Are Digital Assistants in PR’s Future?

Are Digital Assistants in PR’s Future?

Meg Hari Prasad
21 May 2017

We’re fascinated with the idea of mixing PR and voice assistant and voice automation technologies, especially after seeing the challenges faced by Burger King after its commercial “hijacked” several Google Home devices. Burger King’s advertisement brought to light some challenges that PR pros face as they start using AI, the most pressing are unpredictable consequences and punitive user retaliation.

In Burger King’s case, the unintended consequence of being called out by Google Home users on their YouTube page for “hacking” their voice-activated devices to insert an ad into their day without their consent. That wave of negative response could’ve been avoided by surveying their customer base on other platforms before diving head-first into ad triggering. More important for PR pros thinking of diving into the space to note, however, is the retaliatory aspect of this story. The campaign ad depended on triggering the first line of the Whopper’s Wikipedia page to work. Users logged into Wikipedia and began editing the first line to say derogatory things about the company and the burger, thus subverting the ad. Having a member of the company’s C-suite then log into Wikipedia to try and counter-edit the ad only compounds the bad press. Even if this didn’t work for Burger King, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore voice activation for PR.

PR pros can play in the audio chatbot space without raising the ire of their audience. When dipping your toes into using chatbots, remember that you’re marketing to people, not devices. One way to be successful is to see beyond “ads” and find ways to offer helpful or enhancing content instead. What might that entail? First, research the ways each of the devices, from Alexa and Google Home to Siri, Bixby, Cortana, and others are different. The Amazon Echo, for example, now has multiple trigger words and allows more than one user to activate the device. This makes it ideal for partner content that enhances something a user already enjoys. Consider partnering with Amazon to integrate companion content with the Fire Stick and Alexa that responds to what a user is watching or doing with facts or information that add value to that moment. Save the hard sell for another time.

Think of how music shows use social media right now. NBC’s The Voice does a great job integrating everything from singer bios to live voting into Facebook and Twitter already. Every week their audience is primed to be on a second screen to participate live. Now imagine if you wanted to add another layer to that experience, using the voice assistant as a “third screen” to talk to people watching The Voice. The assistant could tell viewers when a contestant is falling behind and encourage them to vote, it could offer a tidbit about the contestant’s backstory that’s not included in their bio, or it could direct the listener to download their song on Amazon Music, if a trigger indicates the volume on a device is increased.

If a brand offers content that enhances an experience rather than sells, users won’t feel invaded. They’ll see the additional content as a bonus experience. Another example would be food television. A partnership with Food Network might offer a tie-in to your grocery list, or offer to add a recipe to your Pepperplate App for you in response to raised volume of the TV. Pausing the show completely might trigger some fun facts about the episode or encourage people to talk to the chefs via social media during their break. By paying more attention to interests and activity, and linking with partners for content and promotions, PR pros have an opportunity to reach more people in new ways.

One last example centers around sporting events. Imagine if your PR efforts triggered the voice assistant to act more like an assistant–offering to schedule game recordings, or looking for local sports teams that are similar and triggering an offline experience by suggesting weekend trips? That could be a huge boon to the travel industry and would be useful for people who love sports but may not think to seek them out in person, or may assume the event is too expensive. Partnership with deal sites like Expedia or Hitlist App could put voice assisted travel within reach of the average consumer.

2017 is the year of further extending AI technology into voice automation, especially in the realm of digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Echo, and Watson. PR pros should start thinking out of the box and exploring the possibility of integrating this technology into campaigns. Doing so with the idea of being helpful at the forefront of your efforts. If your user feels helped, not hacked, PR efforts can’t go wrong!

To reinforce the skills needed to keep on top of modern PR, download our ebook: 11 Lessons That PR Professionals Need to Learn in a Digital World.

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