Gomotsegang Motswatswe, Senior Account Manager at Tribeca Public Relations, shares her insights about how the media and digital landscape have evolved and served as a catalyst for the evolution of the public relations industry.
Little over 10 years ago, TikTok did not exist. Yet, the app launched by Chinese start-up company ByteDance has taken on a life of its own in recent years with nuggets of relatable, fun and snackable content from regular people and celebrities alike. Just last week, Khabane ‘Khaby’ Lame made history as the most followed TikToker with a staggering 143.2 million followers on the platform. Lame was a regular guy, a ‘laid off factory worker’ as the New York Post referred to him.
With that level of following, however, Lame is so much more than that. He is, in fact, what the world has needed in the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the numbers are just a confirmation of the audience’s appetite for content that speaks to their lived experience with a generous dose of wit and humour. Not only does he have a healthy level of influence, but he has also proven that innovation is imperative for current and future generations to flourish.
Nobody knows the value of innovation more than South Africa’s media industry, having seen a 40 percent decline in print circulations last year. To add insult to injury, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and eTV News, among others, shed jobs in response to the challenging times. While these circumstances aren’t unique to the media industry as the impact of the pandemic was felt across all sectors, the industry was, however already on a downward trajectory. With compounded challenges arising from a more junior and strained newsroom coupled with fake news, the pressure increased, especially in the face of a widening public trust deficit.
According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 69% of South African respondents believe that journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false, or that they share gross exaggerations. This is a marked increase from the 61% who saw news organisations as being biased in the previous year. This critical insight proves why audiences are more likely to trust content from people they know, than content from the media. This is also why influencer campaigns with everyday, regular and relatable individuals are more likely to create an impact than those with big names behind them.
So, how has the media landscape evolved to match the demands of the day? Well, if you take a brisk walk down the digital streets, more pay walls have been introduced over the past three years than ever before. This is where the bulk of quality journalism sits, and revenue streams are enhanced. With the decline of print media, it makes sound financial sense to keep the show going with other platforms – meeting the audience where they are.
The fact that our audiences look out for meaning and resonance in the content they consume, choosing when and how they access this content, has made not only the media, but the public relations industry pay closer attention. This very need is what has aided the growth of Video on Demand (VOD) platforms such as Netflix, Showmax, HBO Max, Apple TV and Disney+.
Let’s also not forget how content creators have become kingmakers, effectively positioning themselves as a more authentic bridge between brands and consumers. It’s no surprise that 71% of marketers polled in the Kantar 2022 Media Trends and Predictions expect an increase in influencer content investment.
The change in the media landscape hasn’t happened in isolation; it has also served as a catalyst for the evolution of public relations. As storytellers, what we know for sure is that impactful and sustainable campaigns depend on well-informed PR strategies that are data and insights-led. They also depend on engaged audiences rather than audiences that are fed information they can’t relate to or make use of. We also know that successful campaigns depend on integrated media strategies that take the unique socio-economic dispensation of our country into consideration.