Look at it however you want - but the digitalisation of communication is a fact. This is proven by hundreds of studies published worldwide in 2018 and by daily experience in teaching and counselling. Despite all the controversy about privacy, hacking, fake news and other negative aspects of virtuality, it is spreading like spilled wine. 45 per cent of the world's population uses social media. Convenience is king - it's just too good to do without.
The digital opportunities go beyond all intellectual possibilities to grasp their essence. Money is flowing, almost like in a casino, into digital channels in communication and marketing. The two big ones in particular, Google and Facebook, are raking it in. It is and remains difficult to crystallise the real results and the real costs/benefits, even if the controlling possibilities pretend to be precise. At the end of the day, despite all the illusion of being able to address specific people individually according to their needs, the taste of having bet on the best possible racehorse portfolio remains.
The report "Digital 2019" impressively shows how digital hype is spreading worldwide. Over 360 million people went online in 2018 - more than one million every day. Fifty-seven per cent of the world's population has access to the internet; in Switzerland, the figure is around 90 per cent. The average user spends more than 6.5 hours on online channels (in Switzerland about 4), which, extrapolated for 2019, corresponds to about 1.2 billion years. Most of this time is spent on social media.
People are on the move: two thirds of the world's population use a mobile phone. Shopping, paying and donating by mobile phone is becoming increasingly important. Switzerland may be a little more critical than the world average, but it is also making great progress. This is also shown in an entertaining film by the University of Zurich. It is about the internet usage behaviour of the Swiss population, the dominance of US platform companies and the importance of automated, algorithmic decisions for everyday life; and about the question of what effects internet usage may have on our well-being.
The consequences of the digital tsunami are also manifold for communication and marketing professionals. First of all - you can't do without it. No matter how small the organisation, it needs a whole set of channels and platforms, online and offline, to even be noticed, to put itself in the limelight, to make the mission public, to bind people and achievers to it. Convergence, consistency, integration are more than just buzzwords. And the whole thing has to be thought of in the long term and strategically.
While honesty is a quality required online, personas are nothing but fiction, artificial constructs to be served. In narratives, too, truth and fiction are increasingly artfully interwoven to meet artificial expectations of "authenticity". In this respect, organisations are faced with the ethically questionable task of appearing as authentic as possible, even at the expense of genuine authenticity.
Thanks to social media, anyone can explore and conquer the world, maintain friends and networks everywhere without blowing a gram of CO2 into the air. Nevertheless, with all the global possibilities, localisation remains important. And with the current density of development, it is indispensable to always keep up to date and attentively follow all trends and hypes. Innovation cycles are short, we have to get used to the stress. This is all the more important because the risks to image and reputation, or credibility, are becoming more and more diverse and the sources of these risks less and less controllable.
So it is hardly surprising that online communication, digital transformation and all the associated topics are currently filling up courses in the continuing education industry. The search for orientation in a confusing process space of the post-industrial online revolution is great. There is always the gap to be bridged between understanding a theory and putting it into practice in daily work. In many cases, learning takes place with doing. Where better than at the workplace to learn how to post, tweet, blog...? The training institutions, on the other hand, can offer framing, overall understanding and embedding in a new communication landscape in addition to an introduction. They can also create an understanding of the new organisational, social and structural needs. Structures, tasks, processes, and even the entire way of working, and thus budgets, will have to change fundamentally in the next few years if we want to keep pace with digitalisation in communication as well.
Prof. Rodolfo Ciucci
Lecturer in Communication
University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland
School of Business