Alexa, will technology change the public relations industry?
It already has, of course. We use data analytics to inform our campaigns and to measure campaign outcomes like message delivery or perception change. Social listening and media monitoring is key for many programs, and PR pros have used email marketing for years, even for targeted media pitches. Some forecasts say AI will replace a significant part of human interaction of public relations, too.
That’s unlikely; however, automation can and will help us sift through data, target client customers and, to a degree, optimize media relations.
The real change upon us may be due to the growth of smart speakers and voice search. Voice marketing has the potential to transform what we do as profoundly as digital and social media did. Voice is more than another channel; it will change how we produce and distribute content and it’s another emerging opportunity for PRs to interact directly with end users.
Speakers like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and others use artificial intelligence and Natural Language Processing to make interaction with devices more effective and intuitive. This isn’t new technology, of course, but it has only recently become reliable enough to reach a tipping point in consumer adoption.
Brands are already gearing up to use smart speakers for voice search optimization. Alexa, of course, is ahead of the competition in offering seamless purchasing within its “skills,” the thousands of app-like voice-driven capabilities, from daily flash briefings to 5-minute workouts. Other marketers are embracing voice as an accessible way to deliver immersive brand experiences. For Johnnie Walker Scotch, Diageo translated a real-world guided tasting experience with a whisky master into an Alexa skill called “Mentorship.”
Audio is a fascinating medium because it’s natural and familiar, but can also feel highly personal. And early research indicates that our relationship with our speakers is somewhat unique. According to a report conducted by Edison Research and NPR, 61% of users say having a smart speaker is like having someone to talk to, suggesting that smart speakers are ideal vehicles for influencer marketing of the type that Diageo has undertaken.
At a basic level, interactive skills and other voice content offers a new area for PR and promotion, since discovering the content is an initial challenge. But the real opportunity for PR and marketers may be voice storytelling. After all, it’s the easiest form of human narrative, and now that technology has caught up with creativity, the sky’s the limit. The podcast explosion shows the public appetite for voice stories, and smart voice takes that convenience a step further. And so far, smart speakers are severely limited when it comes to ads, which means the typical PR mindset of collaboration and creativity can lead.
Duplo, Lego’s line of large-sized toys for toddlers, lets kids choose among ten themed stories, each interactive and meant to help them learn through play. On Google Home, Estée Lauder’s “Liv” dishes out personalized beauty tips, advises on skincare and sleep, or can answer a distress call if your facial mask is too tight. These types of branded content initiatives are just the beginning; it doesn’t take much to envision larger opportunities for advice or stories from third-party experts, B2B tips from CEOs, or full-blown AI-driven features based on highly personalized queries or needs we didn’t know we had.
Are there privacy and security issues here? Yes, plenty. The concerns are complex, and for an excellent long read on the topic, check out this piece. The major tech companies have only recently started grappling with data privacy, the implications of GDPR, and security vulnerabilities. Yet as challenging as these issues may be, they won’t stop the category expansion.
Every new digital technology frontier has been disruptive to marketing and to a lesser extent, the public relations industry, but each has brought unprecedented opportunity and driven growth. It doesn’t appear as if the smart voice era will be any different.