Robin KimRobin Kim

Communications experts have written previously about the changing IPO landscape, smarter analytics, political and social activism, techlash, regulation, advances in health tech and the impact of emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain, voice and more.

At our agency, we’re witnessing three new emerging trends that we believe will impact our tech sector clients in 2020 and beyond.

Video games and immersive platforms will be the new social channels, ascending at a time when social status among the children of Millennials—known as Generation Alpha—is increasingly being driven by their status in the digital versus the physical world. This isn’t just because gaming is dominating online chatter, or because more than four in 10 Americans own a video game console (with an equal percentage of adults playing them, by the way).

O'Dwyer's Nov. '19 Technology PR Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '19 Technology PR Magazine.

The breakout success of Fortnite, a free game, made a history-setting $2.4 billion in 2018 from a revenue model based entirely on microtransactions: most notably, costumes—known as skins—which players buy to enhance their online persona. Minecraft is another indicator: its multiplayer community of 91 million players worldwide was a driving factor in its $2.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft in 2014. The net worth of YouTuber Joseph Garret, who makes Minecraft videos for his nine million subscribers under the name Stampylonghead, is $14 million.

This trend comes amid shifts regarding what defines social status. For Baby Boomers and Gen X, it was based on what you owned, wore, or drove. For Millennials, it’s about experiences. For the new generation of teens, it’s about one’s status in a digital world, a world that is as important as the physical one, with teens seeing their online friendships as equally important as their offline ones. Future-forward consumer brands are looking beyond bridging the analog and digital world. They’re embracing a fully digital world as one where a growing number of teens feel most at home.

Engineers who can communicate simply and authentically will be the new monarchs. Technology’s sophistication, scale and interdependence have created a level of complexity so great that even the engineers that create it don’t understand it, a point that scientist and author Samuel Arbesman called out in Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension. This complexity is only increasing with the rise of machine learning, AI, quantum computing and cloud.

The challenge and risk this presents for brands can’t be underestimated: when stakeholders don’t understand how complex technologies function, they question the motives behind those technologies, and the company’s ability to manage it. Today’s techlash against Silicon Valley illustrates in some part the consequences of this failure. Complexity is the enemy of trust.

It’s no longer enough for an organization’s narrative to focus on what it does and why it does it. It’s critical to detail transparently, from the start, how it does it, along with how it’s mitigating against the unintended consequences of its results. In other words, good technology isn’t good enough: the company must show how it is living up to its broader societal responsibility.

Smart storytellers must also be responsible for vetting insights provided by engineers, versus simply deferring to them. This includes engineers who are CEOs, whose numbers are growing. The best performing CEOs are now more likely to have engineering degrees than MBAs, according to Harvard Business Review. Marketers may want to follow suit.

The media model of the future will be trusted reporting with deep expertise. This trend is accelerating as audiences convene in smaller, closed communities and independent platforms. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the more critical is related to trust and current perceptions of the media as polarizing.

“The stakes are high as the media’s credibility is being attacked, which is why it’s so important that the media make the right choices on what to cover and why,” said Jessica Lessin, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Information, at her recent Subscriber Summit.

It’s a trust equity that audiences are willing to pay for, whether the editorial is organic or brand supported. The success of unbundled, highly tailored subscription media models is evidence of this.

With the source of our information under unprecedented scrutiny, the conversation around fake news will also shift beyond Facebook and Twitter bashing toward holding individuals accountable for ensuring the validity behind what they repost, like and share. For CEOs, the expectation goes further as employees expect their leaders to take a stand on major social and political issues. In a world where everyone is a content publisher and distributor, our reputation will be inseparably linked to our role as shared stewards of the conversation. Even if indirectly, we’re sources too.

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Robin Kim is Practice Head, Global Technology & Innovation, at Ruder Finn, and leads the agency's global technology & innovation practice. Robin is a 20+ year senior technology veteran who has lived and worked across 9 cities in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. She’s based in San Francisco.