COMMENTARY: Influencers, ethics and AI: Three communication trends set to dominate 2018

By this point in January, most New Year's resolutions have either been broken entirely or are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. However, if there's one resolution you should make, and try and stick to, in 2018, it's to keep up with the latest communication trends.  At the rate the industry evolves and advances, keeping up with the changes can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. Here, Angharad Neagle, group managing director of Freshwater, highlights just three for business leaders to keep their eye on this year.


Influencers will keep on influencing

Back in the day, it was celebrities who everyone looked to for inspiration. And sometimes the odd royal. But today, almost every social media platform has its 'influencers', whether they're activists, company directors, gamers or teenagers in their bedrooms. And securing their support has become a multi-million-pound industry.

The benefits are well-documented. The most successful influencers are trusted by their followers, create unique content their audience loves and, in an ideal world, end up generating sales and boosting brand awareness.  ASOS has done this well with their 'ASOS Insiders', where fashion, beauty or lifestyle bloggers, have been recruited to post images of themselves on Instagram wearing ASOS clothing, encouraging followers to 'buy the look'.

But transparency is key and there has been a backlash against influencers deemed not to have been up-front enough about their paid-for content – something that can jeopardise followers' trust and, ultimately, damage brand campaigns. Meanwhile, the ever-persistent concerns about how to best measure return on investment (ROI) have not really been addressed.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise to find that all of this comes back to taking a strategic approach. Expect brands to secure longer-term, or even exclusive relationships, with trusted influencers and micro-influencers who play by the rules and resonate with their specific values.


A fresh focus on ethics and professionalism

2017 was not a good year for ethics in communications. It started badly in January with Kellyanne Conway defending Sean Spicer for presenting 'alternative facts' about the attendance numbers at Trump's inauguration. This set the tone for what was to come, culminating in September with the expulsion of Bell Pottinger from the Public Relations Communication Association (PRCA) for "bringing the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions".

This set alarm bells ringing across the industry and ushered in efforts by regulatory bodies to galvanise communication professionals' commitments to ethical practices. So, forget smoke and mirrors, you can expect a renewed focus on honesty, accuracy and transparency in communications in 2018.


The continued impact and evolution of artificial intelligence

No look forward would be complete without reference to artificial intelligence (AI). As the biggest brands on the planet continue to harness the opportunities presented by this fast-evolving technology, in 2018 we are likely to see greater attention paid to its impact on the communication world too. AI is already permeating almost every facet of communication and marketing – not least by transforming the way we collect, process, analyse and use consumer data.

AI can provide unique information about what a target audience wants, allowing brands to deliver tailored messaging and content in real-time to niche audiences – improving cost and time efficiency, as well as the content's impact. It affects what we see on our social media feeds, helps news teams predict election results, and is even being used to generate articles. With global spending on marketing automation software estimated to reach up to US$32billion (around £24 billion) this year, it's clear to see that AI is here to stay.

These are just a few developments to keep an eye on – and there are, of course, plenty more. As ever, those businesses who don't just move with the times – but help to shape them; who keep pace with the latest thinking and embrace the hottest trends, will steal a march on their competitors.

This article appeared in the Western Mail newspaper on 15 January 2018.


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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017