Thursday, December 04, 2014

The future of communications

A random email popped into my inbox this morning asking me my thoughts on the future of communications based on the questions below. I thought my answers might warrant a blog post as I’m interested in your thoughts too, dear reader, so please feel free to comment.

I thought I’d start the post with a little video from 1999 or thereabouts, from Motorola. It was their vision of the future of mobile communications. It’s easy for us to criticise the bits that are missing from the video, but at the same time, there are aspects of it that are spot on.

The future of mobile communications as predicted by Motorola back in ~1999.

And now for the questions posed…

1. What do you predict will happen/change in the communication sector in 2015?

I think my answer to this depends in how you define the communication sector. We are seeing a further decline in SMS and voice calls and I expect that to continue. At the same time, we are using our phones more and more to connect on social media and messaging apps – be that Twitter, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat and many more.

Email is also not going away any time soon. Despite the fact that many of us are drowning in email, it is still an effective communication channel. The major change here is that we are accessing our email on a mobile device first.

Companies and organisations need to respond by being flexible in how they communicate with their audience and customers. That means email has to be mobile friendly – with links going to mobile pages, with email content including words and not just pictures and for it to be quick to download and access. There is also an additional need to allow easy options to unsubscribe with one click or one reply of an email.

On the social media side, companies have to adapt their communications strategies for dealing with customers. And it’s not easy when you’re dealing with multiple channels and many people demanding your attention much of the time. Keeping track of conversations with the same person over multiple channels is not easy. But more and more, customers are expecting this level of continuity.

2. How do you think people's behaviour will change in 2015?

I am currently seeing more people saying they’re uninstalling Facebook Messenger or other messaging apps or social media channels and telling people to contact them via a specific channel such as email, voice or SMS, or whichever their preferred method is.

It has always been true that people have different preferred communication channels – in the old days it was face to face vs telephone vs letter. It has got a whole lot more complicated now when you add in the plethora of messaging apps, social media and more. If you’re on the other side, it’s hard to always remember your friends’ preferences – the ones who never do Facebook, or don’t read their email, and even harder to always accommodate them. Add in the scale of any kind of business and their audience and their individual preferences and it gets a whole lot more difficult. Nevertheless, there are benefits in understanding these nuances and acting accordingly. There’s no point forcing someone to talk on the phone if they don’t like voice communication. Equally, there’s little use in getting frustrated when someone hasn’t responded to your email. For all you know, they may never have seen it in the first place. It could be one of  200 emails received that morning, or it could be languishing in their spam folder.

I’m also seeing a rise in protecting privacy and an increased level of understanding (and misunderstanding) of what personal data you’re giving away in return for using all these services. There have been attempts by the likes of Ello to hand back the power to the consumer but with limited success. At the moment utility still outweighs everything else, but not for everyone.
And video is on the increase. There have been many attempts at video-based messaging, but services like Vine seem to be a real hit. I think we’ll see more of this in the next year or two.

3. How will communication platforms respond to these changes?

I think companies running these communication services will respond more to the privacy issues, or at least, I hope they will. I’d like to see better explanation of what data is used, where it goes and why it’s needed. I’d like to see more companies working harder to protect the security of consumer data – even if that means we have to pay for the privilege.

From a marketing perspective, I think it’s likely we’ll see more types of advertising creeping in. After all, these services have to make their money somehow and if it’s not through premium or paid-for services, the only other model that I can see is advertising. I hope we see some innovative solutions here that work for both customer and advertiser and that we can get beyond the banner ad.

4. What excites you in the communication industry?

It’s dynamic. I’ve been working in mobile marketing and advertising since 2000 and back then, we had voice, SMS, voicemail and WAP on our phones. On our laptops or desktops, we had email and Instant Messenger. It’s amazing to think of how many more ways to communicate we have now. And I’m sure there are more to come. It taps into a basic human need to share and connect.

5. And which companies or apps do you think will be doing exciting things in 2015?

I really like what Swiftkey is doing to speed up mobile communication. The way it learns how you write, the words and syntax you use, is impressive. Their recent project with Professor Stephen Hawking is also impressive and shows that these tools can improve life and productivity for those with accessibility issues too. Something we often overlook in tech circles.

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