One possible subtitle for this week’s business and media news could be “a dose of commercial reality”.
On the high street Thorntons, Jane Norman, Habitat, TJ Hughes and Kitchens Direct are all either downsizing or going out of business altogether.
The first and most important issue, clearly, is the human impact of these changes in terms of job losses and the decline in previously successful businesses.
But what does the increasing movement to digital media mean for PR people? Well, there are pros and cons…
On the upside, the amount of time people spend online should make it easier for digital publishers (and, in turn, communicators) to find, interrupt and engage the reader at their PC, Mac or mobile device. With print, it has always tended to require readers to break off from other activities and enter a bubble of concentration where they can consume their chosen media in peace. With digital media – arriving via email into inboxes, through Twitter, LinkedIn news, etc, there is less reliance on readers to allocate dedicated consumption time; they are presented with information in a myriad of formats any time they’re logged on, pulling them in a stream of link consciousness to increasingly niche locations they consider relevant. Surely, those places are where communicators can succeed?
But with this digital shift comes an online beast with a different set of behaviours.
Research by San Jose University, California, entitled Reading Behavior in the Digital Environment, found “a screen-based reading behavior is emerging. The screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in-depth reading, and concentrated reading.”
More than 70% of research respondents admitted to “keyword spotting” as a “strategy to locate needed information” and “cope with the overloaded information environment”. Other significant research take-outs included:
- People allocate their attention more selectively
- Time spent on non-linear reading is increasing – helped by hypertext
- Jumping from one link to another via hyperlinks creates fragmented reading
- Digital makes people explore more topics extensively, but at a more superficial level
- Hypertext discourages the absorbed and reflective mode that characterises literacy reading
What’s worth noting is the research was presented in 2005, pre-dating social media’s domination of the internet and an even greater contest for people’s attention.
So, for PR people, while we may have a population of online media consumers, they are increasingly tough to pin down and engage. To give your story, your message a cat in hell’s chance of being received, understood and acted on, it needs a constantly creative approach. Communicators are not competing only with other communicators, but with the itinerant web user’s brain and a wealth of digital distractions.
It means going beyond the trap of churning out media relations as an end in itself and thinking hard about how your media materials will grab the attention and deliver something useful and memorable. From there, providing the link to something else – that brings the reader, listener or viewer closer to your objective – may be your only chance to develop the relationship. Equally essential is tracking and measuring the living daylights out of everything that can be measured to understand what’s working and what needs to be recalibrated.
As with the subtitle for this week, the switched on communicators will have realised that meeting the needs of the digital audience is very much a commercial reality.