What happens when you put smart people on a dais together and ask them about trends in their profession? If they are Shashi Bellamconda, Torod Neptune, Paul Sherman, and John Taylor, then we’re in for some great insights.

I had the pleasure of moderating last Thursday’s IABC/Washington panel discussion. Between asking questions and keeping the conversation on track, I also took a few notes. So if you missed the conversation, here are a few highlights:

1. The most dramatic change in the communications landscape in the last decade? Torod Neptune said it was “commoditization” (with fewer people seeing communications as a specialty). Paul Sherman pointed to user-generated content, the elimination of gatekeepers, and the power of a person’s network. John Taylor said the implications of social media mean that he increasingly sees himself “as a business person who does communications.” Shashi Bellamkonda said that people are no longer anonymous online; rather, it is now the norm to establish a virtual presence and to promote your personal brand by helping someone else.

2. How do communicators stay relevant in 2010? While PR hasn’t changed, Neptune noted that “the nature of influence has.” [See also Guy Kawasaki’s comment about “build[ing] a critical mass of nobodies.”] Taylor talked about reaching out quickly to correct mistakes and address problems, and stressed that face-to-face meetings are still important. Bellamkonda said that the new landscape has leveled the playing field, pointing out that small companies today are just as likely to be in the news as bigger ones.

3. How should companies manage their reputations? Companies need to be “comfortable being naked,” said Neptune in response to a question about the blurring lines between our professional and personal lives. Taylor pointed to one of the simplest corporate social media policies; what he termed Hair Cuttery’s “don’t mess up our brand” policy.

4. What’s the impact of mobile (particularly in the context of the first large-scale use of text messaging for micro-philanthropy)? Taylor cited some revealing statistics about the growth of mobile: a 37% increase in wireless data use and 730 billion text messages among U.S. wireless subscribers in the first half of 2009; and over $5 million for Haiti earthquake relief via text in just two days (including $3 million to the Red Cross in $10 donations). [The Washington Post has a great article and more stats here.]

5. What skills do today’s communicators need? Sherman said the biggest skill is the ability to identify the real influencers. Neptune stressed that good writing skills are still important. Bellamkonda said that the most important qualification is “someone who can tell a story.”

The last insight goes to Taylor, in response to a question about community—and how the concept is changing. Taylor suggested that values remain constant, because people have always valued transparency and authenticity. What has changed, he said, is how these values are expressed and rewarded.

What would you add to this conversation?

Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda/Network Solutions.