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Media, Social Media, Marketing & Technology Predictions for 2014
For more than a dozen years, Birnbach Communicates has compiled an annual list of media trends for its clients, who operate across a range of industries, including technology, financial software and services, unified communications, storage, security, biotech, healthcare, clean tech, senior services, consumer, social networking, nonprofit and education sectors.
The trends and topics we identify help the agency work with its clients to engage more effectively with reporters, producers, bloggers and other influencers. We also look at the way topics are being covered by media and in social media, and at how those stories are told. We continue to see that the way stories can and should be told is shifting.
The following are among Birnbach Communications’ media trends for 2014:
Media & Social Media Trends
- The media business has not stabilized. After a few years of cost cutting and, in some cases, moving to an online-only business model, approximately 1,000 newsroom jobs were cut in 2013. Meanwhile, in a counter-intuitive move, Newsweek, which last year had shifted to online-only, has announced plans to restart publishing print editions. What this all means: That publishers still have not found a sustainable business model. While we expect 2014 to be a strong publishing year because of campaign ads for the mid-term elections, we expect more layoffs and changes through 2015. Implications: The need to boost online readership will likely to continue to skew coverage to focus on celebrity, entertainment and sports (our version of bread and circuses), which means there may be less room and fewer resources allocated for necessary but less sexy news. (Think we're overstating this? How do you explain the fact that "twerking" was a big story this year or that Miley Cyrus was a finalist for Time's Person of the Year along with eventual winner, Pope Francis?)
- Journalists continue to use social media to announce and report – and broadcast reporters often recap the mood on Twitter. It’s not just “citizen reporters” who use Twitter to report news; real reporters at traditional news organizations not only link to their articles via Twitter – they often break news on Twitter, followed-up by full reporting at their usual format. We’ve even seen articles in newspapers that are comprised of previously tweeted material. We’ve also seen a lot of examples of broadcast news programs reporting on the Twitterati reaction to an event. Implications: This is another reason to follow reporters on social media – to see what they’re working on, and to jump on stories (as appropriate). And it’s another reason to use a hashtag and participate in commenting on a relevant event.
- Traditional media will be burned in 2014 by jumping on a social media trending topic. We’ve seen it a couple of times in 2013 and we expect to see more in 2014: Tweets of a compelling incident that go viral only to turn out to be false, like the confrontation live-tweeted on a much-delayed Thanksgiving flight or Kyle Ayers’ live-tweets of a #rooftopbreakup that may or may not be fictional. Digital hoaxes can be entertaining and feel real, and in the urge to “own” the story before their competition gets it, traditional media is reporting first, fact-checking later. Reporting fake tweets as news hurts everyone’s credibility. Implications: the media needs to be more skeptical about reporting on trending items; one problem is that initial reports posted online remain online, clogging search engine results that may include articles that actually report on the hoax as a hoax. In other words, non-updated articles containing wrong information will make it more difficult to sort out the truth.
- Native advertising will be big in 2014. Back in the pre-online days, native ads were called advertorials. These days native ads often appear under headlines as "Featured Content" to make them look like articles. The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Forbes, Vanity Fair and others have been experimenting with native advertising, with the latter two requiring substantial traditional ad buys. However, because the content isn't obviously an ad, we expect the FTC to question current practices due to a lack of transparency. Implications: Too much native advertising in a publication could dilute its hard-to-earn credibility while the revenue from native advertising could decline because consumers are likely to tire of native ads and stop clicking on them.
- Marketing via flash mobs will seem so 2009. Flash mob marriage proposals or musical or dance performances were fun to watch when they first started hitting YouTube. Some companies, like T-Mobile have been successful in raising awareness through flash mob videos but we think that the novelty has worn off. (The same is true for flash mob wedding proposals, too, by the way.) Implications: Companies need to find something new to say to get viewers' attention with flash mob videos.
- Instagram and Pinterest will remain important sources for recommendations and inspiration.
- Facebook will continue to be an important source for recommendations in 2014 but people's timelines get cluttered by a lot of irrelevant posts. Because Instagram and Pinterest offer visual images with little or no commentary, they tend to have more impact.
