2015 look ahead: Part two – Tablets, phablets and social media

BY Clare Bennett

This is the second instalment in our series forecasting the digital world in 2015 and beyond (check out the first blog here).

The trend towards mobile is inexorable. Some stats:

– This year there will be more than two billion smartphones in the world.

– Ericsson forecasts that 90% of the world’s population aged 6 and over(!) will have a mobile phone by 2020.

– 2014 saw an 81% increase in mobile data traffic. Largely driven by video, this will keep going up.

It was news when mobile internet traffic overtook desktop internet traffic for the first time. It won’t be again: whilst many of us still use a desktop day to day, the shift to mobile and the proliferation of platforms and channels will continue and speed up in 2015. (See our research for more detail.)

For those of us working in corporate communications, this is both a challenge (how to think about these different platforms) and an opportunity. The companies that create content which engage audiences on desktop and mobile, websites and social media, will win out.

Tablets and phablets

Gaining ground in the digital lexicon is ‘phablets’, devices which combine the size and performance of smartphones and tablets – for instance the iPhone 6 Plus. Phablets have been around for a while but are steadily carving sales out of established platforms (PCs and smartphones respectively) and there is an implication for the design of websites and digital presences more generally.

This starts with responsive design (so that web content is resized and optimised for the different devices on which it is viewed) but extends to considerations about content. It will keep apps in the mix, and more than ever, the need to clearly understand audiences. Who are they and where do they live online and how to deliver a consistent website experience to them?

From A (Authenticity) to Z (Zoella)

From a user perspective, this plethora of devices offers more opportunities for engagement, particularly over social. Our research found that many corporates are struggling to keep up or not prioritising which channels to engage with effectively. (For instance, approx one third of those with a responsibility for communicating with their main internal and external audiences don’t currently use any social channels.)

It’s not uncommon to see large company CEOs, with global workforces in the tens of thousands, with a low base of Twitter followers (by quality as well as quantity). This feels like a wasted opportunity to connect up and influence internal and external sentiment. For instance, if customers, employees and investors know that the CEO is regularly and personally tweeting, they are more likely to follow her or him and it becomes a powerful tool for communications, creating belief by speaking directly from the heart of the business.

That said, we do expect to see cautious uptake in the c-suite learning from the vlogosphere superstars, communicating with honesty and relevance, using video or compelling visual content. We continue to believe that this is a great way to actively manage corporate reputations. Corporates have something to say, which is more than can be said of many vloggers.

YouTube is now ten years old and their business model is fast maturing. For all their inanity, vloggers have some valuable lessons for the c-suite. They publish frequently, they nurture their audiences and they value authenticity above all. Zoella’s book sold faster than Harry Potter when published in Q4 2014. Her audience, long used to getting it from the horse’s mouth, weren’t amused when they found out that a ghost-writer was involved. This controversy could have happened on any channel and has direct parallels with CEOs using PR teams to create their Tweets. With transparency this is fine, but better for the boss to use this channel to speak directly to employees, customers and other stakeholders where possible.

Related to this, we also expect to see bolder and better use of video in communications generally. There is a steady increase in its use, particularly on mobile. This content travels well across all channels and is proven to drive engagement.

Hub and spoke

All of this is fundamentally about making content work hard, repurposing and republishing it.

Digital convergence has been talked about for ten years or more but that shouldn’t hide the fact that it is well underway. It’s essential to create a consistency of experience across all platforms, with shareable content at a premium. Agile companies are creating content which meets the opportunity of growth in mobile markets, social networks and video traffic.

In the immediate future, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter will remain top of social media traffic referrals, and, if content is going to be shared, it’s most likely to happen quickly, approx. half of all shares happen within 7 hours.

Our research found that on the corporate front this translates to Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, video, apps, webinars, corporate social networks and special interest groups. Corporate communicators can use these to give insight into the personality and passion driving the business.

Look out for next weeks blog from Neil which will cover audiences and values.