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Excelling in 2018: Five Lessons for Modern Communicators

Deirdre Breakenridge Headshot

The New Year is here and it's a good time to reflect on several essential learnings from 2017. Communication professionals know the importance of auditing their brand messages and channels to see what resonated with the public and what didn't. They also need to assess what they learned and what areas of their work and professional development need more attention for accelerated growth.

Lesson #1: Artificial Intelligence (AI) Has Arrived & Business Must Pay Attention to Consumer Concerns

Every day, if you want Alexa [Amazon Echo] to share inspiration with you, she will. All you have to do is ask. She'll also share the morning news headlines, and she is great at organizing the weekly shopping list. Whether it is Alexa, Google Home, or Siri, they are a part of life for many of us. But, is "she" a friendly AI helper or an extended family member? Recently, I chuckled when a friend shared a story about an eight-year-old girl who asked if Alexa was a member of her family. Hard to tell when you're a child growing up with technology that is smart and very attentive to your needs.

AI has made its way beyond our basic shopping experiences and into our personal lives. Every time you ask Alexa to purchase a product or you interact with a chatbot and your customer service needs get addressed, you are experiencing AI. At the same time, consumer fear about robots making decisions―and quite possibly replacing humans at work―is real, and businesses need to recognize these concerns.

In a recent interview, Megan Harris, Managing Director at SYZYGY , New York shared how her company focuses on helping businesses to be more transparent about AI in their marketing programs. SYZYGY conducted an international study with 6,000 consumers to dive into some of the emotions and fears around AI. "This mixture of fear and lack of knowledge is likely why 89 percent said that the "r" word-regulation-should apply to AI used in marketing," said Megan in a recent Spin Sucks article .

Of course, modern communicators must be tuned into to how the public is feeling and how they are reacting to their interactions with intelligent personal assistants and robots. The businesses that help consumers to understand the benefits, and who are also there when issues arise (yes, the unpleasant experiences too), will gain the trust of their customers.

Lesson #2: The Proliferation of Bots and Fake News

Bots are everywhere in your social media communities. Recently, I received a direct message (DM) from a concerned colleague who told me that I was within two degrees of separation from several bots. He had my reputation in mind and gave me some good advice to consider unfollowing and blocking these accounts.

After looking at the situation more closely, it was eye-opening to see how the bots were closer than I had imagined. If there is one thing I've learned, not just in 2017 but throughout my 25+ years, is that your network is your most valued source of news and information. You only want to keep your best sources close.

In an interview with the Campaign Workshop , John Gray, Founder of Mentionmapp , a platform that is doing extensive research into bots, explains that not all bots are bad, "but it's deliberate deception that is cause for concern." John also mentioned, "We're seeing the proliferation of an overall ecosystem of fake (fake profiles, fake news sites, fake organizations and businesses, fake charities), where the bots play a key role in gaming the metrics that subsequently drive what populates our feeds." It is up to communications professionals to be responsible and to know who around you might be perpetuating the bot problem.

As you engage in your social media communities you can use tools to visualize your network and dig deeper to recognize who is around you. Then, you can be more responsible with the information you share.

Lesson #3: Blockchain Extends Beyond Bitcoin & Why You Need to Know

Bitcoin has been in the news quite a bit lately. We recognize it as a cryptocurrency or "token" and a global payment system. For a while now, whenever you mentioned blockchain, the natural response was to think about bitcoin.

But blockchain goes beyond bitcoin―why do modern communicators need to know more? I asked this question and found out from Tiana Lawrence, the author of Blockchain for Dummies . Many professionals are under the impression that blockchain relates to financial transactions and a payment system. There are many stories of how Bitcoin has helped entrepreneurs to become a part of a global economy, especially in developing markets and how it is growing in popularity.

However, here's a lesson moving into 2018: Blockchain goes far beyond financial transactions; it can be any transaction. As a modern communicator, you have to think about data and how it gets transferred in many different industries. For example, blockchain (which is a permanent ledger system) will affect the way retailers share smart contracts and their record keeping, from loyalty programs to supply chain management. Insurance providers, government agencies and healthcare organizations can manage and share data through a blockchain.

When you think of blockchain, now you can think of permanent ledger recording of data. Modern communicators should always focus on the sharing of public information and the privacy and security concerns that surround those transfers. What consumers and businesses experience, and their reactions to blockchain, become a part of a story. Because there are so many questions and intense interest in blockchain, PR is poised to learn, understand and tell this story for business.

Lesson #4: Millennials Are All Grown Up―Now Say Hello to Generation Z

If you are still talking about Millennials coming out of school and entering the workplace, it is time change the narrative. Millennials are in the workplace, and they are taking on leadership positions. So, who is getting out of school and preparing to enter the workforce? Generation Z is here and they, too, are a generation that has experienced tremendous disruption.

You will learn quickly that each generation has its nuances and there are best ways to reach and engage them productively. Generation Z was born after 1995, and they don't respond the same way to marketing and advertising as do the Millennials just ahead of them. Another significant difference according to Inc. Magazine is that Generation Z is far more skeptical and realistic vs. the optimism of most Millennials.

In 2018, knowing the nuances about the generations will make the difference for companies looking to attract Generation Z as their loyal customers or as their new hires.

Lesson #5: Agility Marketing is Not a Process, It's an Innovative Mindset

Agility marketing is not a new term. The word agile comes from software development. For PR and marketing, using an agile framework is a way to empower and engage employees, having them work collaboratively as a team. But it is more than just a process―it's a mindset and a behavior change in the way you approach your planning. Brandi Boatner, Social and Influencer Communications Lead at IBM Global Markets, explained this during a recent Nasdaq Live interview . Innovation is a cultural shift for an organization. PR hast to be a part of this shift and change, so companies look at their communication department differently. Brandi shared how applying an agile framework to marketing and PR is a way to complete timely tasks, breaking them down for more clarity and speed.

Brandi also explained that being innovative requires a different skill set, from coding and creative content development to SEO and Google Analytics certification. Having new and different skills helps professionals to be more flexible and drives innovation for the business. Plus, having an agile mindset means not being bogged down in a set process or rigid plans. "Listen, learn, iterate and course correct," stated Brandi, and "you can even do this in two-week intervals." In 2018, PR and marketing will not be working harder, they will be smarter about their time and resources and taking innovation to the next level as a part the modern communicator's role.

Thinking about 2017 and the lessons learned will help you pave the way through a year of exciting opportunities. Modern communicators must be ready for 2018, with a stronger focus on ethical communication, tech fears and concerns, skills advancement, generational nuances, and innovation.

What lessons did you learn this past year and where is your focus?

Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications . She is an international speaker and trainer, podcaster , LinkedIn Learning instructor and an adjunct professor and online instructor at UMass Amherst and Rutgers University. Her most recent book is Answers for Modern Communicators, A Business Guide to Communication .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.