British economist John Maynard Keynes had once said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” I could not agree more. We humans are creatures of habit. Change scares us. But the new digital world cares little about our cosy routines. It thrives on disruption, changing everything familiar in the drop of a hat. A few years ago, social media engagement used to be as easy as creating online contests and Facebook apps.
Today, it has become far more demanding as attention span is getting shorter and consumers get distracted by the next big thing. Online engagement rates are coming down, people are sharing less on what used to be top platforms, and, having social media profiles are as passé as having an email address. This constant churn requires constant innovation. Communications pros have no choice but to reinvent or be rendered irrelevant. Predicting trends that will dominate the communications landscape helps PR practitioners prepare better for the future. So, here are my three trends that will help you stay on top of the game in 2017.
VR and live videos – Use them now
Digital communication and content-driven campaigns will continue to drive growth in the PR industry next year. PR practitioners will, however, have to find new ways to break through the content clutter. While 4.6 billion pieces of content are being produced every day, the average human attention span is down to eightseconds. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, says a Microsoft study. Not every piece of content that is produced is lapped up the audience. There is clearly a gap.
Communications pros have to develop content that will engage, entertain and educate consumers. Tall order, but achievable through smart content like visual storytelling. PR agencies are already turning their stats and information into infographics to make them easily consumable. Year 2017 will see them using new forms of visual storytelling such as virtual reality (VR) and live video streaming. These innovations will make PR campaigns compelling, fun, immediate and personal, thus striking the much-needed emotional chord with the audience. Innovative companies have already started capitalising on VR as a medium of storytelling. eBay Australia, for example, has joined forces with iconic Australian retailer, Myer, to provide a glimpse into the future of shopping by creating the world’s first VR department store.
According to a report by the Research and Markets, commercial sector revenue from VR headsets, other VR equipment, VR content and content creation tools will reach nearly $4.5 billion by 2020, which is an up from $114 million in 2014.
Similarly, live streaming is another great way to make your content impactful. It is interactive and sticky, allowing people to comment, like and share your clients’ videos. Research has shown that Gen Z loves digital video on platforms like YouTube and Facebook to such an extent that they’re now watching more internet video than television.Live streaming of press conferences andproduct launches on Twitter and Periscope in 2017 – that will be exciting PR work this new year!
A new breed of influencers
Move over bloggers as YouTube and Instagram stars will play a bigger role in influencing people’s brand preferences in 2017. A recent study by Google found that instead of turning to the pages of magazines, films and catwalks for their idols, Generations Y and Z now look to YouTube and Instagram. Instagram is now seeing 15x more engagement than Facebook and 20x more than Twitter.
Recent research has shown that about one-third of US social media users between 16 and 34 are social influencers.Beauty blogger Sophie Hannah Richardson, who has almost 90,000 Instagram followers and 9,000 YouTube subscribers, says brands line up to ask if she will review their products.Instagram’s popular wolf dog Loki and his owner just tied up with Mercedes-Benz USA for a 360-degree virtual reality experience, allowing fans of the pooch to follow the pair on their journey.
However, influencer marketing needs to be authentic. Brands often offer influencers free products in exchange for a blog post or a video or a mention on social media channels. Sounds harmless, but this has created an unhealthy bartering culture. The moment you pay the influencer you compromise their influence and devalue their opinion. Consumers these days, especially Gen Z, can detect the difference between a genuine and a sponsored opinion. I predict a standardising of pricing in the influencer marketing landscape in 2017.
Smarter application of data
Rapid digitalisation of PR has resulted in a sea of data. If properly used they can give companies a competitive advantage on messaging, branding, consumer perception, stakeholder engagement, crisis management, deciphering shifts in consumer behaviour, potential PR crises, understanding new markets and even financial forecasting. In 2017, communication pros will play a more central role in making this data meaningful for clients.
PR firms should invest in dedicated data tracking teams, whose job will be to monitor, collect and analyse data, and, tailor them according to the needs of different clients. They will have to use a variety of methods to fit in the data to their client’s communications strategy, considering how fragmented the online audience is these days. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for Millennial will fall flat with the Gen Y and Gen Z crowd, not to mention the untapped but booming rural market in India. The bottomline: Information is out there and in plenty. PR pros will have to decipher what is relevant for each and every client and their target audiences. For example, demonetisation will affect different industries differently. Communication pros will earn brownie points if they prepare industry specific reports for their clients and suggest ways in which their clients should plan their future PR campaigns. That’s how PR will become truly data driven in 2017.
(The author is the CEO, Avian Media)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com