Artwork from the 2019 Global Communications Report.
Artwork from the 2019 Global Communications Report.

USC Annenberg study predicts technology will help citizens become more engaged, but also more misinformed and polarized

2019 Global Communications Report examines the impact of technology on society and the communication industry

The majority of global public relations professionals surveyed in the 2019 USC Annenberg Global Communications Report predict the next few years will bring dramatic change to the communication industry. Eighty-three percent believe technological innovations will be a powerful driver of that change, and most believe not all of it will be good. 

Three out of five public relations professionals (61%) predict that future communication technology will cause the average citizen to become more engaged. However, the same number (61%) believe that engagement will be based on misinformation, which almost three-fourths (74%) think will create a more polarized society. PR students are slightly more optimistic. Only 43% predict the citizens will be more misinformed in the next five years, while 53% say society will be more polarized. 

“Since its inception, our industry has championed the art of public relations,” said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations. “Now, we must combine that art with science. Our future relies upon our ability to adopt new tech tools to analyze complex data, engage diverse audiences and measure tangible impact. However, communicators have a profound responsibility to employ these tools to accurately inform and educate the public — and to denounce those who do not.”

While the number of technology tools available to the PR profession is growing exponentially, few are viewed as very important to communication work currently being done. PR executives cite media monitoring services (44%), which have been around for years, as the most important tech tool for their current work. When asked to predict what will be most valuable for future work, social listening (54%), website analytics (54%) and social media management (51%) rise to the top. Even though only 18% of all PR executives believe artificial intelligence will be a very important technology for them in the future, they predict 35% of financial reporting and 30% of sports coverage will be written by robots in five years. 

Technology advancements in the communication industry also raise the question of whether machines or humans will be more important in the future. The survey participants gave a mixed response. While nearly half (47%) of PR professionals answered, “Human capital will be more important in the next five years,” another 30% expect they will have equal importance. Students predict the machines will rise: 46% say that, in the future, technology will be more important than humans in the communication industry, while only 32% say the opposite. 

“As public relations professionals, our job is to build relationships between companies, brands and people,” Cook said. “Our industry brings unparalleled insight into the elements of human connection. We know how to listen and to tell stories. Technology will enhance these skills, but it will never replace them.”

The fourth annual study, released today by the USC Center for Public Relations at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is a comprehensive survey of more than 2,100 public relations leaders, CEOs and students worldwide. The report is available for download at Educators may request printed copies of the Global Communications Report for classroom use by emailing