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  • People are increasingly wary about over-sharing online
  • People are increasingly wary about over-sharing online
    Siddharth Bhogra, Creative Commons (2017) ©

2018 Expert Outlook on Communications

How are social platforms converging? Will voice assistants lead to a renaissance in audio advertising? And have people had enough of sharing with the world? In this part of the 2018 Expert Outlook series, we speak to three comms experts about what’s affecting the ways people interact.

Location Global

People are becoming increasingly selective about how they interact digitally, whether that’s only posting content on ephemeral platforms or using live video chats to have more immersive conversations. At the same time, the growing role of audio in everyday life could see screenless advertising come into its own, with Spotify showing what can be done with data-driven ads and food brands creating helpful skills for Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa.

In the communications chapter of the 2018 Expert Outlook, Canvas8 speaks to Matt Navarra, director of social media at The Next Web; Liam Brennan, director of innovation programmes at MediaCom; and Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center.


Matt Navarra is the director of social media for tech news publisher The Next Web and social media strategist for tech conference TNW Europe.

Concerns about sharing and privacy are on top of people’s minds and I think brands are seeing that. Years ago, platforms were pushing the ability to share everything with as many people as possible. But people don't want to do that, and I don't think the platforms are going to win that battle. They have clocked on to the fact that people prefer to share in smaller groups or in private, or for a limited time. The ability to share something for a period of time is appealing because you don't have to be obsessed about things lurking around.

When social came around many years back, there was a lack of understanding or awareness of what sharing things with people could do. Now, we’ve seen so many stories on the news over the years of people saying things and it coming back to haunt them – posts they’ve made and regretted, and risks it could have for people’s jobs, friendships or relationships. There’s been a bit of u-turn – everyone was sharing and not thinking about the consequences, and now there’s been much more of a debate around privacy and security. People have developed a preference for more private, time-sensitive, and limited content.

Digital privacy can protect people’s reputations and relationships Digital privacy can protect people’s reputations and relationships
Muhammad Raufan Yusup, Creative Commons (2017) ©

The classic ephemeral app was Snapchat, but the Stories features across all social networks play into that desire to share a moment that’s only going to be there for a limited amount of time. Facebook has also been toying with private sharing, although they haven’t actually released it. They’re looking at secret or hidden profiles for users where you can have a Facebook profile that everyone can see and you can post pictures to all your friends or the public, but also a secret, hidden profile where your closest and most intimate friends are. I’m intrigued to see if that becomes a space to share and engage with each other more.

Group live video is another area of interest in communications. Live video was kind of stop-start in 2017, partly because people realised that it’s fun as a novelty for a while, but that most users don't have a lot of exciting things to show the world, so they weren’t really sure how to use live video. But now there is a movement towards video chat. Facebook has an app called Bonfire with a group live video chat feature where friends can jump in and have a conversation. Likewise, Instagram is giving users the ability to easily join friends’ live chats, and there’s also the Houseparty app; it allows you to pull your mates together and have a much more engaging and rich conversation because video is a more enjoyable format for many.

I think people want to have tighter conversations, want to share and engage with small groups of people, and that provides a challenge for brands who are trying to reach young audiences, because they have very close guarded networks now. With things like Twitter, it’s much easier for brands to engage and put things in front of the customers, whereas within some of these more private sharing areas, it’s not so easy. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for brands to break through and reach customers in the coming years.

There’s a desire for more personal app-based communications There’s a desire for more personal app-based communications
Isaiah McClean, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Liam Brennan is the director of innovation programmes at MediaCom.

I’m particularly interested in a shift towards screenless advertising. I don’t think TV or digital screens are going to die out anytime soon, but what we are seeing is the growth of voice assistants and voice input. Not many brands are doing it well yet, but it’s opening new opportunities because it’s changing how consumers interact in certain environments. So far, I think the ones that have done voice well are utility-based companies and food brands, because they understand that a lot of the time Alexa sits in kitchens and provides a nice way of suggesting recipes or helping people cook. We’ve seen Unilever, P&G, and Campbell’s start to develop skills for these products, but it’s very early days yet.

Research has shown that when you start a search for products on Amazon Alexa, you’re naturally inclined to search with a brand prefacing the product. But if you start to search for ‘battery’, Amazon will suggest Amazon batteries, not necessarily Energizer or Duracell. People are more inclined to move to new brands when their search platform is voice rather than when it’s text-based. So, how do marketers get their brand into voice search and help create a presence around voice?

I think these food brands currently understand how consumers use voice a little bit better than others – they don’t want to interact with brands as such, they just want them to make their lives easier

Liam Brennan, director of innovation programmes at MediaCom

Domino's did a good job with Alexa; they built themselves into the Echo so you can just say ‘Alexa, ask Domino's to feed me’ and you can order your pizza. Ordering online used to take a lot of steps and pizza brands have been very good at streamlining that to one button. They’re now replicating that experience on voice and making it even shorter.

If you’re Unilever, P&G, or Campbell's, you want to suggest recipes that feature your products, so that when someone adds them to their shopping list, they’re buying your products on Amazon. After all, people won’t say ‘can you buy me Hellman’s mayonnaise’, they’ll just say mayonnaise. I think these food brands currently understand how consumers use voice a little bit better than others – they don’t want to interact with brands as such, they just want them to make their lives easier or better.

