Last week, we tore down December 2017 from the giant calendar that hangs on our wall. It’s our information hub – housing important deadline, client events, project meetings and vacation time. As we took it down, we did a little cheer that 2017 was coming to a close. Not that it was a bad year; in fact, we had many client successes, but it seemed to be a bit frenetic – not helped by our handling 97 crises.
As we put the 2018 calendar up, we invoked a quiet prayer that 2018 be a calmer year – ha! Probably won’t happen, but for right now, we’re relishing a pristine calendar with only one sticky note on January. And that sticky note is a reminder that SPR is celebrating its 15-year anniversary tomorrow after opening on 01.02.03.
As we kick off our fifteenth year, our team is sharing what we’re keeping an eye on in 2018.
Social Media Trends
If there’s one thing we can take from social media, it’s that people love the personalized experience that social media provides.
The explosion of social media has shaped how we do business on the whole. More than 50 million small businesses use social media to connect with customers. With so many brands on social media, from small to large, 2018 may bring about a brand fatigue. This will increase the pressure to not only be more creative about the messages your brand puts out there, but also how you communicate on social media.
Also expect to increased use of live streaming. More than 80 percent of users indicated they would prefer to watch a live video on Facebook or Twitter than read a blog update (gulp!). Social media live videos are feeding our never-ending hunger of immediacy. With increased live videos, customers are going to want what they want instantly. Think about how often you’re putting information out on social media and what your key messages are.
What does all this mean for your brand? To put it simply, we are going to have to think about how we communicate because social media is ever-evolving.
Storytelling continues to be a huge buzzword in the industry. The combination of compelling visual images using both stills and cinematic footage mixed with an audio narrative move the viewer to understand what the video message is conveying.
As video dominates the visual landscape online in websites and social media, it brings with it new demands. Incorporating high-quality Ultra High Definition (UHD) video such as 4K brings even more clarity to videos; utilizing slick motion graphics give videos a polished finish that elevates the experience even more.
Lastly, one of the breakthrough technologies we’ll continue to see in 2018 is using drones to capture previously unseen imagery – unless you had a helicopter at your disposal. Drones also bring a shifting landscape of new laws that are developing to deal with sharing the skies. The FAA has announced that in 2018 it will roll out a new “instant waiver” program that should allow FAA Part 107 certificate pilots to get an airspace waiver in minutes, instead of months. The system is called the LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) program.
During the preceding year, we saw a proliferation of unlicensed drone pilots who neither understand nor respect proper protocols for flying safely. As drones become more affordable, we’re seeing a LOT more traffic in the skies. Right now, it’s like the Wild West out there, but the FAA is working to get a handle on rogue drone usage to ensure safety for everyone. Be sure to do your part and only use certified drone pilots – like T.J. Hamilton at Sabo PR – for your video needs.
As PR professionals, we interact with the media constantly. Nary a week goes by without one of us talking to a newsroom. As a result, we’ve formed real relationships with many local and regional journalists – in fact, three members of team Sabo PR had long careers in traditional newsrooms. Personal and professional experience with the media means we’ve developed a keen sense of what stories to pitch and when.
The world of journalism is fast-paced and ever-changing, and unfortunately, not every new hire or fundraiser at your organization will make the news. A breaking story making national news can mean empty seats at the media conference you’ve been planning for months.
In 2018, the newsrooms are going to continue to shrink, especially when it comes to local media. However, don’t give up the media all together – it can be an incredible tool to share your story and reach a large audience. So, how should you approach the media when you’re not guaranteed a payoff?
- Manage expectations. Some days we have journalists asking us we have a story, some days we can’t get a call back. That’s the nature of the business, which shouldn’t discourage you to keep reaching out.
- Keep it simple and straightforward. Most media pitches are concise and to-the-point. If you don’t interest your audience in the first sentence, the next 10 won’t either.
- Provide photos, videos, graphics or stats. We call it our just-add-water approach. Equipping the media with professional photos, videos or graphics can save them time – and help sweeten the possibility you’ll get a bite.
- Plan ahead and prepare for the unexpected. When the media respond to a pitch, have a spokesperson, background information and sources on hand.
- Your social media accounts are a great way to connect and share stories with the media. Use Twitter to break news in real-time or a digital ad to build momentum.
One of the biggest challenges marketers have faced recently is the delineation of media channels. Owned, earned and paid are blending together with less and less distinction between them. In 2018, this is going to increase even more. Many traditional media outlets have already been exploring with paid editorial content and as newsrooms continue to shrink to dismal forces, utilizing paid editorial content is benefit to media outlets. While this can be a good strategy for some brands, it should not replace earned opportunities and a robust owned-content strategy.
Content is going to continue to be king, but consumers are becomingly increasingly sophisticated. A strategy that intersects your brand goals with current consumer interests will aid in creating content that is informative and entertaining to your audience while highlighting your brand strengths and promises.
