By Matt Isaacs
At the Austin Technology Forum’s 2018 Tech Trends event in January, presenter Jay Williams joked that he could virtually repurpose last year’s talking points on trends he expected to see in 2017.
Last year’s Tech Forum talks highlighted cryptocurrencies, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Indeed, those same topics are still making headlines now, but Williams pointed out that businesses in each of those verticals have scaled up very quickly, and the stakes in these white-hot industries are much higher this year than last.
That brings new challenges for PR practitioners wrestling for share of voice, promoting clients to potential investors or customers, or positioning clients as thought leaders in their industries. Below, we look at how tech’s evolution is forcing PR to change, too, and identify the challenges we think will be most important for PR to confront in 2018.
During his presentation, Williams reminisced about how excited he was to discuss Bitcoin at last year’s Tech Trends talk; the cryptocurrency had just surpassed $1,000 USD in value. In a way proving his excitement valid, Bitcoin is worth more than $14,500 now.
However, Bitcoin comprises only a third of the $720 billion in worldwide cryptocurrency markets. The rest is fractured among other early blockchain players and newer cryptocurrencies developed to raise funds for startups in alternative funding schemes called initial coin offerings, or ICOs.
Of course, ICOs don’t really involve “currency.” They can either rely on custom-made “coins” that represent shares of a business and are distributed on a blockchain, or can distribute tokens whose value is relative to existing cryptocurrencies. Regardless of method, Williams shared the incredible statistic that businesses around the world raised more money through ICOs last year than traditional venture capitalists invested.
As ICOs become more commonplace, investor messaging is changing. It will still be key to connect with analysts and demonstrate clients’ success to attract traditional investments and new customers. However, PR practitioners promoting client ICOs will also need to use more traditional marketing messages and target the broader consumer base to drum up excitement. More accessible funding makes it easier for “fans” of a business to buy in, and a little hype might go a long way in generating more investment through ICOs.
As with each year since the dawn of the digital age, 2017 definitely brought cybersecurity worries to a new height, and many conversations in the cybersecurity world have a “what do we do now?” quality about them. Security in a digital world always comes at the cost of convenience, and every business grapples with making digital user experiences as secure as possible while still presenting minimal friction. In 2018 businesses will have to bolster their digital security efforts, so PR practitioners need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of security measures, especially when those measures introduce user friction.
PR practitioners can find a positive example from (of all places) Yahoo!. Fantasy football fans using Yahoo!’s platform may not have been celebrating their new two-factor authentication option, but it works well and the company did a good job encouraging account holders to use the added security. Admittedly, their extremely large breaches and heavily reported disclosures may have encouraged more caution from users, but in any case, increasing security and being clear about the benefits and drawbacks for users was a step in the right direction for Yahoo!, who desperately needed to re-secure their platforms.
PR practitioners will need to find the right ways to encourage end users to be more cautious online in 2018. Many industries are set to have their friction-adding moment; banks, retailers, government agencies, healthcare providers, etc. 2017 proved that passwords don’t work (and humans don’t work with them), and 2018 will be a year of testing new, more secure digital interfaces that are bound to frustrate and confuse consumers even as they protect them from harm.
AI and the Internet of Things
2017 may have been the Internet of Things’ real coming-of-age moment, in no small part because the dangers of a more connected world became blatantly obvious as unsecured devices were hijacked and used as tools in malicious schemes. In 2018 both IoT device makers and PR practitioners hyping the IoT need to abandon the “changing the world of tomorrow” storylines. Networks of connected devices are making enormous impacts on our economies and our physical world – there’s plenty of better, current stories than pie-in-the-sky dreaming.
A part of those better stories lies in the hyper-flexible software helping businesses take action on data collected through the IoT, or helping IoT devices take action themselves. Williams argued that these analysis programs are probably better known as “artificial intelligence” these days – systems that learn and optimize on their own, then report what they’ve done back to the business.
AI has enjoyed relative novelty status compared to IoT hardware through 2017, but as the software that makes networks of miniaturized, connected hardware so powerful, AI is an inseparable part of the IoT’s impact on business, the physical world, and even the nature of human interaction; in 2017, AI had its “Holy Grail” victory when it won the ancient and infinitely complex game of Go, and while much more simple, chatbots are artificially intelligent mimics of humans that are popping up on websites in rapid fashion and essentially exist to make real humans more comfortable.
In 2018, PR practitioners working in the IoT and AI spaces need to bridge the novelty gap for AI and demonstrate smart IoT networks’ real impact on the world. Especially as industrial IoT devices make a bigger economic and environmental impact, they’re moving well past the pipedreams and into the (literally) ground-shaking realms of construction, logistics, energy, conservation and more. These IoT networks will help cities grow faster and become truly smart; they’ll help automate resource delivery worldwide and insure more goods against damage, and they’ll allow virtually any business to reduce operating costs and environmental impacts.
What a time to be alive.