Birnbach Communications’ Top Predictions for 2014, Part I: 6 Top Media & Social Media Trends

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We’ve been issuing annual predictions for a dozen years now. Our goal is to help our clients more effectively understand and engage on topics of interest for media and social media.

We will be rolling out our 2013 list of trends over the next few weeks. Here are the first few covering media and social media:

  • The media business has not stabilized.  After a few years of cost cutting and, in some cases, moving to an online-only business model, approximately 1,000 newsroom jobs were cut in 2013. Meanwhile, in a counter-intuitive move, Newsweek, which last year had shifted to online-only, has announced plans to restart publishing print editions. What this all means: That publishers still have not found a sustainable business model. While we expect 2014 to be a strong publishing year because of campaign ads for the mid-term elections, we expect more layoffs and changes through 2015. Implications: The need to boost online readership will likely to continue to skew coverage to focus on celebrity, entertainment and sports (our version of bread and circuses), which means there may be less room and fewer resources allocated for necessary but less sexy news. (Think we’re overstating this? How do you explain the fact that “twerking” was a big story this year or that Miley Cyrus was a finalist for Time’s Person of the Year along with eventual winner, Pope Francis?) 
  • Journalists continue to use social media to announce and report – and broadcast reporters often recap the mood on Twitter. It’s not just “citizen reporters” who use Twitter to report news; real reporters at traditional news organizations not only link to their articles via Twitter – they often break news on Twitter, followed-up by full reporting at their usual format. We’ve even seen articles in newspapers that are comprised of previously tweeted material. We’ve also seen a lot of examples of broadcast news programs reporting on the Twitterati reaction to an event. Implications: This is another reason to follow reporters on social media – to see what they’re working on, and to jump on stories (as appropriate). And it’s another reason to use a hashtag and participate in commenting on a relevant event. 
  • Traditional media will be burned in 2014 by jumping on a social media trending topic. We’ve seen it a couple of times in 2013 and we expect to see more in 2014: Tweets of a compelling incident that go viral only to turn out to be false, like the confrontation live-tweeted on a much-delayed Thanksgiving flight or Kyle Ayers’ live-tweets of a #rooftopbreakup that may or may not be fictional. Digital hoaxes can be entertaining and feel real, and in the urge to “own” the story before their competition gets it, traditional media is reporting first, fact-checking later. Reporting fake tweets as news hurts everyone’s credibility. Implications: the media needs to be more skeptical about reporting on trending items; one problem is that initial reports posted online remain online, clogging search engine results that may include articles that actually report on the hoax as a hoax. In other words, non-updated articles containing wrong information will make it more difficult to sort out the truth.
  • Native advertising will be big in 2014. Back in the pre-online days, native ads were called advertorials. These days native ads often appear under headlines as “Featured Content” to make them look like articles. The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Forbes, Vanity Fair and others have been experimenting with native advertising, with the latter two requiring substantial traditional ad buys. However, because the content isn’t obviously an ad, we expect the FTC to question current practices due to a lack of transparency.  Implications: Too much native advertising in a publication could dilute its hard-to-earn credibility while the revenue from native advertising could decline because consumers are likely to tire of native ads and stop clicking on them.  
  • Marketing via flash mobs will seem so 2009. Flash mob marriage proposals or musical or dance performances were fun to watch when they first started hitting YouTube.  Some companies, like T-Mobile have been successful in raising awareness through flash mob videos but we think that the novelty has worn off. (The same is true for flash mob wedding proposals, too, by the way.) Implications: Companies need to find something new to say to get viewers’ attention with flash mob videos.
  • Instagram and Pinterest will remain important sources for recommendations and inspiration.
    o    Facebook will continue to be an important source for recommendations in 2014 but people’s timelines get cluttered by a lot of irrelevant posts. Because Instagram and Pinterest offer visual images with little or no commentary, they tend to have more impact.
    o    Instagram/Pinterest envy: People post updates on their lives that are often stage-managed or curated to capture a life we’d like to live not the live we actually live. For example, the kids in the photo are clean and smiling, and the room is neat. What others don’t see is how much effort it took to get things that way (how many changes of shirts to find a clean one, what bribes were offered to get a hint of a smile). That doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t feel bad about our own kids, homes, lives when we see what seems to be perfection of our friends. Instagram envy seems to be worse than Facebook envy since Facebook posts often include articles and links, random thoughts, etc. while Instagram offers just the photo itself, images that had affects added to them that make the images seems idealized. We don’t see that kind of envy with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Pinterest — the latter mostly because people post things they themselves want and don’t have. But expect more coverage in 2014 of Instagram envy, as an example of how social media actually alienates us, not bring us together.
    o    Implications: Marketers need to make sure they develop easy-to-capture-and-share content, particularly with regard to video and still photography. Twitter has been offering up mirrors that can be used at celebrity events to make it easier for stars to Tweet a selfie at the Oscars and other red carpet events. Nonprofits, in particular, should offer something similar at their events.

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions. 

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