- Instagram/Pinterest envy: People post updates on their lives that are often stage-managed or curated to capture a life we'd like to live not the live we actually live. For example, the kids in the photo are clean and smiling, and the room is neat. What others don't see is how much effort it took to get things that way (how many changes of shirts to find a clean one, what bribes were offered to get a hint of a smile). That doesn't mean that the rest of us don't feel bad about our own kids, homes, lives when we see what seems to be perfection of our friends. Instagram envy seems to be worse than Facebook envy since Facebook posts often include articles and links, random thoughts, etc. while Instagram offers just the photo itself, images that had affects added to them that make the images seems idealized. We don't see that kind of envy with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Pinterest -- the latter mostly because people post things they themselves want and don't have. But expect more coverage in 2014 of Instagram envy, as an example of how social media actually alienates us, not bring us together.
- Implications: Marketers need to make sure they develop easy-to-capture-and-share content, particularly with regard to video and still photography. Twitter has been offering up mirrors that can be used at celebrity events to make it easier for stars to Tweet a selfie at the Oscars and other red carpet events. Nonprofits, in particular, should offer something similar at their events.
- Thought leadership will continue to be important to B2B companies. As opportunities in which to tell their stories in traditional media decrease, B2Bs will continue to recognize that it's not enough to be an expert in their field; they have to showcase their expertise using blogs, bylined articles, social media, etc. (Last year we predicted that B2Bs would finally embrace social media; thought leadership is how you engage via social media.) B2Bs need to make sure they develop a content strategy because one-off or occasional thought pieces probably won't cut it in a social media environment that expects regular/frequent updates. A word of caution: companies must understand it takes time to understand how to engage and build credibility via social media and that it takes patience to commit the resources necessary to be successful. Also, more content is not necessarily better; the content needs to be relevant. Implications: There are a lot of ways for B2B companies to position themselves as thought leaders, and that could shift how marketing dollars are allocated.
- Sales and marketing need to be more integrated. Integrated marketing is not a new term but many corporate functions still operate in silos so that sales and marketing don’t coordinate efforts enough. This is particularly important because lead generation activities work best if coordinated. For example, generating positive media coverage is good, generating positive coverage with an embedded link that can drive traffic to your site is even better. This results in content that is used only by one function when it could be used across different functions; sometimes it results in duplicative efforts. Getting people’s attention on social media is getting more difficult as people’s timelines get more cluttered, as they follow, friend or like more people, companies, etc. – by working together, sales and marketing can make sure consistent messaging hit target audiences, which improves effectiveness. Implications: Sales and marketing need to work together on direct marketing, web content, marketing automation, advertising, social marketing and PR to generate qualified leads and move them through the sales pipeline.
- Social media tracking services will hit it big in 2014. To measure the ROI of their social media initiatives, companies need better ways to measure their success – so they can justify social media to their bosses. We think Google will make more of an effort to track social media metrics – much the way it Google Analytics tracks website data – but there will be a growth area until the eventual consolidation. Implications: Metrics continue to be important. That said, each organization will need to determine for itself which metrics are most important.
- CES is no longer the top tech convention. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been eclipsed by South By Southwest (SXSW) but both need a breakout show in 2014. Last year’s CES and SXSW were not as successful in generating buzz as in prior years. The problem with the last two years of CES has been its focus on the latest TVs – at a time when people are more likely watching TV on their tablets than on a “TV set.” (Also Apple does not participate in CES.) The problem with SXSW, which focuses on apps and social media, could be app fatigue (see more, below). By the way: the hottest show right now, in terms of buzz generated, is Comic-Con, the annual convention celebrating comics, science fiction, movies, etc. How do we know this? Because the deadline to request validated press passes closed more than seven months before the actual show. Implications: Both CES and SXSW have been great shows to launch new technology but startups may need to find new venues to generate the buzz their VC investors want.
- PR Spam will still be an issue. In late December, NY Times consumer columnist, David Segal, complained about getting pitched by publicists for stories that were clearly not relevant for his column (which has to do with helping consumers handle complaints from companies they dealt with). Part of the problem is that some software makes it easy to blast emails to hundreds or thousands of reporters at one time. We just got an email offering as its main benefit the ability to blast more reporters at once. Implications: We do not think this is a positive step in the relationships between journalists and bloggers with PR folks. Clearly, it is the responsibility of agencies and their clients to reduce the level of PR spam.
