In the first decade of the millennium, it seemed that the tech industry could do no wrong. A new breed of internet companies had ushered in an exciting time of change, challenging traditional tech giants like IBM and Microsoft and shaking up the industry in general.
At the same time, the Iraq war and the financial crisis sorely tested public trust in politicians and bankers allowing the tech industry led by companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon to enjoy a period of unparalleled goodwill. For a while, they were upheld as forces for good. Their role in providing free and unfettered access to unprecedented levels of knowledge, communication, and value was widely praised.
In the past 12 months though, the tech industry’s public image has taken a beating. A series of negative stories have seriously dented the public’s love affair with tech.
To secure its rehabilitation, the tech industry needs PR more than ever.
The tech industry is licking its wounds after its worst ever year for scandal. Facebook been publicly criticised for its role in the Cambridge Analytica debacle whereby data on millions of voters was allegedly used to skew the outcomes of the 2016 presidential election and Brexit.
Meanwhile Google, along with Facebook and Twitter, have come under fire for failing to control advertisers that distribute fake news disguised as genuine stories in order to promote extreme views or reinforce people’s fears and prejudices.
Elsewhere, the disruptive cab hailing app, Uber, has been exposed for discriminatory practices towards its own workforce. Other Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Microsoft have also found themselves at the center of similar allegations.
Apple and Amazon have not been immune to the backlash. The former is accused of fostering addictive behavior among young children and damaging their brains while the latter has attracted controversy for not paying enough tax.
People are suddenly starting to realize just how much power and influence the big technology brands have over our lives. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as the saying goes.
Such is the dominance of the five leading tech companies there is now a real danger that a start-up with breakthrough technology may never see the light of day because the web’s constant background chatter starves them from making their voice heard.
Erstwhile supporters of change such as journalists and broadcasters are so busy fighting for their own survival that they have little time to champion pretenders to the throne.
Realizing this, everyone is joining the battle for clicks, adding to the noise by publishing their own content and engaging in digital marketing campaigns. But this can only get them so far. Unless the web is regulated (which no one wants to see), the top dogs will always hold the advantage – they will always have the biggest budgets and the power to secure their own digital longevity.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
In an era where every opinion is voiced, everyone has an angle, and factual analysis is thin on the ground it’s hard for everyday web users to cut through the clamour and discern which messages to trust.
This is where PR adds value.
PR professionals understand the principles of journalism – indeed many started out as journalists themselves – and that information needs to be rooted in the truth. We also know how to use that information to tell a compelling story that keeps the reader engaged.
Today’s web-oriented world demands clients reach their audiences directly using multiple channels. PR campaigns now extend well beyond the traditional media relations remit to encompass channels that are directly owned, paid-for or part of social networks.
As skilled communicators, PR teams can ensure client content is shared across all channels and resonates with the media. In an age where the number of influential media is declining, it is all too easy to become fixated on driving web traffic. However, the role of a journalist as a messenger should not be dismissed lightly. Placing the right story with the right journalist at the right time is still priceless.
When working remotely, round-the-clock news and high staff churn is the norm it is harder than ever to build personal, mutually-respectful relationships with journalists. Public relations teams know that their relationships with journalists are worth their weight in gold and are careful to make every effort to preserve them.
In summary, recent indiscretions by a few leading brands have seriously tarnished the tech industry’s reputation. It is a good time for upstarts and alternatives to break through.
However, amidst a web filled with intense competition to be heard, companies must work harder than ever to engage with their audiences. PR professionals have the communications skills and the connections to bridge that divide.
At a time when tech needs rehabilitating, the industry needs PR more than ever.