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5 Min Read

How Many Communications Trends Do You See?

Guest Post: Michael Hamill Remaley

The communications world has changed tremendously over the past five years.  There’s no arguing that. But just how many ways has it changed for those of us in cause communications?  Social media, the evolving newspaper industry, “net neutrality” issues, personalized technology and mobile devices everywhere are just a few innovations and developments that come to mind.

Fenton Communication’s Chief Strategy Officer Lisa Witter has attempted to make sense of it all and delineate the major trends in a presentation titled “The New Normal: 12 Driving Forces in Communications.”

She has delivered this outline recently to groups such as the Skoll World Forum, the Conference Board, the National Association of Social Work Deans and Directors and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and most recently she spoke to a large group of communications professionals at a gathering at Philanthropy New York.

While her presentation and its core concepts were developed for purposes unrelated to the Communications Network annual conference, it is quite a nice quirk of timeliness that her 12 Driving Forces are being disseminated just before our annual meeting that starts on Wednesday. Many of these 12 forces, plus those on other people’s lists, will surely be discussed, dissected and debated at the conference.

The 12 Driving Forces Witter talked about had been identified through a scenario planning process lead by former executive director Eli Pariser that drilled down on the question: “What is the future of media and how should cause communicators be preparing for the challenges and seizing the opportunities they present?” While the ideas she is presenting to audiences across the country come out of a learning process that occurred in Fall 2009, Witter is still refining and reorganizing the main points as the media world continues to see major shifts in short periods of time.

These are the most recent formulations of her 12 Driving Forces:

1. Mobile: Internet Everywhere
2. Globalized Net
3. Information Overload and Curation
4. Personalization and Filtering
5. Broadcast to Bi/Multi-Directional
6. The end of journalism?
7. Fragmentation by Affiliation
8. Convergence
9. Micro-Targeting and ROI Advertising
10. Transparency as a Value
11. Feedback is Instant
12. Authenticity/Voice/Uniqueness as a Value

As with many macro-level analyses, the areas of exploration here are not news to anyone who closely follows communications issues. Rather, it is the thoughtful explanation of how things are changing and what are the implications for practitioners around each of these driving forces that really has salience. For example, it is not enough to know that consumers are using technological filters more and more to help manage the information coming at them. You have to know what filters they are using, how they work and how to design your communications to rise to the top. And it’s not enough to know that citizens are expecting greater transparency from all institutions, but exactly what that means for any foundation or nonprofit is different and requires a process of real soul searching delving into practical implications.  Witter’s presentation was a great prompt for my thinking on these topics.

I want to share with you what Witter says all this means for “cause communicators.” I will be keeping these implications in mind as I discuss communications trends with my colleagues in LA later this week.  She says that, while good storytelling will continue to be essential, how and where those stories are told and how they are passed along will change.  She says that to take advantage of the media evolution, you’ll need to develop these three new core competencies:

Content: Cause communicators must become their own media by creating original content that moves by being timely, emotion-driven and targeted.  Broadcast on multiple media platforms where you can engage audiences directly. Be part of the conversation by sharing and “remixing” content by others.

Calculate: Take advantage of digital metrics and the social web to “listen” online to who’s talking about your issues and how they’re talking about them.  Develop campaigns that join these conversations.  Take risks, experiment and refine.  Nurturing a culture of failure can lead to the best ideas.

Community: The media evolution has made it easier for people with the same passions to connect with each other.  Your role is to help them find each other and mobilize a community around your cause. This means putting your supporters, not your organization, at the center of your communications.  Catalyze ideas and encourage others to crowd-source and use their own creativity and networks to spread the word.

This is sage advice that communications professionals should take to heart and use to help their organizations navigate the new landscape. The 12 Driving Forces Witter has identified are important ones that we should all be thinking about as we evolve in our own communications work.  It’s rough terrain out there.  Better have as accurate a map as possible.

Michael Hamill Remaley, a regular contributor to the Communications Network
blog, is a communications consultant and also director of Public Policy
Communicators NYC


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