2016 was Digital Communications’ Spotty Teenage Year
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2016, Digital Communications’ Spotty Teenage Year

Communications in 2016 was the equivalent of a child starting high school for the first time: you have so much hope that they’ll flourish, mature and come of age. Unfortunately, like many high school teenagers, communications in 2016 was full of tantrums, confusion and a lack of common sense. Occasionally, the moody teenager did show some real glimmers of hope and maturity. In our end of year blog post, our Head of Digital, Kevin Twomey, takes a look at some of the highs and lows of communications in 2016, including a look ahead to 2017 and 4 key things we will see from Digital Communication Strategies.

Earlier this year I talked about it being the year that social platforms would begin to offer clarity and consistency around metrics. Unfortunately, there is more confusion than ever, and we’ve seen Facebook admit more than once that they are getting measurement wrong. In September, there was the finding that they overstated how long users watch videos on the site by up to 80%. In November it emerged that they miscalculated another four metrics, and in December they revealed there is an issue with mobile reach.

As the leaders in social advertising, Facebook are accountable for setting the benchmark for others to follow and help brands understand what metrics matter.

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Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, laughing all the way to the bank with 2016 Q3 earnings of over USD$7bn.

This lack of consistency from Facebook (I’m sure they’re not the only one) is leading to continued confusion from brands, with too much attention being given to metrics that don’t matter. As a result, it’s killing the real art of advertising and communications – so much so, that the go-to question from brand managers is ‘What’s the ROI of social media?’ Due to the readily available access to analytics and data, we are measuring communications and creativity to within an inch of its life. Gary Vaynerchuck captures my feelings to this question better than I can articulate myself so I’ll use his words: ‘‘’What’s the ROI of your mother?”

The end of year award for most surprising performance must go to Donald Trump. Ad Age named him second best marketer of the year, but I’m giving him the top spot.  If his campaign showed the marketing world one thing, is that when done right, social can drive real ROI. Not only did social media help Trump win a seat in the Oval Office, but it was also responsible for the majority of his campaign’s $250 million in online fundraising.

He also showed that earned PR is still alive and well, with reports suggesting that Trump generated a whopping USD$4.96 billion in earned media coverage, much of which started with a single Tweet.

To complement Trump’s earned efforts, he ran a paid Facebook campaign that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. It brought custom and hyper-targeted Facebook advertising to a whole new level. On an average day, the Trump team were running between 40,000 to 50,000 variants of its ads and, during the 3rd Presidential debate, they ran an incredible 175,000 variations.

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While the Trump campaign was a masterclass is social media effectiveness, it lacked the creativity and emotional storytelling that is needed to stand out to consumers. Unfortunately, people are losing interest in brands and advertising. It’s becoming less relevant, and when brands hunt people from website to website, bombarding them with the same message, they will naturally turn to ad blocking software (which 17% of online Canadians currently use.)

This number will only increase unless brands stop chasing metrics and producing content just to fill a gap on an editorial calendar, but instead get truly creative with the stories they tell and how they tell them.  We’ve seen some great examples of this in 2016 and one stood out in Canada.  General Mills Canada and Honey Nut Cheerios developed a fully integrated campaign that caught Canadians’ attention by highlighting the plight of bees and their importance to our food ecosystem. The campaign challenged Canadians to #BringBackTheBees by simply registering for a packet of seeds online and planting them at home. The campaign was simple but bold, and told a very effective story that could be woven throughout all touchpoints, without the need to complicate the main idea with sub-ideas. This focus on great creativity and empowering Canadians to get behind a cause not only won General Mills advertising kudos, but also drove real business impact, resulting in a sales lift of 11.8% in a 1.4-billion-dollar industry.

The social holy grail for brands in 2017 should be to aim for a combination of the creativity behind #BringBackTheBees with the social effectiveness of Trump.

Looking ahead to 2017, I’ve highlighted 4 areas for brands to keep in mind in order to deliver communications success.

1. Video – The New Content Norm

Brands not only need to start thinking mobile first, they also need to be thinking video first (mobile video in particular). In June alone, Americans streamed 45 billion videos for a total of 191 billion minutes! In Canada, the appetite for video is even greater. We are global leaders in online viewership, spending on average 22.4 hours per month watching online videos. These numbers are only going to increase as brands realize it’s the new norm and, if they want their brand to be noticed, then they need to produce video. As Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat fight it out to be video kings, they are placing greater priority on video and giving it better returns than images/text based ads.

While video comes at an extra production cost, the returns are far higher, and will help brands stand out from the crowd in an increasingly cluttered social space.

Unfortunately, measuring video success isn’t as straightforward as it should be, with each platform having their own way of counting a view. I hope that for 2017 the industry sets some unified benchmarks, but until then I’d recommend brands focus on percent of video viewed, as it’s the closest apples-to-apples comparison we have.

