The 2018 Communications Trends to Watch

Photo by Charles Forerunner

By Jessica Scadron

As communications professionals, we need to be agile and forward-thinking to stay competitive. We’ve come to accept that the future is unpredictable—and that we need to prepare ourselves for the unexpected.

With technological advances, fake news and virtual reality, we started to see accelerated change in 2017. We can expect that 2018 is going to move even faster. So limber up, expand your periphery, and take a look at what I predict will be the trends to prepare for in the coming year.

 

Activist CEOs

I am happy to report that CEOs are coming out of their corner offices with important social messages. What a breath of fresh air to see Tim Cook and Elon Musk speak out against injustices, and hundreds of CEOs resign from Trump’s business advisory board in protest. This makes my activist heart glow.

The time is here: Customers and investors now insist that companies engender a social sense of purpose that goes beyond delivering profits to shareholders. It’s a popular trend, and one that resonates with a much wider audience. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer: “Three out of four general population respondents agree that a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve the social and economic conditions of the community where it operates.”

You’ll see growing corporate pressure in 2018. With it, keep your eyes open for CEOs taking public positions on social issues—stepping in where policymakers are failing. It will be the communicator’s job to advise these business leaders on how to build trust and confidence with their stakeholders.

 

Integrating communications 

Throughout my career, communications has traditionally stood on its own as a service to other departments within a company or organization, which are often seen as “clients.” For example, a comms team will be called when a sales department needs to promote a specific product or a program manager wants to run a campaign for maternal health. Historically, communications has responded by providing the needed content and design to implement these initiatives. I’ve seen this slowly change over time. In 2018, we’ll see that paradigm shift dramatically.

Organizations and businesses are catching on that communications is most functional when integrated across the company—with marketing, sales, finance and programming. Look out for the consolidation of positions like “Digital Communications Manager” and “Financial Communications Account Executive.” Companies will create new positions like these to more closely associate people with the work they do. So, we’ll need to work closely with our colleagues in each department and understand their functions so we can effectively communicate and elevate their work internally and externally.

 

Data

I’ve seen time and again how important it is to make data-informed decisions. But what is a data-informed decision?

Organizations need employees trained in data analysis, such as programming, visualization and statistics, to understand their audiences, cut costs, improve customer service and reach the right funders. Companies in the wireless, healthcare and software industries are using big data in this way, and nonprofits can similarly reap huge benefits from big data. The Foundation Center manages a grand database for nonprofits to find out what and where donors are funding, and how to use data to advance their missions.

As data becomes more integral to operations, communicators must work side-by-side with data analysts to simplify the language so everyone across the organization understands the meaning, and uses it to make better decisions, like personalizing content.

We also need to be honest about data. It doesn’t lie, but how it gets translated can skew meaning. And, if you’re measuring likes, clicks and shares, understand exactly why you are using those metrics. Will they help you get closer to your goals?

  

Augmented reality

As a social do-gooder, I’m skeptical about our ability to control our technology impulses. Frankly, it gives me mild anxiety. But augmented reality (AR) is here to stay with the promise of making our lives easier. According to International Data Corporation, “AR revenues will surge ahead [of virtual reality], hitting critical mass in healthcare delivery and product design and management-related use cases.”

AR has come a long way since being invented in 1968, and it will continue to evolve (check out the full history). Existing museum, decorating and travel apps are already creating convenient and fantastical experiences for the citizenry.

What does this mean for communicators? We need to think differently about how we create and deliver content, from a 2D reality to 3D, and using voice, face and object recognition. Think back to how we changed our approach to writing for websites when the Internet took off or how we learned to create for mobile. AR is going to be our next big content challenge.

 

Video

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth a million.” – Miranda King, digital media strategist

I couldn’t agree more. Video has been the most shared form of digital content for years, and you can expect it to explode in 2018. Around the world, people collectively spend a billion hours a day on YouTube. In addition to the well-researched fact that people are drawn to video over text, video gets better search results: “Social media algorithms prefer video content because it generates higher engagement and more click-throughs than traditional static content,” according to Stern Strategy Group.

Virtual reality, raw footage, 360 video, and live streaming will boom in 2018 as people not only want to watch video, but be completely immersed in the experience. And as Facebook becomes more mobile and video metrics more available, there’s greater reason to invest in this medium.

As a communicator, you’ll want to figure out what types of video will be the most useful for your organization, and the right platforms to showcase them. Then decide how to shape your content into the most compelling video people will want to share.

Video will increasingly become a necessary communications tool. With strong communications direction, it’ll also be exciting to see how video producers use new technologies to deliver fresh video experiences.

 

I’m exhilarated about what 2018 has in store for us communicators. It’s a new frontier to develop new skills and tell our organizations’ stories in new ways.

What are your communication trends predictions for 2018? Tweet me your ideas!