Digital Trends 2018

The digital and social media world was full of surprises in the last year, from the backlash against fake news to Twitter doubling posts to 280 characters. As big as 2017 has been, we expect 2018 to be even bigger. For strategic communications, digital and social are maturing rapidly and we’re seeing really exciting developments and applications. Here are some of the trends our Global Digital Practice think we’ll see next year.

Get ready for Chinese social media
– Bennett Golder, Associate Director, Finsbury London

So what does Chinese social media platform WeChat do when it has reached market saturation in China? Well, it’s currently on about 90% of Chinese mobile devices, so I think we’re soon to find out.

As Chinese ‘soft power’ expands across the globe with investments and infrastructure projects, Chinese brands continue to reach new markets. WeChat, China’s most popular social media network, will become more ubiquitous in 2018. To the uninitiated, WeChat is a hybrid Facebook / messaging/payments platform with over 980 million monthly users. Owned by Tencent – recently named the 8th most valuable brand in the world by Brandz – it is an all-encompassing platform for daily life in the increasingly cashless China. MIT Technology review has called it both ‘a wallet and a communications platform’ for many Chinese as users in China can do everything from video chatting with friends to paying bills to ordering food and taxis to buying movie tickets. Increasingly, these features are being included on the platform outside China as WeChat grows more popular in global markets, particularly in South America and Africa.

Tencent clearly has designs beyond China. They’ve recently announced they are rolling out their mobile payment service, WeChat Pay, to Malaysia and appear to be competing with Alibaba to achieve dominance in other markets.

The question now remains: as a hybrid payment platform that many see as being primarily Chinese, will WeChat be able to a) explain its offering well enough to audiences already comfortable with other platforms and b) convince people to join the platform that might not be relevant to their interests at the moment?

Video and live streaming will go mainstream for financial communications
– Emma Paterson, Senior Associate, Finsbury London

The amazing success of Instagram Stories, which now surpasses Snapchat, is a prime example of how video communications between brands and consumers is well on the way to becoming the norm in 2018. At this year’s Social Media Week, Facebook’s Creative Strategist, Kat Hahn said, “Not doing short video is not an option.” While video and live streaming are now part of the mainstream, I think how they will be used in financial communications will evolve rapidly over the coming year.

Since 2016, we have seen a major increase in the number of the FTSE 100s using video to communicate their financial results. Aviva, among many others, regularly use Periscope to live stream management interviews from annual results presentations. In 2018 we expect others to follow this lead. Whether it be a ‘behind the scenes’ look at an Investor Day or a live CEO Q&A, this is a trend which is only set to grow.

The rise of the influencers continues
– Iain Gibson, Director, Finsbury MEA

In the West, there is a fair amount of debate around the true power and reach of ‘influencers’. Product placement gaffes by the likes of reality TV star Scott Disick or footballer Daley Blind expose the true workings of supposedly authentic social media musings.

In the Middle East it’s different – and we are not just talking about marketing shampoo or health foods. People who drive discussions and shape opinions on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can become stars in their own right and wield significant influence over major changes taking place in the region. For example, influencers in Saudi Arabia routinely count their followers in the millions, and it is not uncommon to see trending hashtags on domestic or political topics. It is unsurprising therefore, that governments in the Middle East are keen to ensure that influencers are well-briefed and on board. Prior to big announcements, such as the recent annual budget, an ‘influencer workshop’ with selected social media heavyweights and government officials is a common occurrence.

In 2017, with significant political and economic developments in the region, influencers became more, well, influential than ever. This state of affairs shows no signs of slowing down in 2018.

GDPR: Major regulatory change is coming
Isabel Batchelor, Team Assistant, Finsbury London

On 25 May, 2018, data protection in the EU will see its biggest change in over two decades with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) being applied in all EU member states. It’s no surprise the current data protection legislation is outdated, much of it created before the internet and cloud technologies. To put it simply, it is no longer fit for purpose.

GDPR is designed to give citizens greater control of their data and how it is collected and used by companies. Communicators need to understand three key areas of the GDPR. First, EU citizens must agree that their data can be used (e.g. opt-ins and opt-outs) and that they can be contacted. Second, the much talked about right to be forgotten, meaning that EU citizens must have a means to access and remove data held about them. Third, the legal basis for processing personal data, which in practice should reduce the frivolous collection of personal data.

Much has been made in the press of the huge fines that companies could be liable for (€20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, whichever is greater) and the onerous task companies face to be compliant. Beyond the headlines, what it means for communications is hopefully a positive and sorely needed shift towards improving trust around the digital economy that has come under much scrutiny of late. Corporate and financial communications relies on engaging with specific audiences and while all this change puts pressure on companies to be ever more relevant and focused about how they communicate, it’ll also hopefully mean audiences who are opted in will be more receptive. We’ll also see an improvement in data housekeeping. All that said, it is early days yet and no doubt this will be an evolution rather than a revolution.

Fully digitalised financial communications
– Raphael Neuner, Managing Director & Digital Head, Hering Schuppener

We have seen an increasingly professional use of digital channels by companies in general. Now, this will also be the case for financial communications.

This year, we saw the first fully-digital Annual Press Conference made in a professional film studio. The digital version of the Annual Press Conference increased the event’s reach to a more global audience, including journalists from Asia and elsewhere. Demand from the broader public and politicians for increased transparency and the formation of well-connected, global high-profile online communities will push corporates to further utilise digital and social media communications. The financial community will play a growing role in this regard. Consequently, we will likely see greater use of virtual reality and second screen options for Capital Market Days or Annual General Meetings in 2018. For example, financial highlights will be showcased in more creative and engaging ways, further bringing financial communications to life.

