You don’t have to be a professional futurist to scan the horizon for hints of what’s next. Some trends are clearly there, whereas others are barely visible, still bubbling in the ooze of technology, culture and business. At other times, a trend emerges out of nowhere and then might be gone just as quickly.
As a communications professional and a futurist, I want to suggest some digital trends and events that you should keep an eye on in the coming year. Some of these are more probable than others, with a couple wild cards thrown in for good measure. Weigh them carefully and consider how they may impact your practice or the organization(s) you represent. More importantly, think about what action you should take now to prepare for what may eventually materialize — possibly to reduce risk to the organization you represent.
More Video, Please
According to the trade outlet Streaming Media, video viewing will account for 82% of all internet traffic in 2022. As virtual and augmented reality become a reality, boosted by the growth of the metaverse, video is becoming the predominant form of communication for consumers and organizations alike.
Action Step: The use of video by all types of organizations to communicate news and information, internally and externally, will accelerate in 2022 and beyond. As you develop a written piece of communication (a news release, an article, a letter from the CEO), is there a way of communicating that same information through video? If your organization doesn’t have a YouTube channel, start one now. Invest in expert videographers, editors and producers to accelerate your use of video.
All the Buzz About Newsletters
While the shiny new object may be the metaverse, the real action is in newsletters. Yes, newsletters. According to DigiDay, The New York Times has more than 70 newsletters. Readers opened more than 3.6 billion newsletter emails from the publisher in 2020 — a 150% increase over 2019.
Substack recently announced that it had reached more than 1 million paid subscribers to the newsletters and publications available through its online portal, according to Vanity Fair. Other media are discovering the power of newsletters to reach specific audiences or to boost the influence of their writers, resulting in a flurry of launches.
Action Step: This trend is likely to continue going into 2022. If your organization isn’t offering a newsletter(s) to engage your stakeholders, you may want to consider doing so. The future for all organizations is owning your owned media — and building a system to consistently develop and distribute high quality content that meets the information needs of your stakeholder communities.
In October 2021, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta in anticipation of introducing a metaverse online experience within the next few years. But Meta isn’t the only company looking at building a metaverse. Microsoft, Nvidia and even Walmart are eager to jump in and define the future of virtual reality entertainment and communications.
Action Step: What’s the No. 1 rule of real estate? Location, location, location. The rush to buy digital real estate on the metaverse has begun. In December 2021, The Metaverse Group (a different company from Meta) spent $2.43 million to buy space in the Fashion Street District of Decentraland, a virtual world where users can buy, develop and sell land. What are your company’s plans to buy space in the metaverse?
Email Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
For years, marketers have forecasted the demise of email in favor of new technology such as text messages and social media messaging. But according to Statista, 4.3 billion people are expected to use email in 2022, and that’s expected to grow to 4.6 billion by 2025.
Action Step: If your organization hasn’t embraced an email strategy, this needs to be a priority. Email can serve as a powerful tool in communicating your organization’s message directly with people who want to stay connected.
Focus on Building Trust
According to the 2021 Edelman annual trust barometer (January 2021), fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media, and trust in social media hit an all-time low of 27%.
Action Step: If customers don’t trust the media for which your organization relies upon to share its news, how can they come to trust your organization and its leaders? In this coming year, focus on building trust through media that is well respected, while at the same time using your owned media to build trust directly with customers. Owned media should be considered part of the customer experience — if customers are being let down by your sales or customer service departments, they’ll have a hard time believing your news. It’s all integrated.
Navigating the Digital Landscape to Earn Attention
According to a study announced in January 2021 by Pew Research Center, about 80% of Americans get their news digitally — from a digital news site, through a search engine, social media or a podcast. In another study conducted during the summer of 2021, nearly 50% of Americans received news, at least sometimes, through their social media.
Action Step: In an all-digital world, it will be more important than ever for communicators to invest in the development of high-quality, authentic, relevant and — most of all — trusted content that engages their respective audiences. And what is the surest measurement that what you’re doing is working? It’s time spent engaging with your content. It’s not just about attracting the attention of the consumer, it’s keeping their attention (and creating great content that keeps them coming back for more).
Introducing Your AI Corporate Spokesperson
The use of AI-built news announcers, corporate spokespersons and social media influencers is likely to expand based on the success of South Korea’s cable channel MBN, which tested an AI news announcer based on Kim Ju-ha, the network’s real-life announcer. Companies such as Synthesia.io and Soul Machines will make AI-generated talent even more accessible for branded content, news announcements, customer service interactions and more.
Action Step: As we hurdle toward a new generation of virtual communications, organizations of all types and sizes are likely to turn toward the use of AI-built talent to deliver various forms of communications (lower labor costs and increased efficiencies). Is your organization ready for this? Or do you believe, based on your organization’s values, that a real human should always deliver news, information and marketing messages?
Welcome to the Web 3.0
In the coming year, your IT folks likely will bring up the subject of Web 3.0 and how your organization needs to prepare for a decentralized web that is not controlled by a few tech companies, but instead relies on blockchain technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Action Step: Work with your IT department to learn how Web 3.0 may affect your company’s internal and external communications in the future.
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA, is VP of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules, a brand creative firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Dupont also is a member of IABC and a member of the Association of Professional Futurists. Contact him at email@example.com.