Holding our predictions to account. What next for comms in 2017?

The obligatory tarot shot to depict 'predictions' [Credit: Pixabay.com]

The obligatory tarot shot to depict ‘predictions’ [Credit: Pixabay.com]

The end of year predictions post has become something of an agency tradition, but how many look back and see if they got it right? I’m going to do that right now, and look ahead to 2017.

I remember when I was a tech journalist years ago receiving endless prediction press releases from analyst groups. “The [industry] sector will be worth [huge $ sum] by [year], according to [analyst group].”

They would land in my inbox all year round, but particularly December. I always considered looking back over predictions for the year I was in to see if they were right. Did anyone ever hold these predictions to account?

It’s the same in the communications industry. We love a good predictive post in December, and I am no exception. One my first blog posts after launching this freelance PR network just before Christmas 2015 was my predictions for 2016. As with anything, I was right with some things and wrong about the others. Here’s how I did:

I did foresee…

Twitter’s value: No surprise that sport and politics dominated Twitter in a year of Euros, Olympics, the EU referendum and a toxic US presidential election campaign. Twitter continues to be an essential comms channel (the most important, I feel, due to its immediacy) but Twitter continues to struggles to find ways to make money. What chances it finds a buyer in 2017?

Decline of Vine: I didn’t expect Vine to close altogether but I did see it eclipsed by live social broadcasting and increased mobile video options, and therefore marginalised as a presentation format.

Increase in Paid Media: Organic reach continues to drop on Facebook and Paid Media is now, I believe, an accepted, mainstream PR tactic. I’ve started training on Paid Media for the PRCA and private clients, and my most popular podcast this year was with Threepipe’s Farhad Koodoruth on the subject of Paid Media.

Continued rise of Dark Social: WhatsApp passed the billion-user mark in 2016, Facebook Messenger use grew, and Snapchat continues to rise steadily. These ‘dark social’ channels offer opportunities to brands, so as I advised in last year’s post, brands should at least explore and make mobile-friendly content that’s easily sharable on these channels.

Marketing in the Moment: Reaching out to people while a subject is hot is basic common sense, and we will only see more of it going forward. Brands like Paddy Power continue to excel and ‘newsjacking’ with entertaining, and sometimes controversial, attention-grabbing tactics. For more instant social media, check out our podcast with Gary Andrews.

I didn’t foresee…

The Rise of Fake news: There have always been misleading stories on the Internet but this year we really reached ‘Peak Fake’. The BBC has since traced a lot of fake news production down a small town in Macedonia.

Post-truth: Another word to enter the common lexicon this year and closely linked to fake news, as we’ve seen from the EU referendum in the UK and the US Presidential election, ‘post-truth’ seems another word for confirmation bias, something that’s always been with us.

What amuses me is the word implies there was always ‘truth’ in politics and media, which we know isn’t true. I quoted Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ after Trump’s victory: “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Challenges for 2017

So, many people will agree 2016 was a pretty depressing year in the amount of cultural talent we lost, not to mention the politics (!). So here’s what communications professionals will need to crack in 2017, alongside a progression of the above:

How to deal with fake news: Standard crisis comms protocol applies – establish the facts, have a robust response structure and process in place. Make sure all stakeholders know the drill.

The Rise of Microinfluencers: As media continues to fragment, mid-tier ‘microinfluencers’ are will continue to grow as a persuasive class of influencer.

Changing Search: SEO continues to change rapidly. Voice search is becoming more prevalent, a good mobile experience and inbound links are essential to ranking highly, presenting a challenge to web designers, content creators and PRs alike. Semantic and machine learning will develop. Keep an eye on this.

New technologies open new opportunities: We will see more work using drones and virtual reality (VR) during 2017. Check out my podcast with consumer agency head Rich Leigh on what this means for PR. When it comes to content, PR needs to get smarter about how it presents it. This is something Verve Search in London has been winning awards for, and I caught up with founder/CEO Lisa Myers to find out her ethos on digital content for PR.

Economic uncertainty: As a freelance digital consultant you’d expect me to say this, but I really do believe that the uncertainty of the next three years as the UK changes its relationship status with the European Union from ‘It’s complicated’ to ‘Single’, that comms clients may well need more flexibility in their contracts and hiring. This is great news for small agencies and freelancers, not so good for the big players.

What do you think? Discuss with me on Twitter or leave a comment below. If you’re looking to upskill your team for 2017, we run a range of digital training courses held on-site at your offices.

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