- Cloud computing will still be the big tech trend. Because it offers convenience, connectivity and ease of use, cloud computing will likely remain the big tech trend in 2014. Apps and other technology that build off the cloud to enable BYOD also will be important. Implications: Last year we said resistance to the cloud would be futile, and we think that’s true in 2014. There will also be lots of coverage of SaaS (Software as a Service). That said, it’s not enough to have a cloud or a SaaS story to tell. It just means there are more reporters who might be interested. The other, main implication for cloud is that it is designed to enhance collaboration among people; we expect more tools to help colleagues even family members to literally be on the same page (even if they're not using paper).
- 2014 is the year people experience Tech Fatigue. We think consumers are showing some fatigue when it comes to new apps (we're not even using most of the apps we downloaded last year), new devices that offer only marginal improvements over prior versions (we’re a bit jaded/spoiled for our own good), multiple chargers and flavors of USB cords. The fatigue results from the fact that instead of simplifying our lives, some of our new tech actually makes our lives more complicated. Implications: While there's always a market for a new app that offers something fresh, we think the bar has been raised for new app developers. We think there's also a bit of fatigue with the number of devices we still carry -- even as smartphones incorporate other features like GPS, camera, e-readers. But you can have an iPhone, iPad and soon and iWatch. Then there is the need to keep all those devices charged and ready. And you can have an iPhone 4S and an iPad Air and need multiple cords. In fact, we expect more articles about the challenge of no barriers between work and personal life since the constant connectivity can be draining.
- Cars and clothes will increasingly include design features for smartphones. Your phone, along with your keys and wallet, are things you always check before your leave the house. But cars designs haven’t adopted to that reality – yet. Unless you consider letting your phone bump around in your cup holder, there’s not elegant way to keep your phone accessible to make calls when you’re in your car. That will change over the next three years but one debilitating factor is the wide range of shapes and sizes of smart phones and their chargers. Nonetheless, we expect more designs to make it easy to plug devices in -- in your car, bicycle, clothes. Implications: Designs need to validate how important our phones are to our lives; some coats and backpacks do, but most others do not.
- Upgrading the retail experience. Big retailers currently offer two types of experiences: in-store and online, and they are enough different that the only thing they have in common is the logo and color design. In 2014, we expect to see more focus on the retail experience -- bringing the best of the online experience to in-store and vice-versa. One way retailers will upgrade their in-store experience is through chain-specific apps and location-based marketing initiatives. Implications: We expect to see more online and in-stores redesigned to improve the experience, which includes the delivery of online purchases. Some of that will include further gathering of shoppers’ purchases as well as items they didn’t purchase so that retailers can offer better recommendation engines – even when you’re in a store.
- Drone deliveries will not take place in 2014. Despite what Bezos promised, drones are not going to start delivering packages in 2014. And while it's probably not smart to bet against Bezos, the problems facing a commercial fleet of drones is staggering right now. That doesn't mean, however, that the idea of more efficient delivery systems will not be discussed. We expect to see more coverage of same day delivery and Sunday deliveries. Implications: As consumers Americans crave instant delivery of the items they bought so Amazon and others are going to continue to work to deliver purchased items faster.
- The continuing battle among huge companies. Google v. Apple v. Samsung v. Microsoft, Oracle v. Everyone Else. The big players will continue to battle it out against various competitors – when they’re not partnering with them in other areas. This is includes the battle focused on smartphones and tablets, which will generate a lot of coverage in 2014. Implications: Big media will continue to cover Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung as well as Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t work for any of them, you’ll likely have a more challenging time getting media coverage.
- Wearable technology is still ahead of the curve but will generate some coverage as part of the Internet of Things. While Google Glass generated a lot of coverage in 2013, it’s probably not ready for prime time. But other types of wearable technology – like exercise monitors such as Nike Fuel band or Fitbit – are convenient, easy-to-use and foolproof, and will be increasingly mainstream ways. These devices -- and other, non-wearable technology like Nest Labs' thermostat and smoke detectors are Wi-Fi-enabled, sensor-driven, programmable and self-learning -- form the basis of what some call the Internet of Things, in which devices connect to update, aggregate data and become smarter. Implications: We expect increased connectivity to provide more updates to owners, whether updating us on window-washing fluid levels in your car (without having to open the hood) to appliances that self-diagnose or learn your habits.
Ongoing Consumer Trends
- The Battle for the Living Room. There are two fronts to this battle: high-end TVs and gaming consoles. CES will generate some buzz for the latest mega-ultra high def systems while the battle between Xbox and PlayStation will especially heat up around next Christmas.
