The media on COVID19 has been pretty relentless in recent months. Grim stories of doctors facing impossible choices, unimaginable death tolls and riots in the United States against the one thing that seems to be saving other countries. It has caused incredible changes to the way we work and the way we interact as humans – and naturally, that means it has caused huge impacts on the way we communicate too.
And here, it is not all bad news. COVID19 has shown humans have an innate and undefeatable desire to be part of the bigger human community, to share and bond and maintain connections.
So what is the good news for communication that has come out of the changed world we now live in?
More people can be reached online
Social apps are having a boom. The slightly controversial Houseparty app exploded from 130,000 weekly downloads in February to over 2 million in March! This social platform allowed users to chat to friends in an online ‘party’, with the caveat that these parties are generally not private and anyone can join in. Specific apps aside, the boom for social apps is a great sign for communication in the future. As more people get used to using a wider variety of apps, and more comfortable with apps as a part of their lives, the door is opened for a whole range of new opportunities. People are also increasingly willing to have an online presence when they might never have done so before.
As new audiences come online who previously may not have been accessible, advertising and communication can be more and more targeted. This means a higher chance of hitting the right target.
However, it also means content needs to be handled carefully.
Businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to tap into a bored and ready audience for their message, to show solidarity and compassion in a way that will linger in people’s minds long after this crisis has passed. Sensitivity and tone matter here; get it wrong, as many have, and the consequences can be significant.
But get it right, and not only will you become known for all the right reasons, but you will also potentially be a part of stopping the spread of the epidemic – which by itself is a worthy goal!
The Drum has a great recurring collection of advertising done right if you’re looking for examples of some really clever, and inspiring, marketing.
And it’s not just official accounts that need to be managed carefully. With the rise of people going online, more and more people are posting content that they never would have before – which can pose problems of its own for employers, such as in the case of Lululemon recently with an ill-judged private post by their Art Director.
Work communication is also going online
As working from home has become almost ubiquitous, we’ve had to look for ways to communicate with colleagues that previously felt so natural – walking up to a colleague’s desk has been replaced by the much less personal email. Until Zoom, and other similar apps (Microsoft Teams, Webex etc).
In the United States, Zoom has topped the iPhone app download rankings for weeks.
As with other social apps, there are widespread concerns about privacy and security, including an announcement by the FBI about “Zoom-bombing”, where video meetings, including school conferences and lessons, were being hijacked at an alarming rate, as well as other equally concerning flaws in security. An Australian comedian, Hamish Blake, took aim at this in March by joining an online law tutorial – and while amusing for many, it was met with serious concerns and followed by bans on use of the app by government officials.
However, what the explosion of apps like Zoom demonstrates is an underlying need for communication between colleagues. It isn’t just friends and family feeling the pinch, but workmates as well. And it also highlights the importance of clear, accurate and timely communication to get our work done.
For communication, this is a great sign. It means more flexibility in how we communicate and what we see as important, greater speed and responsiveness to online media and more focus on getting our messages right. It also poses its own challenges, such as how to get people on board with more creative or complex concepts when communicating via email or apps, rather than face to face, but a lot of this will become easier with time as people adjust.
Many businesses will never go back to traditional office-based working, having experienced the cost benefits of a remote workforce. So these changes to how we communicate are here to stay.
More online content = more competition
Netflix created the subscription streaming model and in the process, became a part of our vocabulary (although Netflix and chill might be a bit tougher these days!). And for many people locked down, sitting down to watch some Netflix is the most appealing way to spend long days.
Bored people go online.
The spread of challenges and viral videos globally comes from a population tired of seeing the same 4 walls day in and day out.
This doesn’t come without an impact; some areas are seeing massive slow-down in internet speeds which points to underlying weaknesses in infrastructure that will need to be addressed longer term.
However, what this means for communication is a rapid increase in competition for people’s attention. People may be online more, but their capacity to absorb information may actually be reduced as they are more stressed, distracted and bored rather than engaged.
So for communication, now more than ever before, the need to really get content right and pull in the audience is essential. Mediocre content that may have worked in the past just won’t cut it anymore, as people have so much more competing for their attention.
And what does this mean for communication? It might be tough in the beginning as we adjust old ways of working. But it also poses a major opportunity.
With online becoming the norm, and so integrated into our daily lives, we can explore more creative ways of sharing a message. Things that a few years ago might have seemed unrealistic or impossible are now not just happening, but succeeding!
Now is the time to take risks. Careful, calculated risks.
But try something new.
The entire world as we know it is changing. Whether it will ever go back to what we used to know remains to be seen – but for communications, it has changed for the better.
You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
COVID19 good news story
With this post starting commenting on the doom and gloom of so much media these days, it’s important to also keep in mind the good news. This entire post is about how humans have found new and interesting ways to stay in touch.
But I will finish with one more piece of good news.
The rather spectacular Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand reassured children in New Zealand that the Easter Bunny was not affected by travel restrictions – but in the kind of welcoming and socially aware gesture for which she has become known during this crisis, she asked people to draw Easter Eggs and leave them in their windows, for those children whose families for whatever reasons were unable to get eggs this year.