Automation in public relations: 10 areas of rapid change
David Phillips has written a new book called Automation in Public Relations.
The project itself is an example of automation. Instead of taking a year or more working with a publishing house, Phillips created the project in less than three months and self-published it via Blurb.
There's an app for that
The book makes good points about the impact of technology in public relations and the stealth-like way it is becoming embedded in public relations workflow.
This is almost certainly a good thing but Phillips describes a profession that is insecure and polarised.
Reading Automation in Public Relations frustrated me.
In places the book is disjointed and littered with typos. It could almost be an example of the automated content about which Phillips writes. We still very much need editors.
The book is packed with examples of automation but stops short of describing the likely impact on practice beyond stating that the robots are coming.
The impact of automation is the most obvious on point products and solutions but it is the bigger societal issues that we really need to explore.
It's a point made by the CEO's CIPR Alastair McCapra. He's been tracking this area for the past 12-months or so.
"When desktop computers were introduced into the office 30 years ago most people thought they were a new kind of typewriter, and few people had any sense of how much they would change workflow, productivity, jobs, hierarchies and social relations," he said.
Unexpected item in bagging area
If you're concerned about the impact of robots I'd urge you to take comfort from the lousy experience of a self-service check-out next time you're in a supermarket.
The interface between humans and machines is challenging even for relatively straightforward tasks.
The notion that robots are set to take over our jobs is wholly unfounded. Technology in all its forms is enabling us to do our jobs better and demonstrate our value more than ever.
Human beings will always be needed to understand emotional engagement between each other, media and organisations.
But there can be no doubt that that automation is impacting every area of management workflow right now. That's the story of PRstack.
Here are some examples of automation in public relations, many of which are cited by Phillips.
There's ten. This is a blog post after all.
#1 Listening and planning
There's a burgeoning market of third party tools that will help you identify influencers around a product, topic or issue in network. Tools such as Bluenod, Lissted and Traackr enable you to characterise a community and build relationships with key influencers and participants.
Related to planning, listening tools allow you to monitor mentions of your brand, product or service across different forms of media. The search engine on each of the platforms is a primitive example through to more sophisticated tools such as Brandwatch and Sysomos. These tools are as good as the search queries driving them. Their real benefit is reach and scale.
The impact of automation on the discovery of content is well understood. News services such as the Associated Press are going a stage further and using computers to automatically write financial news announcements. Run a search query on the term "This story was generated by Automated Insights" and you’ll see how close this technology is to causing an upheaval in financial communication.
Services such as Google Translate provide machine translation in more than 20 languages. You'll need a native speaker to proof the output and a domain specialist to check the context but blocks of text can be translated at the push of a button. Here’s how it translated this paragraph into French.
# 3 Traduction - des services tels que Google Translate fournir la traduction automatique dans plus de 20 langues. Vous aurez besoin d'un locuteur natif pour preuve la sortie et un spécialiste de domaine de vérifier le contexte, mais des blocs de texte peuvent être traduits à la simple pression d'un bouton. Voici comment il traduit ce paragraphe en français.
Not bad for a computer, eh?
There are two areas in which automation technology is impacting image, namely search and manipulation. First, algorithms are able to contextualise photos and so searches aren't reliant on manually tagging. Try the search in Google Photo Streams as an example. Second, apps allow anyone with basic skills to manipulate images for professional use.
#5 Decision making
Computers are really good at managing repetitive tasks. Code informs their behaviour and they learn from data. In the public relations business we can use services such as IFTTT to set up triggers on actions. I often use it to log mentions of a hashtag in a Google Document or save tweets that I favourite to a Tumblr blog.
Content management systems enable content to be published and shared automatically. Tools such as Buffer and Sprout Social enable publications to be scheduled. Caution should always be applied when automating publication in networks that are inherently organic and conversational.
#7 Digital research
Google your own name. A biography, social media accounts and a personalised history of content you've shared on the web will be returned. Interrogating these digital footprints are what we all do as matter of course to research an individual or in preparation of meeting.
Many of the podcasts that you listen to via the web weren’t recorded in a recording studio. Instead they were created using technology using Skype and edited using an online service before being shared via iTunes or Soundcloud.
#9 Content production
Automation in Public Relations in an example of the disruption in publishing. Anyone can use services such as Blurb, Slideshare or WordPress to create and publish content. If it’s interesting an audience will engage with the content.
Online networks are the most significant area where technology is having the most significant impact on practice. They are breaking down traditional structures and radically changing management and workflow by enabling people to come together irrespective of location and hierarchy.