2012 Trends in Public Relations and Reputation Management

It’s early in the New Year, which means many of us are writing the wrong date, making small talk about how “2011 just flew by,” going to movies that want Oscar nominations, and reading plenty of articles/posts on what to expect for the year.

In line with one of these new-year traditions, some of the Standing staff gathered to look inside our PR-practitioner-ing crystal ball (when coupled with ethernet, it doubles as a conference-room Skype center). Here’s some of what we saw within strategic communications for 2012 (up until at least Dec. 21, 2012 — after that, the ball got hazy; it was weird). Please note: the following list doesn’t come close to capturing everything we discussed, but it’s a start.

  • Data Becomes More Meaningful
    Businesses have more data on more customers than they’ve ever had before, but few companies seem to know how to use it. Similarly, strategic-communications professionals installed more measurements in the past five years than ever before, but the industry is way behind in effectively using the information — too much focus on superficial numbers and worrying about proving self-worth instead of what’s best for the organization. In 2012, businesses dive deeper into the numbers and start to make sense of how to use them. Look for more intricate measurements, expanded use of the data already collected and improved predictive modeling.
  • Organizations Replace Media for Third-Party Credibility
    Using public relations for market validation is one of the industry’s oldest principles — media placements provide third-party credibility for organizations. However, in an age where digital is killing print and fewer people trust the reliability of news providers in general, where should organizations go for third-party credibility? Transparency is the new credibility (especially when paired with the social validation of personal networks/influence). 

    Organizations have new opportunities to provide transparent information and engage with (and listen to) the entire stakeholder spectrum. It’s already happening (think American Express’ “Open Forum“), and we expect more companies to own this space with more self-published content and forums for consumer discussions — but transparency is the key.

  • “Here and Now” Customer Service Grows with Social Media
    The demand is already there from consumers, but the majority of brands have been slow to meet it. A Maritz Research and Evolve24 study found this year that 70 percent of companies ignore complaints on Twitter. Social media strategist Jay Baer put it best: “Despite increasing numbers of customers using Twitter to publicly complain about brands, the vast majority of companies respond in the exact same way … with the quiet of contempt.” Beyond Twitter, we expect companies to make gains in 2012 with how they use social media to respond to customers — and tap into them for content and ideas as well.
  • Corporate Content Gets a Makeover
    Brands heard it for years — ”content is king.” The slower adopters will catch up in 2012, and the companies already at the forefront get stronger. This translates into revamped websites (rethought as engagement tools), and an industry agreement that text is no longer enough. Whether it’s a tweet or blog post, brands will try to include video, photos or audio in every communication. Cheaper high-definition technology, continually improving media-sharing apps, and a more tech/mobile savvy society will also play a role to increase the role of user-generated content (either from customers or employees).
  • Work-Life Balance Turns into Work-Life Integration
    Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. market owns smartphones, and that number goes up daily. This means more and more people will technically be available 24/7 — whether they want to be or not. With the newfound access, workforces will need new rules and modes of operating (as well as clarified expectations: do you answer every email before bed? Can clients text you with questions? Should everyone on your team have instant-messaging accounts?).  

    Harvard Business Review blogger Ron Ashkenas described “integration” in a 2011 post: “Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly … we can stop feeling guilty about checking our emails at night … and not feel guilty about talking with our spouses, friends, and family members during work time … we no longer split up our time so rigidly between ‘work hours’ and ‘non-work hours.’”

    Look for this topic to cause quite a few debates and start differing schools of organizational management. Either way, this presents opportunities and challenges for employee communicators, as well as some interesting discussions for business leaders (from global corporations to strategic-communications agencies).

Do you have any other prognostications for 2012? Share your predictions and/or thoughts on the above list in the comments below.

  • Julie

    Great comments, Patrick. Re: work-life balance/integration, Volkswagen recently deactivated email on German staff smartphones out of office hours to give them a break. Rumor has it Volkswagen USA had no comment.

  • Ashlyn Brewer

    Great post, Patrick.  I really like your points on work-life integration.  I think there’s also a digital communications component of that—it’s getting harder to have separate personal and professional identities online, so much of what we say/do online can reflect on our employers.

    Employers and employees are going to have to think through where the obligation to represent your employer begins and ends when it comes to communicating online.  If I had to guess, I’d say the “views are my own” disclaimer won’t hold up for long.

  • Jessica Hartman

    The transparency piece is huge for companies nowadays. In fact, even if a company doesn’t choose to be transparent, it’s somewhat forced upon them. I can’t recall a time recently where I’ve made any sort of medium to substantial purchase without consulting a plethora of reviews. Whether it’s home appliances, clothing or a hotel choice, I rely heavily on online reviews. Companies really can’t afford to hide.

  • Patrick Lunsford

    Good add, Ashyln, on the personal vs professional identity. I’d argue (or maybe it’s more “advocate”) that the future will remove the “vs.” It won’t happen in 2012, but in the coming age of “people currency,” we’re moving more and more toward personal/individual brands trumping corporate brands (qualifier: not in all cases)—and people pursuing to grow the personal brand in conjunction with the corporate.

    As people also acclimate more with their online identities and networks, I think people will see there’s no division between personal and professional—to borrow from Popeye: “I yam what I yam” (and for people who hold on to the division between personal and professional: think how much freer your life could be if you didn’t have to worry about protecting one division from the other). This move also brings in a new age of accountability, but that’s probably another post.

  • Ashlyn Brewer

    Great point, Patrick.  I hope we see the day where personal and professional identities can fully merge. If that’s the way we’re trending, I’d say organizations better prepare to showcase their values, culture and “identity” in real, meaningful ways so prospective job candidates can match themselves against it.