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?

What Digital Agencies Should Do Instead of Offering Products

NOTE: I wrote this post almost two months ago, but didn’t publish it for whatever reason. It’s not as timely anymore, but here you go…

This morning I read my umptenth article about digital agencies becoming product development companies. This sudden shift, brought about by the booming tech industry and top digital talent flocking to startups, has brought to question the future of the current agency model.

I actually do not agree with the articles that advocate agencies take a lean startup approach and start building their own products. I think it is smart for agencies to begin offering product development as a service, as more and more brands will look to agencies to build and maintain their digital assets. As pointed out in the Digiday article from this morning, most agencies cannot, or are unwilling to, commit the resources needed to launch a successful technology product.

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Adopting a New Approach to Nonprofit Technology

It is generally understood that nonprofit technology is 5 years behind industry, but that gap is quickly diminishing.  Lack of sufficient funding prevented nonprofits from purchasing enterprise-level software in the past, but the lower costs of SaaS products and philanthropic efforts of major technology companies has lowered the barrier to entry for any sized organization. Though most technology platforms available to nonprofits perpetuate this concept that organizations should be doing online advocacy, there are also a number of new nonprofit technology vendors sprouting up that offer tools that allow for more than just creating online forms and sending emails. Most organizations now have access to the technology they need to support their programs and build integrated technology infrastructures that span their organization.

The gap between the sophistication of technology use within the corporate and social sectors is diminishing, but the gap still remains in the mindset that comes along with that. There is a big movement within corporations to adapt their business models to the digital times. More and more brands are building digital experiences that facilitate their interaction with consumers, from both an engagement and transactional standpoint. While fun Facebook apps are great ways to build your brand, apps that facilitate business functions are what build meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers. Apps like HBO GO and Domino’s Pizza mobile apps are perfect examples of how brands have grown their business by recognizing that today’s consumers are constantly plugged in and companies should be doing business with them where they are.

Nonprofits should take note of this growing trend and adapt the way their organizations operate to changing consumer behaviors. There are great examples of how organizations are building products and platforms for social change; tools that allow them to deliver services directly to their constituents or solve some aspect of the social issue(s) they are trying to address.

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Taking a More Focused Approach to Drupal 8 Development

I never did a real write up on my thoughts coming out of DrupalCon London, so I wanted to share this (long) post I wrote for Drupal.org. It sums up my thoughts about the current direction of Drupal 8 and makes some recommendations based on my own thinking around the issue and some great conversations that were had at the conference.

Last night, as I read through the conversation that is happening on the “Make core maintainable” issue (http://drupal.org/node/1255674), I couldn’t help but feel that while this conversation is important, it may be the wrong conversation to be having at this time. I am glad this conversation has continued coming out of DrupalCon London, but I feel like we haven’t answered the fundamental question of “what is Drupal?”, which may help steer the conversation in a direction that will help us select the features that really need to be in core. I posed the question to Dries at the conference, and was surprised when he stated Drupal is “a product, a framework, and a community.” I mean this as no critique of Dries’ vision of the platform, but I felt like that answer was really vague and needs further definition given the maturity of the project, and, looking at the open source CMS landscape, the competitive disadvantage we are in due to our lack of positioning.

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