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2017 is just getting under way and has already proven to be filled with interesting and sometimes frustrating challenges, for communications professionals and media alike. Due in large part to a tumultuous 2016, conversations are focusing less on the exciting innovations in the year ahead and more on the role of media, large corporations, and even the average Facebook user. The upset that was President Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton, the saturation of fake news on social media, and rising discord have presented some pressing and undeniable obstacles that have turned attention away from Snapchat Spectacles and autonomous driving, toward more serious elements of the communications and tech industries.

This shift in focus was reaffirmed at the 2017 Media Predicts event in Silicon Valley, an annual forum, which focuses on media’s tech industry insights. What communicators have suspected, media panelists at the event confirmed: 2017 will be a year of hot-button issues and ultimately companies and PR teams will have to change how they interact with the media. It’s time to strategize accordingly.

As we plan for the future, here are the topics sure to dominate news cycles:

1.The Trump administration and innovation in tech

Starting with the largest of the elephants in the room, there is no doubt that media will find it difficult to look beyond Trump in 2017 as they deal with his apparent disdain, his potential impact on the world, and the tech industry in particular. It is immediately clear that the effects will be widespread, from the ever-widening gap between accessibility and innovation in health tech, to the implications of an unpredictable administration on net neutrality, privacy issues and cyber security.

Specific to Silicon Valley, the relationship between the tech hub and the government may become more strained as new policies contradict innovation. Perhaps one of the most immediate effects is that companies will struggle to renew visas and hire new talent, which will ultimately lead to a decline in productivity and invention. With companies like Apple and Google looking to global talent in order to remain competitive, this will be a serious obstacle. To take the division of talent even further, wealthy players in the valley may prioritize their own interests, abandoning company ideals and leveraging their resources to become established in the President’s favor.

This may be sobering outlook but it is also an opportunity. If a draught of diverse talent could be a factor in the future, start building relationships now to ensure your team and your clients have access to the best and brightest. Worried about major industry shifts or policy related challenges? Start thinking about crisis management and how your team could adapt while still driving results.

2. Fake news and hate speech

One of the most recurring recent themes may be the most challenging to address: media and platform responsibility in the face of a distrusting public, and the burden proof. Going hand-in- hand with last year’s presidential election was the emergence of fake news and the proliferation of hate speech, which has presented ethical and technical challenges for the media, the public and the tech industry; with whom lies the burden of proof, the source or the reader? What role do social platforms play when they, in fact, profit off the spreading of news? To what extent should they be held accountable when their content, and their users’ content, touch so many lives? While the answers to these questions will continue to emerge in 2017, Aarti Shahani, a panelist at the Media Predicts event, eloquently summed up the core the matter, stating “fake news is just another word for propaganda.”

The existence of these questions presents interesting implications in terms of traditional media and social platforms, especially when it comes to sharing and promoting news and free speech. In no uncertain terms, the pressure is on digital platforms to take responsibility for their role in facilitating the spread of news and information, perhaps even more so when they’re profiting from it. But this thought in itself presents a challenge because the modern burden of proof has shifted from the source to the audience. Due in part to the public’s distrust of the media, it is now users sifting through Twitter and Facebook who must determine if what they’re reading is reliable. What remains to be seen is how and to what extent platforms and media outlets will evolve under the burgeoning pressures of accountability.

In the face of such daunting ethical challenges it becomes even more important that companies communicate in authentic, thoughtful ways. Do your research, stay on brand, and be aware of the impact your story has on audiences.

3. And yes, some predictions on consumer technology too…

All this doom and gloom shouldn’t detract from the excitement that is innovation and communications in the tech industry. Despite potentially challenging news cycles ahead, these innovations in tech are sure to enjoy their share of buzz:

  • Genomics and consumer gear will become more popular as brands like Nike look to integrate their smart products with consumer biological data to provide a more unique experience. 
  • Augmented reality will also be on the rise, thanks to Pokémon Go and the public’s interest in enhanced realistic experiences.
  • As we saw at CES 2017, artificial intelligence will be popular as services like Siri and Alexa race to be the most sophisticated AI assistant.

With these more definable topics and technologies in mind, it is easier to develop a more comprehensible plan. Make sure your team is aware of trends and hot gadgets as they can help inform an outreach strategy and align your brand with emerging news.

What does all of this mean for tech companies and communications in 2017? There will be challenging barriers in the news, of course, and more focus will be on authenticity and quality, rather than the usual quantity of coverage a brand receives. But there will also be unprecedented innovations spurred by consumer demand and communications teams should jump at every opportunity to get involved. The industry may very well face distracting hurdles, and there will surely be more debate around the validity of news, but if companies strategize and accept the challenge to think creatively, there will be plenty of opportunities to enter the conversation. 

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