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Who do you trust? Predictions for 2017

Trust in an age of post-truth and fake news will be a key issue in 2017. NewsMediaWorks chief executive MARK HOLLANDS shares his predications for the year ahead. Who do you trust – that’s the question for 2017. Digital metrics, fake news and this year’s newest word, “post-truth”, have set a stage on which we will question what...

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Trust in an age of post-truth and fake news will be a key issue in 2017. NewsMediaWorks chief executive MARK HOLLANDS shares his predications for the year ahead.

Who do you trust – that’s the question for 2017.

Digital metrics, fake news and this year’s newest word, “post-truth”, have set a stage on which we will question what we are told by our myriad of information sources, and especially what is shared with us by our friends.

The key will be to know where to place your faith, not go through life untrusting of everything and everyone.

This will never be more true than in the media we consume.

Fake news and it’s yet unproven but likely impact on the outcome of Brexit and then the US election may result in many reconsidering their screen time, and whether to share certain content. Or it may not.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of the next 12 months. Social media is changing the way we communicate and how societies behave.

We are starting to better understand how it is being manipulated; through the algorithms these platforms swap in and out with no oversight, and through the deviously smart practices of purveyors of fake news. Marketers also must consider the impact of their own brands being found on fake news sites, or within media that undermines brand values.

Will we care enough to temper our behaviour – we should get some sense of an answer in the coming year. In the short-term, I doubt it.

Ultimately we will all embrace filtering of our information feeds. As Kevin Kelly calls it in his new book, The Inevitable: “We are still at the early stages in how and what we filter. These powerful computational technologies will be applied to the internet of everything . . . In the next 30 years, the entire cloud will be filtered, elevating the degree of personalisation”.

Fake news is not the only issue. The Oxford Dictionary’s word of 2016 – Post-Truth – provides the journalism challenge of 2017. That is, how to report without favour, yet make a judgement on whether what is being said is true. Just because a politician says something, doesn’t mean it is true. If it is a known falsehood, or a manipulation of fact, why report it faithfully or give it airtime?

The responsibility of a journalist is to their reader/viewer and society by elevating and uncovering truth – not repeating falsehoods spewing from governments, business or any individual.

The problem is similar to fake news because the symptoms are common to both: the audience is being lied to. What a politician said wasn’t fake, it was just bullshit. On this issue, I think the public is way ahead of media and has been for a long time. This coming year, debate on how organisations conduct news gathering and analysis, and how audiences engage with them, will become an increasingly hot topic. Noel Pearson’s lashing of the ABC, the constant critical commentary of the so-called right- and left-wing press will have an even greater profile in our social discourse.

This sounds chaotic but will be healthy and, ultimately, enhance the vitality, importance and engagement of quality journalism across the entire media sector.

For some marketers, they’ll see these debates as reason to become their own publisher, believing they might survive without mainstream media.

Bad idea. They won’t have the scale.

Yes, Red Bull has done it. And PepsiCo. But they buy media, too.

If that parallel doesn’t work, consider how much TV promotes itself in every ad break. You won’t maximise your business without mainstream media.

On the buy-side of the media business, manipulative algorithms, pressure on viewability of digital ads and the true impact of any single media to move the commercial dial will face relentless scrutiny.

Increasingly, marketers and business leaders will not see all data as equal – not that it ever was. Greater emphasis is going to be put on behavioural and sales data, say from the cash register, than self-reporting surveys that might ask, “Trump or Clinton?” or “Remain or Exit?”

Small data projects, such as turning some media dark in a specific geography to discover which ones drive revenue, will increase.

The coming year will be entertaining on many other fronts. There’ll be a fight to the death on live broadcasting via social media platforms.

Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope have barely touched our lives compared with the potential these technologies hold. Climbing in the ring will be Instagram, Snapchat, Google and maybe even WhatsApp and Slack.

Social media will also become more pervasive in business, too. Social tools will accelerate their entry into the work place. If you are not familiar with Slack, for example, it is worth checking out. The obvious space to occupy is in worker collaboration.

The walled gardens of messaging apps, like Snapchat, have a good digital story in terms of avoiding ad blocking and audience targeting. How much the market buys in to this narrative will become evident in the next 12 months.

Gathering speed will be chatbots. I found myself talking to my phone – abusing it mostly – this year. The amount of Google searches on my profile for “not that, you f***wit” would be world-leading. The technology is constantly improving of course (I am an impatient sod).

Bottom line: expect to talk more to your phone. Worse, it will talk back more.

While on this topic, digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana will soon be the ancestors of chatbots designed to help with bookings and customer service. Again, it is the search and social media companies, along with tech giants like IBM, which are doing most of the work on this form of artificial intelligence.

There’ll be more automation around simple customer enquiries, leaving humans to deal with difficult questions and clients.

While this is designed to make life simpler, not much else will be.

In publishing and broadcasting, companies will continue to disrupt themselves. News publishers have been doing this for a while, to be honest. This word “disruptive”, I think, is a bit misleading and mischievous. Basically, media companies are finding new business models and services that may cut across old ones. The tech industry has been doing this for years. When you see this happening, understand that it is a sign of strength and necessity in a world of fragmented media.

The AT&T / Time-Warner deal is a good example of this globally. On a smaller scale, News DNA, a unit within News Corp Australia, is all about winning the attention and engagement of new audiences.

Disruption will be a constant in the agency world, too. Transparency and pressure will be watch-words. Marketers’ demand for a zero-waste targeting strategy will increase but make as much sense as demanding, “make me a viral video”. Creative agencies appear set to push harder, and successfully, into the planning and buying space. They’ll be assisted in part by alignment within the ad-tech stack. Once disparate slices of software are starting to talk to each other – and make sense. This will make it logistically easier to pull everything under one roof. So, value will increasingly shift from execution to expertise and relationship.

There’s an enormous amount to anticipate and be excited about in 2017. A few other predictions:

The obvious: Mobile / targeting / engagement / brand / trust

Pendulum swing: Back to trust

Hottest acronyms: AI, VR, AR

Hottest release: Star Wars 8. (and I mean HOT!)

Hottest hardware: 10th anniversary release of the iPhone (curved screen, wireless charging, OLED screen… maybe all, maybe none. We’ll have to wait)

Hottest software: Google’s Deep Mind

Hottest Trend: Live video on social platforms

Hottest pizza: Drone-delivered.

Can’t wait: To see what Uber does with self-drive trucking company Otto (bought this year for $US680m).

Can’t wait 2: What SpaceX does next.

Can’t look away: The Donald.

Can’t predict: Putin.

Can’t help but think: Marine Le Pen will win the French election, and all Euro hell breaks loose over there.

Will ignore: Daily Mail Australia.

Will embrace: Life. Writing my next crime thriller.


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