And much of this means staying authentic – such an overused buzzword, but an important concept. Frankly, consumers are increasingly distrustful of corporations and their motives – and who can blame them? According to Nielsen, 82 percent of North American consumers utilize recommendations from people they know in their purchasing decisions. This is compared to 63 percent for editorial content or ads on TV.
If you haven’t taken time to really develop the voice of your brand, we challenge you to make that a goal for 2018. Remember, as marketers and PR professionals, we’re responsible for bringing our brand to life. Much like an adolescent lost in their teenage years asking, “Who am I,” brands can get lost in their own version of adolescence. Do some soul searching and figure out what your brand is going to say to the world this year.
Speaking of authenticity, can we please cut it out with the fake social activism, please? (Looking at you, Pepsi.) We’re clearly living in heated and polarizing times, but jumping on this bandwagon can be a made move for brands. Marketers have to resist the urge to create politically charged messages that are inconsistent with your voice just to create buzz. Consumers know when you are feeding them a line cloaked in social responsibility – and will often through it back in your face.
All of the above topics – the explosion of social media, shrinking newsrooms and poor content choices – can lead to a communication crisis. (A whole myriad of operational issues can also lead to one, as well.)
As we mentioned above, SPR has managed 97 crises this year – that’s almost two a week. These ranged from a single-day social media you-know-what storm to ongoing issues that prompt police intervention or wind up in courts. The world is imperfect so bad things are bound to happen, but if we can avoid creating a communications crisis, that’s always a good day.
Keeping your brand’s reputation in a positive light is going to be more important than ever. When consumers trust you, they are more apt to forgive when you mess up. That’s why having a positive, proactive approach to PR is actually your biggest crisis management tool. If consumers know that you are good people, when the bad stuff happens – and if managed properly – you’ll take less of a blow than you would have.
In 2018, we are going to see more crises start with social media. An unhappy employee or customer posts a seemingly innocuous comment on Facebook and, a day later, you could be facing a boycott or fielding a call from Inside Edition. Disappointingly, we are also seeing local and regional media writing stories from Facebook posts or tweets – without bothering to call the organization for comment. Now more than ever, be sure to keep on top of your social media accounts. Set up alerts so that you can see when others post on your accounts. Be sure to respond quickly to criticism – and resist the urge to simply delete a negative comment and block its messenger.
Editors and journalists are under a lot of pressure from publishers to create “clickable” content, which they are now calling “elevated news,” aka sensationalistic reporting. Cringe! Countless times, we’ve come from a media briefing or a town hall meeting that was about a contentious topic, but ended amicably, only to watch the 10 p.m. news arguing the complete opposite.
As consumers, we crave tension, and the media has bought into that. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there’s no good denying the reality. As PR pros and marketers, we are the defenders of our brand reputations and, like any good general, we need to know potential pain points and the strengths of our adversaries.
Getting ahead of an issue is critical in, at least trying, to control the message. Too often, we’re called in when that cat is not even remotely near the bag. We can definitely help, but we could have helped more if we were brought in when the cat was tucked in the bag. A trend we’d love to see in 2018 is for brand managers to call us in sooner when an issue is identified. Your PR team can be second only to your lawyer in providing critical support during a crisis.
Last – but certainly not least – is internal communications. Your internal audiences are always your most important stakeholders, yet they can be the easiest to overlook. Looking ahead to 2018, we expect to focus more on:
- Transparency and empowerment: Your internal audience is largely made up of your employees. Whether you work in a small or large company, it’s critical that your employees feel valued and heard. If you can, get everyone – not just senior leadership – involved in discussions regarding the vision of the company and strategy moving forward. It can be as small as suggestion cards that are given serious consideration or holding regular departmental meetings. Either way, this empowers employees, giving them a voice and increasing buy-in. And, as we said before, make sure to be transparent in your communications.
- Working remotely: As technology is more and more integrated into our day-to-day work, it’s critical that remote and in-house employees can easily connect to one another. More frequently, businesses are taking advantage of the tools are that available to ease this capability – and if your company isn’t already, we would suggest looking into them. This could include a tool like Skype for Business, a messaging service that allows users to instant message one another, as well as voice and video call, so having a face-to-face conversation is just as easy whether employees are miles away or sitting next to one another.
- Employee engagement: Intentionally working to build employee engagement increases productivity, morale and retention. This can be done through offering (and making sure employees are taking advantage of) perks and benefits, such as team lunches, holiday bonuses or the occasional happy hour; team bonding; and even encouraging employees to use vacation days (without the guilt that often comes with it).
At the end of the day (or this year, we guess), we want you to know that Sabo PR is here for you. We’ve got your back. No matter what communication challenge is thrown at you in 2018, we’ll be at the ready – we’re just a call, text, email or carrier pigeon away!