term memory to the far far reaches of our conscious.
Consider Joe Paterno. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of how responsible he was for the horrific acts that allegedly unfolded at Penn State, no one can deny that the dominant memory of this man is now the incident(s) that sullied an entire university's reputation. Paterno's six-plus decades of service and good deeds are severely diminished by the immensity of what came to light in the last year. Our short-term memory, bolstered by how search engines spider through content and present results, is trumping nostalgia and the full breadth of a person's existence.
What does it mean for communicators? That past acts and reputations can not only be destroyed but essentially eliminated by the latest misdeed. That reliance on a company's entire history of performance to protect them during tough times is naive. Building, bolstering and protecting reputations is a crucial 24/7 job. And communicators must evolve to ensure their important role as counselors in the atmosphere of 2012 and beyond is recognized.
- Jess Flynn