Emerging Trends in Digital for 2013 and Beyond

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the NetSquared DC Meetup with Colin Delany, Suzanne Turner, and Lawrence Swiader. The panel, titled “What’s on the Horizon for 2013”, covered broad strokes what the emerging trends are in digital marketing, design and technology that organizations, mainly nonprofits, should be paying attention to in the coming year.

I put together a short presentation to highlight some trends I think will be key in the evolution of the social sector as digital becomes a bigger part of the work nonprofits are doing to better communities.

Below are my slides from the event.


To sum up the trends I see happening:

All content is created equal

Traditionally, organizations have followed a “hub and spoke” model for their content strategy, creating a bunch of content on their website and using paid and earned media to drive traffic to that content. It is becoming increasingly harder to do that as people spend more and more of their time on social media platforms. It’s no longer about creating a funnel to drive people where you want them to be, you need to engage people where they are.

Organizations should approach content creation keeping in mind that the content they drive on external websites (i.e. social media platforms) is just as important as content created on their own domain. With that in mind, organizations should begin to design brand experiences that drive desired actions on the platforms where they are engaging people.

Content is now paid media

Content drives social media. Publishing good content generates engagement. Seems simple enough, right?

The one thing organizations do not have much control over is reach – getting their posts in front of their audience. With statistics coming out on the general reach of social media posts on Facebook and other social platforms, it is becoming increasingly apparent that social media lacks efficiency in getting key messages in front of your target audience, unlike email, SMS, and paid media.

Social platforms are offering brands the opportunity to increase their reach and engagement by paying to promote key pieces of content to their audience. This is creating an interesting paradigm where organizations need to approach content creation like media buyers, planning for real time activation of content through paid media as trends in engagement with your content emerge.

Designing for mobile is not enough

Often when we think about responsive design, we think about producing desktop websites that scale down gracefully to be viewed on a mobile phone. Two interesting stats appeared in the most recent Nielsen Social Media Report – the number of people accessing social media through tablets grew 400% from 2011 to 2012, and the number accessing it from connected TV’s grew 100%. If you have been following CES 2013, you are seeing that connected TV’s, tablets, and phablets are all the rave, and not just for early adopters. Many of these devices will be hitting stores this year.

From here on out it is no longer enough to design just for desktop and mobile phones. We need to take into consideration the multiple screens that our users will be accessing our content and products from and design digital experiences that allow them to interact with your brand in a way that is device appropriate.

Organizations will become more “Lean”

I have written about this concept in the past, stating that nonprofits should take a more iterative approach to technology development and marketing. Spending large amounts of money on upfront strategic planning and development is inefficient and often sets organizations up for failure because their strategy is based on assumptions. By applying “lean thinking” in developing digital campaigns and technology, organizations test the assumptions that are often made in strategic planning processes. Only the assumptions that are valid and return desired results are adopted.

I highly recommend reading Eric Ries book The Lean Startup, or contacting us,  if you are interested in learning how to apply this methodology to your digital marketing campaigns and development projects.

More DIY nonprofits will emerge

There is this interesting trend emerging in the nonprofit sector of organizations building products. These aren’t apps for advocacy or fundraising per say, but digital solutions to various social issues organizations are working to solve. Nonprofits have been building products for a number of years, but I think this year and beyond is when you will really see this trend become more apparent.

Some examples I shared last night are:

  • PeaceTones – A nonprofit that is building an e-commerce platform to help artists in developing countries promote and sell their music online
  • Camellia Network – An organization that helps teens aging out of foster care raise money to fund their future, whether that be going to college, finding an apartment, etc.
  • Invisible People – This organization provides online toolkits to help homeless individuals communicate with the world about their situations as a way to give a voice and a face to an all too often overlooked segment of our population

The thing that I also love about this trend is community-building is at the core of many of these products. Organizations are, through organizing and digital products, creating peer networks of people who are supportive of a cause and getting them to create change together.

Building community will become a core organizational function

Regardless of sector, social media is forcing brands to rethink how they engage with their constituents and where that responsibility falls within their organization. Social media is often wedged into marketing or corporate communications teams, which creates this false perception that social media should be approached as just another mass communications platform.