- Cord-cutting will continue to be a top story. Because the different streaming services offer complementary offerings, we think there will be a shift in coverage away from comparing Netflix vs. Amazon Prime vs. Hulu; instead, the focus will be more on streaming services vs. cable. Over the next 24 months, cable, while more expensive, has an advantage because it is still easier to use than having to switch inputs between streaming services and cable channels.
- Consumers still expect Apple to unveil a new way to watch TV, but Apple will offer, instead, the iWatch. Samsung beat it to the punch with a large connected wrist-device that looks it was designed by Dick Tracy, but we expect Apple to launch its iWatch connected device before it announces an iTV. That said, we still expect demand for an Apple iTV to generate a lot of speculation in 2014.
- Premature deathwatch of things that are very much alive. People love to predict the death of various, usually popular items, devices or technology. Here are candidates for 2014:
- PCs: We may be in a Post-PC era but corporations (among others) are continuing to buy PCs or Macs; and if they are buying tablets it’s in addition to, not a replacement of PCs. They may be ailing, but PCs are not dead yet.
- Cable TV: Cable carriers are looking at ways to evolve, offering services via the Internet. We don’t think cable companies will disappear anytime soon because they’ve made bundling – phone/cable and Internet – so indispensable.
- Press releases: Despite social media, there’s still a place and a value to press releases. And companies need to make sure they include some of their keywords in their press releases because that’s important from an SEO perspective. Keep in mind: Google’s algorithm has changed (again) and that has changed how releases need to be organized. The rise of multimedia and infographics is having a positive effect on the role of press releases.
- Media relations: Social media is no longer just for early-adopting B2B companies but media relations continues to be important. By the end of the decade, both media relations and social media will converge into a single integrated effort.
- Actual deathwatch: Things we feel are actually dying.
- The phrase “at press time”: This once routine phrase used by the media is near obsolete in a 24/7 news cycle.
- Paper-based holiday cards: Actually, businesses do seem to be shifting from paper-based holiday cards to more interactive, email cards (with video or animation accompanied by a soundtrack) to wish us all season’s greetings. However, that’s true for business partners and vendors but may not be true for your Aunt Gloria or college friends.
- The words “authentic” and “artisanal”: This may be a pet peeve, but often, when someone claims something to be “authentic” we get the sense the thing in question is actually not authentic. As for artisanal, that seems like a nominee for overused word-of-the-year.
General news stories
- More interest in workplace diversity. Spurred by SNL's hiring of two black women comedians (at press time SNL had not hired any black comic/actress this season but we expect they will hire two black actresses), we think there will more attention paid to diversity in TV shows and movies, and that this could lead to a larger discussion about diversity in the non-celebrity-filled workplace.
- Growing Hispanic influence. This is a demographics story, one that will get mentioned a lot in the run up to the midterm elections, especially if immigration reform gets discussed.
- Real estate market. Along with the retail sector, the media likes to look at real estate to determine how the economy is really going. Expect a look at renters v. owners, and the impact of housing prices across the country. We also expect more interest in urban real estate as companies will say goodbye to the 'burbs to attract qualified employees.
- The new Thanksgiving tradition is shopping on Thanksgiving. As much as we don't like it, from here on in, the Christmas shopping season will probably start Thanksgiving Day. Implications: This changes retail stories told in Q3.
- Stock market and the biotech bubble. 2014 will be marked by concerns about the health of the stock market. Of the different sectors, rising biotech shares will generate growing concern of a biotech bubble. That concern will affect all parts of the industry, especially startups as VCs start getting nervous about their portfolios. Implications: There’s not much publicly held companies can do – except, as a Forbes reporter once told us, have you company “do better…and boost its share price.” We just think it’s important to understand how editors allocate their resources (reporters’ time and the outlets’ news hole).
Ongoing stories we’ll see covered in the media. Each year we provide a list of stories the media will continue to cover, which include:
- Obamacare and midterm elections will be the never-ending stories in 2014. Healthcare.gov seems to have turned a corner from its rough start but given midterm elections, the state of Obamacare will clearly be a never-ending story. Implications: Not so much a story that clients will want to touch, but it will generate attention from reporters and bloggers.
- Deficits, spending cuts, taxes, etc.: As with healthcare, expect that editorial and op-ed pages as well as political radio and TV shows will be littered with opposing perspectives of the steps the country should take. Debate may be worthwhile but don't expect Congress to be any less dysfunctional.
- Cybercrime and cyberwarfare: We’ve picked this as one of the most important trends of the decade so expect a lot of reporting about this throughout 2014.
