While “rizz” and “Swiftie,” “situationship” and “goblin mode” are duking it out as the words of the year, we in the communications and PR world have a lexicon of our own.
Our annual words of the year are the terms that have defined your professional life in 2023 — even if you’re tired of hearing them — and will continue to do so in 2024.
We’ll start out with our No.1, official word of the year and move into runners-up.
Ragan and PR Daily’s word of the year: prompt
Following the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022, followed by the rise of other conversational AI tools such as Bard, Bing Chat, and Jasper, and image-generation tools including DALL-E 2 and 3, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney, the past year has been defined by the evolution of AI.
Although AI has factored into PR and comms in contexts such as data management and customer service chats, learning the art of the AI prompt truly became a requirement for working in this field over the past year.
Organizations are now seeking AI prompt engineers — roles that can easily pay six figures out of the gate.
Whether it’s for ideation, copywriting, productivity or image development, learning AI has become a must for communicators — to the extent that our network has sought more guidance on this topic than any other this year. (We even launched online AI certification courses for communicators and marketers to help them build their prompting prowess, and navigate the complicated web of ethical and legal considerations that arise from these tools.)
And more change is on the horizon as the technology grows more sophisticated, the future of OpenAI remains uncertain and competing tools arise across existing platforms. (See: “Grok,” farther down on this list.)
Organizations as a whole and communicators in particular will need to be — er, prompt in upskilling in this area to remain competitive in the field.
More top communications and PR words of 2023
From wars to weather emergencies, it has been a tumultuous year both inside and outside of organizations.
We’ve created spaces for them to talk about the internal and external challenges of crafting messaging and keeping their organizations united during the Israel-Hamas war.
It has by no means been an easy journey, but in the process, communicators have had the opportunity to hone skills such as resilience and conflict management — lessons that will remain critical as the world faces conflict and climate crises to come.
Another conflict-based crisis is one that will surely continue to arise in the next year as the 2024 election cycle heats up.
Backlash was a stark point of discussion in 2023, especially around Bud Light’s management of the reaction to trans creator Dylan Mulvaney, who was attacked alongside the brand over their poorly thought-out partnership. The brand’s biggest snafu, however, was its silence toward Mulvaney and its unwillingness to take any stand amid the media and PR maelstrom — a move that left everyone frustrated.
From this instance, as well as Target’s poor handling of messaging around its Pride collection, we learned that it’s mission-critical for organizations to stand by their words and actions and commit to claims around brand purpose.
With both trade and consumer-facing news outlets continuing to come to grips with a complex future, organizations that have learned how to tap into communicators’ powers of content development have the advantage of owning the narrative around their organization and wielding a strong employer brand.
Communicators at any organization can act as a brand newsroom — and we’ve increasingly seen them doing so this year, telling both internal- and external-facing stories of employees, crafting thought leadership and beyond.
This year began with many executives pushing for employees to return to onsite environments — and many did mandate in-office days, if not a full return. Other employers took the opportunity to scoop up talent unwilling to relinquish pandemic-era flexibility by remaining remote- and hybrid-friendly.
As the post-pandemic dust settles and we proceed into 2024, it will be worth noting where flexibility in this arena remains, and where it may shift.
One inevitable challenge employers amenable to hybrid and remote flexibility faced this year was ensuring that their dispersed workforces remained connected, informed and committed — making 2023 a year in which communications was essential. Professionals in this space leveraged their knowledge of intranets, newsletters, multimedia storytelling, gamification and more to engage physically distant employees and cultivate a sense of belonging.
As higher education charts a course into an uncertain future, understanding new paths for talent acquisition and skill-building has been critical for employers. Communicators are drilling down into the best ways to work with HR to find and level up new workers, encourage employees to participate on-the-job training and upskilling, and express these benefits to prospective talent.
X — and Grok
After Elon Musk’s 2022 acquisition of Twitter and its subsequent rebrand to X this year, all bets are off about what exactly the platform will look like in the future. Its culture has shifted too making it a brand safety minefield that has prompted many brands to halt their activity and abandon the platform entirely.
Time will tell whether X’s evolving model will sway users who fled the platform to return for a different kind of experience, but if its culture remains bot-riddled and troll-fueled, it may end up with an entirely different demographic.
New subscription-based features and paid options will continue to change the way users engage on X, as will experiments such as integration with Musk’s controversial AI chat tool Grok. Will Grok have enough of a voice to make this list in 2024?
Despite ongoing attempts to build audiences on new X competitors such as Mastodon and BlueSky, it appears the winner in the race to get users to commit to an alternative is Meta. The popularity of Threads over others lies in its seamless integration with Instagram, enabling users to easily connect with many of the same people they socialized with on the older platform, as well as its similarity to Twitter’s original functionality.
Cultural phenomena such as the evolution of the creator economy and the force of nature known as Taylor Swift have raised awareness about the dynamics of parasocial relationships — that is, when the details of a person’s life are well-known to external viewers whom the person knows nothing about. This may be nothing new for stars such as Swift, but it may have an impact on Gen Alpha, many of whose lives have been documented on social media as they’ve grown up, with or without their informed consent. We will see in the future how this impacts their professional lives and consumer habits.
So there we have it — the 2023 communications and PR words of the year. What words would you add to this list?
Jess Zafarris is a content director, editor, journalist, speaker, social media engagement strategist and creator. Her 13 years of experience in media have included such roles as the Director of Content at Ragan Communications, Audience Engagement Director at Adweek, and Content Strategy Director and Digital Content Director for Writer’s Digest and Script Mag. Follow her on Twitter/Threads/IG and Tiktok @jesszafaris and connect with her on LinkedIn.