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Media Predictions for 2012

Birnbach Communicates has been issuing annual predictions going back a decade now. Our goal is to help our clients more effectively understand and engage on topics of interest for social media.

We compile our annual list of media trends for clients, who operate across a range of industries, including storage, security, unified communications, financial software and services and other technology sectors, healthcare, senior services, consumer, social networking, and nonprofit and education. These trends help the agency's clients more effectively understand and engage on topics of interest for social media.

We will be rolling out the trends on our blog, PR Back Talk in Jan. It's also available as a slideshow (here).

  • The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012. You almost never have downtime anymore, and people are beginning to notice that’s not all good. Sure, if you are waiting in line at the post office or bank (something today’s kindergarteners won’t do by the time they hit college), you’ll be able to check email, play an app, text your friend, or make a call. But this lack of downtime may negatively impact our ability to concentrate and avoid distractions at work and at home. The recognition that we actually need to disconnect, that we need downtime, is likely to generate coverage this year. Already a handful of companies have limited email, both during the day and after hours – and we think more will join those ranks. We also think the concept of going on vacation without access to email or cell will become more of a status symbol because it now takes a lot of money to disconnect yourself from your regular workday.
  • We may be immersed in social media, but we’ll spend less time with actual people. So many people use social media sites – from Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn, to Pinterest and Quora and more -- that people have less time to spend with their friends and family. We’re not sure if this will get much media coverage, but we’ve seen some books addressing the topic (like last year’s “Alone Together” by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle). We expect more attention will be paid as kids in schools face a new way to feel alienated.
  • Value will be king in 2012. Upscale consumers, suffering from frugal fatigue, have started spending again. But for the 99% of us -- a phrase that will be popular throughout 2012, due to the presidential election -- will continue to look for value. That bodes well for Groupon, LivingSocial and other sites offering discounts. However, some companies have complained that they’ve lost money on their promotions through Groupon, so a question in 2012 could well be: “Do group discounts actually generate a return for companies?” Expect two other questions this year: “Will Groupon turn out to be a good investment since its Nov. 2011 IPO at $20?” and “How many e-coupon sites do consumers want or need?”
  • Shifting to more efficient light bulbs in 2012 will not cause the end of the world. Last year, there were a lot of published complaints about the fact that legislation signed by President Bush would replace the traditional 60-watt incandescent light bulb with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs or LED fixtures. The New York Times and Wall St. Journal both ran stories about consumers stockpiling traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs. Guess what: The deadline for shifting to more efficient bulbs came, and suddenly it became a non-story. We don’t expect there to be much coverage this year as people realize the alternatives do actually deliver decent white light. (Please note: we represent a manufacturer of sustainable architectural LED-based fixtures.)
  • Academic integrity will continue to be important to deal with cheating scandals. With many Americans unemployed or underemployed going back to school, we expect more will take online courses for convenience. But because of competition among job seekers, people will look for programs that ensure academic integrity of their tests – and those academic institutions will turn to technology to monitor tests to ensure there’s no cheating. As more school districts open up virtual academies for students K-12, expect that academic integrity will become important even at the elementary and junior high school levels.
  • The most overused phrase in 2012 could be: lean-back/lean-forward user experiences. Lean-back activities are those in which users passively access content, like watching TV. Lean-forward activities are those in which the user is actively engaged in consuming content, as when they’re searching for content on the Internet or via an app. Lean-back activities can last as long as it takes to watch a sitcom or movie, while the attention span for lean-forward activities tends to be much shorter. While useful, LB/LF leaves out one other way people now access content: standing in line, holding their smartphone in the position that Jerry Seinfield described as modified chipmunk: with hands chest high and head bent to check out their screen. Of course that amounts to the same thing: short attention spans. LB/LF is important as content developers look at how to best present their content. Also expect to hear a lot of about ultrabooks – PCs as sleek and thin as Macbooks. We expect that Post-PC will be a term we’ll hear a lot in 2012, given the exploding popularity of tablets, especially iPads.
  • More viewers will cut the cable cord. Americans have complained about the service of cable companies for decades. Now, consumers have another reason to grumble: Cable fees are rising so much that even cable providers are taking content providers to task over the cost of content – specifically sports channels, (Wall St. Journal: “Cable-TV Honchos Cry Foul Over Soaring Cost of ESPN,” Dec. 6, 2011). This year, expect more people to reduce their monthly expenses by cancelling their cable subscription – partly to reduce monthly expenses and partly to use new technology that provides a flexible alternative, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want, and on the device of our choosing. The challenge: You need to have several apps, along with a computer connected to your TV, and, it’s still too complicated – often requiring tech assistance for many just to get it set up. And technology is quickly evolving, which means what you buy today may be obsolete in 18 months, requiring new purchases and additional tech support.