Moreover, we expect an increase in digital transaction communication especially in defense cases. In particular, in the context of increasing European activist campaigning, we’ve seen broader use of social media to facilitate and amplify messaging, and we expect this to prompt an increase in the use of digital tools by counterparties in response to digitally savvy activists.

Robots in the newsroom
– Theo Hildebrand, Managing Director, Finsbury London

As journalism continues its brutal march towards digitalisation under the maxim ‘more for less’, media managers are increasingly turning to machines to boost efficiency in the newsroom. Global newswires use machines to grab and splash top line financial results, allowing seasoned journalists more time to weave in the wider context investors value most highly. Editors short on time and resource are using translation, image tagging and data analytics tools to increase reach and engagement.

In a recent milestone, the first articles jointly written by humans and robots as part of The Reporters and Data Robots (RADAR) program were published in the UK in December 2017. Robots sifted through publicly available information to provide data points on social mobility, unmarried mothers and life-saving operations cancelled at UK hospitals for stories written by human journalists. The new technique, described as “a potential game changer” by the editorial development director at Newsquest, is just one of the areas that AI will play a greater role in newsrooms in 2018.

Will we still type in 2018?
– Trung Le Thanh, Digital Specialist, Finsbury Hong Kong

The answer is absolutely yes, but the world in 2018 will also definitely become more voice activated. According to Google, 20% of searches in its Google app are now already by voice. ComScore believes that by 2020 50% of all online searches will be by voice. It’s clear that the Siris and Alexas of the world are becoming more and more sophisticated so gone are the days when Siri gives you inappropriate responses or responses that just aren’t relevant at all. What does this all mean for us? Brands will now have to start thinking of “voice-optimising” content, i.e. considering voice as an additional input with all its nuances and intricacies, and making sure to provide the right information to what the user is searching for.

Kiss your keyboard goodbye
– Jonathan Kopp, Managing Director & Chief Interactive Strategist, GPG Digital

A recent Pew Research survey shows that nearly half of US adults (55% of those 18-49) use voice assistants, including Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri. It naturally follows that sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home devices in 2017 far outstripped expectations. And brands have responded to the hands-free demand by creating more than 25,000 voice-driven commands, apps, and “skills” (Amazon’s term for apps). In the coming year, we will reach the point of no return: “voice-first” will become the industry standard best practice for smart digital design.

Digital goes beyond brevity
– Tulani Elisa, Director, GPG Digital

Whether it’s Twitter creating a “thread” option along with the 280-character increase, Snapchat allowing stories to continue after 10 seconds, Facebook Watch launching or long form LinkedIn posts and Vice/Vox stories, platforms and users are getting even deeper into storytelling. If 2017 showed us anything, it’s that we don’t know as much about the people and places around us as we thought we did. With that in mind, social is doubling down on the time and space we have to express ourselves and share our lives. 2018 will definitely be a time where content can stand out in the space even more and push organisations and brands to tell their stories in an even more engaging and thought-provoking manner.

The rise of employee advocacy marketing
– Chris Gee, Managing Director, Finsbury New York

In the U.S., while we have all witnessed the increasing power of social media influencers, companies are discovering the value in empowering their employees as brand advocates. This discovery has given rise to a form of communication called advocacy marketing, which encourages employees to create content about the company. Aided by a rapidly expanding ecosystem of employee advocacy tools, we saw more than 25% growth in employee advocacy program adoption in 2017 – a trend we expect to increase significantly in 2018.

It is not difficult to see the attraction to this form of marketing. Research indicates that 92% of online audiences trust information from peers above all other forms of communication. Audiences are 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend about a company than from the company itself. While employee advocacy programs will not displace other forms of marketing, it will continue to emerge as one of the more authentic forms of communication a company has in its arsenal.

Looking to other markets for inspiration in 2018
– Yim Wong, Global Head of Digital, Finsbury London

For a glimpse into what could be coming down the line, what’s happening in global markets outside our own is fascinating. This is especially true where there are different regulatory frameworks and where countries have leapfrogged to newer forms of technology, which are more readily available and affordable. As a result, the communications rulebook is constantly being rewritten based on digital, mobile first cultures and it’s therefore more important than ever to be open-minded about what’s possible. Just look at China’s WeChat and it’s evolution into a “one stop shop” for companies and people to connect and conduct transactions. Facebook has for a while now attempted to replicate this model, and in doing so, has moved far from its initial purpose as a pure social media platform.

Markets such as India still have lots of room to grow in terms of internet growth (despite global growth slowing) and this is where the interesting stuff is likely to happen. India’s economy is growing rapidly, and it is at 27% online penetration (#2 after China). Mary Meeker, a Partner at KPCB, and author of their annual internet trends report, called India one of the “most fascinating markets for the internet on the planet.” Combined with a 50% cut in wireless data prices and a related jump in smartphone ownership, the resulting shift in behaviours and expectations will of course shape a new wave of digital products and services (and vice versa!). Africa also has huge upside for online penetration, plus it has one of the fastest growing young populations (WEF 2016). It’s going to be really interesting to see how the internet will help to connect its youth demographic and communities to bring about change. The emerging and disruptive ideas, that will no doubt arise, could potentially be those we look to for inspiration in the near future.