2014 – The Year that Will Be
Over the past week or so, we've looked back fondly at the year that was in 2013. We wrapped up the year discussing social success stories, communications missteps, and the top communications trends of the year. And in all three posts, we focused on the lessons that we can learn from each example.
Today, to kick off 2014, let's gaze into the ol' digital crystal ball and explore three themes that are going to play a major role in digital marketing, social media, and on-line communications for the next 12 months.
It's a perfect storm for accessible Web design in the province. First and foremost, the advent of new regulations as per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will put a premium on businesses and government bodies that are developing their Web content from now on.
It's a topic that we've discussed greatly throughout 2013 (check out our Accessibility blogs here) and it's only going to grow in importance.
That perfect storm also includes the fact that mobile-friendly development is also becoming a more vital part of any digital solution. Many of the principles that define accessible development are echoed in best practices for mobile-first development, so focusing on "accessibility first" actually helps in your efforts to put your business in the palm of your customers' hands.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, private and non-private organizations with 50 or more employees (designated large organizations by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) must comply with a variety of accessibility mandates – including the fact that new public websites and content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A. (What's that? Glad you asked... Our primer on WCAG levels.)
The best part for businesses is that both accessible and mobile development practices encourage efficient site design, prioritization, and content deployment. They both naturally improve your site's searchability and, from a user experience, they both allow all of your visitors to access content in an intuitive and effective manner.
Sites as Apps
I need to thank our very own Mike Pace for introducing this concept to me. But as we continue down the road to satisfying the growing mobile Web beast, we need to embrace the fact that the old attitude of Web sites versus apps (and never the twain shall meet) is rapidly growing outdated – if it's not archaic already.
Most companies don't have the time, resources, or inclination to develop two different sites: one for desktop/laptop access and one for mobile. Instead, with the shift towards responsive design and mobile-first development, the same location must serve both masters – and serve them well.
What is a site and what is an app? If you ask 10 people, you'll get 10 different answers. If you ask those in the industry, they'll bring up APIs and interactivity; they'll compare front-end versus back-end involvement; or they'll discuss information versus application.
And if you ask the average Joe or Jill on the street, they'll say you get an app at the App Store or Google Play. Everything else is a site, right?
Wrong – or, perhaps, not wrong, but it's all in the perception.
Instead of restricting ourselves as sites versus apps, the forward-thinking companies will try to integrate the best of all worlds into an experience that's positive for the user, flexible, and accessible from any manner of sources.
It comes down to customer service. What digital solutions can we develop that meet the goals and needs of our clients, whilst providing their users and customers the best possible – and most intuitive and effective – experience?
In the end it doesn't matter what YOU call it. If you want to define your product as an app or a site, it doesn't really matter in the end for your users. They want something that works, provides them with information or action items in an intuitive and timely fashion. App, site, or a bit of both – all that matters is that your customers have a positive experience no matter how they're accessing your content.
Well that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?
Yes. And no.
Hopefully, gone are the days when companies tried to offer all things to all people. Few of us have the time, inclination, and resources to do it. And of those companies that have massive digital marketing/social staff resources, is there truly value in maintaining multiple social channels, just to say you're there?
I have a few fundamental questions I ask of any client when they're proposing social involvement. At first, everyone's excited about the project and comes into it with best intentions and enthusiasm. "Yes, we'll blog every week," or "We need a Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest account..." But pressed further, as to why they 'need' these items, it often comes back to variations of 'because.'
In trying to keep up with the on-line Joneses, we forget what's really important: delivering the right content to the right people in the format that's best for them. If your customers aren't using Vine or pinning to Pinterest, then that needs to be a consideration for your long-term marketing strategy.
In the past, those nefarious social media wizards/gurus/swamis would sell companies a bill of goods saying that if they didn't have a presence on all social networks, then they'd be left behind. And while it's always good to be aware of what's out there – especially when it comes to monitoring your own brand – the truth of the matter is that your efforts, or lack thereof, can do more damage if you're only involved half-heartedly.
- A regularly updated blog packed with quality, relevant information that your customers enjoy and share is a wonderful thing; a blog that has lain dormant for months, with out-of-date information or stale content can negatively impact people's perception of your brand.
- A Facebook page that regularly posts and interacts with people who follow and like the content is great; one that only broadcasts once in a blue moon, with no interactivity, has no value.
- A hobby shop that embraces Pinterest by sharing craft ideas and customer designs would be a gold mine; do we really need a medical centre's "best boils of 2014" board just so they can say they have a presence?
Focus on what works for your brand and your customers. Determine how much time you have then prioritize your efforts on those channels that can best help you reach your goals. If you're a local restaurant trying to make a name for itself in the local community, turning to Twitter and jumping on local hash tags may have more value to you than posting Instagram photos of your meals.
There are many social outlets available to you. Diversification is important, but make sure you focus on those that can actually move the dial for you in a positive way. Don't try to be all things to all people; be the right thing to the right people and you'll see a return on your social investment.
And now I turn it over to you. What trends do you foresee for 2014? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.