  • Converging media will continue in 2012. 1) Expect more newspaper reporters to prepare video reports for their newspapers’ website and apps. Expect more TV and radio reporters to prepare text articles for their websites and apps – and everyone to take more still photos that they post onto Twitter and Google+. Lines of cooperation and competition will continue to blur. 2) Increasingly, media will stop being defined by the device on which we used to consume them. Instead, we’ll need to find new terms to define what we’re doing. We’re not taping a TV program anymore because we’re not using tape of any kind – we’re recording it onto a DVR and perhaps watching it on a tablet. In fact, calling HBO a pay-cable channel may not make sense as more people may access the network via smartphone or tablet apps. They’ll listen to the radio but not actually on a radio (there is an app for that). Or watch TV on a TV. And they certainly won’t be watching or listening at the time designated by the broadcasters, but on their own time. Interestingly, American consumers, who have purchased new flat panel TVs over the past five years, are looking to watch TV shows on devices at a time and place that’s convenient for them. The implications for communications functions within organizations: Because the how, when and where we consume media is changing, they should consider developing and distributing content across different platforms and different devices and for different mindsets. The person using a smartphone wants short, uncluttered content whereas a person using a laptop might be okay with more links and longer high-def content.
  • E-books will improve their experience by providing new interactive and multimedia content. Already some publishers are working on combining video and other interactive features into their e-books to provide more value. With the growing capabilities of e-readers like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, expect e-textbooks to include interactive exercises, and nonfiction e-books to include more video, photos, and audio, while fiction books will come packed with featurettes much the way DVDs are packaged.
  • Companies will use fees to offset declining revenue in 2012. With revenue still not approaching 2007-2008 levels and with costs continuing to increase, look for all types of companies to start adding fees for things that had once been included in the price. Airlines and hotels are charging for baggage, onboard food and other things, like Wi-Fi, that used to be included in the price of a ticket or a hotel room. Banks are charging consumers to use their debit cards or paying bills by phone (or backing off, when there’s too much public pressure). Shipping companies charge surtaxes to offset spikes in the price of gas, which, by the way, has dropped from sky-high prices. And that illustrates another aspect of fees – they won’t go away. What we saw in 2011 was that a number of big companies did a poor job of explaining why they felt they had to impose higher fees on their customers – which made the increase feel like a slap in the face to many customers. In 2012, some companies will have learned that lesson – but you can expect a number of companies who should have known better to make a mistake in how they communicate their fees to their customers.
  • Mobile payments will increase. Spearheaded by Google Wallet, Visa's, and Verizon, 2012 looks to be a big year for mobile commerce. Using your smartphone to make purchases will not attract most Americans this year, but a growing part of the population will love the convenience of not having to find an ATM or not paying fees to use another bank system’s ATM. You can delay the day our society becomes a cashless one, but eventually going cash free will be mainstream by the end of the decade.
  • Videoconferencing will continue to hit its stride. Consumers are able to use video to chat not only on Skype (now owned by Microsoft) but also on Facebook or Google+ as well as their iPhones and other smartphones. As consumers bring their own devices to work – rather than carry two smartphones (one for work and one for personal) – they will naturally try to use FaceTime, Skype or other free videoconferencing software. But what they’ll find is that while the service they get from free video chat services is fine to talk with a long-distance friend or family member, it’s not okay when talking with a customer. Expect more interest in cloud-based videoconferencing.
  • Converging technology, like the “paperless office,” won’t live up to its hype. Converging technology was supposed to result in single devices that could handle multiple functions. The problem: we still need too many chargers and have too many devices to sync. Although smartphones have killed the wonderful Flip camera, and damaged sales of standalone cameras, dedicated GPS units and watches; convergence hasn’t delivered exactly clear benefits. Instead, we own and carry more devices: laptop or ultrabook, iPhone or Android phone (or, decreasingly, BlackBerry), iPad, iPod, etc. What’s worse are the multiple chargers we need to power those devices: laptop charger, phone charger, iPad charger (at least iPhones, iPads and iPods use the same charger) -- which doesn't take into consideration the separate chargers for all of these devices for your office, car and home.

    But the real problem with multiple devices is the need to sync them all. Every device seems to contain an address book for friends, family and work, and those address books all need to be replicated on your cell, your work and home phones, laptops, tablets, etc. – if only because no one ever remembers phone numbers anymore. The same is true with email accounts on different devices and calendars, especially if you need to track activities for your spouse and children. The problem is that not all devices sync well with others. So mistakes and false information creep in, leaving users with zombie appointments that keep updated but can't be killed, um, deleted. Multiple devices require different syncs during the day, which increases the likelihood of some information that you actually need getting overwritten or misinformation getting repeated and reducing the owner's confidence in the info.

