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Digital Trends 2019

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Theo Hildebrand, Managing Director, Digital, Finsbury London

Tech’s Jurassic Park moment?

In the original Jurassic Park movie, Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, famously quips to Jurassic Park’s irrepressible owner, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

While the 2018 tech backlash was mercifully free of rampaging dinosaurs, Dr. Malcolm’s words are no less apt. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal, deadly violence spread by propaganda and fake news on Facebook and Whatsapp in Asia, Google staff opposing the use of AI for military purposes to the international concern over the use of CRISPR, there was growing discontent over the unintended consequences of major technological leaps forward.

Advances in technology, and more importantly, how they are used, will always have winners and losers. But a sneaking sense that the tech masters of the universe are not totally in control of the machines they created is beginning to creep into public view. In the year ahead, those in charge of global tech will need to reassure us that they can mitigate the unintended consequences of their work. If they don’t, law-makers surely will.

Meglena Petkova, Managing Director, Digital, Finsbury London

Cyber and getting ready for a crisis

The inevitable rise of the “connected company” will raise unprecedented liability, regulatory and stakeholder communications challenges. International businesses will have to navigate global compromised-data situations where individual country regulations may apply - from GDPR in Europe,which is bleeding through to Asia Pacific and India, to state-by-state specific US reporting rules.

GDPR arrived and is already punishing businesses of all sizes for a lack of preparation and failures in handling data breaches. Now more than ever it is vital for businesses to see us all – legal, cyber and communications advisers – working jointly to prepare them for what is sadly a matter of “when”, not “if”. Breaches require the immediate involvement of different units while regulations have made the participation of external cyber advisers a must. Delays and mistakes in decision making caused by a lack of planning and coordination will be penalised while evidencing efforts to mitigate those risks may well reduce the potential penalties imposed.

The combined risk of malicious use of technologies, new regulations and decision making under intense pressure can be mitigated only if we do our best to prepare for it.

Jonathan Kopp, Managing Director & Chief Interactive Strategist, GPG, New York

Piracy v. Privacy

2018 was the biggest year yet for corporate data breaches. Facebook, Marriott and Google are just a few of the hundreds of global brands that were hacked, resulting in more than one billion customers’ personal identification information being stolen and scattered across the Dark Web – from email addresses to credit card numbers to passport information and more. When this ominous trend is paired with plummeting public and political trust in Big Tech, one can safely predict that 2019 will witness the rise of more stringent privacy safeguards. Expect to see wider adoption of two-factor authentication, biometric locks, cryptographic password generators and encryption keys. And while the EU put Silicon Valley on notice with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we will likely see increased regulation in the US, too, as the public grows more concerned and Congress struggles to keep up with technology.

Mary-Jane (MJ) Fox, Associate, Digital, Finsbury London

Tech employee activism on the rise

Googlers are not happy. This year we’ve seen thousands of Google employees walkout over allegations of sexual misconduct at the company, hundreds of employees signed a petition in protest at Google’s ambitions to enter the Chinese market and some staffers reportedly resigned over the company’s ties to the US military.

Employees have always taken action to improve working conditions, but the focus on issues relating to morality, politics and human rights seems a direct reflection of growing millennial activism rooted in Big Tech campuses.

The values of millennial workers and the steps they are willing to take to express them, both internally and externally, are well documented. The bigger question is why tech execs are willing to bow to internal pressure. One answer may be that they share the values of their staff. A more cynical view might be that with a global shortage in tech talent, hyper competitive tech companies need to strike the right balance to keep their highly mobile talent on side. Expect more consilatory words and deeds from the tech c-suite in 2019.

John Taylor, Analytics, GPG, Washington D.C.

‘Who?’ is the new ‘How?’

No matter the industry, client, or campaign goal, there’s no ignoring the influence of, well, the influencer. MediaKix predicts that by 2020 the global marketing spend on these influencers could be a $20B space. In 2018 we saw companies scrambling to find new ways to identify, score, and visualise these influencers so as to most effectively tap into this bubbling media market. The question companies are asking is no longer just “how do we best message this?” but “who do we need to pay attention to when messaging this?” As interest continues to peak in these influencers, opinion elites, and stakeholders we can expect the development scramble of 2018 to materialise into truly amazing products in 2019 that make answering the “who” question quite a bit easier. The companies that best answer this ‘Who?’ question will find themselves in a very unique position as we kick off the new year.

