The Last 2020 Digital Trends Post You Need to Read

APCO’s European digital team, including Daniella Lebor (London), Laura Reynders (Brussels), Stefanie Schulz-Rittich (Berlin), Carlota Doben (London), Louison Lerein (Paris) and Alix Baruteau (Paris), contributed to this piece.

There have been countless 2020 trends posts written as we enter the new decade, but we wanted to understand which of the many-predicted trends will matter most to our industry in 2020 and beyond. To answer this question, APCO’s European digital team collected our favorite digital communications trends pieces and applied a range of network analytics techniques to graphically map the topical links between trends and therefore capture a comprehensive view of the overarching predictions in our field.

2020 Digital Trends Quid Analysis
Figure 1. Network map containing 73 trends from 25 sources, organized according to semantic similarity.

We immediately saw that the 2020 trends were pulled into three distinct clusters (clockwise from top-left): Innovations in Social Media Communications, Digital Technology Advances & Issues and Interactive & Personalised Digital Communications. At the heart of the network lies an area of whitespace that may represent the key point of unresolved tension between these predicted trends: how to balance innovative and personalised digital communications technologies with the growing demand for increased privacy, security and ethical treatment of personal data.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three major trend clusters in detail.

Innovations in Social Media Communications

Predictions include the continued dominance of the big 5 social media networks, the rise of new and alternative platforms (although we would advise testing the waters before pivoting all efforts to TikTok just yet) and the ways in which different social media are facilitating advertising and ecommerce opportunities for brands. Analysts maintain that direct messaging, the story format and authentic online community management will all play important roles for brands managing social media channels in 2020.

However, digital communicators should also keep in mind the growing calls for digital detox and take into consideration increasing user demands for meaningful experiences – which often aren’t online.

Our take: institutional and corporate actors will need to shift their tone as social media skepticism takes hold and becomes more widespread. Raw, unpolished visual formats (think informal video uploads and unfiltered stories) and direct engagement with online communities demands creativity, time and effort – but will ultimately pay off as online audiences become increasingly intolerant of scripted corporate newspeak.

Digital Technology Advances & Data Issues

This cluster captures the perennial tech trend alphabet soup: AI, AR, VR, 5G, Blockchain. Reality augmentation, machine automation and advanced analytics are all cited as major disruptions within the communications industry, but we also note a significant portion of this cluster predicting that the (increasingly personal) data generated by new digital technologies will require additional scrutiny.

There is an inherently ethical dimension to data capture, analysis and use, and 2020 will see additional privacy and security regulations instituted across all levels of government, worldwide. We expect to see robust debates around digital sovereignty and data democratization as well.

Our take: Organisations seeking to establish long-term trust with stakeholders will need to ensure that they maintain clear, transparent and ethical data use policies that clearly explain newly-adopted technologies and that put user privacy first. Expect grassroots advocacy campaigns that attempt to hold corporations and institutions accountable, including activist campaigns led by purpose-driven brands.

Interactive & Personalised Digital Communications

This cluster includes the personalised channels that communicators are predicted to adopt in the coming years: smart speakers, micro influencers, podcasts, user-generated content campaigns, chatbots, interactive emails. In 2020, communicators will use increasingly personal and interactive means to exchange with increasingly diverse and demanding audiences.

Personalisation is only possible with highly-detailed user data, and there is a fine line between a customised experience and a creepy interaction.

Our take: A personalised communications approach will require authenticity and specific audience segmentation to understand what motivates the key microsegments within target audiences. Communicators will need to carefully balance attentive, personalised approaches with authentic messages that clearly demonstrate why they merit their audience’s trust.

The Opportunity for Communicators in 2020

There is an unresolved societal debate around the tradeoff between digital communications and privacy. Institutional and corporate communicators have been quick to adopt the technologies that facilitate engagement with their audiences, but there is a gap between personal, data-intensive communication tech advances and individual expectations of transparency and trustworthiness. As public debate around digital privacy and transparency picks up steam in 2020, we also expect public officials to enact increasingly strict policies designed to protect the individual right to privacy. Communicators will need to seriously consider how their activities reflect these values of trust and transparency and forego easy tech solutions in favor of authentic exchange with their audiences. The most effective digital communications will still be data-driven and personalised, but only in complement to (and not at the expense of) an authentic, human-centric approach that prioritizes open and honest dialogue.