By Amena Kamaal
The writer is a communications guru working with the world food program and based in Islamabad
The changes in the communication landscape in the last few years distinctly reflect the changes in human behavior we’ve been observing and experiencing ourselves over the past few years – changes brought upon by new technologies. Think about how we consume information nowadays, as well as what we expect from the creators of this information in terms of presentation and access. Think about how you as content creators aim to share and spread this information in order to gain maximum exposure and engagement.
Analyzing the communication trends for this year and anticipating future trends, my observations below are about understanding these changes in human behavior, the technologies that affect them, and the engagement you can create from giving your audience a sense of achievement, empowerment, authenticity, and fun.
We’re seeing a huge shift happening – a shift that will most likely continue throughout next year. Companies and organizations, surprisingly development organizations, are now, finally, giving digital marketing channels precedence over traditional, analog media. Of course an integrated marketing approach remains key, but digital comes first, both in strategy and in budget
Traditional stories/messages had a distinct beginning and end, however, if a story/message lives online, especially in social media, it can develop organically, quickly. Its more effective in meeting the needs of their readers. You see things like live reporting a developing story to a broad audience, allowing them to interact and engage. A story becomes more expansive because it is open to outside, real-time influence.
When it comes to communicators, the focus will be to meet the needs of your online-savvy audience and influencers. This means re-engineering the business. In other words, involving the stakeholders, encouraging influencers to develop, share, and spread your story digitally.
Furthermore, what we’re seeing is that digital/social media is becoming integrated in to the whole organization. Ownership is spread and social media becomes a tool for conversation, not just a communication channel. And why? Because it’s now about people, not logos. Every employee should be a brand ambassador.
For communications people, it will be vital to empower every employee and enable them to be the different faces of the company, each with a similar, but not identical, understanding of the company’s values. This means that cultural values must be communicated internally.
A Little Help From My Friends
We’ve all heard about user-generated content, and maybe even attempted to get some. Crowd-generated digital storytelling is the new trend. The trick is to find your crowd, to find the people that will help you tell your story digitally. These are your influencers, your colleagues, or your friends. They are the people nearest to you.
It is therefore essential that communicators start building and interacting with their networks, both internally and externally. But there are pitfalls. The one thing to keep in mind with user-generated content is that authenticity is rewarded, while artificiality is, at best, ignored, if not condemned. If you come across something that one of your influencer’s did or created, on their own initiative, embrace it. It will lend more credibility and authenticity to your brand than anything coming from an official corporate campaign.
Personalized content will make the communication more effective, as increasingly the needs of the individual are catered to, rather than a larger demographic or target group. The behavioral change observed is that people are choosing their own content, on their own terms. They are more interested in what friends say is newsworthy, not what a news editor says.
Brand News World
Companies and organizations are taking a clear step towards being digital first, towards embracing crowd-generated content, and towards empowering both their external and internal influencers. But on top of all that, companies and organizations will start thinking like journalists when creating and curating stories around their brand – Brand Journalism. The key to brand journalism – taking out the middleman by thinking like the middleman (in this case, the journalists). Offer value, think of all audiences, not just journalists, and don’t always talk about yourself.
Online Goes Offline Goes Online Goes Offline
Placing more importance on your digital communication channels will be key in the next years. However, keep in mind that Digital First does not mean Digital Only. Next year, more than ever before, it will be vital for companies to complement and leverage their digital channels with offline efforts.
Come Out And Play
The gamification of online experiences started dominating all online activities this year. The trend is emerging where it becoming important to give people a personal experience and, most importantly, giving them an opportunity to have fun.
It’s more than just rewarding air miles or bonus points for each purchase. Allow for other activities along the whole customer journey that would be rewarded with more points, gifts, or even intangible rewards like badges or titles for a certain level reached. It’s like playing a video game!
Life On The Go
No communication trends analysis would be complete without the inclusion of Mobile. In fact, the future of online is in mobile.
Three behavioral trends dominate our lives in today’s world – convenience, context, and fun: connected 24 hours a day; efficient access to relevant information; and makes life fun.
Content Is King, But It’s The People’s Kingdom
Now the years to come there will be mainstreaming of business-to-people or rather a more people to people narrative.
As mentioned, the quality of the brand is measured by the people who surround it. Or rather, the customers make the brand. Therefore, it becomes clear that companies need to let go of the brand as a self-centered media object, and embrace it as a dynamic collaboration between the company, community, and influencers.
This is because a customer is not just buying the products or services, but they are also buying the people. The web is no longer anonymous – it’s built on real people and their connections, opinions, and ideas. This is true for the information, content, and organization of your company.
It is vital then that companies maintain and nurture their network of influencers and customers, because people trust other people, not logos, brands, or corporations.
As communicators, this will be essential. To create true engagement around your organization/brand you must first change your mindset and think in terms of people-to-people.