While it can be effective at that, the real power in social media is building a constituency of people that share a common passion or interest as your organization, and interacting with them in a way that increases brand recognition and loyalty; persuades people to support your cause or product; and drives business metrics such as items sold or houses built in low income communities.

I think a big trend that will emerge in the coming year and beyond is the creation of cross-functional teams – traditional communications, digital marketing, social media, customer/constituent services, etc. – that are tasked with designing better customer/constituent experiences across various touch points. Some organizations have even gone to the extent of creating new roles, such as Chief Community Officer or Chief Experience Officer, to oversee the unification of community-building efforts across an entire organization.


What do you think are some emerging topics in digital that nonprofits and social change organizations should be paying attention to in the new year?

Understanding both communications and technology is a good thing

When interviewing for jobs, I often get many questions about my technical background. I think it throws people that, for a person who has focused mainly on communications strategy my entire professional career, I know so much and get so excited about technology. What can I say, I’m a geek!

Ever since I was a kid, I liked to take things apart to see how they work. I was never very good at building things, but always had a knack for reverse engineering devices to figure out how all the various pieces work together. I didn’t discriminate when it came to picking the type of device to take apart. I went through four or five Teddy Ruxpin dolls; ruined at least two gaming systems; and had to take the bus quite a few times after trying to dismantle my own car engine. To my credit, curiosity has neither killed, nor seriously injured, this cat.

I have always been fascinated with computers and the internet, especially websites. I took HTML class in junior high school, and have been in love ever since. As an adult, when I had the opportunity to switch over from doing community organizing and traditional communications to digital strategy, I was giddy beyond belief. I was able to do something most people dream of – make a career out of a hobby that I love. Continue reading “Understanding both communications and technology is a good thing”

Transcending Complacency to Live a Life of Purpose

Six days ago, I figuratively set sail on a new adventure along a course previously travelled. I sold all of my furniture, packed essentials into boxes, tossed them into a 2011 Chevy Traverse and hit the road for Washington, DC. I say this was a course previously travelled because this is the third move I made to DC in twice as many years.

I was first driven to move to DC by a rather large chip on my shoulder. I had watched all the hard work put into a civic engagement campaign I helped run at a Boston nonprofit result in more undelivered results from elected officials and more “I told you so’s” from disenfranchised Roxbury residents who long ago lost hope in the political system. I was fueled by a curiosity for how technology can empower the ignored voices of many to have a greater influence over power structures than the dollars of a privileged few.

Continue reading “Transcending Complacency to Live a Life of Purpose”

Why Facebook’s “People Talking About This” Metric isn’t very useful

I have read a lot of blog posts over the past few months telling Facebook community managers that the key metric for them to measure is People Talking About This (PTAT). For those who aren’t familiar with the metric, it is a public facing number that shows the world how many people are generating stories about your brand page. The metric totals the number of people who have liked your page or engaged with your content in a way that generated a story (likes, comments, shares, event RSVP’s, etc.) over a period of time.

I understand the attention this metric has drawn. If it is low, people perceive your brand as not being engaging on Facebook. And, if you have switched to Timeline, people can track this trend over time and see whether or not your engagement is decreasing.

I, for one, have found this metric to be useless. If it only took into account engagement with content, I could see some value in it, but it includes acquisition, which greatly skews the results.

Continue reading “Why Facebook’s “People Talking About This” Metric isn’t very useful”

How do you change culture within an organization?

Lead by example. Show people through your own work that your idea adds value to an organization and can make things better. There will be a learning curve, so you need to develop a curriculum for how you plan to educate people within the organization on the new approach you are proposing.

Start small. Create a small group that you incorporate in the process to get buy in. They will ultimately become your advocates. When it is time to spread change throughout your organization, they will be on the front lines with you.

Make change viral. Once you have a small group of advocates, have them go out and work with people on their teams and departments to implement their new learnings. Then have those people introduce this new process to their colleagues.

Create a sustainability mechanism. Change can fade. People easily revert back to their old ways. If you can create a support network for sustaining the change you have introduced – ongoing trainings, support forums or meetings, or incentives – you will keep change afloat.

Change is progressive – it cannot be rushed or forced. Be patient when trying to bring about change. Often times, you will slide backward and have to pivot to make things work. Approach it as an iterative process, give yourself small wins. Don’t move on to a new phase unless you are confident that you hit your mark and you should be fine.