Last year was a pivotal moment – one that threw everything up in the air and made fools of the soothsayers. Next year will be about picking up the pieces and recalibrating the way we communicate. I think we will see four big trends play out.
Business gets bolder
Clinton and Renzi’s defeats have shown that traditional authority has lost its grip on Western society while Brexit means that the country needs a new plan fast. Meanwhile, software continues to eat the world.
In this context, business has a real opportunity to lead and to shape the terms of public debate. We will see businesses become braver and more forthright in the year ahead. They will have to be, as government becomes more interventionist and the pace of disruption accelerates, dividing companies into two camps: digital predators and digital prey
Purpose in the age of populism
For the last few years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has been tracking the rise and rise of employee welfare as a key driver of corporate reputation. Low pay, casualisation and the gig economy, diversity, training and opportunity and the displacement of jobs by smart technology have become defining issues as public concern about the effects of globalisation has grown.
In 2017, businesses will re-examine whether their purpose platforms resonate with the lives and values of the people they serve. The tone of corporate communication will become less utopian and more pragmatic. Ten year plans will go out of fashion – the public will want to know what companies are doing right now. Global narratives will be replaced by local storytelling. Leaders will need to explain how they share the proceeds of growth.
The political bifurcation of social media
Established social media brands - under pressure from advertisers, journalists and politicians - are policing their communities more closely, and many on the political right believe that they are being unfairly targeted. Libertarian influencers and content creators are investigating alternative platforms like Vid.me and Gab.ai.
This crackdown on free speech means that left and right wing social media echo chambers won’t just form around different hashtags, but on entirely different platforms, with the consequence that people will become even more insulated from alternative viewpoints.
The premiumisation of journalism
Digital platforms make it easier to circumvent traditional media gatekeepers and talk directly to the public, but that means brands must get better at telling interesting stories. Most content marketing is wallpaper. Great journalism still cuts through.
The next generation of journalists moving in to communications won’t be hired for their contacts book or knowledge of the media industry but for their ability to construct engrossing stories and get under the skin of issues. The best writers and documentary makers, with proven track records of building social communities, will be fought over.
In short, everything is up for grabs – from the ideas we explore to the way we work. There has never been a more interesting time to work in communications.