How current digital trends can impact future developments
A little while ago while going through my tweet stream, I came across this observation from Benedict Evans who was making a point about the pending implementation of autonomous cars and how we really don’t know what the second, and/or third degree consequences of such advancements might be.
That’s an interesting thought, right? The rooftop apartments were once the slums because the rich didn’t want to climb all those stairs, but the arrival of the elevator totally changed the economics. I read something similar on TechCrunch recently which looked at the development of driverless trucks – recently, a fleet of self-driving trucks successfully drove across Europe, the latest test which underlines just how close we are to automating one of the most labour intensive jobs in the world. The arrival of self-driving trucks will have significant, and wide-reaching impacts – in Australia alone, there are more than 500,000 registered trucks. And again, it’s not just the immediate impacts to consider, the arrival of self-driving trucks will also have significant flow-on effects. As noted by TechCrunch: “gas stations, highway diners, rest stops, motels and other businesses catering to drivers will struggle to survive without them”.
It highlights something that’s often missed, particularly in digital marketing – it’s not only what’s happening now, necessarily, that’s important, it’s what the behaviours and changes of today will mean in future. Social media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk expressed similar views in a recent interview, looking at how people are often resistant to new platforms because of their perceived lack of longevity.
“Whether Snapchat and Musical.ly are here in 6 months or 6 years is completely irrelevant. What is relevant? If right now, you want to reach 13 to 25 year olds in America, there is almost no other way to do it besides these two platforms (and potentially one or two others).”
While Vaynerchuk is taking more of a short-term view, the essence of what’s he’s saying is similar — people are often failing to consider how the latest apps and trends are impacting user behaviour, instead they’re looking for ways to deny it, dismissing their immediate value, as opposed to what their adoption might actually mean.
With this in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at some current user behaviour trends and what they might mean for future habits and behaviours — even if their immediate value might not be enough to pique your interest.
The Growth of Mobile
The mobile shift is undeniable. Take a look at this graph from the most recent Mary Meeker internet trends report.
As you can see, mobile usage continues to grow at a rapid rate, year-on-year. Consider too that last year, Google announced that mobile searches had overtaken desktop for the first time. The web is now everywhere, all the time, and people are accessing it and using it at increasingly high rates.
What are the secondary impacts?
Apart from the obvious, your website and content needs to be optimized for mobile as that’s where consumers are, increasingly, going to find it, businesses need to also consider how behaviours differ via mobile. Google’s also noted that ‘near me’ searches – for example ‘pizza restaurants near me’, or using qualifiers like ‘closest’ or ‘nearby’ – have increased 34X since 2011, and nearly doubled in the last year, with 80% of those queries coming via mobile.
It’s variances like this that you need to take into account — trends and shifts are not just numbers and statistics on a page, they’re reflected in actual people and the actual things they’re doing with their mobile devices.
On a wider scale, you need to consider how companies like Google and Facebook are going to work to cater to the increased mobile demand – new offerings like Google’s ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)’ project and Facebook’s ‘Instant Articles’ look to improve the mobile user experience by reducing load times for content and delivering mobile optimized pages. Such innovations make perfect sense, and it’s worth considering how else the mobile experience can be improved. How can you deliver a better mobile experience for your audience — whether that’s an engaged group of interested buyers or a few readers of your blog or profiles? Because the numbers show that’s where they’re going to find you. Working with that trend is a great way to develop an understanding of where things are headed next.
The Expansion of Messaging
SMS messaging is nothing new. It’s been around since the late nineties, messaging in itself is old-school. But the rate at which messaging is now being used might surprise you – at their recent F8 developer conference, Facebook revealed that they are now handling more than 60b messages per day, sent via Messenger and WhatsApp – more than three times the amount of SMS messages that were being sent at the offering’s peak usage period.
Studies have also found that messaging is the most dominant form of daily communication among teens, by a big margin.
In some ways, the growth of messaging is a response to the openness of social networks. It was cool to post everything on Facebook before your parents and relatives jumped on board, but now everyone’s watching, and as such, people have retreated as little and moved more towards private messaging to maintain connection with those most important to them. And as the numbers show, messaging is now massive – Facebook Messenger alone has more than 900 million monthly active users.
What are the secondary impacts?
Facebook has recognized this trend and is working to develop new systems to better facilitate eCommerce via text messaging.
How might that work? Through the use of AI and bot technology, Facebook is working to develop new systems that will enable brands to conduct entire purchase chains via direct conversation – the below is an example of how Dutch airline KLM has integrated messaging into their ticket confirmation and booking flow.
