If I speak at a conference and do a Q&A session at the end, there’s one question that always gets asked: "What’s the next big trend in digital?"
The world this casual question comes from looks like this.
We come back to work after the Christmas break. We open our favourite charity digital news sources and find that there’s a fun new trend in the sector. He’s a fun little virtual robot Twitter user. Let’s call him Trendo.
Trendo (right) is coded to solve all your challenges: everything from a broken culture to a bloated team structure and, of course, achieving your online income targets.
All you have to do is follow Trendo on Twitter, retweet his latest tweet for engagement purposes, sit back and let the magic happen.
Trends that are/were fads
Trendo, of course, isn’t real. But he has other disguises in the real world.
Remember Ello, the no-advert, invitation-only, potential Facebook killer social network without any users? We were all sure that everyone would abandon the existing dinosaur platforms in droves and sign up for this ad-free utopia.
How about the Draw Something craze? For a while, the future was drawing random stuff on your phone. Given enough time, charities would find out how to make money from it.
Today, Trendo is taking more of a virtual reality form. Just send a headset to your supporters and the problem of creating truly immersive content for it (not to mention a compelling donation call to action) will probably solve itself.
All fun things. All fads. None of them will lead to the money the charity sector really needs to do the work it really needs to do.
The problem is this: digital marketing is not a fashion show.
Heads of digital at big charities do not sit sit back by the virtual catwalk, watch a parade of this season’s outfits and pick their favourites.
Neither is it Tinder. Managers at smaller charities can’t just sit back in their chairs, swiping left or right on their phones, constantly hopping to the latest fun platform.
Doing digital of any kind is a marriage. It’s a commitment between your charity’s objectives and the best way of achieving them. It’s doing what works, not what’s new: the right kind of trend
How about this for an alternative form of trend hopping (a true story)?
A large charity built the expertise and reputation of its digital comms team internally, as many do. As it did this, it saw an opportunity to provide more of its services online.
So it built the internal skills needed and a proof of concept for these online services by applying for and getting external funding.
Meanwhile, senior managers at the charity were looking for new fundraising products to expand fundraising. The digital comms team was also able to apply to that the skills it had learned in developing those digital services products. It showed the need by starting with contractors and freelancers as a more palatable introduction than with permanent staff. This led to five new team members joining.
At the same time, the head of digital made the case for additional budget and headcount by demonstrating the new demands on resources. That brought in another four new team members.
All this led to the charity reaching online one in five of the people it helped in total. Today, a business case for a permanent digital services function has been agreed in principle by senior management.
The trend that the head of digital hopped on was of increasing demand for online services externally and for new fundraising products internally.
This was not some shiny, disposable app, not a flash-in-the-pan trend.
Viral campaigns are over. Trendo isn’t coming. There’s no more magic. We need to get back to work.
So let’s all acknowledge: that digital marketing is a real discipline; that getting results from digital marketing usually takes a long time; and that it will feel like a right slog most of the time.
If you’re working in digital marketing, forget the trends and tool up with what will actually work, what will actually change the world.
Matt Collins is managing director of Platypus Digital, a digital marketing agency specialising in the charity sector