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Digital trends to shape 2014

How online trends will impact the work of digital professionals this year
University Business, January 2014
Karine Joly says digital content is now the currency for search, social networking and even advertising.
Karine Joly says digital content is now the currency for search, social networking and even advertising.

What will 2014 bring to the digital field in higher ed? That’s the million dollar question at the start of this new year. Unfortunately, charting a precise course for success over the next 12 months isn’t possible.

When everything changes so quickly, we can only try to identify what looks like the best route to our destination. To help you with the exercise, let’s see what developments are leading the way.

A world of required fun, emotions, engagement and impact

In this brand new world shaped by overwhelming choices, interconnected platforms, mobile connectivity and craving for real-time connections, digital marketers can’t afford to stay at the tactical level. Institutions need more than ever to adopt an integrated strategic approach.

Digital content is now the currency for search, social networking and even advertising. It’s the key to institutional visibility in search engine results, Twitter streams and Facebook news feeds.

Yet, content is not enough—it has to be engaging. For digital content to be found, seen, shared and ultimately acted on, it has to possess certain intrinsic qualities. In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Jonah Berger boils down the essence of contagiousness. Berger, the assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School writes that “the same 6 principles, or STEPPS, drive things to catch on: Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value and Stories.”

A world of “now”

When distance and place don’t matter anymore for online interactions and actions, time becomes crucial. Repetition isn’t enough to break through the noise created by the sheer amount of content.

Powered by the mobile web, the digital world is now thriving on our social impulse to capture and share moments. Through six-second Vine videos, Instagram photos or visual tweets and Facebook photo updates, your constituents are witnessing, participating and living in the world of now. In this context, don’t forget that timing is critical to success.

An integrated, interconnected world

As Google, Facebook, Twitter and the online world’s other main players mature, interconnection is becoming the name of the game for digital marketing and communications. In 2013, Google finished rebranding Google+ as the social layer integrating all its properties.

Whether you use its email, cloud service, search engine, advertising platform, Google Analytics, Google Hangouts or YouTube, your Google+ username is now the one that rules them all. By tying all its services together, the digital giant now sits on an incredible amount of intelligence on its users.

In 2014, this data will be sliced, diced and used to offer even smarter ways for advertisers to reach their target audiences via Google Ads. Marketers can measure the impact of their campaigns through the new demographic audience feature in Google Analytics.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms are all moving in this direction with in-house services and the social features they offer to third-party websites.

This convenience for users comes at a price, as the social login features and sharing icons often act as tracking devices following your every online step. Collected data is then used to offer more ways for marketers to target and reach—and even remarket to—their audiences. If you can put together all the pieces of this digital puzzle, your institution will thrive.

Future trends

While their use won’t likely reach a critical mass in 2014, two new technologies already available promise to have a big impact for digital marketers in higher education: Google Glass and 3D Printing.

Radically changing the offline and online perspectives of users, the Google Glass portable device is still available only through a limited beta program. It offers an added layer of augmented reality to your every move while allowing you to capture and instantly share online anything you see. It’s the missing piece to offer the ultimate engaging and immersive real-time online virtual tour live streamed to interested prospective students.

As the cost of 3D printers comes down and the technology becomes mainstream, the opportunity to scale the sharing of physical objects will finally arise. Universities will be able to share 3D plans of mementos as part of fundraising or marketing campaigns.

When these 3D objects are printed at home, they will literally materialize in front of the eyes of more closely engaged alums, future students or prospective parents. By meshing the virtual and the real worlds, both technologies have the potential to dramatically change digital marketing practices in the future.

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