It’s vital that we know what direction the communication industry is going. Knowing its trends, changes, and challenges determines success as communications professionals.

The European Communication Monitor (ECM) Survey identifies trends and challenges in communication management and public relations, which makes it all the easier to know where an organisation, or you, stand in the industry.

The 2017 ECM Survey, which included responses from 3,387 senior professionals from 50 countries, found that digital evolution and social media continues to be a focus within the industry. Accompanied with this trend comes challenges of visual communication, the discussion on social bots, and how to address hypermodernity.

Visual Communication

Screen shot of visual element design ability in communication industry

Even though a clear majority of professionals believe visual communication such as video, photo, and graphics are vital for successful communication, half have “limited visual competencies.”

Communication professionals realise its importance, yet don’t have the skills to enhance their audience engagement with visual communication. This is an opportunity for professionals to learn such skills, and we have a blog post highlighting simple tools to create visuals for free.

Social Bots

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is spreading through the communications industry and many media professionals in the United States say it’s the “next big thing” in effectively reaching audiences. But Europeans haven’t noticed.

Discussions, even the existence and use, of social bots is largely neglected by many communication professionals in Europe, according to the survey. Only one-third of participants follow the debate and 15.9 % have no idea about the topic at all. Screen shot of social bots knowledge from communication industry

Social bots are mainly seen as a threat to the public and organisational reputations. This is because social bots are commonly fake social media accounts that spread pro-governmental messages and fake news, cause artificial trends, and are meant to beef up website follower numbers.

One interesting titbit reported from the Washington Post about bots is that one service found 59% of President Trump’s followers are bots or fake accounts, while Hillary Clinton’s are 66%  bots.

But 4 out of 10 participants in the survey see social bots as an opportunity.

Positive examples of social bots include chatbots, or algorithms designed to hold a conversation with a human. Chatbots were popular among top  U.S. media outlets during the presidential election to update audiences on predictions and the latest news. Other examples of social bots include bots that can automatically aggregate content from sources like news feeds.

Looking to the future, only 6.2% of participants said they use social bots for strategic communication today and only 8.5% plan to use them soon. Communication departments and agencies that use social bots mostly use them for automated responses or for identifying and following others on social media.

It’s slow to becoming a mainstream strategy in communications, but professionals should keep an open mind about it. Multiple companies, including our client Connector, are using chatbots through Facebook Messenger to improve customer service, audience profiling, and personalised content.

Digital Evolution

As we well know, digital evolution and social media are on almost every communication professional’s mind. More than 90% of participants in the survey said social media is the most important channel to address stakeholders, gatekeepers, and audiences.

One thing noted in the study is that “it is interesting that the shift towards online and mobile is consistently overestimated by practitioners. Media relations with print newspapers/magazines are still stronger than expected.”

Hypermodern Society

Technology isn’t the only thing affecting the communication industry. A shift in society behaviour is affecting how communication professionals and organisations should approach work and reaction.

We’re living in a hypermodern society: “society in overdrive, characterised by a culture of hyper consumption, hyper change, and hyper individualism.” Audiences and consumers expect organisations to reflect on their roles and behaviours in society and what impact that has at large.

Ways organisations are adjusting to this shift is by continuous change in the work environment, decentralising IT, adjusting rapidly to the work force, and emphasising creativity and ethics of responsibility.

Half of the participants said hypermodern society has changed communication between their organisation and stakeholders, 71.5% of participants see the shift in culture, and the transition to a hypermodern culture is strongest in consultancies and private companies.

Although about 40% of companies represented in the study are shifting into a hypermodern mindset, the same number is stuck still in the previous societal definition of postmodern society, which emphasises knowledge, innovation, and ethics of values.

One way some companies are adjusting to this societal change is to participate in discussions centered on issues such as ecology and climate, open borders for business, the future of the European Union, and the refugee crisis.

The ECM Survey started in 2007 and tracks trends and challenges in communication management in Europe. What do you think about the study’s findings?

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