What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!
Public relations professionals have struggled for years to demonstrate that their work moves the needle. We want to show more than outputs, but outcomes — what change occurred because of our communications outreach — can be harder to define. The Internet of Behaviors (IoB) combined with AI tools makes it possible to finally connect the dots to the desired action of the people you are trying to influence.
A Scenario of AI and IoB in PR Advocacy
Here’s how AI and IoB may work in the PR world today, starting with advocacy as an example. You’re campaigning to change a law on water management; your organization wants to outlaw motor vehicles for the first time on an environmentally sensitive body of water. You can determine the current sentiment analysis as well as how it has trended using AI natural language software tools.
Looking at the trends, you see a nearly flat line on the sentiment index for the importance of motor-free clean water — until there is a sudden spike. What happened?
Using AI for sentiment scanning, along with broad, AI-driven social scans, gives you a likely answer. On the day of the sudden spike, there was a picture on Instagram of starved baby birds dead in their marshy nest after consuming too much plastic from their mother’s beaks.
You now have clarity on the emotional pull to use today in advance of critical legislation. You craft messages and video to engage the audience to advocacy action. It looks strong — but you can still test it with the tools at your disposal.
You can use natural language tools to predict how others will perceive your message and how trustworthy you seem on the topic. If this seems far-fetched, maybe you’re missing the little cues every time you type a private message on LinkedIn: “Want to know how your message will be received?” You can instantly get a check on three measures, and one is trust. Instead of asking a colleague, you’re asking the experience of thousands of texts using words like yours and the responses they get.
Next you’ll want to identify influencers and scan past speeches and articles by legislators on the topic. AI trending analysis and text to sentiment tools let you do this work in days, not weeks.
Once you identify influencers and key legislators, you’ll want to know how well liked they are. Have they been at past events? Do they have a stake in the cause? Facial recognition scans combined with keyword scans and sentiment analysis for trustworthiness will help. It can also tip you off to a potential conflict between the words and the action. It’s hard to be anywhere these days and not show up somewhere in a social feed, especially as a public official.
Armed with these tools and knowledge of past behaviors, you can identify and work with your champions, craft your message, get permission to repost the photos of dying birds and ask your most trustworthy sources to reach out to media. It’s a groundswell.
Then you follow legislators with monitoring tools. When they use your message and repost your organizations’ messages — automatically boosting posts when they do — you can see how their speeches on the environment change during your campaign.
During this campaign, you’ll be scanning the opposition as well. You’ll monitor and set up response chains, getting messaging out faster than you ever could before these tools. Is anyone you’ve chosen getting off the path? You will tracking that, too.
In the end, the new legislation passes and you have new champions as well as a cleaner lake.
We Wrote This … Or Did We?
The Trends Watch Task Force takes a deep dive into the risks and rewards of AI and the IoB, and what it means for communication professionals.
Not so fast. Let’s look at the potential for a downside of using the IoB, AI and other software for the advocacy win, starting with privacy. It’s possible you had such terrific photos in your organization’s work that a team member posted one with someone in the background. That individual is furious at being public, and they sued you. Perhaps one of your best champions changed their mind on the motor boat issue mid-stream and asked you to remove any posts mentioning them, which had already reached thousands. They wanted proof you had done it.
Perhaps a legislator reacted negatively when they learned you were now monitoring all of their personal time and family members’ habits. They mention that to the media, saying “It’s more than a little creepy.”
Finally, that dying baby bird story you picked up and recirculated? It was a hoax. There was a spike in sentiment alright, but the ability of sophisticated tools used to fake a story and (especially) an image are getting better every day. Now your trusted organization is seen as lacking in all integrity and ethics.
The opposition is having a field day. Accustomed to being the bad guy, they’re watching you flounder between an apology and a culpable denial of ill intentions. After all, you were just trying to save the planet. Right?
Recognizing the risks inherent in new technology doesn’t mean we run from it – far from it. It does mean that understanding and planning for potential pitfalls will help us stay grounded as we consider the use of AI possibly for a pilot before we’re ready to automate every possible communication.
Like Facebook before we viewed it as a threat to our privacy, our use of AI is likely in the early stages. Be transparent about how you are using these new tools. Don’t try to be so clever that no one knows there’s not a person answering them 24/7 about your products and services. An avatar for your brand online is pretty easy to recognize as something AI created. The voice of Alexa? Most of us know she’s not real — right?