2013 was the year a twerk was heard ‘round the world. Twitter IPO’d, Oreo news-jacked the Super Bowl, the new Pope tweeted and ‘selfie’ was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year.
Google retired its RSS Reader, and Vine redefined short-form videos, soon to be followed by Facebook’s Instagram. Yahoo! bought Tumblr, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.
Hashtags came to Facebook and Google+, while LinkedIn introduced Showcase Pages and Sponsored Updates. Activist investor Carl Ichan joined Twitter pushing Apple’s shares up five percent with a single tweet, Jamie Dimon joined LinkedIn’s Influencer program.
2013 was the year that social media came of age. With 80 percent of small business owners conducting social media marketing and 60 percent of IT buyers using social media, digital and social aren’t a communications nice-to-have, they’re mandatory.
As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look at what 2014 is likely to offer. This is the first of two posts, offering a perspective on the big digital and social media trends for 2014.
1. Data, Data Everywhere
While many in PR separated ways with mathematics as soon as we were able, it appears we’re all data scientists now. Data is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s mandatory with our client’s increasingly demanding stronger rationales for our recommendations and evidence that our programs are making a real difference. Data management and analytics have emerged as two key skills common to every marketing activity.
In 2014, we’ll see this become more pronounced, but data is more than trend analysis. The biggest driver for data will be opportunity. Real-time monitoring will become the norm as we look to create digital engagement opportunities for our clients.
Tools such as Brandwatch, Simply Measured and Traackr are making it easier than ever to source and analyze behavior, but we’re not talking about the data-for-data’s-sake days of yore. Today, data alone is only a third of the story. 2014 is the year we’ll consistently drive our programs offering services that combine the communications trinity of real-time monitoring and analysis, content creation and amplification.
2. Content Marketing is the New Black (and red, and green, and blue…)
We’ve evolved from ‘every company is a media company’ to ‘every company is a comedian’ with sometimes frightening results. Instead of filling a perceived gap in media opportunities through useful, considered and shareable content, many marketers have instead added to the morass of poorly conceived noise in their hunt for their own Oreos moment.
You can’t fault the motivation, though. There’s a growing realization that different types of content in new channels drives decision-maker behavior. We’ve moved from counting likes to desiring online engagement and shares. 2014 will see a continued focus on content – but many will create better processes and filtering, while investing in stronger creatives in an attempt to separate the digital wheat from the chaff.
Data research will be used to drive more relevant strategies and meaningful content creation, ensure placement in appropriate channels and measure the right behaviors people are taking. Success will mean making content choices based on known decision-maker preferences, posting at times they’re more likely to engage and through channels they prefer based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.
3. Changing Channels, Changing Minds
In 2013, we saw a pronounced shift from single channel communications to multi-channel as data is proving our audiences reliance on multiple channels to make their decisions. Where you say it has become as important as what you say.
This has become a challenge for brands as they struggle to build strategies across hydra-like social media channels. The challenge is compounded in companies that continue to manage their communications channels in silos.
A genuine, research based understanding of decision-maker behavior can create a road map for marketers wanting to get their messages to their prospects at the right time.
In 2014, we’ll see continued integration between digital and traditional channels. Websites, email and paid search are already becoming aligned – next year we’ll see owned and earned social and traditional media joining the integrated ‘family.’
This will ensure we can reach our channel changing customers; however, the rules of content are critical. Even if we get better at understanding consumer behavior, we still need to offer them the right content, through the right channel, at the right time.
4. Chasing Influence
2013 was a good year for broadening our definition of influence. More and more companies recognized how online influencers, in particular, are driving and amplifying topics. LinkedIn rolled out its Influencer content program, anointing several hundred influential people including Richard Branson, Barack Obama and Guy Kawasaki as designated influencers. And sites such as Quora and apps such as Klout’s Cinch emerged, creating more opportunities for influential engagement.
In 2014, we’ll see a merging of influence. Distinctions between media and non-media influencers will continue to blur, with thought leaders and subject matter experts increasingly incented on influencer engagement.
As trial programs come to an end, social media profiles will become the norm for pre-sales teams as they interact with decision-makers during their purchase journeys. Monitoring and content will play an ever-important role, helping set these new corporate influencers up for success.
5. Niche Goes Big
Each day, 500 million (or 15 percent) of Google queries have never been seen before by Google’s search engine. People are looking for something that solves their unique problems. In response, buyers will increasingly search out niche communities, seeking more relevant content and conversations with experts.
In 2014, we’ll continue our drive for smaller, more important conversations. Data analysis will increasingly shape our branded content. We’ll see a shift towards more visual content, especially as mobile form factors dominate.
The challenge for B2B brands, in particular, will be to cut these prospects off at the pass. Our audience’s behaviors tell us what they’re interested in, and where they’re seeking information. The mission for brands will be to add value before they pick up the phone or email. We need to work out the questions our audiences are asking and create content strategies to help solve them.
If you’ve got a perspective or would like to explore the ideas, please join Text100’s LinkedIn Communication Conversation. And watch this space for part two of my look at digital communications in 2014.
A version of this post first appeared on Text100's HyperText blog.