Trung Le Thanh, Digital Strategist, Finsbury Hong Kong

Time well spent

2018 was the year that the social media backlash started. Against the backdrop of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and concerns about data privacy, the “anti-social” movement – otherwise known as “Time Well Spent” – also gained traction.

Actively warning against the addictive nature of social media, the movement highlights how tech companies use their algorithms to capture our attention and waste our time unproductively on their platforms.

You might expect these tech giants, whose revenue largely depend on the amount of time people spend on their platforms and assets, to reject the Time Well Spent thesis. Yet instead they embraced it.

Instagram has a reminder feature for users to stop the app after a certain amount of time. Mark Zuckerberg posted: “By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.” Apple introduced Screen Time on all its phones.

In 2019, “Time Well Spent” will become increasingly important for all brands, not just tech companies.

Jim Wildman, Content, GPG, Washington D.C.

Showing progress

Verizon thought it was making the right digital move by acquiring AOL and Yahoo over the last few years. Put together into something called Oath, the three companies could have been the perfect marriage for a new era in digital advertising. However, as the Wall Street Journal reported in December 2018, “Verizon executives were unwilling to share with Oath some data on its wireless subscribers that would have helped create more sophisticated ad targeting.” Oath has been a failure—and therein lies a lesson: sophisticated ad targeting is essential for successful campaigns. It’s no surprise that job boards are filled with brands looking for marketing experts in “intelligence” or “insights”. Your capability to dig deeper and analytically pick apart both audiences and opinion before, during, and after campaigns—through real campaign data—will make for happy clients in 2019.

Taylor Hiden & Leilani Alexa, GPG, Washington D.C.

Downfall of the Newsfeed

You’re sitting with friends at dinner and take out your phone to snap a quick picture. You’re considering where to post it and opt for your Instagram story, deeming the image too casual for a “real” post on your newsfeed.

The newsfeed drove initial exponential growth for many social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. However, these networks are finding that it’s time to think outside the box as younger generations have reiterated that they want authentic personal conversations. Stories, which are temporary and allow users to share with the audience they choose, along with direct messages, have proven successful as of late. We believe this will continue to ramp up in the coming year.

After hearings and scandals, users are less trusting of social platforms and have begun to think critically about how their online identities shape others’ perceptions of them. This will likely weigh on users as they consider posting via the traditional newsfeed.

Sedale McCall, GPG, Washington D.C.

A Personal Touch

2019 will continue to distance us from the days when the only media you consumed came from 4 news stations and a handful of papers. With the exception of radio, use of traditional media has declined across the board, with digital media taking over. Pew Research reports that consumption of TV and newspapers fell between 7-15% year-over-year. The current state of social media and new technologies, like VR, Voice and OTT (over-the-top media services), give consumers the ability to control all aspects of what, when and how they consume content. Every home has its own media experience, and it’s up to creators to find their consumers where they are. In 2019, expect more decreasing mass media consumption and increased consumption of digital, controllable content.

Raphael Neuner, Head of Digital, Hering Schuppener, Berlin

Dreaming of a digital “Mini-me”

While I’m still dreaming of a digital "Mini-Me" to take over some of my tasks while the real me sits on the couch drinking tea to battle the cold, the question remains: what does 2019 hold in store for Corporate Communications?

  • Chatbots still aren’t a real joy to use. But their benefit for corporate communications – and not just for client dialogue – will increase.

  • Many are hoping that our profession will increasingly turn to VR. I don't think this is going to happen any time soon. But there is a ray of hope: its younger brother AR will continue to grow.

  • And, of course, Voice is coming this year. Voice assistants will continue to improve and proliferate – even beyond the devices we have at home. We can't throw away our keyboards yet, but the trend is clear.

  • 5G will be introduced in many countries (although sadly not in Germany – we’re taking our time here), bringing new applications and new creativity.

  • Developments in AI will super-charge the sophistication of fake news and bots – communicators will have to put even more effort into spotting and busting these activities.

  • Against growing political turmoil – Brexit, the rise of the popularism and US-China trade war – CEOs will use digital and social media communications to make their voices heard. Look for business to provide a more level-headed counter balance to volatile political rhetoric.

    Forecasting is a difficult art, they say, especially when it means visualising the future. A year ago, we were looking forward to big things in 2018: VR, AR, Voice – and predicting that these were the top topics we would be dealing with. Well, that's not completely how things turned out. But this time, everything will be different.