Is ‘a new digital era’ arising due to the corona crisis?

Senior-Consultant-Social-Media-&-Innovation-Chéline-Ruhof

Chéline Ruhof-de Vries | Senior Consultant Social Media & Innovation

May 7, 2020

Since the outbreak of corona, digital communications has gone up. Digital tools, like social media channels and video applications like Webex and FaceTime, are primarily needed to stay connected to our family, friends and colleagues in times when we can’t physically see one another. Secondly, we are using them for some extra entertainment now that most offline entertainment facilities are closed or canceled. You can see this in the rise of TikTok and the ‘chat & play app’ Houseparty, as well as the increase in different social media challenges, like the Pillow Challenge or the Dutch Instagram ‘Between art and quarantine’. Other novel online entertainment options are also popping up, like pubquiz livestreams, online bingo nights with your friends and even virtual reality festivals.

This increase in digital communications has created conversations around ‘the new digital era’ as a result of the corona crisis. But to what extent is this really new? Or different? Here are 3 nuances to keep in mind:

Nuance 1: The difference between digitalization and digital communication

This is actually a pretty basic element to be aware of, but there lies a danger of miscommunication in talking about ‘digital’. On the one hand we see a rise in ‘digital’ in communications – as described above -, and on the other hand, companies are dealing with a (necessary) rise of ‘digital’ in their actual business. For example, shops may need to implement a web shop due to social distancing to keep their businesses going or, in the long run, the burst of actual automatization/robotization of previously human performed tasks due to employees not being able to attend their workplace.

These business changes can be very impactful. Although companies might be digitalizing their business due to corona measurements, this does not necessarily mean their amount of digital communication changes drastically. Let’s not forget communication in general has already long been digitalized: Google started in 1998, Facebook started conquering the world in 2004 and FaceTime was launched in 2010. Especially in terms of external communications plenty of companies have already invested heavily in SEO, social media marketing or app developments over the last decade. This was not because people could not easily go outside anymore, but because society and the way we communicate was already changing and companies had to adapt to that. However, the usage has definitely gone up during the past few weeks.

This brings the second nuance:

Nuance 2: The difference between external versus internal communication

Yes, due to the pandemic big differences are taking place when it comes to internal communication. Team meetings can’t take place in the same room, townhalls are canceled and even catch ups at the coffee machine aren’t possible anymore. These face-to-face moments at work gave us a feeling of connection and cohesion as a team. Now that these moments are (temporarily) gone, there’s a challenge for a lot of companies to keep this sense of community and keep employees engaged. Video conferencing and the usage of internal social media/intranets are now put to use in more organizations. You could read ‘finally put to use’: did you know Workplace by Facebook was launched 4 years ago already? And we’ve had Yammer since 2008? Skype has been available to us to use for video conferencing since back in 2003.

The nuance is that using tools like Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn has been part of any proper external communications strategy for a long time before corona, but we see that in terms of internal communications there’s actually a challenging ‘new era of digital communications’. Forced by this crisis. You can find more information on dealing with employee engagement during corona here.

Nuance 3: The difference in audience, especially based on age

In this time it’s even more important to be aware of your audience and what they use in terms of connecting through digital communication. For the relatively younger audience that has always been on social media, using Instagram Stories, Snapchat and WhatsApp video, there hasn’t really changed a whole lot. Not so much to speak of a new era, mostly just a more intensive usage. However, the slightly older audience does find itself in a new era of communication. They are suddenly forced to adapt to technology that’s new to them if they want to keep in contact with their (grand)children.

Considering the entertainment function of digital communication, we do recognize a different pattern for the younger audience. They find themselves having more time and being grown together with their screens, they start experimenting with new platforms. The amount of online gaming has risen dramatically and the average age of TikTok users has shifted up a bit now also millennials are using this social media platform to keep themselves entertained.

The take away: ask yourself if your target audience is still on the same platform as before. Perhaps new opportunities have risen for other social media channels? It could be a nice time for experimenting with other platforms for your brands. Please read Margot’s blog on improving your social media presence.

Conclusion

In terms of digital communication tools, we’ve seen that these are often not necessarily new. They’ve been around for years, but we can no longer get away without using them. There are a few new innovations that seem to have been launched more rapidly due to corona, like Facebook Gaming and Instagram Co-Watching, but these do not make our landscape drastically different. Social platforms launch new innovations regularly and it often takes years in order for them to get widely adopted.

What’s most challenging is the role of events and offline experiences and how this can be transformed into a digital version. How do we smell a new perfume, feel the way a new car drives or experience chemistry with a person we meet for the first time? This unfulfilled need for experiences might just give the extra boost for Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to make these ways of digital communications more common. Please read the Omnicom PR Group Digital Playbook to get guidance on how you could translate your offline event to an online experience or check out this blog to learn more about the valuable impact of experiences.

So can we speak of ‘a new digital era’ due to the corona crisis? We can at least say that this crisis is a wakeup call for companies who have failed to adapt to the digital society we have already been in for quite some time now. At the same time, we are also still reading newspapers and listening to the radio. Perhaps working from home will be more widely accepted after this. But will all this digitally connecting and online entertainment still be used as much as soon as we can actually, face-to-face, meet up again with friends, family and colleagues? Let’s see.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.