Kirsty Marrins: What does 2019 hold for digital?

We canvass opinion from the sector on what the future holds

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

In 2018 we saw charities investing in digital, whether that was trialling contactless donation badges, using digital for service delivery or simply recruiting digital trustees. But what does 2019 hold for the sector? I asked some colleagues from the sector for their thoughts.

Voice and vision technology will cause disruption – Lisa Hornung, senior data and research analyst, National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Content development is changing, and this will in turn change the way charities can fundraise and deliver their work. Organisations are already adopting digital design principles, such as being user-centred and agile, and this will become increasingly important.

The rise of smartphones required charities to think about a "mobile first" strategy, putting mobile devices before desktops. But with the rise of more new platforms, organisations need to be thinking about how voice-and-vision technology, such as smart speakers, will again change how people interact with digital content. This creates a huge amount of prospect for charities in both fundraising and service delivery. Some are already experimenting with developing content for smart speakers, such as Cancer Research UK’s Alcohol Tracker and the British Red Cross’s First Aid app.

Messaging App Bots will be used more – Matt Navara, social media consultant

The increased usage of messaging apps, combined with the integration of chatbots and improved artificial intelligence will lead to a resurgence in businesses using bots for customer service and other experiences. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is most likely to see the biggest growth because of the rollout of WhatsApp for Business to more companies. The real test, however, is whether brands can create truly useful and meaningful services with bots, as opposed to gimmicky and uninspired bots. Charities that run mass-participation events should look to build a Whatsapp Group to be used as both a comms and customer service channel to engage and inspire their participants.

We’ll look beyond feeds – Dan Papworth-Smyth, digital enagagement manager, Breast Cancer Care

I think 2019 will see more and more charities move away from the traditional feed-first model for social. The saturation of news feeds and timelines will lead to the increased adoption of alternative methods to get messages to our supporters. This could be through heightened priority for Stories content on Instagram and even Facebook. It could also be through podcasts, with more charities exploring other avenues to share their rich stories (we launched ours earlier this month). We might see more investment in messaging tools too, and building more detailed bots to effectively engage with our supporters.

Online service delivery must be a priority – Matt Haworth, founder, Reason Digital

Websites and social media are embraced nowadays bringing (most of the time) more efficient and effective ways of communicating – and we allow people to donate online, so fundraising is covered. However, our new research shows that digital service delivery is the new, relatively unexplored frontier in charity digital.

We discovered a clear imbalance in that 50 per cent of the UK public supported a charity online, yet only 16 per cent had been supported by a charity online. How long will people stick around in a relationship this unequal? Online service delivery needs to be something we focus on if we're to continue to support and be supported by the public and to meet the potential digital has, not just to talk about, or to find support for our mission but actually to deliver our mission.

We’ll have more conversations about responsible tech – Giulia Merlo, service design lead, Cancer Research UK

If 2018 was the year that a user-centred approach became the norm in our sector, then 2019 will be the year charities begin to drive the conversation on responsible technology.

Digital teams in charities are now talking about culture and not just about delivery. As a sector, we've started to understand the value of disciplines such as design thinking and agility. This means we're in an ideal place to move beyond the user and look at the wider consequences of our tech and design choices, and to start considering their impact on the whole system, rather than just on individual behaviour.

And for me? Well, I believe that 2019 will be the year of the charity podcast.

When last did you listen to one? I bet it was very recently… perhaps even today. According to the regulator Ofcom, six million UK adults listen to a podcast each week – double the number of five years ago. Half of all podcast listeners are under the age of 35, but its popularity is increasing across all age groups. Over the last year or so, I’ve found myself listening to more and more podcasts, ranging from true crime to lifestyle, as well as charity-focused ones.

There are already lots of sector podcasts, such as CharityComms, Tech For Good Live and the Cancer Research UK Tech Team Podcast. Even this publication has recently launched one. Organisations including Breast Cancer Care, Amnesty International, Bliss and the Mental Health Foundation are just a few that have their own podcasts, but I predict that more charities will start them as part of their comms strategies or at least will look to advertise on popular podcasts, just as Save the Children and Versus Arthritis have. It’s a great way to reach a new audience and engage people in your work.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant

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