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The Present & Future Tech Trends PRs Should Prepare For

In PR and media relations, it’s easy to become entirely focused on the day-to-day issues at the expense of the longer event horizon.

We decided to take a look at four major emerged, emerging, or horizon trends and how they’ll affect the sector. Before we dive in, here are some quick definitions:

  • Emerged trends are trends that are already present and becoming more widespread and important. Current planning and operations should include these.
  • Emerging trends are present but not yet widespread and are just now becoming important. These will need attention for planning over the next one to three years, sooner if an organization needs to be near the cutting edge.
  • Horizon trends are not yet widespread and are currently important in only a few specialized sectors, but are such strong forces of change that four- to eight-year plans should take them into consideration.

Some trends sit between emerged and emerging, or emerging and horizon, depending on an organization’s business.

For example, the ongoing globalization of the Internet and expansion to more rural audiences is already emerged for organizations with international operations, but barely emerging and not very important for a restaurant that does only local business.

1. Emerged Trends

Content optimization for the mobile and semantic web.

Emerged Trends - Mobile Optimization

Right now, the biggest focus is on writing and presenting content for mobile consumption. Google recently updated its search algorithms to reward mobile-friendly content in a shakeup the search engine optimization sector called Mobilegeddon.

While the official change was on April 21, 2015, analysts like Bryson Meunier point out that this wasn’t just a one-time event but the beginning of long-term change.

Underneath that, however, is the quieter and even bigger shift towards the semantic web. Sometimes people enter a web search to see a variety of results from deliberate sources, but other times, they’re just looking for an authoritative answer to a question.

For example, here Google’s semantic search analyzes the phrasing “Where is Elvis?” to direct users to sites that discuss whether or not Elvis is still alive:

Mobile Optimization - Elvis

Click to enlarge.

However, the question of where is Elvis buried gets a straightforward answer, strongly favoring sites that use well-defined metadata.

Elvis Buried - Semantic Search

Click to enlarge.

The PR Ramifications

For media relations and PR professionals, this means even more attention to not just the text and images but the coding and metadata of online content.

Search engine optimization for content will become even more integral to media relations and PR and will emphasize metadata and schemas as much as the text and images.

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2. Emerged/Emerging Trends:

Larger and more diverse audiences.

Emerging Trends - Global Audiences

As of 2013, 3 percent of the U.S. population (approximately 9 million people) still use dial-up to access the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. The FCC is investing in providing access to communities that do not have broadband. The greatest growth in Internet access, though, is coming from the developing world.

Of the approximately 3.2 billion people using the Internet, approximately 2 billion are from the developing world. An additional 4 billion in the developing world do not yet have access. Still, on August 27, 2015, Facebook reported that 1 billion users logged in that day, the equivalent of 1 in 7 people on the planet.

Mobile broadband is growing far faster than fixed broadband. For many in the developing world, this will likely serve as their primary or only source of Internet access. 

The PR Ramifications

For organizations with primarily local audiences, the impact will most likely be dispersed and gradual. For global organizations, this will create greater opportunities for success and failure, as audiences will become larger and more diverse.

In nations with underdeveloped formal media but a strong social media participation rate, social media will break news and shape the narratives considerably before traditional media. Approximately 60 percent of YouTube video viewers are not from the same country as the content creator, and as more countries expand internet usage, that proportion is certain to increase.

This will make interlingual and intercultural communication skills–or even the ability to recognize when to find a specialist–incredibly valuable for media and PR professionals.

What level of eye contact is best in video? When should figures of speech be translated into local forms and when should they be omitted? What messages do certain colors send in different colors and how should that influence color schemes for websites or the colors executives wear in photos?

3. Emerging Trends 

The Internet of Things networking the world.

Emerged/Emerging - Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is essentially a vast network of virtually everything that can be connected to a network.

For example, Disney’s theme parks are full of sensors and guests carry wristband sensors, so that management can track traffic to anticipate which areas might be unexpectedly busy or slow, and deploy staff accordingly. Factories can alert staff to potential problems as each machine can report on the status of every part, and another system can track and report air quality, even reporting it to OSHA if it fails to meet standards. A bottle of prescription medicine can send a reminder that it’s time to take it and even alert a family member or health professional if the patient has skipped more than one dose.

While this could create a much safer world, the IoT is also creating more opportunities for hackers to exploit potential vulnerabilities. Certain kinds of smart televisions can “overhear” conversations. Baby monitors are remarkably easy to hack and allow remote viewers to watch the room where the monitor is located, or even talk through the camera. Virtually anything with a direct or indirect Internet connection, even a car or common medical equipment, can be hacked, either for information or to tamper directly with its operations.

The PR Ramifications

From a media relations and PR perspective, this means more potential for avoiding or for creating risk; a whole new source of data; and more advance warning for either good or bad news.

For example, manufacturers who successfully use embedded networks to detect both manufacturing flaws and indicators of design flaws, to provide continuous quality assessment throughout the manufacturing process can generate extensive positive returns in public opinion.

They might even provide select data to the public, to be more transparent. If a flaw does make it through the processes, their communication and PR teams might have more notice.

Additionally, post-hacking communication strategies will likely become a standard for most organizations, and the public or regulators may demand transparency about how personal or other potentially risky data is secured.  

Embedded IoT systems will likely become as ubiquitous as workplace email and instant messaging and like them, will create a long trail of data, creating a whole new set of ethical and legal responsibilities.

For example, suppose, in a high-stress workplace where excessively long hours are common (such as long-distance driving or certain high-tech companies), when individuals can use personal systems to measure the physical impact, does the employer have a legal or ethical responsibility to allow a person to rest? Or does the employer have a responsibility to track the data itself and take action?

PR and media professionals who can understand these changes and anticipate their brand’s or client’s needs will have a strong advantage in this time of rapid change.

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4. Horizon Trends:

3D printing, everyday use of drones, and strong artificial intelligence.

Horizon Trends - Drones

Once it becomes part of mainstream manufacturing and fulfillment, 3D printing will change medicine, manufacturing and consumer packaged goods in ways we can only roughly glimpse now.

We can expect to see more walled gardens, like Apple, as well as open source manufacturing, like MIT’s Fab Labs.  Experts see many long-term possibilities here, from widespread prosperity through tools like the replicators from Star Trek to the worldwide loss of manufacturing and distribution jobs, further driving global inequality.

PR and media relations will play a role in determining which of these scenarios comes true.  

Other horizon trends include everyday use of drones for data-gathering and delivery, and strong artificial intelligence (generally defined as artificial intelligence that displays human-like insight, skill and flexibility). There are already tools that combine crowd-sourcing and artificial intelligence in politics and even now, fully automated and optimized press releases are quite conceivable. What will the role of media relations and PR professionals be then?

The PR Ramifications

While it’s too early for virtually all PR and media relations organizations or experts to start building plans around these developments, it’s important to know what changes are coming. This way, strategic plans can be robust around a wide variety of potential futures, rather than fixed too closely to one possible outcome or focusing on only one or two drivers of change.

PR and media professionals will also be responsible for shaping the conversations around and direction of these changes, whatever shape they take.

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About Ann Feeney

Ann Feeney is the Information Science Specialist at Cision. When she's not information scienceing, she's planning travel, practicing photography, or inventing titles for her unauthorized autobiography.

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