Making comms great again? What’s hot in 2018

Published on
February 5, 2018

It’s that time of year when we think about what’s getting us communicators excited in 2018. Here are our five fave frontiers we are talking about at the water cooler right now.

Rise of the website (back to the future?)
Rob Lovegrove, Head of Digital

I see a resurgence in branded website content in 2018 as the sun sets on the marketeers’ over-reliance on the once-loved Facebook. Like many social channels, Facebook rightly needed to rein in the marketing ‘noise’ that was slowly disenfranchising its long-term and ageing user base.

Where brands once infiltrated newsfeeds with mass-message content, changes to the newsfeed algorithm in late 2017 have seen brands relegated in favour, once again, of that school friend or awkward cousin showing off their first-born’s school report or ‘Facebook holiday moment’.

The move is intended as a wake-up call for brands to improve their content and promote genuine engagement. First reports however suggest a near-complete newsfeed banishment for brands until they pay-to-play through sponsored posts or adverts.

If this turns out to be the case and even the most engaging, genuine brands struggle to get eyeballs without paying, a mass exodus from Facebook may not be too far-fetched. So where do these brands turn to? Another social platform? Perhaps, but as this commentator has long considered, a return to the humble branded website seems to be a long-term safe bet.

‘Free’ social channels will come and go and while they command mass visitation, brands will be subject to the whim of changing algorithms and settings. Of course, engaging the people that matter, not the volume of people that can’t or won’t have any meaningful relationship with your brand, is the aim of the game. More engaging and updated content on your website for people actively seeking information is critical. Serving up bespoke content for different personas on your website is also critical and, importantly, achievable irrespective of your budget.

In 2018, content will still be king but it’s where we’ll be putting it that will be interesting.

Data-driven communication
Tom Murphy, Digital and Data Strategist

The emergence of big data and predictive analytics has allowed companies to increase messaging accuracy and distil any mistakes or mishaps into quantifiable data. The aim of the game is to inform their strategy and improve accuracy of their message.

This was always the first piece of the puzzle. Major companies have been masters in this area, but with the development of super-powerful, user-friendly, easily accessible business intelligence and analytical software, the industry is now making up serious ground.

In the next year, we will see machine learning (and AI and Automation) not only interpret what current data says about an issue but also use historical data to assist in predicting the most likely future outcome. This extra bit of vision allows PR companies to improve their strategic planning to not only include current crisis management but forward-thinking steps to positively position the brand.

With easy to access to data sets via open data sources (including state governments, local governments), companies are now able to validate conclusions drawn not just from their own data, but in some cases through correlation with other sources of data.

As this practice becomes easier for companies to manage, machine learning will kick in again and uncover correlations between multiple data sources and insights — once again improving the accuracy of messaging.

In our next blog post, we will explore the top five tech trends affecting the PR industry.

What’s your story?
Susan Hawkins, Group Manager, Integrated Marketing Communication

Most trend talk is of data, technology and platforms. The rise of chatbots, Instagram Stories vs Snapchat (FYI – Instagram Stories has 50 million more users than Snapchat and 28 per cent higher open rates), the power of data analytics. But there continues to be an opportunity, which I think many organisations miss, to harness the power of technology to build and enhance their brand stories. Yes, the technology itself is cool, and I totally geek out on data that shines a light on an insight to inform a campaign. But it’s those organisations that understand how to use technology to curate and showcase what their brands represent that will continue to stand out from the pack in 2018.

I find a lot of clients still grapple with the notion of brand. They have their mission, vision and values (often recalled by a minority of staff) but may not have nailed what they want to be best known for — how they want to position themselves. It’s not unusual for a client to ask us to develop a ‘digital strategy’ without first having nutted out their positioning. It’s a bit like asking for an ad campaign without knowing what you want it to achieve. Perhaps I’m just projecting my professional wishlist, but I think 2018 will see more organisations comprehend that digital is a channel, not a brand and communication strategy.

Strategic communication begins with a clear vision of your desired positioning. What will your brand be most famous for? What will set you apart? Once your brand is defined (essence, personality, promises and values), you can work on how you bring it to life. There’s every chance digital channels will play a big part in your plan, and give you the tools to be creative and captivating. But unless your communication is underpinned by an understanding of your brand, your communication will lack clarity, consistency and, ultimately, cut-through.
What do I mean and who does it well? Check out these brands on Instagram. You quickly get a sense, through pictures and words, of what they stand for and why they believe what they do is important.

  • Maersk Line @maerskline
  • TOMS Shoes @toms
  • John Deere @johndeere
  • Intel Corporation @intel

Authenticity rules in internal communication
Janet Houen, Group Manager, Organisational and Change Communication

Authenticity is my 2018 touchstone. If it doesn’t qualify as a trend, it should, because it’s a winner.

Why? Let’s face it … the world is a bit overwhelming this millennium. Fake news, big data, digital everything, trolling, cyber-scams, terrorism, bullying, political paralysis, oversharers, climate change — disillusionment and nastiness abound. And it can get depressing! So from an organisational and business perspective, how do you find your True North and get cut-through with your employees, keep them sailing through oft-troubled waters?

I am waving the flag for bringing it back to basics in internal communication — face-to-face, albeit nothing new, is always a winner, even when it’s challenging. And it’s authentic. It means having real conversations, building trusted relationships, listening to ideas, recognising contribution and achievement. None of these are revelations, but they sometimes get lost in the mix.

Sure … use your digital channels and your online solutions to back-up the talk and expand the conversation’s horizon, to underpin the on-the-ground engagement. But also support your leaders (at all levels) to be courageous communicators — not just messengers — and make the time to re-embrace the power of the personal.

The influence of influencers
Marcellina Powell, Senior Consultant

We’ve already seen the rise of influencer marketing in the FMCG space, but this year I’m predicting more companies in other industries will embrace this trend.

But how do you get influencers on board? It’s the same principle when it comes to a media release or social media post — if you want to give people a reason to share something, it’s about helping them give their audience something unique, valuable, useful or funny.

How do you choose which influencers? Authenticity and credibility is important. Celebrities, athletes and politicians have millions of fake followers. A recent New York Times article  revealed the large-scale social identity theft that’s happening to create bots. It’s important to be discerning in this space.

Influencers are also starting to be held to higher account. American YouTube star Logan Paul is now taking a break from Vlogging after facing international criticism for filming in the Aokigahara forest in Japan. The 22-year-old has 16 million subscribers, making him extremely influential, but now not someone a brand necessarily wants to be associated with.

This is why influencer marketing shouldn’t just be about the numbers. It’s about aligning your brand with personal brands with similar values and which connect with similar audiences.