Five ways digital communication is changing or will change, and what you can do to prepare

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Digital communication is always changing, but sometimes – such as now – the natural rhythm of change receives an adrenaline shot of circumstance. This can be the advent of new technology and new means of interaction, or it can mean a more seismic social and cultural shift. As we discussed in our last piece, in this unprecedented time – a global pandemic and the residual or complementary chaos, such as elections, climate change and divided societies – there’s both growing danger and rising opportunity for digital communicators. Which you’re met with will be determined by your preparedness. With that in mind, here are five main ways digital communication is changing or will change in the year or years ahead, and what you can do to prepare.


1. More businesses are becoming digital (whether they like it or not)

One of the biggest changes is the need – if not the imperative – for businesses to create digital divisions, or to at least develop their digital presence. Billboard advertising doesn’t work without commuters (and, in general, significantly reduced movement and/or foot traffic). In a restricted climate, the local is constricting; SMEs, in particular, must look further afield, with both the means and the impetus to expand, or at least adopt a new way of thinking about their market. A niche focus is better than a local focus. This could mean revisiting overall strategy with an increased emphasis on digital communication and outreach, or other reexaminations of base assumptions.

This is similarly true for international companies, not only to combat the negative but to embrace the positive. For the latter, there’s the arrival of 5G, which promises more ubiquitous connectivity and extravagantly higher speeds. This is a boon for all forms of content, but especially video. Historically, the evolution of connectivity speeds has caused us to view our phones differently, and rely upon them for more. Seamlessness creates trust in solutions, relegating traditional devices – computers and laptops – to the professional sphere. To prepare, prioritise digital.


2. Working-from-home and cloud-based infrastructure

Our ability to communicate with the outside will be exercised by, improved by, or otherwise mirrored by our ability to communicate within. Those unaccustomed to digital communication are now unable to avoid it as a necessary means of business. The water cooler has become a metaphor; the meeting room is Zoom; the after-work social is similarly Zoom, but with the added awkwardness of many voices tumbling over one another. Gone are the suits (or at least the bottom part) and in are the pyjamas. A geographically distributed workforce demands a similarly distributed infrastructure, with cloud-based infrastructures, such as AWS, representing the best option. With physical out, and digital and cloud-based anything in, cloud-first strategies are set to become the norm.

For many businesses, this will also entail evolving their internal communication strategy, to include an amalgamation of the internal and external, publicly highlighting employee achievements or otherwise using workplace snapshots to fuel external content.

The danger of this change is, naturally, the formation of siloes. It’s important that digital communication – and the slew of tools and solutions offered – be used to form bridges, connecting the geographically distributed.


3. Eschewing the robotic, and embracing the human

As brands and companies have permeated personal spaces, thanks largely to social media, we’ve grown apathetic towards the constrained and robotic. Human connection requires a human voice. The rise of influencers – and the growing dependence upon them to promote products – points to the move away from traditional corporate communication strategists (and strategies). The static and scripted is being rejected in favour of the energetic and personal. Personality, in other words, matters, and manufactured corporate, play-by-book personalities have grown conspicuous to audiences – especially younger audiences accustomed to individuals as brands, as emissaries of new releases, and the subsequent feeling of connection and rapport.

Just as humanisation began with brands, it now extends more earnestly to digital communication. Even errors, when seen to come from a human hand, voice, or face, are more easily forgiven. Digital communicators will have to find new ways to, whilst keeping within the lines, have a voice, with all the potential for fallibility that involves. After all, it’s better – more impactful, engaging, memorable – to have a voice that is sometimes disagreed with than have no voice at all.


4. Social media: a new beginning

Ringing from all corners yet unidentified as a single source is a death knell, and it calls for thee, social media. A time of reckoning is now upon social media giants to change how they operate, and better safeguard their users from the negative health impacts of their platforms. Instagram is now trialling a removal of the Like button, to disentangle engagement from the pernicious dopamine-loop design. Facebook has been firefighting since 2018, and has since shown a significant drop in platform popularity amongst younger audiences. Election interference, fake news, and tension stoking have shackled the platform with an unfavourable image that, despite corporately constrained rebuttals, the company has been unable to shake.

Instagram and TikTok are likely to capture more of that market, especially with younger generations’ preference for visual formats, but none will escape the scrutiny, nor the question of how these platforms can function in a more socially responsible way. Companies will have to navigate this, and evolve as platforms enter into a period of experimentation. Preparation begins with diversification, and exploration of alternatives.


5. AI and chatbots, and a host of new tech

Both the ways in which we’re communicating and how that communication is taking place are changing. The popularity of AI-powered chatbots (or any AI-based interaction) is growing as its accessibility increases, creating demand for new skill sets. Chatbots able to mirror the company voice – with a script that blends the automated and the spontaneous – are the ideal answer to the growing need for quality customer service and cost management. It allows businesses to make more out of their existing knowledge base – few customers typically read questions and answers, for example, opting instead for search functions – and injects engagement into a traditionally unengaging component of digital communication. And speaking of things made easier: AI and other improvements to video-production software mean that few businesses have a reason not to at least explore video content. Likewise, interactive content – such as AR or VR – will similarly increase in accessibility and ease-of-creation over the next few years. This, as with chatbots, will allow deep engagement to become deep personalisation.

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