    This gets even more complicated as the workplace increasingly is embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to the office. The ability to have devices operating on different platforms sync and communicate to each (techs call that “interoperability”) is critical in a BYOD work environment. Some companies, like Apple, prefer their own ecosystem so that you're not-so-subtlety pushed to buy only one platform, theirs. B2B tech vendors have tried that before, but their corporate customers don't like to be locked in. While there will always be Apple evangelists, the rest of us want interoperability, and customers will be better served if we get that. If there's truly an app for interoperability, it needs to be simple to use and cost-effective. Otherwise, convergence won’t live up to its promise. And for personal usage, convergence is sometimes more important than the device itself. This point is perhaps best made by noting that young adults love all the features on their phones, except two: the phone (because they rarely actually use phones to make a call) and voicemail (they prefer texts).

  • Data will be bigger in 2012. At least the approach known as “big data,” software that enables users to capture and visualize huge amounts of data on their desktops, will be big in 2012, and will overtake Business Intelligence (BI) as the approach large companies will take to sift through and make sense of their data. These days, companies gather a tremendous amount of data, and it is only getting larger and larger. The challenge: how to visualize the data so that the business can gain insights and not be overwhelmed. Big data is different from BI because big data is faster (but no one wants to refer to this as big, fast data if only because the acronym of BFD usually involves a different f-word). Unlike BI, which often looks for trends within a company’s data, big data enables companies to ask questions on the fly to identify new trends and insights, and to generate real-time answers. There’s a growing acknowledgement that big data will be a BFD in 2012.
  • Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue from 2011:
    • Cloud computing: This trend started in 2010 but continues to go mainstream.
    • The battle of tablets: Just because the first battle went in Apple's direction does not mean that wannabe iPad Killers have given up the fight. Competitors still want to get into the action and capture some of the marketshare. From the media's perspective, it's a two-horse race between the Kindle Fire and iPad. We expect a third option to gain some traction, but the iPad will continue to dominate.
    • The three most important tech trends will be mobile, mobile, mobile. Unless the three most important trends are social, social, social. For example, enterprise technology now needs not only to have an intuitive interface, it also must be accessible on iPads.
    • Gaming is not just for kids. Gaming will continue to be integrated into business and training apps to keep people engaged and entertained.
  • The press release will not die in 2012. Companies still need press releases to communicate news about the company. Twitter is good as a kind of short broadcast of news, but tweets get lost on the timeline – whereas press releases can easily be posted on a corporate newsroom, which is important from an SEO perspective and to demonstrate the company is still alive. Additionally, reporters, who are overworked (they’re now creating multimedia stories on a daily basis), continue to rely on press releases for content. However, organizations must understand that they can’t rely on a press release alone. They need to think about new ways they can distribute their news, including infographics, data-and-graphics mashups intended to compellingly present information.
  • The role of CES will diminish next year. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been the tech industry's most important conference, having eclipsed Comdex a decade ago. CES is a mashup of consumer gadgets and the tech that powers those gadgets (like semiconductors), and it's been considered so important that non-tech outlets feel compelled to cover the latest cool gadgets launched at the show. But that is changing -- and not just because Apple has not been attending or that Microsoft announced that it will not attend next year's show. The reason: While CES is not "dead show walking," it is being supplanted by Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW), March 8-18. The change does not mean we don't love gadgets – because we still do. But it may mean that we don't always like the gadgets CES wants us to love. Prime example: despite last year's CES love fest for 3-D TVs, consumers did not rush out to buy them. We love apps and social and SXSW is the show that launches them.
  • Social media will play a bigger role in the marketing mix for B2B companies. More than eight years and nearly 900 million Facebook users later, B2B businesses will embrace social media, following the lead of B2C companies…though they may not focus on Facebook to reach their customers. B2B companies will recognize the need to generate their own multimedia content, and that there are active and engaged business consumers even for niche sectors. We expect that more B2B companies will consider increasing budgets to make engaging their targets through social media, thought leadership and lead generation their top marketing priorities.
  • Reporting and metrics will continue to be important for marketing functions. For marketers, analytics will become even more important than ever. Department store owner John Wanamaker is remembered for a quote about metrics: "I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I'm not sure which half." That’s not acceptable anymore. There are so many ways to measure how companies are engaging with their customers and potential customers – that one challenge is to prevent being overwhelmed by metrics and figuring out which ones truly matter to the organization. More than ever, we think clients will be asking and looking for ways to measure ROI.

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