A New Era Of Digital And Social Communication Awaits Us In 2020 A look on future trends in arguably the fastest evolving sector of all.

By Gregg Fray

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Just 10 years ago when we set up Seven Media in the UAE, the direction of the PR industry was starting to shift. Facebook was evolving into a tool for corporate communication, bloggers were gaining prominence as storytellers, and the mobile phone was already the most effective way of reaching audiences. Crafting a story worthy of newspaper coverage and establishing relationships with journalists was no longer enough. We were seeing the emergence of integrated campaigns that combined digital and traditional media. Now, on the cusp of a new decade, we once again look ahead to future trends in arguably the fastest evolving sector of all.

1. Time for TikTok to strike in the Middle East

The stage is set for TikTok to explode in the Middle East. It is already a global phenomenon with about 500 million active users worldwide, making it a more popular social media form ahead of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Snapchat.

This year, the Beijing company opened its first Middle East-based office in Dubai, the precursor to an industry-wide push to incorporate it into Middle East communications strategies and campaigns.

Why the hype? Its main draw is that you can easily produce visual content on your phone that has the potential to reach millions of people through organic reach, as opposed to paid promotions and boosted posts used on other channels.

Brands are asking how young people are spending their time, what conversations they're having, and how they can join that spirit of fun with posts that are easily consumed and shared. There is a huge opportunity in the region for brands to lead the way on this fresh and exciting platform.

2. Focus on mental health awareness

2019 has been an important year for shedding light on the potentially harmful impact of social media platforms, such as anxiety over "likes," to the serious psychological effects of online trolling.

The industry is under increasing scrutiny over how it responds. To what extent can platforms demonstrate they are aware of users' well-being, and can take concrete steps to protect them?

Instagram has already announced it is phasing out its "Likes" function, while Facebook has boosted security and user controls through such features as "Snooze." Adverts promoting kindness online have become more prevalent, while body-positivity accounts have a greater following.

In 2020, we expect to see social channels making mental health a key strategy, taking a stronger stance to eliminate online bullying, raising awareness of support groups, and investing in people and tools to remove malicious comment.

3. Death of the influencer… as we know it

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by YouGov in the UAE and KSA revealed that 79% of those questioned have unfollowed social media influencers for inundating their timelines with promotional content.

Followers aren't fools. They know that businesses are investing heavily to have their products promoted, especially if the influencer has celebrity status.

Research by HypeAuditor found that 31% of UAE social media influencers purchase followers, while 20% use tricks to artificially boost their online profile. But when the inspiration dries up, the loss of authenticity can be smelt a mile away.

Influencers who survive this online cull will be those who have cut their teeth as storytellers, those who use their influence as a legitimate publishing platform, sharing authentic engaging stories with a specific community of interested followers.

4. Return to visual storytelling

The digital media industry has seen a significant move towards automation with software and algorithms increasingly deciding the content we see.

While there are certain functions in which this will be retained, I expect a move towards creative storytelling over the next decade, with video at its heart. Video already has 12 times more shares on social media than text and images combined. Next year, we expect 82% of internet traffic to be video-based.

A surge in content making tools means video production is easier than ever. But over time, the industry has largely forgotten what a story is- one that is relevant, and, more crucially, is memorable. Too often content is released for content's sake.

A classic case of laziness in social media marketing is the "content calendar," in which 30 days of posts are pre-written, pre-approved, and scheduled for release. People now expect personal content and two-way engagement with brands. Visual storytelling is key to this engagement. Brands that produce relevant stories that feel natural will best connect with their audience.

Related: Digital Marketing Tips For A Successful 2020

Gregg Fray

Co-Owner, Seven Media

Gregg Fray is the co-owner of Seven Media

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