Here we are, at the start of 2019 with way too many challenges in front of us, which is why I decided to speak with some my Tech, Media and Communications colleagues to try and identify some potential trends for the coming year.
I have to thanks the great Damian Radcliffe from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications for looking over my shoulder on the five trends below that I think we need to be ready for.
One pattern that stands out is how the digital and social channels that we have devoted ourselves too has become a tool by others to influence our views and opinions. The speed at which mis-information spreads has given these channels power to disrupt us. Where we are today is in my opinion a case of cause and effect, where securing an emotional response has facilitated the speed at which content has been shared across open and dark channels.
1. Continued decline in circulation and engagement of traditional media
Traditional media will sadly continue to suffer around the world. What I mean by traditional media is titles staffed by journalists who can source and publish fact-checked content. I should point out (with thanks to Damian Radcliffe), that journalism has evolved and today is not just about working for a legacy media title and holding a press card, it is about the inquisitive approach that helps to uncover the layers of mis-information that is shared online.
Media outlets will continue to build and invest in their online presence. The battle between the ad-funded and the paywall business models will continue.
Figures for November 2018 from UK’s Press Gazette continue to paint a picture of falling print sales across the board, with web figures for established outlets down by double figures. The shock here is that while we’ve been living through a drop in paid print, a drop in online visitors raises the question about where people get their news from.
Will the quality of news be shaped by the chasing for clicks? Buzzfeed ran a good story on the business model based on income from advertising that drives that drives traffic and revenue (The Sun chasing clicks from Drudge Report), while paywalls work for titles such as The Financial Times and The New York Times.
In any case, we should note though that tech companies aren’t going to rescue journalism as all they are interested in is their slice of the advertising pie.
2. The ramping up of opinion based content
While we continue to live through a drop in engagement in established media outlets, this is being countered by a rise in engagement in pseudo-journalism sites who are carving a niche for themselves and gathering an audience around their content.
People will continue to be driven to these sites by content shared through dark social. People who consume this content will then share this content onwards, increasing the size of echo-chambers that limit discussion or debate.
3. The rise of deepfakes
We are in an era where through deep learning and AI people can edit videos to give an appearance of an individual saying something or being somewhere. Apps are already available to manipulate visual and audio, with Adobe still working on its VoCo programme which when demo’d was dubbed as "Photoshop-for-voice".
The more that images and video can be influenced and manipulated the more we are going to need to be ready to counter and refute potential fake content that is shared.
Here is the Wall Street Journal illustrating the problem with Deep Fake videos.
4. Audiences questioning the background of news and other content content
Yet, there is hope, while we are in an era where where our perception is being challenged, over the horizon we are starting to see younger audiences who are questioning the sources and reasons behind headlines.
Young people are more inquisitive and will be harder to manipulate. A report published by The Verge showed that people aged 65 and over are more likely to share fake content and news while young people, who have grown up in a digital environment are better at telling facts from opinion and are more likely to fact-check content they receive and consume. This digital literacy makes a difference!
Research in the US also shows that one unexpected result of the current political climate is an increase in applications to journalism schools by millennials, which up to four years ago had seen a flatline in any increase in numbers but have since seen a double digit growth in applications to journalism schools.
As this generation further establishes itself in society will we see it become more difficult for others to pull the wool over their and our eyes. Fact-checking will establish itself and confirm that old saying of ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice …” Rebuilding trust in society and brands will take time and will require an increase in transparency.
5. A slow move towards more transparent measurement
Slowly but surely businesses and other organisations are looking to for a qualifiable return from their presence and spend on social and digital platforms. Organisations have been pushing a lot of their money to digital and social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Google. In return for their commitment, the not so new kids on the block gave them numbers that secured continued spend, engagement metrics that appeared to validate their spend. But for many years, to some these stats looked cooked, even faked.
Last year, Facebook was one company who confirmed, in diplomatic terms, that - as Wired put it - the platform ‘had been overstating to advertisers the average time users spent watching videos on the platform.’
Such platforms and their intermediaries, the media buyers, got away with it, primarily because the audience was on these platforms and the organisations one way or another wanted access to them. Companies and others wanted to promote their messages and wares to them. I can’t say if it was ignorance or blind-belief, but over time I expect there to be a rise in debate and a focus more on return on engagement.
We are in a situation where organisations want to see a return on investment, without having the understanding of honest transparent numbers to validate and confirm their spend and return of said spend.
And as audiences move more towards dark-social engagement (and the issues surrounding fake news and privacy breaches), investment in digital and social could potential see a drop that could affect revenue for the big players in this field.
Sadly a key issue that might develop this year is that the engagement numbers from advertising have never really been that accurate. New York magazine ran an article highlighting how much of the Internet is fake.
A lot of people make plenty of money from ignorance and understanding. But people are wising-up. The scandals surrounding social networks like Facebook are bringing into question about the value and return of advertising driven propositions. There is a duopoly (Facebook and Google) at play and there isn’t yet a new way of securing engagement that delivers a return that can be fully tracked. This thread on Twitter by Aram Zucker-Schraff highlights issues surrounding the cooking of numbers and is worth a read.
We are close to this, and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) is doing a great job in pushing its outcome based model of measurement.
As we see an increase in debate about the value of advertising and social and digital, organisations like AMEC will this continue to drive and raise awareness about the importance of transparency in measurement
2019 promises to be a year where perception matters more and facts could start to make a comeback!