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  • RJ Bardsley

Rushing To Get To The Future: What’s Ahead For Communications Strategy In 2021

This blog first appeared here on Forbes Technology Council

Over the past year, the communications landscape has changed significantly, and shifting political and social dynamics have had a dramatic impact on communications strategy and implementation. As we move into 2021, here are a few predictions for what communications executives can expect.

Technology will likely continue to be seen as a good guy.

For many, the devices and software that connect us to each other for shopping, entertainment and education have been our best friends over the past year. Before the pandemic, the tech industry was struggling with a perception problem with the tech dialogue in the media pointing to overreaches with personal data, issues with privacy, questionable business practices and burgeoning monopolies. There will still be some of these, but tech, as an industry, has emerged from 2020 in a more positive light than it entered the year. As the recovery continues, expect tech to continue to shine.

Expect break-out news platforms to expand communications strategies.

Expect challenges to existing social platforms along three lines:

• First, around the need for more variety. Big tech is already taking some criticism for its perceived power to curb free speech by managing participation in their platforms. While it is undoubtedly the right move to maintain civility in social channels, upstarts and new entrants will take advantage of this, articulating it as a need for new platforms.

• Second, big tech will face challenges to their perceived monopolies and their impact on innovation. The government may decide to go after Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft for having too much control over the industry. If this happens, we could see some form of dissolution — either forced or pre-emptive. This dissolution would likely spawn a host of break-out platforms. For communications executives, it will be important to understand, monitor and potentially fold these new platforms into your broader communications strategies.

• Third, monitoring developing platforms will be critical. There are three key things to watch for on new platforms: audience size, demographics and conversation. When there are significant numbers, when they map to your target demographics and when the conversations are the type you want to engage in, then it’s time to extend your campaign to a new platform.

Hybrid events will be the thing — small-scale, focused, vaccine-required.

As the pandemic hopefully winds down in 2021, we will likely see a return to the “experience economy.” Travel and entertainment will pick up as everyone who has been cooped up for a year has the ability to get out. For comms teams, this means a return to events.

This will happen slowly at first, with small-scale events that continue to integrate a significant virtual component. One thing that did come out of 2020 is a vast improvement in the quality of online events, and the legacy of this is that we will have fantastic hybrid events — where the in-person meetings and collaboration of a conference take place while the virtual experience extends to those who can’t attend in person. Expect events to require proof of vaccination to attend — at least for a while.

Campaigns will use data to look to the future.

The speed at which our society is transitioning to a fully digital culture is startling. Covid-19 has only sped up that process. According to a SmartInsights study: “Social media users are now spending an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day multi-networking across an average of 8 social networks and messaging apps.” This demonstrates that while it’s good to know the average age of Instagram users, we’re now dealing with a very transient audience and those stats may not mean as much as they did in the past. It’s also worth noting that 43% of internet users (between 16 to 64) are spending more time on social media and 36% are spending more time on mobile apps, according to a July 2020 survey from Hootsuite.

While marketers have used data for a long time, we’ll continue to evolve the way we use it. Rather than relying on data solely for measurement, comms execs need to leverage it to create more dynamic, forward-looking campaigns. Think about using data to change campaigns in four overarching ways:

Think differently about how data fuels creative content and narrative. Consider how different a creative concept would be when driven more by predictions about where and how audiences will be engaging in a year rather than data about what they’re currently doing or have done in the past.

More vision in our messaging. We’re all in a hurry to get to the future. It’s likely that brands will move toward stories that have more of a vision for the future, whether that’s about how moms will talk to daughters next year or how mobile users will access new content over 5G next summer.

Programming will drive cross-platform movement. Campaigns will actually strive to help audiences navigate cross-platform conversations. Media spend and organic programs will reflect this, as they target different engagement points on different platforms.

Optimization of investment. With the data that offers the ability to better understand cross-generational behavior, marketers can allocate spend more efficiently, driving lower cost per acquisition of every customer.

Last year was a period of extremely fast change — how long the world keeps up this pace of digital change is anyone’s guess. I’m optimistic that we’ll see things stabilize throughout 2021, but that still leaves brands — and their comms teams — a whole new world to get used to.

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