How voice will affect PR: Part 2
With new channels, comes new opportunities
In part 1, we looked at the rise of voice for search and voice assistants; how technology companies are driving adoption, and how consumer behaviour and how brands can make the best use of this new technology. Next, we look at how voice may shake up the PR industry.
The news function is a popular feature of voice assistants and search, with apps like Alexa's Flash Brief... and if news is changing, so must PR. We need to think about how this new technology changes how our stories are delivered, the audiences we’re reaching, and how content is consumed. Digital PR with its SEO slant will also be an utter game changer, but no one’s exactly sure how that will impact voice search yet.
Firstly, adoption is the name of the game, then it will become clearer how this channel will unfold. I only know one person in real life who has a device like this; she’s a busy mum and owns her own business, so anything that can help streamline her daily routine is very welcome (I’m sure lots of us can relate). Her favourite use for her Echo Dot is the news via Flash Briefing that reads out the news to her while she makes breakfast. That made me think - the news according to who? Out of the box, it plays news from “popular broadcasters” (I wonder how you make it onto that list?), but your Flash Brief, like the Google Home news stream, is highly customisable.
The implications of this for PR could be quite significant, as it seems to represent a finite opportunity.
First of all, how many publications on your target media list are available as an Amazon skill? Then, how many people have included that title to be included in their Flash Briefing? If you can earn a story on popular outlets, it has the potential to increase the reach of that story considerably.
But what if you can’t? It will make you even harder to discover, and mean it’s even more likely that you’ll have to pay to get in front of people. Media outlets; big, small, national and niche are creating their own voice apps and Amazon Skills. They’ve been tailoring their content to fit with Alexa’s format, whilst maintaining their own unique voice. Briefing channels are typically 90 seconds long.
Secondary to that; if she gets all her news from that briefing, does that mean she won’t be looking for news elsewhere? Say, a newspaper, a regional news site, broadcast, or a consumer website - all the key components of our target media lists? Are opportunities to reach her with our story in our usual ways now more limited if we can’t make our way onto her news stream? And do advertisers see this as a threat to their revenue stream?
People can curate their own news streams from a seemingly never-ending list of media options. So this makes me wonder - does the rise in voice search actually begin to put some power back into the hands of the publishers, rather than the advertisers, or does that power go straight to Amazon or Google as gatekeepers? Can audio content make a comeback, and will content quality and relevance be the deciding factor when adding publications to news streams? (Please?) Although a rise in the voice channel won’t negate that publisher/advertiser relationship totally, but hopefully it’s at the very least a disrupter.
When it comes to digital PR, voice also presents us with another question, particularly those of us who now optimise our PR for SEO. The nature of voice search means it forces the device to solve for “One True Answer”; the one at the top, the one that gets read out. Problematic as stated in this article, where the top result for that query is not only wildly inaccurate, but read out as fact. This in itself is quite frightening, as anecdotally I know parents whose children are already use voice search competently and instinctively - how much are they ‘learning’ from these searches? Without the SERPs to rifle through and sense check ourselves, are our critical thinking skills going to wither even more?
All the while, the top spot in Google becomes (even more) competitive and coveted; an exclusive club of 1. The advertising model for these devices, specifically for advertiser is uncertain. People have been speculating about how Google will make money once people don’t need to be in front of a monitor to get information (but I’m sure they’ll find a way, they seem like a resourceful bunch). Amazon has just updated its terms to ban skills that advertise third party products (much to the dismay of some developers hoping to recoup some money from the first ad network for Alexa skills). Income streams at the moment seem to be subscriptions, and Amazon Prime membership, which locks the user in tighter to their eco system.
We know that voice is poised to be a game changer for us as users, and us as an industry, taking a slice of our attention away from screens with opportunities for interactive, immersive or passive experiences for publishers (and brands). Time will tell how all of it will unfold, but as long as you stay user-centric, opportunistic and authentic will hold brands in good stead.
Missed part 1?