Tuesday, November 28, 2017

My Inevitable Digital Predictions for 2018

For the past 12 years I’ve written a prediction for the next year based on reader trends, my research, and how the digital landscape is developing. Things actually move slower than you’d think. There are curve balls and new platforms, sure, but trends and the digital landscape are technology and user up-take dependent. I’ve never been totally wrong, thankfully, just occasionally ahead of my time by two or three years. So here goes for 2018.

Augmented reality edges more towards the mainstream

With Apple’s newly released technology and the new ARKit framework allowing developers to create augmented reality apps more easily, this is one to watch. I’ve always been a big fan of AR and VR, and with Facebook invested in Oculus and PSVR making VR more accessible in the home, things are looking interesting.

To date, augmented reality has been a gimmick more than a genuinely useful smartphone tool, but things (and adoption) are changing. In the last year users haven’t moved on from the mildly addictive disappointment of Pok√©mon Go, but finally the technology is catching up (if we can afford it). People are trying virtual Ikea furniture in their home and virtual make up at the beauty counter. Only the other day I was asked to put on a set of VR goggles by a ‘chugger’ in Nottingham. Marketeers are getting wise to it, and I can see more money spent in this direction in 2018.

While Snapchat spectacles weren’t massive they did prove concept, though (unlike a few years ago) I’d suggest you don’t put all your eggs in the Snapchat basket. Make the most of Snapchat – especially Geofilters – while it’s still around (and make way for the Insta-jam).

I still dream of my devices drawing data from my social/Amazon purchase preferences, applying this to real world data, knowing what I’m interested in and directing me to sales or things of interest. “Hey Nik. You have a dog. How about 20% off HiLife dog food over here in Pets at Home. Follow these arrows!” Technically, it’s possible.

More focus on Generation Z

Millennials are SO yesterday.

Generation Z are the folks who were born between 1995 and 2010. These are, at the oldest, 22 and are starting to enter the post-university workplace.

Only a few of them vaguely remember the 20th century. They are used to a high standard of living (in the western world) and total connectivity. They suffer less from the burden of traditional values and their loyalty will come from positive brand experiences over names and legacy – they will prefer brands to reach them socially and are more likely to buy online than in the high street.

Allegedly, they have shorter attention spans, due to the availability of easy-to-consume data, moving media and information. They are connected socially, but sceptical of traditional channels and security conscious - making them sceptical of those they see as hungry for their data. Access to information and connectivity are viewed as a fundamental right. They are arguably more conservative, with values formed by sexual harassment scandals marring politics, brands and institutions trusted by their peers and from Trump-era/austerity politics.

Events like 9/11 passed them by, and it is world events like the Syrian refugee crisis, Brexit, rapid advances in technology and the legalisation of gay marriage that have shaped their way of looking at the world.

They value transparency and personal engagement from brands, something businesses will need to adapt to. Like Millenials before them, they value the power of influencers and referrers over publishers and deferrers.

Generation Z are coming, and bringing their modest disposable incomes with them. Make friends with them now.

The chatbots are coming

Get used to talking to machines and speaking to smart-arsed pizza bots.

It's not exactly Terminator, but better burn it with fire now to be sure.

More ‘disappearing’ content

By this I mean the more immediate and short-lived content that disappears after a user has seen it or after 24 hours, such as via the likes of Snapchat, and Instagram Stories. If your brand is on Instagram and not using Stories you’re missing out on a BIG part of the platform. Storytelling is all the rage, as far as the Gen Z and Millennial user is concerned.

A lot of brands don’t get this kind of disposable, behind-the-scenes, ephemeral content – it kinda scares them – but more and more businesses are getting hip to the power of stories to demonstrate trust and credibility, giving their customers a look behind the curtain, getting followers involved and invested and sympathetically transforming their online presence. Expect to see more. It’s what followers want and the channels that do this are where the B2C audiences are. Celebrity Pages on FB already have this feature. Watch for Facebook rolling this out for business Pages next year - I’ll bet my dog on it.

More and more and more mobile visitors

Take a look at your Analytics data – nearly half your visitors are already hitting your site from smartphones. Do we shop through websites and e-com platforms or do we just go to Amazon and eBay? Facebook will be almost entirely mobile, with 80% of ads being served to mobile devices already. If you’re not ready for this your already WAY behind – get bootstrapped and think strategic and mobile.

The continued influence of Influencers

People trust influencers more than paid advertising or any messaging. Younger customers especially (pre-generation X) look to fellow customers and those with a neutral agenda, who they trust through experience, to inform their purchasing decisions. They don’t look to celebrities, but to personalities. It’s almost word-of-mouth.

If you’re not looking at influencer marketing in 2018 you’re missing out on a MASSIVE revenue generator, and I guarantee your competition will take full advantage of the gap in your campaign strategy.

Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s measurable and targetable. Finding niche audiences following budding personalities, grateful for sponsorship or for a chance to start in product reviews, can be cash well spent.

Actually, thinking about it, we're probably due for a backlash against influencers - especially those who take sponsorship in the form of goods, holidays, cash, whatever - probably under the umbrella of fake news and celebrity/reality fatigue. Probably one to watch.

Video and live streaming

More of the same, as per the last three or four years, to be honest.

More steaming. More animated cover images in channels. Better audience connectivity. More opportunities. More big live events and launches. More Facebook TV. More unboxings. More moving stuff. Get involved. Facebook is actively paying publishers, from BuzzFeed to CNN, to create more video content.

If you don’t stream Netflix to your iPad in the bath you’re very soon going to be the odd one out. Expect more video advertising in streaming communities from YouTube to Twitch, and easier ways to create your content through social media advertising. Facebook has already tested giving content creators the ability to add 15-second commercial breaks into their videos – hinting at a more TV-style approach down the line.

Crushing fake news and spam

Everyone has a bee in their bonnet about fake news right now, and it’s justified if it’s being used to undermine elections and swing decision making. The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 was actually two words, unsurprisingly thanks to Mr. Trump, “fake news”.

While taking a stand may seem like the influence of the ‘nanny state’, the amount of spam and poorly written hype posted to social channels is just one part of the battle the platforms have in re-establishing trust with their audience. Social channels understand that any channel a user clicks through to reflect on them and the quality of their data, even if it’s posted by others.

Link-bait sites, flagrant misrepresentation and urban myth publishers are being filtered out already by Facebook - through crackdown on linking protocols for publishers, manual peer review and citation from the likes of Snopes. Be ready for more of the same, as well as vetting of our motivation and the quality of our messaging when it comes to paid advertising in platforms. Users want a safe experience and the truth, without it they’ll go elsewhere.

Alexa, Siri and Cortana - oh my.

Have you thought about how you can design for 'smart speakers' or how they are changing query based search? Got an app that'd work for audio? Think about it. The price point is right and they're becoming commonplace in the home, PDQ. Expect to be asked about the possibilities from curious clients in '18.

Other things of note? Watch out for AI in SM, Messenger chatbots and automated customer service chat, more gamification, and something so off the wall and out of left field (probably a new channel) that there's no way on gods green earth we could ever see it coming.

So there you go. No massive revelations, just a collation of what we know already. 2018 promises to be another busy year for us here at Tank (our digital PR agency) and it pays to have an eye to the future of our digital markets – hey, it’s my job.