Communications tech changes coming faster than ever

Comms pros have a dizzying array of tools from which to choose, and few of them have dominant market positions.

By Tony Silber      
Comms tools and tech

The global pandemic and the widespread move to remote work brought with it technological changes that might not have become common for years. It would have been hard to predict 15 months ago how ubiquitous Zoom (and Teams, and Google Meet, etc.) meetings have become, and how facile even tech novices have become.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The pace of technological change moved into hyperdrive in 2020, especially in the area of virtual communications, and there’s no going back. That has revolutionized the task of communicators, as they seek to effectively leverage new tools to enable virtual communications, enable measurement of their efforts, improve efficiency, and encourage engagement across the workforce.

But in a real sense, communicators themselves have been challenged merely to keep up. We are looking at a future of multiple corporate headquarters: the physical headquarters and the digital workplace headquarters.

These are among the key findings from Ragan’s third annual Communications Benchmark Report, an exclusive study from Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council. The Benchmark Report is based on responses to an online survey conducted between Jan. 13, 2021-Feb. 7, 2021. The survey yielded 755 qualified responses from internal and external communicators worldwide.

The results paint a picture of a dynamic time, in tech, in social justice, in communications measurement, and a lot more. Virtual communications technology is naturally the area of most interest, according to the communications technology section of the Benchmark Report, but a broader pattern emerges. Even though some products (sometimes free products) dominate in some areas, there’s generally no consensus around a given solution. Different organizations use different products, depending on their own needs assessments.

Members of the Communications Leadership Council differed from their peers among the overall respondents in a number of noteworthy ways. For example, when asked what new tools or channels they added in 2020, CLC members were somewhat less likely to mention virtual tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex, and much more likely to have adopted other technologies such as podcasts (22%), a mobile app (13%), and an internal video portal (11%).

CLC members were also much more likely to use the digital workplace tool SharePoint (Microsoft) and the PoliteMail platform than were other respondents.

Among all of the technology questions, the category of “other” tends to dominate, but in none of the questions does any specific pattern emerge. Here’s a look at the Benchmark Report data on communications tech tools.

What new channels or tools did you add in 2020? (Respondents selected all that apply.)

  • Virtual tools (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex) – 64%
  • Messaging apps (e.g., Slack, Teams, WhatsApp) – 24%
  • None of the above  – 21%
  • Podcasting – 14%                                                                                           
  • Internal social media – 9%                                                                                                                    
  • Mobile app – 8%                                                                                                                                  
  • Internal video portal  – 7%                                                                                                                  
  • Brand journalism digital platform  – 5%                                                                                  
  • Chatbots – 4%                                                                                                                                             
  • Artificial intelligence – 2%                                            

Virtual-meeting platforms dominated the new tools and technology that communicators focused on in 2020.

What digital workplace tools do you use? (Respondents selected all that apply.)

  • Microsoft Teams                                                                                                   73%
  • SharePoint                                                                                                                   59%
  • Other                                                                                                                              21%
  • Yammer                                                                                                                         21%
  • Slack                                                                                                                               17%
  • Confluence                                                                                                                  5%
  • Workplace from Facebook – 4%
  • Dynamic Signal                                                                                                          3%
  • Social Chorus                                                                                                              3%
  • Beekeeper                                                                                                                    1%
  • Simpplr                                                                                                                           1%
  • Staffbase                                                                                                                       1%
  • hubEngage                                                                                                                   0%
  • LumApps                                                                                                                       0%
  • Samepage                                                                                                                     0%
  • the EMPLOYEEapp                                                                                                 0%

Four products dominate this category, including, surprisingly, the sometimes maligned SharePoint, cited by 59% of overall respondents and 73% of Communications Leadership Council members. It’s worth noting that both Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are bundled with the Office 365 product and have free tiers. Even among the 16 solutions listed, the category remains wide open. Unlisted “other” products were cited by 21.4% of respondents. In the “other” category, many tools were mentioned and no clear pattern emerged. Among those mentioned were Basecamp, Zoom, Google, Jabber, Rainbow, Bambu, Citrix, Asana, LifeSize, WorkFront and many others.

What productivity/project management tools and systems do you use? (Respondents selected all that apply.)

  • Dropbox                                                                                                                      38%
  • Other                                                                                                                            33%
  • Microsoft Planner                                                                                                 20%
  • Trello                                                                                                                             15%
  • Slack                                                                                                                              13%
  • Asana                                                                                                                            10%
  • Basecamp                                                                                                                   10%
  • Workfront                                                                                                                  8%
  • Jira                                                                                                                                  7%
  • Wrike                                                                                                                            5%
  • Monday.com                                                                                                             4%
  • GitHub                                                                                                                         2%
  • Canto                                                                                                                           1%
  • ProofHub                                                                                                                   0%
  • Backlog                                                                                                                       0%
  • Plannable                                                                                                                   0%

No product in this category has overwhelming market share among respondents, but Dropbox is closest. Again, the category of “other” ranks highly, and again, no obvious pattern emerges, except that “none” is commonly cited in this response.

What media monitoring and social listening tools do you use? (Respondents selected all that apply.)

  • Google Analytics                                                                                                  58%
  • Other                                                                                                                           28%
  • Hootsuite                                                                                                                  26%
  • Cision                                                                                                                           26%
  • Meltwater                                                                                                                 21%
  • Sprout Social                                                                                                           13%
  • Business Wire                                                                                                        9%
  • MuckRack                                                                                                                4%
  • Buffer                                                                                                                         3%
  • Mention                                                                                                                    2%
  • BurrellesLuce                                                                                                        1%
  • Crisp                                                                                                                            1%
  • News Direct                                                                                                            1%
  • Signal Al                                                                                                                     1%

Google Analytics is the dominant tool in this category, not surprising considering that it’s free. Among Communications Leadership Council members, the second-most common tool is Cision, a product specifically built for communications professionals, at 38%, versus being mentioned by only 26% of all respondents. Among the “other” responses, no product stands out. More than a dozen are mentioned, as is “none.”

Download a copy of Ragan’s third annual Communications Benchmark Report executive summary here. To obtain a full copy of Ragan’s 2021 Communications Benchmark Report become a member of the Communications Leadership Council. Click here for more details.