The impact and evolution of digital technology

Over the last decade the world has experienced an exponential change and globalisation, driven by an unprecedented adoption of digital technology in all aspects of our lives. 

There’s no turning back. Technology companies are now the most powerful in the world and new generations are growing up digital natives – the internet, mobile technology and social media have fundamentally changed the way we communicate, work and play.

The world walked blindly into the digital revolution. As we edge towards 2020 and usher in a new AI driven, 5G connected reality, it would do us all well to pause and reflect on this new normal.

Looking at the statistics across the globe over the last 12 months, mobile and internet adoption has continued to grow alongside population growth. However, the standout numbers are in high population countries (including India, Indonesia and Philippines) whose economies are also in a phase of rapid development and industrialisation.

Australia has had limited growth in terms of new user mobile and internet adoption, but experienced nearly a 6% increase in social media adoption.

If we look even closer at the advertising audiences of these social media platforms, we can start to see the real growth and engagement statistics emerge.

Interestingly, along with Facebook’s stagnating user acquisition it’s been reported that the platform has experienced a 20% decline in user engagement (posts, likes, shares, comments, etc) following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There’s now widespread awareness about personal data misuse and its weaponisation, the reality of which has impacted the course of history.* 

*See the Netflix documentary The Great Hack.

It’s no wonder that three quarters of all social media users limit their digital footprint, citing misuse of their data being the biggest issue. Furthermore, two thirds of users don’t trust the information that they receive from social media – with rates as high as 82% in Great Britain, and 70% in the US. Read more about it here.

Welcome to the post-truth era, where fake news is alive and well – and we retreat into private groups and message threads (AKA: Dark Social).

With engagement levels declining and new user numbers stalling, more than ever, Facebook is taking two courses of action; 

1. Providing more transparency and control of your personal data

In recent days Facebook has launched a new tool that allows its user to access and control their Off-Facebook activity; other websites, apps and digital services that feed data back into Facebook to provide a more complete picture a users browsing habits. Read more about it here.

2. Diversifying its platform functionality to provide additional value

Facebook is looking towards its eastern counterparts (Tencent, WeChat) to reinvent itself, building out new functionality designed to engage and fulfil specific aspects parts of our lives. 

The tech giant continues to branch out into dating/matchmaking services, and even more ambitiously (considering the massive trust deficit), currency, with the introduction of the digital crypto-currency and wallet, called Libra and Calibra respectively. 

The Facebook-endorsed digital currency is expected to be rolled out in 2020. It’s creators have gone to massive lengths to establish an independent foundation based in Switzerland, as well as partner with some of the world’s most powerful finance, ecommerce and tech brands: Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Ebay, Uber, Lyft, to build trust in this new financial domain.

Interestingly, they’ve also stepped onto the front foot and made public promises that any newly generated commerce data will not be linked to their advertising platform. This may be the case, however it is speculated that if they can in some way correlate the performance of their advertising platform to real-world transaction data, them we can assume that their advertising charges will increase accordingly.

The successful rollout and adoption of this currency is yet to be determined. What we do know is that we will be able to buy goods and services, or seamlessly transfer money around the globe to our friends, or even paywave our morning coffee with Libra instead of local currency using the WhatsApp or Messenger, leaving regulators and tax offices everywhere scrambling to define their position.

But that’s enough about Facebook. There’s always going to be headlines, good and bad, when a company grows and disrupts our lives to the extent it has. 

The real growth story in Australia.

Over a 12 month period, LinkedIn experienced 10% growth, adding 1M people to the platform and its advertising audience. There are a few key reasons for this; 

1. Timing – Their brand and offering appeals to social media savvy millennials, a generation who are currently maturing and entering the professional working phase of their lives.

2. Diversification – Expanding the offering beyond job searching and corporate profiles, including the introduction of a world class Learning & Development hub with the acquisition of Lynda now branded as LinkedIn Learning

3. Platform Investment – Continual user experience improvements, advancements in performance and functionality, and an increasingly sophisticated advertising platform.

