As Adfactors PR turned 20, a look ahead at the next 20 years
Year 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of Adfactors PR. So I thought that I’d share a few of my thoughts on what the next two decades may look like. I’d love to know what you think!
Whether the communication is internal or external, whether the sector is B2B or consumer, and whether the engagement covers high-level government affairs, or trade bodies, four trends are going to shape the way organisations communicate over the next decade.
- ‘Reintermediation’ of new types of media
The disintermediation of the media (or growth of peer-to-peer communications) has been well documented. According to The New York Times, nearly half of US adults already rely on Facebook as their principal source of news1; others cite Twitter as the real news source of the 21st century2. Such so-called alternative or ‘first person’ news sources are even more important to younger generations; 61% of US millennials source political news from Facebook, for instance, compared to just 39% for Baby Boomers3.At the same time, according to the World Economic Forum, trust in the media has reached an all-time low4; the phenomenon of Fake News, accusation of biased reporting and reduced resources have compromised journalistic quality.The above highlights the important role of objectively validating, verifying and endorsing (or otherwise) content – irrespective of the platform. The traditional – and subsequently, new/digital – media fulfilled this role; their credibility (and funding) depended on a certain level of credibility. The role of validation will certainly evolve; journalists will be increasingly supplemented by independent verifiers such as bloggers, experts, fans etc. as a means to verify content before sharing.Sharing content also represents a growing source of prestige; being the first to share credible content or a news update has become a source of social currency. In this context, the ‘reintermediation’ of fact-checkers, verifiers and validators – in addition to journalists – is inevitable.
- ‘Clean feed’ subscriptions
What price is your privacy? How much would you pay to enjoy all the benefits of social media with zero adverts, the so-called ‘clean feed’ subscriptions? The question contradicts the social media business model, which is based – in the final analysis – on selling your data to the highest bidder. These services are notionally free, but as a mythical post on Metafilter succinctly put it back in 2012:“If you’re not paying for it; you are the product’. I’m not sure how many people are fully aware of this sentiment yet or whether they even care. But the next time you’re browsing the web or enjoying a video on YouTube, remember that Google is watching your every move; because that’s the price you pay…”5How long consumers are prepared to ‘pay’ for such ‘free’ services with their privacy remains to be seen. The impact on brands is already palpable; one recent survey6 suggests that up to a quarter of respondents claim to ignore social posts or ads from brands on social media; many consumers feel bombarded by brands on social platforms, with 34% saying they feel “constantly followed” by online advertising. Increasingly, brands are overtly using customer data to effectively ‘game’ them into cross-selling opportunities and offers. At some point customers are going to rebel and ask – how much is ‘free’ social media really worth? And those who value both their social media services and their privacy will opt for ‘clean feeds’ (i.e. zero data collected) in return for a monthly fee.I appreciate that the entire industry – from social media platforms to advertisers – will ridicule this notion; but I believe that they are in denial because their current business models depend on it. However, it’s just a question of time; one too many data breaches, one invasion of privacy too far, one more inappropriate, unsolicited advert…and the age of ‘clean feed’ subscriptions will be upon us.
- Brands operating in a post-protagonist world
Brands no longer enjoy exclusive or even privileged access to the media. Today, it costs precisely zero US$ and less than one second to reach 1 million people with a particular message; providing that your social media following is big enough.We are entering a new era of brand relationships; one which is no longer defined by the brands, but by individuals themselves – whether they be consumers, employees, investors, collaborators or members of the local community. These individuals are the protagonists in news, conversations and content; they define, propagate, legitimise the subjects of interest; they are the new ‘editors-in-chief’ of today’s news. Brands’ best hope is to ensure sufficient relevance to enter into other people’s conversations; it is the latter who have become the real protagonists. Relevance will be the new – sole – criteria in a post-protagonist environment, replacing reputation, advertising spend or physical presence, every day.
- Real-time earned
A combination of the above will require brands to earn attention from their audiences every single day. As ad blockers and filters become more efficient, consumers vindicate their right to privacy and switch to ‘clean feeds’, and as individuals themselves become editors-in-chief of their own newsfeeds, brands will have to adapt or become irrelevant.This will mean that brands will have to spend more time listening to their audiences, understanding what they care about and to what they aspire, and it’s likely neither of these conversations has anything to do with the brand’s products.So, earning relevance – i.e. a place in consumers’ timelines – will become the single biggest priority for any brand in the future.