All of this is conducted via bots – you send a message to the brand handle asking a question and a bot system will answer. And given the advances they’re making in AI and response capabilities, you, as the consumer, likely won’t even know that it’s an automated message system you’re dealing with.
The flow-on effects of this are significant — say you’re a pizza business and you can implement a bot system that can take your orders and client details, even payments, quickly and easily, and on a platform the majority of your customers already use. Do you need to employ customer service staff anymore? Do you even need a shopfront? It’s very early days in the development of eCommerce via message, but the trends and devices are there, the development could have significant impacts on a great many consumers in the next few years, as well as on a great many jobs.
And if that happens, what does that mean? Does a reduction in jobs and an improvement in efficiency lead to better or worse economic conditions? Is there a significant opportunity coming for those who can learn how to build their own Messenger bots? It’s worth considering where this development could lead, particularly in regards to what it means for traditional business models.
The Rise of Snapchat
Snapchat is that app where kids send picture that disappear after 10 seconds, perfect for sharing naked pictures of themselves and such, right? Wrong. Snapchat, through clever development and implementation, is becoming a major player in the social media, and even wider media space. How? By working with the evolution of their audience to engrain the use of their app further into their day-to-day lives.
You see, Snapchat has already worked out that you don’t get to stick around as a social platform if you stick to the same tricks. Sure, maybe it’s cool to use that new app that everyone’s talking about where you post disappearing images, but Snapchat has taken that initial interest and looked at how they can maximize it and keep people on their platform for longer, over time.
For example, Snapchat’s primary demographic is young people – according to their advertising information, Snapchat reaches more than 60% of U.S. 13-34 year olds (or ‘Millennials’ as the groups is more commonly labelled).
Pretty impressive, but Snapchat knows that in order to expand that appeal, they need to cater to more interests than just those looking for the next big thing. So now that they have those young people looking their way and using their app, Snapchat needs to evolve with their audience’s interests and start delivering more adult content. If they can do that, then they can make that Snapchat habit stick – if people are already checking the app each day anyway, why not use it to get an update about the latest news and happenings also?
As such, Snapchat has recently announced the hiring of a former CNN reporter to head up their US election coverage and a new deal with NBC to share content from the 2016 Olympics. Such developments are crucial to the app’s growth, and you can expect to see them put more focus on news, as well as improved messaging products to help maintain the app’s position as a critical communications tool with their evolving audience base.
What are the secondary impacts?
Make no mistake, Snapchat is for real. The app recently announced they’re now serving more than 10 billion video views on the platform every day, up from 8 billion only two months earlier. The adoption rate of the app has many of the bigger social platforms concerned – recently, there were reports that both Facebook and Twitter have called on publishers to stop using their Snapcodes, scannable images that people can use to directly connect with a users’ Snapchat presence, as their profile images.
If you’re not interested in Snapchat, you don’t get it, it’s not for you, that’s fine, but you can’t deny its popularity, and is worth you taking the time to get a better handle on how it works and what the app could be used for. There’s a range of different ways in which Snapchat can be utilized, and given their growing popularity, it’s worth looking into how and why you might want to use the platform. Because in a few years time, if Snapchat is able to transition from trending app to serious contender, you’re not going to be able to avoid the app. Snapchat is worth paying attention to, and worth your consideration – if not right now, it will be soon.
The point of all of this is to highlight that change is happening at a faster pace than ever.
If you’re not sure you should be active on social media, if you should bother trying out some new app of platform that people are talking about, if it’s worth taking the time to try and get a better understanding of hashtags — the answer, most likely, is yes. But in order to fully realize the potential of the new world of data and the opportunities afforded by such insights, we need to break out of our comfort zones and consider what these apps and trends actually mean.
Now, that’s not to say you should be jumping onto every fad and riding it till it’s dead, but we do need to be more flexible and agile, and be more open to adaptation and change. Any significant shift is going to lead to further changes down the track, and it’s important that we consider those flow-on impacts — because one day, they could become crucially important.
For example, when self-driving trucks takeover, what changes and impacts can you foresee that could lead to future opportunities? When you’re working with a team of employees who are all part of the Snapchat generation, what would be important to know and understand to help you better connect with them and maximize their performance?
Every change has an impact, and considering what those changes might be could prove highly valuable. Don’t constrain your thinking to what’s happening right now, consider what that means and what might come next, and you’ll be better positioned to understand the landscape, and make better decisions as a result.