A booming good time for digital

Sophie Baillie, PR and Marketing Director

  • COVID-19: an accelerator for digital adoption and consumption
  • Deciphering fact from fiction
  • Impact on online safety

It is no surprise that over the last year we have seen all age groups in society adopt technology and digital mediums faster than ever seen before. In the UK, we were thrown into a world of life behind screens in the four walls of our homes, something that we are in the midst of experiencing again (ever the optimist, I think there is light at the end of the tunnel); one study found that since the beginning of the pandemic, daily online content consumption around the world soared from on average 3 hours 17 minutes to 6 hours 59 minutes!

One of the main factors that has contributed to the increase in time spent online, is the demand for non-stop news from media sources. With this, comes a significant risk of misinformation and false claims. It was therefore positive to see Ofcom launch the initiative ‘Making Sense of Media’ to help combat this. I especially like that the aforementioned includes tips on how to seek out reliable content but also includes a section for families, to help parents support their children’s understanding. I also applaud the team at Simple Politics – which is my only go to source for information relating to COVID-19 and politics in general – for their work to give clear, accurate and impartial information.

In the last year, we have seen digitalisation turn from a “nice to have” to a “must have” in order to keep people connected; especially for the older generation shielding from the virus. This led to weekly Zoom family quizzes, increased use of video call functionalities across messaging platforms, and even the launch of viral apps – remember everyone downloading Houseparty before the privacy breaches? Most recently we have seen the launch of exclusive invitation-only social networking app, Clubhouse; a hybrid of conference calls, talkback radio and Houseparty.

With people more physically apart than ever before, many have turned to online communities to support them through a time of isolation, and this has impacted how users are interacting with social media platforms. No longer are we a society of scrollers, swipers and watchers; there has been a shift to making online friends based on authentic connections and mutual interests. This rise of online communities along with personal and private platforms is attractive to younger audiences who want to express themselves and meet like-minded people who have a genuine interest in what they have to say.

Unfortunately, spending more time online increases the risks to online safety and exposure to toxicity; recent analysis of more than 100bn lines of online conversations suggests that while the vast majority of interactions (82%) were healthy, 3% were harmful and the remaining 15% fell somewhere in between. However, there are incredible companies and organisations developing and providing safety tech to ensure safer experiences for users online. I recently attended a virtual event about the BBC’s Own It app, which the corporation developed as part of its commitment to supporting young people in today’s challenging digital environment; it is fantastic to see an app developed dedicated to children’s wellbeing. If you are interested, I would highly recommend reading this interview with Jon Howard, the Executive Product Manager of the app.

As we are (hopefully!) coming through the other side of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see what digital adoption trends stay, and which will fade away to a memory of “do you remember when?” … I, for one, believe many aspects of the recent surge in digital adoption (online communities and the changing role of social media in particular) are here to stay and only for the better (but please, no more Zoom quizzes!).