A version of this post was initially published on Whispr Group.
Which communication strategies will work best in 2021?
Algorithms rule today’s online media landscape. What breaks is equal to what the algorithms will decide to favour.
As a brand, are you at the mercy of these algorithms?
Must you succumb to clickbait and sensationalism to stand out?
In Whispr Group’s on-demand-webinar on optimising communication strategies, I cover the communication strategies you’ll need to stand out in 20201—as well as in this article.
The New World is Complex — and Noisy
ESG (environmental, social and corporate social governance) makes the landscape extremely complex to navigate. And external interest groups are applying tough pressure on many brands. The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t showing many signs of slowing down as many countries are battling both second-and-third waves of the disease.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the techlash is becoming more and more prominent. The much-discussed Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma raised questions about the online algorithms’ divisiveness; it addressed enormous problems of polarisation and mental health.
Being a brand in 2020 hasn’t been easy—and we should brace ourselves for whatever 2021 will have in store for us.
In this age of algorithms, what will work?
And what won’t work?
An Abundance of Editorial Space
The algorithms adapt to us, the users, but user behaviours adapt rick back to the algorithms. We don’t know who’s in the driver’s seat at the moment.
It’s something of a pavlovian chicken-or-egg situation.
We do know, however, that both search engines and social networks are desperately aiming for that golden algorithmic mean somewhere in-between maximising ad revenue on the one hand—and maximising user engagement on the other.
Academically, these types of contextual constraints are bundled together and named media logic. The media logic of the online algorithmic landscape is different from traditional media logic in many ways.
There were only so many large “campfires” in the traditional mass media landscape” for the audience to gather around. There were a few television channels, a few radio stations, a few newspapers. This made the most extensive “campfires” extremely valuable. A single weekly television show could gather millions of viewers. But that was then, a bygone era.
Today, editorial space isn’t scarce anymore. And the algorithms will take care of all the heavy-lifting amidst this never-ending mass of online information. Thanks to the internet, we find ourselves in a world with an almost infinite amount of editorial space.
The algorithms are our new campfires.
Attention!—The Battle for Mental Bandwidth
The media logic of the algorithms is dictated by how users—according to historical data on human behaviour—will decide to distribute their precious seconds of attention.
In other words: Mental bandwidth is the limited resource — not editorial space.
And this is, of course, why we must adapt our strategies if we wish to get our messages across to an online audience. This “attention economy” will dictate which marketing- and PR strategies will work.
And which ones won’t work.
5 Communication Strategies for 2021
1. Go Super-Niche
Algorithms have created an online landscape where winners take almost all. Brands must find a way to dominate a specific niche. One way for a brand to better the odds of succeeding is to position its marketing- and PR messages in smaller and smaller places, ultra-niches.
Rehband, a Swedish/German manufacturer of medical support equipment for all types of sports, found Instagram success in deciding to focus on the CrossFit community—and from there, move slowly onto functional training and obstacle course racing. It might seem counterintuitive at first glance, but it looks better to be a key player in a small community than to be no one in a large one.
Being niche-specific will ensure that you build a behaviorally homogenous audience, an audience that the algorithm can predict more easily.
2. Go Super-Consistent
Almost all successful social media channels run by superstar influencers are highly consistent in their frequency of output and their type of media. And all of that output is spectacularly coherent in terms of tonality and quality.
In 2021, brands should take note. Anyone can launch a website, start a podcast, or publish videos on YouTube. But it takes years of consistent output to build a loyal audience and find a unique tone of voice.
When anyone can start their podcast in five minutes, years of coherent effort will make all the difference.
Whatever type of brand message we publish, we’d be wise to remember that it takes 10,000+ hours of consistent work before any of it becomes good enough to cater to an engaged mass audience on the regular.
3. Go Super-Communal
If you suddenly shift your strategy, the algorithms will quickly hide your brand messages — and force you to start over with trying to build a new audience that fits your new approach.
If you put a message out there, anyone subjected to that message will either react (click, share, comment, like etc.) in some measurable way—or they will not.
If the audience is too big and too diverse, too many users won’t react to your message. Bots and fake followers are the worst, of course. All “non-reactions” combined will actively diminish your brand’s chances of online growth. Brands must actively weed out ghost followers.
Brands must actively attract only engaged audiences. This new media logic becomes extremely clear in email marketing. Having subscribers who rarely interact with your brand messages might destroy your sender reputation with critical email servers.
4. Go Super-Winning
With so few precious seconds of user attention to compete for, second-placers reap only minimal rewards compared to the winners. Scoring a “viral hit” here is always lovely, both for moral and quarterly metrics reports. Still, the algorithms will almost always push your brand back to its median trajectory almost immediately.
When planning for marketing- and PR strategies in 2021, you must make sure that you always “go for gold” in the long-term—or that you prioritise something else instead.
Algorithms will reward focused brands. In 2021, marketers and communicators should take notes from developers who base their work on “sprints”.
You focus on one objective, and you get it done before moving on to the next objective. The same is valid for getting brand messages across; there’s minimal upside for mediocre brand content in the algorithmic media landscape.
5. Go Super-Harvesting
At times, the audience will come to the brand. They might seek you out through word-of-mouth, search engines, or social media. Exactly how this audience finds you is crucial, but it’s secondary to how you manage to keep them coming back for more.
Strategies designed to attract users to a destination under the brand’s control (like a website, app, email list etc.) typically outperform approaches designed to get your message in front of users looking for something else.
In 2021, a brand can’t afford to make the most of these inbound signals. These audiences aren’t “already won” but rather “first-in-line to be dazzled”. As anyone successful in negotiating today’s online media landscape will tell you, you won’t be able to succeed alone.
No matter how big your brand is, you’ll need the help of an engaged audience to grow. You’ll need an audience to punch through the noise.
Find Your Message-Market-Fit for 2021
Getting your communications strategies right from the start is more important than ever. The first-mover advantage is fiercely overrated in this context; there’s only a first-to-get-it-perfectly-right-advantage.
Specialised growth hackers will typically search for their “product-market-fit” ferociously first before even trying to scale the brand online.
Have you been able to find your message-market-fit?