- Privacy and security will continue to be issues that only experts care about. Experts will talk about the death of online privacy but actual users don't really care. They will continue to post information about themselves because we live in a culture of documentation, in which MIT professor Sherry Turkle observes that our experiences don't seem to matter if we don't actually share them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. That said, we expect continued coverage of privacy issues, especially connected to the NSA or advertisers even though strangers can access information about where they live, where and when they travel, what they buy, etc. We also expect that cyberattacks and cyber warfare will continue to generate coverage in 2014 and beyond. Implications: From a privacy perspective, we think there could be a backlash if the big data about consumers' habits that are being shared with advertisers enables too much contact that makes advertisers appear "creepy."
- Bitcoin and cashless payments will continue to generate interest. We’ve seen a rise in interest in bitcoins, and it appears bitcoins may be on the edge of going mainstream. We don’t think that will happen in 2014 but we do think the topic will get discussed. Meanwhile we continue to expect digital wallets or e-wallets to go mainstream in 2016. As we get closer, we expect there to be articles comparing bitcoin vs. Google Wallet vs. Isis (from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile), focusing on security and privacy issues around each standard.
- Star Wars: Currently scheduled for a 2015 release, the next Star Wars movie will be cool but, even with director JJ Abrams at the helm, it may not live up to fanboys’ overactive imaginations. Meanwhile, expect Comic-Cons 2014 and 2015 to get major coverage.
Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue:
- The battle of tablets: After several years of breathless media coverage, the battle for tablet supremacy began when Apple, recognizing a vulnerability in its product line, launched the iPad Mini. Last year, we said it was a two-horse race between iPads and the Kindle Fire but expect a third player to gain traction – enter the Samsung Galaxy. This story has just begun.
- Mobile everything will be important, including mobile search and mobile recommendations. We’ll see the later perhaps playing out with shopper-specific recommendations while walking in retail stores – positioned as your own personal shopper.
- Crowdsourcing will continue to be a source of investors and a marketing boost. But that will primarily be for consumer-oriented products, not B2B technology.
- Virtual startups in otherwise unlikely fields. We’ve already seen the growth of virtual biotechs, and we see that continuing. We expect to see virtual enterprise application developers, who rely on outsourcer providers to do the heavy lifting. We don’t necessarily expect to see a lot of coverage of this trend, just that this is how startups will structure themselves. There’s a financial benefit to being virtual, including the hope for greater efficiencies but with that come other challenges, like credibility with customers and keeping every consultant, vendor and partner on the same page.
- 3D printers are still not yet ready for prime time. They will continue to make inroads, and to generate some coverage, but this is not (yet) a device for every household. It’s too expensive and too complicated.
- Big data: The media will continue to cover big data as it continues to go mainstream…until big data is supplanted by the next data trend.
- Consumerization of enterprise apps: Mobile and BYOD forces require enterprise apps to be intuitive and easy to use. Ugly interfaces will no longer close sales.
- Second screens: Increasingly people watch television programs with their tablets, too, so they can comment real-time on what they’re watching. Helping customers express themselves and buy while they’re watching TV is going to be an important from a marketing perspective in the coming years.
- Cognitive and context computing: IBM Watson represents cognitive computing, which "combines natural language processing, machine learning, and hypothesis generation and evaluation," (according to IBM) and it didn't just beat Jeopardy champions in 2011. IBM Watson (and cognitive computing) is kicking off a new wave in computing. (Yes, we know, we've heard that before.) Fortune did a cover story in Sept. 2013 reporting on IBM's Massive Bet on Watson. Contextual computing is not vastly different. Fast Company breathlessly reported that contextual computing -- including Google's latest search algorithm, will bring "Machines that understand you and everything you care about, anticipate your behavior and emotions, absorb your social graph, interpret your intentions, and make life, um, 'easier.'" We expect both cognitive and context computing will get more attention in 2014, even though we're in the early stages. Implications: IBM Watson's ability to provide students (and the rest of us) with almost instant access to historical data means that educators must rethink curriculum. Less important, now, are specific dates of historical events; what's now important is understanding the substantive issues surround the Treaty of Ghent, for example -- issues that sometimes get scant attention in the need to emphasize dates. We see that happening in business, too.
Tell us what you think. Did we get it right? Are we way off base? Drop
us a note at birnbach [at] birnbachcom.com.