Up next: Live, responsibility, and the things we want to do next

Everyone has a to-do list — but what about making a list of what you want to do? We’ve been casting our eye over the macro trends in communications, technology, and the web in order to identify the areas in which we would like to do (more) work. If you’re thinking the same, get in touch.

1. Be responsibly woke

A marketing industry word of the year for 2017 was “responsibility”: from the responsibility of platforms over the content they facilitate and the brands whose money they take, to corporations’ overall responsibility in making the world a better place. And as influencers become brands themselves, so ignoring their own “brand responsibility” caused controversy: see Zoella’s advent calendar, and the Logan Paul episode.

Safeguarding against problems is the first step, but things get interesting when brands try to proactively enter “the conversation”. Of course, posing as woke can go horribly wrong (if you haven’t seen the SNL take on that Pepsi ad, you ought to), but genuine impact can actually come from putting real resource behind social change.

Last year we worked with YouTube on #MoreThanARefugee, a project with the International Rescue Committee that used influencers to get through to viewers (while riling an alt-right minority) with a perspective on the refugee crisis that rarely makes it onto mainstream media.

So, item one on our list: exploring the positive role brands can play in the world, and how non-profits and causes can use social tools to get their messages to audiences.

2. Go live

Live video online is nothing new, but for a long time consisted of little more than the content we were used to seeing on broadcast TV coming to us over the web. As live technology and platforms mature, however, new types of content have emerged, and proven that live should be considered alongside video on demand, with unique attributes that audiences are asking for.

Streamers playing games on Twitch reach live concurrent audiences larger than many digital TV channels, supported by $4.99 voluntary subscriptions from passionate fans. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has broadcasted behind-the-scenes from the red carpet, creating content that complements, instead of replaces, traditional media coverage. Trivia game HQ, from the makers of Vine, draws over a million players twice a day to compete for real cash, hosted by a live presenter whose interactions with the audience turn a simple quiz into an event; it recently raised a valuation of over $100m. And social media users are becoming increasingly likely to share live moments as throwaway, ‘look where I am’ experiences, akin to Snapchat redefining the selfie.

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Facebook are reluctant to share usage statistics, but product director Daniel Danker revealed at IBC in September that one in four videos being uploaded to the platform are now created live, with time spent viewing live content increasing four-fold in the preceeding 12 months.

The excitement, intimacy and spontaneity of a live broadcast creates a much closer relationship between broadcaster and viewer. For brands this can be as large as a product launch or as intimate as a quick behind-the-scenes or Q&A. We want to create more of these magic moments.

3. Meet the intelligence

Deep Mind, Google’s AI acquisition, built a neural network that learned how to run

In 2016 we said we’d like to meet these Artificial Intelligences that people were talking about. Getting to know them then felt cute, we thought; it’s important to show they’re not all Ex Machina. But now it feels a little bit more pressing.

There has been a lot of discussion this last year about how AIs will both fantastically improve, and ruin, the world. But a pattern-matching algorithm isn’t the same a bipedal robot doing an overhead flip. We want to create opportunities to understand all sorts of AI tools, and help change the simplistic terms in which they’re too often portrayed. Let’s go for a trip in a self-driving car, critically compare AI novels and find ways to understand what systems like DeepMind are actually doing (psst, it’s not magic). We could have done these projects last year or for several years before. What’s changed is that doing them now feels very, very achievable — and very, very pressing.

4. Offer a fair exchange on personal data

The exchange of personal data for free benefits has evolved from a business model for web companies (have a free social network — we’ll fund it using your data to sell ads) to a key part of all forms of marketing (sign up for our mailing list, get 5% off). Unfortunately, data-as-currency has become increasingly poor value; long after that 5% off passes, the data is still there, being used in opaque ways. If monetary currency worked the same, then years after leaving the shop, your wallet would still be slowly drained of cash. This isn’t a fair exchange.

GDPR won’t totally fix this, but it will bring attention to it. The EU’s directive on data protection requires companies holding data to tell people what they know about them, better manage it, and be more transparent about usage. It’s a good time for advertisers using data to re-evaluate their relationship with it — and ask what they are really offering to the customer as a fair exchange.

Flying Object’s pitch has always been to make stuff that people want to see, be a part of, engage with. Data can, and should, be a part of this. Rather than seeing GDPR as a reason to back away from data, let’s start using data better, making that exchange genuinely worthwhile for the customer — and, therefore, for the brand, too.

5. Help brands use YouTube ads better

That video is an incredible tool to create connection and emotion is well understood. But there are nuances to how this is done on TV, vs YouTube, vs Facebook, that brands still struggle with. Thankfully, many have now stopped simply re-purposing a 30” TVC to run as pre-roll, but the question is, if not that, then what?

Last year we began working with YouTube helping visualise their research on how and why people use the platform. By better understanding the needs YouTube content serves and the contexts it is used in, brands can create advertising that is more useful, more entertaining, more memorable — and ultimately more effective.

Now we want to take these learnings to brands themselves, and help them craft brilliant video ads and content that works.

6. Nurture fandoms

We’ve been talking about fandoms for a while: those amazing groups of people who create and share around a common passion — RuPaul, Game of Thrones, even a brand. They’re not going away, but brands being able to easily access them is, as Facebook once again tweaks its algorithm.

These communities provide a chance to focus on one thing and not every-thing, and this has proven hugely valuable for some brands over the past decade. But as platforms manage feeds in such a way that advertising is required to cut through, brands need to forget any notion of social media as free reach, and instead, nurture their fandoms.

In previous years we’ve given back to brands’ fans — such as our campaign to have Harry Potter readers “unveil” what the new, illustrated edition Voldemort would look like if they posted enough tweets. This is a year to double-down on that relationship, think around platforms’ single-minded, paid-only approach to reach, and get things shared among fans because they deserve to be shared among fans.