The following is a guest post. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.
At Hotwire, we’ve established an annual tradition: wracking our Wi-Fi enabled brains to determine which trends will define the digital world in the months ahead.
In our fifth Digital Trends Report, we call this “the year of digital maturity” — and no, that doesn’t mean fewer GIFs, listicles, kitty videos and other inanities that compel us to spend so much of our time and money online. But this will be the moment that businesses adapt, adopt and improve upon the innovations that defined previous years.
The visions of hoverboards dancing in your head won’t become reality anytime soon, but the more interactive, personalized and ultimately rewarding consumer experience you dreamed of in the past is already here.
In other words, the cool new toys are on shelves now — and the kids who learn how to integrate them into their businesses will earn their seats at the head of the popular table.
1. ‘Niche’ Is the Word
Let’s take a quick look at the leading social networks and what they really mean now.
Facebook: Your Aunt’s Most Embarrassing Photo Album
Twitter: More Questions Seeking Answers
Pinterest: Pictures of Wedding Cakes
Instagram: Selfie Central
Snapchat and WhatsApp are great for messaging your friends, but where do you go online to find a real community of like minds? The answer lies in niche networks.
Can’t find contacts who appreciate the color black as much as you do? Try Vampire Freaks.
Want to show off your fashion sense to the world outside your Instagram feed? Try StyledOn.
The niche list got a lot longer last year, and it will only continue to grow.
Yes, the big social networks are here to stay. But if you really want to reach target audiences moving forward, then niche networks are the only way to go.
2. Data and Social: Birds of a Feather
The lack of social marketing highlights during this year’s Super Blowout Bowl proved that Oreo’s 2013 “in the dark” moment was simply that — a moment.
Yet that famous tweet about dunking and darkness established a permanent and positive connection between social media and real-time data.
The purpose of the social endeavor isn’t to write a tweet great enough to score a spot on every marketing listicle published over the next decade. It’s to deliver the message to a core audience that is as large and engaged as possible without overstepping your bounds.
The equation is simple: a basic understanding of social data + some light analytics training + a dose of humor = shareable content. You know, things your followers will actually like enough to recommend to their friends.
Data, creativity and social media aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re more like sides of a triangle: each element supports the whole, and together they help you give your audience what they want when they want it.
3. Stop Trying to Make Digital Retail Happen. (It Already Did.)
Don’t worry; the old-fashioned casual shopping experience isn’t going anywhere. It’s going everywhere.
Online and offline shopping are beginning to bear a striking resemblance to one another thanks to the sort of digital tools that allow almost anyone to become a retailer from their comfort of their own home/office/bingo hall.
This trend goes well beyond Etsy. In the case of Kiosked and Glashion, the service may well supplant the retailer entirely. But for clients with quality products to sell, the floor has never been more open.
Whether utilizing new tools like the digital fitting rooms of Fits.me, the unique point of sale system at Warby Parker, or the ability to buy products directly from Pinterest, the most successful retailers will be the ones that make the digital-to-physical transition as seamless as possible.
4. Anonymity, We Hardly Knew Ye
Edward Snowden took the debate over online privacy from high-security intelligence centers to living rooms around the world.
Next, businesses operating in the digital world (a.k.a. all of them) have no choice but to respond.
Here’s the thing: as much as people dislike cookies, shoe ads that follow them around their favorite blogs, and the possibility that the NSA could be reading their text messages, they’re just fine with giving their data to a business in context for, say, a discount or other targeted offer.
Yes, it’s true that the free flow of consumer data may slow a bit as pockets of true anonymity disappear and web users aim to shrink their digital footprints. But the companies that demonstrate a real dedication to transparency by earning the trust of their customers will be far more visible moving forward.
5. You Won’t BELIEVE How Well These Algorithms Can Predict Your Preferences!
Yes, “Her” was a great movie; no, your computer will never really know you no matter how much personal data you share. That said, your gadgets can already predict the sort of products and services you prefer with a degree of accuracy fit for science fiction.
Foursquare, for example, can already use travel histories and the amount of time spent at a given location to advise users on where they might want to go next, while Google Now can notify drivers of traffic changes based on informed guesses about where they’ll be traveling next.
