In some eras, we have careened into the New Year, confidence bolstered by an economic boom, social progress and peaceful relationships. In other times, we have barely managed to creep over the calendar change, bashed by the collapse of everything we had trusted—our sports heroes, our banks, our cars, our homes.
As 2012 approaches, most of us now simply turn cautiously around that temporal corner. Congress is in a deadlock that some would call hopeless, but promising legislative initiatives are on the horizon to move the economy forward, improve our health and at least dent the deficit. Unemployment is still far, far too high; but the job market appears to be improving, our 401(k) accounts are recovering and mortgage rates are at an all-time low for those who can manage to acquire a home loan.
Caution also seems to be the 2012 theme for communicators. A tsunami of technology has wiped out many of the reliable media that once formed the foundation of written communications—letters, newspapers, books, magazines, files, phone-message slips—sweeping into their place multiple devices, services and software that have transformed communications almost entirely into a digital discipline.
Some communicators have felt threatened by the pace and pickiness of rapidly emerging social media, influential—although sometimes uninformed—bloggers and the insatiable online news media that can build or demolish a company’s reputation in the span of a mouse click. Others have embraced the opportunity to engage directly with consumers, politicians, even reporters through social media, where early warnings of issues with products or services can be uncovered before they escalate; where the consumers of media double as validators, debunkers and/or creators of media reports; and where the communicator’s role becomes exceptionally valuable in helping newsmakers position themselves correctly and respond appropriately in this climate of themes and memes.
As Airfoil Public Relations has postulated, however, in 2012 the distinction between social media and media in general will dissolve. Every form of communications will have a social aspect to it, and consumers will simply expect to be able to comment on any news story, rate any product and contribute any of their own content to the media mix. We’re already there in most instances, but in the coming year the ability to participate in the kinds of communications that once were the purview of only reporters, editors and columnists will become firmly established as the rule, rather than the exception.
So, as the last piece of paper sinks into the digital maelstrom, how should communicators prepare themselves? Here are five steps that all communicators should take in 2012 to ride the tidal wave of change in our profession:
- Augment your online presence. If you have dived into Facebook and Twitter, begin creating videos for YouTube and for your company’s website. If you’re already an accomplished social denizen, begin reading more online publications and comment enthusiastically on articles and opinions there. If you are to gain influence, you need to work at becoming known.
- Search for offline activities that you can transfer to online capabilities to obtain results more quickly and at a lower cost. In place of focus groups, use online panels or gather your following of online friends into virtual focus groups for qualitative responses. In place of emails (slow as the 1990s) and phone calls (remember those?), adopt unified communications that provide you the instantaneous option of reaching out and collaborating via instant message, audio call or video call.
- Start a blog and post to it at least weekly. Blogging is one of the most effective ways to become known as an authority on a topic, to generate a following and to provide a vehicle for linking to other communications that support your efforts.
- Secure your digital communications as tightly as you once did your printed documents. You can’t lock digital data in your office safe or a file drawer, but you should copy all your files to an online backup service. The latest technology backs up your documents as you create them, so you don’t even need to remember to back them up manually. Also, be sure you are using strong passwords, with letters numbers and special characters, for any communications or sensitive materials that you store online. Finally, as much as possible, keep everything in the cloud so that, if your own computer crashes or is stolen, you can access your files and the applications you use every day to create them from any other computer with an Internet connection.
- Listen more than you talk. You’ll learn exactly how to shape your communications by listening to others in networks, on rating sites and in blog posts. The more you hear, the more persuasive you will be able to make your communications, because you will thoroughly understand the concerns, perceptions and misperceptions of your audience.
If you’ve managed to survive as a communicator until 2012, you already have considerable social skills. Extending those skills will help equip you for the relentless evolution of digital communications in the years to come.