2. Virtual and Augmented Reality

It would be wrong to discount VR and AR as mere fads, especially when every major social platform and tech giant is betting big on the technology, as well as Hollywood’s production companies. AR/VR is far more than the 3D television fad we saw five years ago; it will truly change the way we consume media.

However, I agree with Zuckerberg that it will take 10 years for virtual reality to reach mass market. Until then, I hope that brands will experiment with both AR and VR but with the intention of learning and adding consumer value, instead of chasing column inches in trade publications.

3. What Social Channels will look like in 2017

In 2017, I believe we’ll continue to see the 4 core platforms battle it out to carve out and protect their unique selling point.

  • Facebook will continue to be King in terms of scale and reach. It’s the modern broadcast TV, giving brands immediate access to billions of consumers. Facebook will continue to push video with a focus on live video, as they move from a social media platform to a media company. Facebook’s biggest challenge in 2017 will be building trust with brands around their metrics, and how they can simplify the over-complicated metrics they have (currently over 200).
  • Instagram continues to go from strength to strength, and with 500 million monthly active users (second only to Facebook at 1.79bn), it has carved out a substantial part of the social media pie for itself. The challenge I see for Instagram is that it’s now a more complex platform with the recent additions of Stories and Live Stories. What made Instagram so appealing was its simplicity, but with additional functionality, it runs the risk of losing its identity and its USP.
  • Twitter – there has been a lot of speculation around Twitter in 2016. User numbers have slowed, there have been changes at the top, redundancies and a failure to find a buyer. However, the micro-blogging platform has one of the most passionate and engaged communities, with an average of 317 million monthly active users. The big opportunity I see for Twitter in 2017 is the live streaming of major sports. They have already tested this with the NFL and PGA, and I think this will be a real game-changer for the platform in 2017. If they can get enough quality partnerships, then it will not only increase dwell time but attract much needed new users, too.
  • Snapchat is the biggest thorn in the side of Facebook. It’s competing to be video king (7 billion video views per day) and has the much sought-after youth demographic. With the recent change from Snapchat to Snap and the introduction of Spectacles, it is looking like Snap will file for an IPO in 2017, and I see this being its biggest threat. With a successful IPO comes additional pressure on growth and revenue, which will lead to increased advertising. Increased advertising equals less appeal to users. If the IPO happens, will we see a drop off in users or a migration to another platform?
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An image of one of the first pairs of Spectacles put into consumers’ hands.

 

One platform to watch out for in 2017 is an app called Musical.ly, which allows users to make short, 15 second videos of you lip syncing to songs and popular pieces of audio. It’s a combination of Vine (RIP), Snapchat and Dubsmash. The reason it is one to watch is because the app is growing increasingly popular with 7 to 16 year-olds and isn’t slowing down. If tech history has taught us one thing, it’s that when parents are on the same platform as their kids, the kids will move on. Facebook had this problem, and teens then moved to Snapchat. As Snapchat increases in popularity, its older demographic will increase and push teens elsewhere, and that elsewhere could well be Muscial.ly. Watch this space!

4. Influencer marketing

Finally, the hot topic over the last two years has been influencers, with initial uncertainty turning to the realization that when used correctly, influencers can be a valuable part of a marketing mix. A recent survey found that Twitter users now trust influencers nearly as much as they trust their friends. For 2017, I hope that brands will realize two things:

  1. Influencers’ biggest USP is their ability to deliver authentic content on their own terms. To achieve this, brands need to think long-term, so the partnership can fully develop and the influencers can become true brand advocates, allowing them to remain credible with their audiences. Veritas commissioned a Canadian mom influencer study which found that 96% of mom influencers go to great lengths to ensure they maintain credibility with their audience. Eighty-one per cent said that keeping their own voice when working with brands is very important. I’m hoping that 2017 will be the end of influencer one night stands, and a purely transactional approach. Yes, there will be payment, but that can’t be the only reason why the influencer is working with your brand.
  1. Much like paid social advertising, we need to get real around influencer metrics. Just because someone has a million followers doesn’t mean a million people will see your post. And you can’t compare engagement rates of a million+ influencer on Facebook to someone with 5,000 on Twitter. It’s time to have mature, grown up conversations around metrics, and if brands truly go for relationship over a quick fling, then you should be able to work with the influencer to view their analytics and get a more realistic view of how their content is performing.

2016 was a year of growing pains but in the end, did show some promising signs. Hopefully, as we move into 2017, a year wiser we’ll begin to return to marketing rooted in insights, creativity and, most importantly, common sense.


This blog was written by Veritas’ Head of Digital @KevinDTwomey, To see more of what our agency is doing in the influencer space, follow us @VeritasComm.