Digital marketing trends for 2019

Privacy concerns, artificial intelligence and shifts in social media lie ahead
By: | Issue: January/February, 2019
January 25, 2019

What will 2019 bring for higher ed marketers and communicators? The short answer is always straightforward: constant change, new challenges and a few opportunities. Expect the following trends to impact digital higher ed in the next 12 months.

Focus on data privacy compliance
There is no doubt that 2018 was marked by growing concerns around online privacy and the harvesting of personal data by social media platforms and web applications. In the aftermath of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal and the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, levels of scrutiny are likely to rise in 2019. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others have amended their terms of service agreements related to data use, given the worldwide legal ramifications of the European regulations.
“The challenge for higher ed analytics will be learning best practices to capture and analyze data while still respecting the privacy of users,” says Aaron Baker, digital analytics lead at Harvard University. Whether you want to access the demographic and interests data on Google Analytics, retarget your email leads with paid posts on Instagram, or track users across devices, you will need to update your privacy policy to stay compliant with new terms of service requirements.

The changing face of search
When 85 percent of high school seniors and 88 percent of juniors use a search engine to find a school website, organic search is a key digital marketing channel for higher education. That means any small change affecting search rankings can’t be ignored.
The current “search revolution” powered by artificial intelligence should be analyzed and integrated into your content development efforts. Enabled by machine learning’s advances in audio, visual and semantic recognition, AI search agents are getting better at understanding and finding meaning in online content. With the addition of keyboardless searches via Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant, your online content has to meet the different expectations of a new search ecosystem.

Social media challenges
The increased focus on data privacy, the invasion of fake accounts and the explosion of artificial engagement—as well as years of digital literacy education—have driven students to shift their social media activity from public feeds to private accounts, group messaging and Story streams.
With more students sharing private content that expires after 24 hours, the rules of social media engagement have changed dramatically. Photos, GIFs, posts and updates are still shared, but it is becoming more difficult to assess brand health on social media.
Follow the lead of early adopters such as University of Florida Social Media Director Todd Sanders, whose team created shareable assets—trackable, branded GIFs on Giphy or augmented reality lenses—to amplify and humanize their school’s brand.
The use of chatbots is also likely to increase as institutions try to scale up customer service on social media for basic inquiries.

Video is more accessible
As brands and companies use videos to improve their marketing, schools will have to keep up with production quality and the accessibility demands inherent to higher education. Fortunately, the advances in voice recognition will help a great deal as AI-powered transcription services have dramatically reduced the cost and time required to offer captioned videos.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind college webeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of higheredexperts.com.