“Pre-emptive computing” will continue to disturb some consumers, but many will see it as yet another tool to provide for a more satisfying interactive experience. The public has already grown to accept “you may also like” notifications as a part of everyday digital life. With a little intuitive help, you can have a more satisfying experience no matter how familiar you are with your surroundings. You might even finally “discover” that little Italian place on the corner.
6. Texting in Class
While social media initially seems like the least appropriate thing to teach in school, all sorts of seemingly foreign elements have found their way into classrooms around the world over time.
Social and education are tied together in two ways. First, schools must play at least some role in teaching kids how to use it properly to both inform themselves and to avoid the sort of online bullying that’s making international headlines.
Second, digital tools and social services really can enhance the student experience. Beyond platforms like Google Hangouts and Skype in the Classroom, knowledge apps like Jelly have all sorts of potential educational applications.
PR’s responsibility will be teaching the public how clients’ products can deliver real value to students beyond just giving them yet another reason not to pay attention.
7. Make Mine “Artisanal”
Laugh at trends in pickled vegetables and custom monocles if you must, but an increasingly picky public now values the creators behind its premium products more than ever before.
The value of art will always be in the eye of the beholder, but companies like Quirky, Maker Shed and The Grommet have built on the Etsy model by focusing on the processes and, more importantly, the stories behind the practical, beautiful products they sell.
Modern technology does not mean faceless factory-made products without compelling stories, and the fact that current tastes favor those who fuss over details is good news for both the public that buys these artisans’ wares and the parties tasked with promoting them.
8. Mr. Social Media Manager, Tear Down That Wall
Unfortunately, social media and customer service departments still have a standoffish relationship. In the not-too-distant future, the two will finally accept the fact that they were meant to be together.
While some top brands like Nike, Xbox, and Tesco have earned plaudits for mastering the art of customer service on social, repeated surveys show that the stubborn silos persist. All we have to do is look at the many cases of preventable social disasters to understand why the change needs to come.
Clear differences between the disciplines exist: customer service is inherently defensive while social management is positive and engaging. But the two can and shall meet: each delivers the brand’s message to its target audience, and each ultimately exists to satisfy the customer.
Collaboration will win the day.
9. Meet Your New Media
Did BuzzFeed really kill your local paper? No, it didn’t — but journalists everywhere are itching to learn from its success.
CNN first turned news 24/7, and while that change did lead to lots of space filled with black hole theories and talk show shouting matches, it also led to more nimble newsrooms. And it created a whole slew of new promo opportunities.
The same rules that apply to crafting great news stories also apply to paid/branded media. While BuzzFeed and Upworthy own the models to beat, immersive pieces like those created by the Guardian (Firestorm) and the New York Times (Snowfall) are imminently shareable.
Native ads aren’t the be all and end all, but brands must become content creators to stand out. As the monolith we call “media” continues to splinter, we can all grab our own piece — and as long as we adapt to meet the consumer’s needs, our best stuff will rise to the top.
10. Show Me the Numbers
Digital measurement may not be complex geometry, but it’s not simple either. Over the past few years, it has become its own language — and fluency is no longer optional.
Clients are rightly no longer satisfied with numbers like “press releases written,” event attendance totals, or even likes and retweets.
Toolkits like Google Analytics and our own Listening Post have already become essential in ensuring (and proving) the success of every campaign, but soon the public relations and social media marketing industries will, after a long and twisted journey, begin to reach agreement on measurement standards.
Every campaign is different, and there is no one “correct” way to measure. But standards developed by the meeting of minds within industry bodies like AMEC and PRSA will allow us to demonstrate the value of the work we do more clearly than ever before.
The Age of Maturity Is Here
The digital world has finally reached the tipping point it’s been approaching for years: Technologies we’d never heard of when writing the first Digital Trends report are now second nature, and the key to future success will be integrating them into everything we do as we nestle into a new landscape.
Growing pains are an unfortunate fact of life, but the roughest part of the digital transition is over. As PR, marketing and customer service use these once-new technologies to focus more intently on the tasks at hand, the biggest winners will be consumers and the brands that serve them most effectively.
Leslie Campisi is managing director, US, at Hotwire PR, a global communications consultancy serving technology companies and digitally enabled brands, where she oversees operations in New York City and San Francisco.