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As the media landscape in America changes and consumers continue to flock to the web, successful companies will increasingly seek to understand the new rules of engagement and find cost-effective and measurable ways to engage the public online, especially in the areas of search and social networking, according Edelman Digital.

To help organizations navigate through this converging and ever-changing world of digital communications, Steve Rubel,? SVP/Director of Insights for the PR agency has written a report (pdf) that outlines five digital trends to watch for 2009, as well as top-line recommendations on what companies will need to do to stay successful.

Edelman’s five digital trends:

  • PR Meets Customer Service: Consumers are increasingly using social media to demand better customer service, forcing the blending of customer care and PR functions. By turning to online social media rather than call centers when they have problems with products and services, they are airing their grievances in a public forum, and are potentially affecting brand reputation. This creates what Edelman calls “The Baby Monitor Principle.” These insistent demands for immediate action are forcing companies – both large and small – to begin adapting theirbusiness practices to be able to respond in real-time, and without rehearsal, to consumers.
  • Media Reforestation: The media is in a constant state of reinvention as it transitions from a printed to a digital model. This process includes three major components: The erosion of tangible media, the blending of news and information sources; and the rise of search and aggregation technologies. This environment poses both challenges and opportunities, Edelman said, adding that the companies that take a broad, flexible, holistic view of the entire media ecosystem-rather than looking at it as just traditional vs. online, will succeed in the new landscape.
  • No More Overload: Information overload is taking its toll, forcing consumers into “selective ignorance” and using friends as filters, according to Edelman. Despite several decades of being deluged with new media and new technologies to deliver it, there are signs that many overworked Americans are simplifying, cutting back and putting a higher premium on simplicity and quality of information sources. This movement toward “less is more” is forcing companies to adapt to consumers’ media slim-down diets and begin creating subjective, personal filters which screen out all but the highest-quality content and feed people only what they want. At the same time, consumers are more heavily relying on peers – rather than media outlets and traditional authority figures – for advice and guidance. The marketers and communicators that will succeed, according to Edelman, will be those who understand and work hard to break through new filters to provide utility, create integrated strategies that work with both peers and the media and seek to understand and optimize search.
  • Personal Brands Can Help Companies: In the past, the CEO and his/her executive team were the only ones who were authorized to serve as a voice of a corporation. Now, however, the concepts of “personal branding” and active career stewardship are on a dramatic rise as many workers flock to social media sites in an effort to invest in their own brands. Rather than squashing or trying to over-regulate these efforts, Edelman said, smart companies are recognizing that these individuals -? if channeled and guided appropriately -? can become corporate all-stars that help them market. Organizations that embrace the trend and “get all the oars moving” in one direction will be in a stronger position to be heard amidst the noise.
  • The Importance of Digital Discoverability: Where pushing messages to mass audiences (e.g. paid and earned media) once ruled, it’s now equally as important to create digital content that people discover through online search, Edelman said. This requires that brands write for searchers as well as readers and create relevant content that people – including consumers, bloggers and traditional journalists – will “pull” through search engines and social networks.

Companies that engage with the public, create content that reaches stakeholders directly and adopt a simple and utilitarian approach to the new media landscape will be the most likely to flourish in the future, Rubel concluded.

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