When it comes to communication, last year was vibrant, highly challenging and very surprising. We saw new trends and developments, some of them positive, others controversial. We became more aware that efficient communication determines the fates of businesses and people. Many people have come to experience the growing complexity of media relations. Forced to compete with the flood of information dished out by social media, the conventional press faded in comparison. In internal messages, we made bolder inroads into non-verbal communication, using all the advantages of video. The bottom line is that communication professionals had a lot to learn last year. They had good reasons to take pride in their work, but not without occasional frustrations. Without a doubt, the industry is changing rapidly, driven by advancing technologies, social evolution and disruptions to business. Shown below is a selection of 7 pronounced trends that were both debated and experienced by the communication industry in 2018.
1. Everyone is involved in communication
Automation, robotization, artificial intelligence – these were some of the key buzzwords last year, in the world of communication, too. What did they mean to us? For sure, many of us have pondered pessimistic scenarios in which chatbots and apps take over desk jobs and displace human workers. While disputes on how badly automation will harm the creative industries, marketing and PR are unlikely to be settled any time soon, last year showed new kids on the block, competing with communications professionals for influence over target groups and generating messages. The new arrivals are, in fact, members of the target groups themselves. Their operation is made possible by technology which is increasingly easier to use and more powerful. Other professionals can now use the smartphone, a mobile app or a blog to influence opinions on products, companies and co-workers. Communications experts realized they are gradually losing their monopoly on narratives. For many of us, this is a new development, forcing us to double our efforts. The competition from members of target groups who share opinions amongst one another (mainly on social media), is bound to get stronger. I think that last year was a milestone in realizing how irreversible this process really is.
2. A picture is worth a thousand words
2018 brought further technological breakthroughs making state-of-the-art communications all the more accessible. Video continued to rise in both external and internal communications. This applied to instructional videos, image spots, and videos that promote workers, build loyalty and popularize ideas. Videoblogs won the hearts of audiences, both teenage and managerial. Multimedia tutorials proved to be more effective than conventional presentations.
Facebook provided a tool that enables practically anyone to report live from any place on the planet. Video streaming got bigger on Instagram – it is ideally suited for genuine and rapid communication. I think that this form of communication is set to grow further in the immediate future.
3. The dangers posed by fake news
The term “fake news” was on the lips of the entire world in various configurations. It was immediately etched into the minds of journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs and regular content consumers. It was often used (alongside “post-truth”) as an umbrella term to excuse poor decisions by politicians and business people. All across the world, fake news became a huge challenge for communications professionals, whether they represented companies and institutions or individuals. The key reason for this is that they broke the trust of many target groups in public messages of all kinds. We asked ourselves how to tell true information from false, and how to persuade our audiences that we stood “on the right side of history”, and that the information we were spreading was credible, accurate and trustworthy. Many of us found that daunting. It was just as difficult to respond quickly to unfair opinions from consumers threatening to tarnish company reputations. Unfortunately, in our efforts to resolve the issue, we face one formidable adversary: technology. Technology allows all content, no matter whether it’s true or false, to spread at lightning speed. It appears this problem will haunt us for years to come.
4. Influencers joining the game
The ease with which one can set up a blog provokes people simply to do so and then write on anything that strikes their fancy, from business to pastimes, to passions, ideas, products, companies to politics. Master bloggers have grown more articulate – they make more money and have become more influential. Their videos are more appealing, persuasive and easier for the general public to absorb. A single eloquent blogger can rapidly rise in popularity to a point where he becomes the go-to expert and ultimate authority on any given topic. That blogger can then do wonders for a brand. The industry knows fully well that staying on the good side of influencers is key for anyone trying to promote an idea, product or service. Influencers increasingly shape the views of present-day consumers. They are the ones that customers trust when making purchasing decisions. The previous year certainly bolstered their position.
5. Communication as a full service
For a number of years now, the line between advertising and public relations has been increasingly blurred. Agencies that once specialized in a single form of communication are now doing the whole shebang from media planning to PR to integrated marketing campaigns to social outreach. The previous year saw the trend grow even stronger. This can be simply chalked up to the general realization that the customer and all of his needs come first. That is why we have been offering maximum benefits, services and products. Will the trend last? It is hard to say.
6. #metoo – the power of a single hashtag
This hashtag, whose popularity peaked in late 2017, did not lose any of its momentum last year. Just when all of the bad characters seemed to be well identified, new reports sprung up on outrageous behavior by widely-respected people with previously untarnished reputations. A single hashtag (a hashtag being a keyword that is spread in social media and that at times packs a highly emotional message) speaks volumes of today’s communication. It shows that communication can be unpredictable and spontaneous. It can instantly spread ideas across the world and powerfully affect people’s lives. In this way, deliberately-fashioned or spontaneously emerging content may significantly influence politics, social standards and the formal actions of companies and institutions. I wonder whether “metoo”, which swayed public opinion in the last two years, will find a counterpart in 2019.
7. Facebook’s damaged credibility
In recapping 2018, I could not possibly leave out the furore that broke out over Facebook. 2018 put an end to the uncritical perceptions of this social network, prompting people to renounce their confidence in its endeavors and realize that it served evil just as much as it served good. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which laid bare leaks of the personal data of over 80 million Facebook users, showed that Facebook management had, for years, neglected to ensure their security. As it turned out, people’s personal data was easy prey for any third parties which, once harvested, could be processed as they pleased. To make things worse, Cambridge Analytica used the data in a political campaign to influence the US presidential elections. This led to the questioning of Mark Zuckerberg and the release of a statement by Facebook management. For image reputation repair professionals, this was an enlightening spectacle. Known for proclaiming its care for the world, Facebook was a big letdown. The company failed to realize the implications of both its neglect and what, at times, was deliberate wrongdoing.
The previous year showed that rapid changes in the world immediately affect local communication. People still need to learn how to react to the technological revolution. We all saw spectacular events unexpectedly erupt and heavily impact the status quo. Spontaneous trends in communication tempted many of us, prompting us to wonder whether we too could invent and trigger an equally powerful avalanche from behind our desks. To our dismay, we found that today’s communication tools can be used to distort reality. All in all, the last two years were a turbulent and interesting time for the world of communication.
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