Taking from their 2019 product roadmap, expect to see a more powerful audience targeting on the advertising platform, including interest-based targeting, audience templates, and a lookalike functionality which will allow advertisers to connect with audiences similar to their customers or website visitors. 

And as the world retreats from the newsfeed to private messaging we will see Conversation Ads with a distinct chat-bot style format enter Messaging to complement the InMail Ad formats.

We can also expect the analytics dashboard to get a shot in the arm with increased demographic and firmographic profiling, brand engagement measurement tools, and content guidance. 

And lastly, they’ve made a massive push toward video, introducing square and vertical formats, including the release of LinkedIn Live for Pages allowing brands and influencers to share live streams.

There’s seemingly lots happening right now on Australia’s fastest growing social platform.

Ok, so in summary…

In Australia we’re mobile crazy, with more phones than people. Two thirds of the population are on Facebook but engagement levels are falling, with the platform being used primarily for events, private groups and messaging. Users are seemingly keeping their profile because you sort of need one to prove your digital existence – Therefore Facebook is trying to reinvent itself.

LinkedIn is fast catching up in terms of its capabilities and this rollout is timing well in terms of attracting millennial users who are getting older and trying to be more professional. 

Fewer people trust the information that they receive in their newsfeeds and are happily retreating into private groups and message threads. This splintering into private micro communities with their friends – in a phenomenon called Dark Social – is prompting social media companies to dream up new ways for brands and advertisers to reach them, or consider different monetisation models.

So what does all this mean for the future of communication and how are brands approaching this new media landscape?

Two words; trust and authenticity.

Trust is becoming more important to consumers because of their growing concerns about product experience, including the fast pace of innovation and their increasing reliance on brands for automation; customer experience, including brands collecting consumers’ personal data to track and target advertising to  them; and brands’ impact on society, including consumers’ expectation that brands will help express their values – Edelmen Trust Barometer. Read more about it here.  

Brands that are seemingly winning are those that are more transparent and speak their minds. They’re authentic and stand-up for what they truly believe in, shouting back no matter the consequence, and in doing so strengthen trust and loyalty with customers whose personal values are aligned, even if that means losing others.

In fact, companies the world over are spending significant time surfacing and focussing their true purpose; described an aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity, inspiring a call to action – emboldening business to create value that transcends traditional financial metrics. This is often described as triple bottom line, shared value or corporate sustainable responsibility.

Corporations are seemingly waking up from a shareholder obsessed slumber and taking responsibility for their actions. In recent days Business Roundtable, America’s most influential group of corporate leaders, decided to update their mission statement, shifting away from ‘stockholder centric’ rhetoric towards the idea of conscious capitalism – which proposes that a company has a broader responsibility to society, which it can better serve if it considers all stakeholders in its business decisions. Read more about it here.

But this is not just about doing the right thing, it’s also about performance. According to the Harvard Business Review, Business Case for Purpose, who interviewed 474 global executives about the value of purpose to drive performance.

The result is that it’s now commonplace for brands to distill and articulate their collective purpose, and take action on larger social, environmental or political issues – emboldened by a true sense of clarity and cultural framework that gives the individual permission to speak or act according to shared intent.

In conclusion, and reflecting on the words above, we’re currently witnessing a major turning point whereby the era of cowboy digital disruption is subsiding. However, the impact and influence of digital giants on the world is undeniable and irreversible.

We are living in a digitally-dependent world. The likelihood is humans will intertwine with that world even more as automation/AR/AI become an inseparable part. 

However, we should perhaps be more conscious than ever and aware of the consequences of unregulated, unchecked and opaque practices. If we’re to prove we’ve learnt any lessons – we must hold corporations and brands to behave and act in accordance to a new cultural paradigm; which centres openness, transparency and authenticity, aligning ourselves with those that have our genuine interests at heart. 

Equally we are becoming more digital and more human.

It’s a brave new world.