Deepfakes, AI and CXPR Advance: USC Annenberg Relevance Report 2020 Highlights Latest in PR Tech

USC Annenberg Relevance Report 2020

New technology continues to change the way organizations communicate, and how people consume media and information.

And the more data these technologies spawn, the more intent business leaders and public relations professionals become on analyzing it to optimize their practices.

Last night at a special symposium at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, Director Fred Cook shared the Center for PR’s new Relevance Report, featuring a collection of 30 provocative essays by board members and graduate students, 9 of which focus on technology.

Digital technology enables so much of our lives, it’s now possible to map out the path consumers take from awareness to consideration to customer to brand advocate. This map, increasingly referenced in marketing circles as the customer journey, is starting to show up in public relations as well, according Jonny Bentwood, global head of analytics at Golin, who’s team conducts a sort of digital gap analysis for clients to guide PR strategies. “The customer journey provides the focus and determines what jobs need to be done,” writes Bentwood in his essay.

As journey mapping becomes standard operating procedure, leaders want communicators to help customers along the way.

“One-third of CEOs identified customer experience optimization as an aspect of communications they would like to advance through future technology. This is a new area of opportunity for PR professionals—CXPR, where discrete communication is built into each interaction a customer has with a brand,” writes Ron Antonette, chief program officer of the USC Annenberg Center for PR, and proprietor at R. Antonette Communications.

With marketers looking to secure a closed loop of data that they can use to optimize their performance, retailers are getting into the data as a service game as well. “That’s why we introduced Kroger Precision Marketing, which offers CPG advertisers the ability to reach Kroger’s 60+ million customers more precisely with measurable results,” writes Jessica Adelman, group VP of corporate affair at Kroger, in her essay.

“In the twenty-first century, knowing all the answers won’t distinguish someone’s intelligence — rather the ability to ask all the right questions will be the mark of true genius,” IBM’s Dr. John E. Kelly III is quoted as saying in Thomas Friedman’s 2016 book Thank You for Being Late.

And Gabriel Kahn, a professor at USC Annenberg, makes this prediction a reality in his essay, acknowledging that “New software tools, such as Metabase, Tableau, and others, are making it easier for mere mortals to wade through this data and visualize and analyze it.”

“With great power comes great responsibility,” said Stan Lee’s Spiderman. But judging by how social media networks use algorithms to hide posts that oppose our viewpoints to increase utilization and how cable news networks use political polarity to drive ratings, it seems Spidy’s message has fallen out of range.

In his essay about the disintegration truth, Kirk Stewart, CEO of integrated corporate communications firm KTStewart, talks about the plethora of free mobile apps that can be used to make doctored of “fake” video snippets; just one of the ways disinformation is created and spread to undermine truth.

“Some [social media] platforms are working hard to improve their detection technology, but others are just allowing these videos to pervade their sites,” writes Stewart, who also shares research from Pew that shows more than a third of adult Americans have reduced their news consumption as a result of being unable to tell what is “fake” news.

This figure tracks with the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which found “people are encountering roadblocks in their quest for facts; 73% are still worried about fake news being used as a weapon.”

At the peak of the hype cycle these days is artificial intelligence and according to former Qualcomm AI strategy chief and current vp product & marketing at Gary Brotman, AI is alive and well on public relations already.

“From an efficiency standpoint, AI is already increasing productivity by streamlining and automating repetitive tasks such as news and social media monitoring, trend analysis, campaign performance measurement, and results reporting. Advances in natural language processing will make it easier to predict, react to, and even defuse an emerging brand-related crisis before it happens, and will continue to reduce the time needed to generate content such as blogs and press releases,” writes Brotman.

But don’t freak hard just yet. According to a June 2017 article in New Scientist, AI won’t be better than us at everything until 2060, so you’ve got a good 40 years to become independently wealthy.

Oh. And there’s one thing AI may never be able to do.

“Artificial neural networks and machine learning rely on vast amounts of data to identify patterns within them, but they can’t predict when these patterns will change, a crucial component of creative thinking,” Manuelita Maldonado, a second-year strategic public relations graduate student at USC.

The Relevance Report also includes a survey conducted late August 2019 “reflecting a US census snapshot of 1,106 Americans” which found online customer review sites are most likely to influence purchasing decisions, wireless 5G will have the greatest impact on our daily lives and Facebook will remain the platform we’re most likely to post on.

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