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The Soon-to-Be New Normal: How artificial intelligence will change corporate communication

Type: Articles
Topic: Social and Digital Media
By Heather Hayes
8 October 2019
Credit: istockphoto.com/alvarez

If you thought artificial intelligence (AI) would only disrupt defense, manufacturing, healthcare and other “physical” industries, think again.

In a recent survey of consumers conducted by True Global Intelligence, a practice group within PR firm Fleishman Hillard, more than 80% of respondents believe that communication will be the sector most affected by AI. And experts who study the way the corporate communication function has evolved—and will continue to evolve in the future—agree.

“There is so much change in the media landscape and in the demands that communication professionals will have to meet in terms of being agile and delivering business results and supporting their clients, that data and analytics will be integral,” explains Natasha Kennedy, global managing director of True Global Intelligence. “And the only way we’re going to get through and take advantage of that data and those analytics is with AI.”

Kennedy is quick to point out that despite its dystopian reputation (thanks to many a science fiction film), AI will not completely take over the communication function and terminate communication jobs. Rather, it will enhance how we communicate, with many positive benefits.

AI, which relies on algorithms, historical data and automation to “mimic” human intelligence, is already being used by communication teams, though they might not even realize it. Google AdWords, for example, uses AI to automatically construct dynamic ads for service subscribers based on user search words. Grammarly relies on a mix of grammar and spelling rules, patterns, machine learning and natural language processing to proofread and make suggestions to improve a piece of writing. From giving us more intelligent and accurate insights into data that shapes crisis comms plans to helping communicators micro target audiences, AI stands to help us do our jobs better.

“Our day-to-day jobs will be less task-oriented and more focused on driving thought leadership and strategy.”

“For communication teams, AI will be about creating efficiencies and enabling agility,” Kennedy says. “It’s going to help us innovate what we deliver by bringing new insights to bear, introducing and helping improve analytics and measurements and enabling much quicker content creation and much quicker decision-making. Our day-to-day jobs will be less task-oriented and more focused on driving thought leadership and strategy.”

AI will affect many communication disciplines, from PR to internal communications to crisis response. It will be used for highly repetitive tasks such as data collection and analysis; writing drafts of emails, press releases, media advisories and articles; monitoring social media and SEO; generating media lists and following up with reporters; and identifying the evidence and public sentiment needed for messaging.

The results of those activities can then be rolled up to communication staff, who can apply their creativity, empathy and judgment to editing, planning, decision-making and strategy.

To do this effectively, communication professionals must be willing to upskill, Kennedy states. That includes developing knowledge and cross-functional capabilities in digital media, analytics, data privacy and security, ethics, customer service, change management and leveraging data and insights to drive both tactics and strategy.

“Communication is definitely going to be a problematic industry to be in if you want to keep doing things as they’ve been done for years,” Kennedy predicts.

For all of the hype, AI is still in the very earliest stages of use within communication circles. Nora DePalma, president and CEO of Dialogue, a branding and strategic communication firm with offices in Atlanta and Sacramento, California, realized this when she implemented her first AI system. The solution was supposed to record conference calls, transcribe them and instantly email a report with conclusions and next-step action items to all participants.

Unfortunately, the system was less reliable than DePalma hoped, but it showed enough potential that her firm is moving forward in testing other AI solutions. These include one that will allow her team members to plug in data and get recommendations for improving content, and lowering costs per click and costs per customer acquisition on platforms like HubSpot and Facebook. She’s also looking at an AI tool that will generate first-draft emails based on her input about customers and customer behavior.

“AI is not going to replace people, it’s going to make people better,” says DePalma. “Human intelligence and artificial intelligence is a very powerful combination, because at its intersection, I can clear a lot of repetitive tasks off my plate and be free to focus on high-value tasks and really show off my skill as a leader and as a communicator. That’s the promise, and it’s huge.”

How to get started with AI

Artificial intelligence is still a nascent tool, but communication teams that want to maximize its potential in the near future should familiarize themselves with it now. Here’s how:

  • Take small bites. Experiment with AI systems already on the market for communicators, such as Grammarly, the AI-based writing assistant; PathFactory, which provides micro-personalized content recommendations based on a customer’s content consumption history; and MarketMuse, an SEO engine that identifies low-performing content on your site and then makes suggestions for how to improve lead quality, engagement and content performance.
  • Check your foundation. What is your organization’s score on the IT maturity scale? If it’s low, now is the time to start pushing the C-Suite to embrace the latest in technology and data solutions, because without it, AI adoption will be a much heavier lift.
  • Prep your staff. Get employees on board by explaining how AI will give them the boost they need to be more productive and valuable as communicators, planners and strategists. Then, help them prep for their new job functions with a training plan.
  • Act on pain points. What is the one area of your business that is so repetitive and time-consuming that it brings down the rest of the operation? Create a use case for that task, then run a pilot test to determine if and to what degree AI can provide your team with time and cost efficiencies.
Heather Hayes

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