Voice assistants have made it easier for brands to speak directly to customers Voice assistants have made it easier for brands to speak directly to customers
Derick Anies, Creative Commons (2017) ©

We'll see a renaissance of audio advertising, partly because of voice assistants, but also because of platforms like Spotify and digital radio. Radio has never been that sexy compared to TV and digital, but I think what’s happening is that as the digital world merges with the audio world, all of the targeting opportunities that exist digitally can now be done with audio.

You’ve got a captive audience at work, in the car. The ability to talk to someone is quite high, but no one’s really embraced it yet because it’s always been the little thing that just sits in the corner. But now you can do a targeted broadcast ad on digital radio. I think Spotify is doing an incredible job utilising its data to target ads better.

Spotify has launched some really interesting products like mood targeting and emotional targeting. The data that it has is very different from other suppliers. With most people, you can target by demographic – male/female, maybe how much money they earn, where they live – but Spotify has a lot more data that better represents people. Spotify can understand people’s moods, if they’re angry, if they’re sad. Where are they more specifically? You can have geolocation advertising. You can understand if people are having a party, things like that. You can’t necessarily get those data triggers from other suppliers, so they’re definitely the ones to watch. I think the challenge is, in a world that’s run by 30 seconds TV ads, how do you convince people to make good audio advertising?

How do people use specific social platforms? How do people use specific social platforms?
Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center.

The communication companies are all starting to look a little bit like each other. Instagram Stories is the same as Snapchat Stories, and you can video chat on Facebook just as well as you can on Skype. The defining feature of any platform is where the people are – where I can talk to who I need to talk to. That, and ease of use.

We’re seeing an interesting infiltration of apps like Snapchat, which we might consider kids’ apps, moving up into families as kids start graduating from high school and going to college. In other words, it’s spreading out. But if you want to get a lot of people over on to Snapchat, you’re going to have to make it easier for an awful lot of people, because it’s a little bit funky if you’re not a regular user and you aren’t 12.

Chat tools like Slack are expanding and becoming social hubs rather than just something a business would use. I teach at a university of graduate students, and they’re now starting to use Slack to create connection hubs that aren’t related to a specific project. It’s because Slack is a super easy way to do a lot of things – you can chat, you can share documents. I could see Slack becoming a sort of backbone of communication for groups like soccer moms, like Google Docs used to be. In other words, groups could start using Slack to chat, to put up their schedules together, and set out who’s in charge of the brownies this week. That multidimensional aspect of these tools, I think, will become increasingly important to people.

I think people recognise the limitations of different tools and are starting to use them more purposefully. When do you use Facebook? For which kinds of people is that the main hub of connection?

Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center

People are also starting to separate their use of these platforms, not only by what they can do, but what they can deliver to me as a communicator. To some degree, we all make adjustments based upon the kind of content we’re trying to deliver and who we’re trying to connect with, and it’s just becoming more and more necessary to make those adjustments. I think people recognise the limitations of different tools and are starting to use them more purposefully. When do you use Facebook? For which kinds of people is that the main hub of connection? Which people do you really need to have a face-to-face conversation with? Does face-to-face communication mean Facetime or does it mean going old-school, picking up the phone and doing it by voice?

We’re making judgements because every platform has its own brand and its own message inherent in the structure, and we have expectations about content based upon the delivery platform. In this context, it’s going to be increasingly important for brands to know who they’re talking to, to really understand their audiences not in ‘2.5 children and a minivan’ kind of way but in terms of psychology – their needs and gains and underlying drivers.

You wouldn’t share a face swap on LinkedIn You wouldn’t share a face swap on LinkedIn
Yelp Inc., Creative Commons (2017) ©

We’re also seeing the integration of rich media into communication. Whether that’s video or face-to-face, its increasing people’s ability to craft stories. Any time you're using some kind of visual, you’re able to deliver a lot more information in a small amount of time. It’s richer and certainly more emotional than text. I imagine there will be more integration of voice too, where you can send a voice memo on top of an image, so that becomes even richer.

With the six-second videos that YouTube is encouraging, we’re seeing the integration of text to provide more clues. Maybe there’s a word superimposed, some voice, some words, some image. FOX recently ran some short promo videos for Murder on the Orient Express where they used text overlays to contextualise the images that they were showing. When you’re seeing an image, you’re processing it one way, and when you’re seeing the text, you’re processing it another way. Any kind of multimodal learning is more impactful than single-mode, but the trick is the balance – you don't want to overload the words so that people aren’t processing the picture and vice-versa.

I think that the dialogue around media literacy, digital citizenship, and responsible communications use is going to be mounting. Issues like ‘fake news’, the amount of access bots have, and the lack of control people have about what gets put on their social networks – these are key causes for concern. How comms companies respond to those kinds of things and where the boundaries get put up will be the defining things for them in the next year.

Katy Young is a Canvas8 behavioural analyst. She has a degree in American Studies and Film and an MA in Journalism. Her interests include wild swimming, thinking of podcast ideas and singing in an all-female choir.