GCS highlights the five major trends shaping future comms

Comms professionals need to be digitally savvy if they are to operate effectively in a time of change accelerated by technological advances, amid an onslaught of fake news that is alienating the public, according to the Government Communication Service.

The challenge is not only to adapt but to anticipate, the trend report argues
The challenge is not only to adapt but to anticipate, the trend report argues

It has released a new report outlining the five trends in leading-edge communications.

Produced in collaboration with WPP Government & Public Sector Practice, the report looks at the big challenges facing comms teams across government.

Here PRWeek looks at the changing nature of modern comms outlined in the report, which was released last week.

Trend 1 - Next Generation Fakery

One of the most pressing problems is what the report describes as "next generation fakery". 

A case in point is the rise of "deepfake videos" where words can quite literally be put into the mouths of people using sophisticated software in a hi-tech form of trickery.

The report warns: "Misinformation and disinformation are spreading further, faster and with greater ease than ever before, even outperforming verified content."

This can create "concern and confusion, reduce trust in institutions and media organisations, and disrupt attempts to communicate HMG messages effectively".

Less than a third of the population trusts news online and "increasing cynicism is reducing people’s trust in content generally, potentially limiting their engagement with genuine and important messages".

Comms teams need to be proactive in dealing with emerging stories on social media and online before they take hold in traditional media, the report says.

Trend 2 - "Hey Siri, Who’s Alexa?"

The rise of intelligent speakers and speech-driven services offer "new opportunities for us to connect with citizens".

Voice technology apps are a means of engaging with people and personalising comms for their specific needs, according to the report.

It says: "The rise in voice search throughout the general population means we will soon need to ensure all the content we create is optimised for spoken, as well as typed, searches of all variety."

The report adds: "As government communicators, developing our own voice applications will allow us to achieve unique levels of interaction with citizens and more meaningful engagement with the public."

It cites an example of a ‘Breastfeeding Friend’ app developed by Public Health England earlier this year for Alexa, to provide advice and support to breastfeeding mothers.

Trend 3 - Super-charged Segmentations

The increasing sophistication of advertising, through advances in technology and the use of data, is fuelling more targeted comms than ever before, with ad tech "improving how we reach audiences across multiple platforms".

At the same time, the evolution of ad tech places "more significant ethical responsibility on advertisers".

GDPR and other e-privacy regulations give people better control of their data and therefore advertisers must use information in more responsible and ethically appropriate ways, it says.

The report states: "When done well, personalisation avoids the kinds of clumsy messaging that shows a person a pair of shoes they already bought." But it warns: "When done badly it creates a feeling of pestering, and is a primary factor behind more and more people using ad blocking technology."

Trend 4 - Disrupting the Disruptors

A fourth industrial revolution is already under way, says the report. This raises questions of how to "future-proof" the comms profession to adapt to a "constantly evolving and increasingly digitised sector".

The report argues that having a separate digital team is no longer enough and says "the entire workforce must be tech-savvy".

Changes taking place today differ from the seismic shifts of previous industrial revolutions in that they are defined by the "unprecedented and disruptive integration" of digital technology into our everyday lives.

In a bid to upskill government comms teams, the GCS has launched an Accelerate training programme "to transform digital skills at all levels" and recommends that comms professionals learn "analytical, technical and coding skills".

The report argues that government should follow the lead of the best-performing companies, which are "spending more on learning than ever before, directly attributing their success to staff development".

Trend 5 - A Question of Ethics

While the comms sector is changing at "an unprecedented pace" ethical concerns – particularly around the use of personal data – remain a constant feature, according to the report.

People are "more trusting if they can see a clear, personal benefit to be gained from the use of their data" and this means comms teams "should therefore ensure we are not only transparent about how data is used, but also that there is a clear and justified use in the first place", it says.

Modern government comms is largely data-driven, with data used to research and plan campaigns as well as to target and share messages and analyse the effectiveness of the content in question.

Despite this, the general public "remains unsure how or even if data is used" and "does not understand why it is used".

The report states that the key to securing the trust of the public is to be transparent about how and why their data is being used.

The report concludes: "The challenge we face as a profession is not only to adapt to current developments, but more importantly to establish behaviours, frameworks and ways of working that allow us to continuously anticipate and adapt to future change."

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