The Leaders’ Report 2021: Key Findings – Trends Fluctuating

The world sat still in 2020 as publics the world over  had  to trade IRL (in-real-life) connections for their best online equivalents: which generally meant shopping, entertainment, and social connection.

Citizens slowed down and reinvented their lives to live a more local experience. For many, virtual working became the norm, with Zoom hitting 300 million daily users. Home delivery and curbside pickup became standard practice (some food delivery services, for example, will now deliver your favourite food to parks, beaches, and more – not just to a building address). Many industries – such as travel, transportation, hospitality and retail – were significantly and perhaps permanently disrupted.

Businesses of all types will continue to transform their customer experiences by better harnessing technology and by creating fresh partnerships to deliver new consumer expectations, media opportunities, business models, products and services.

The Government Practice’s research collaboration with Adobe, Delivering Experiences That Count, suggests that the pandemic accelerated citizen expectations of technology and innovation: accessing unparalleled convenience at speed has become an essential part of people’s lives. Even negligible hassles in online delivery or service access have become deal breakers: while life for many of us is slower, our impatience remains undiminished. Yet the majority of public services remain structured for the convenience of the organisation, and not for the service user. Look out for growing pressure on governments to change that.

The shift to digital service channels may be irreversible, but the desire for human interaction is not. When delivery without human interaction makes our experiences safer, Ogilvy’s Brands in Motion study asks, will adding a human touch become “premium or petrifying?”

The rise of the conventional

When groups experience collective threats, strict rules can help them co-ordinate to survive. The Covid-19 pandemic saw societies that have stricter social norms and are more accepting of punishments for deviance – China, Japan and Singapore for example – better weather the pandemic than countries such as Brazil, Italy and the USA that have weaker social norms and are regarded as more individualistic and progressive.

Post pandemic, expect to see cultures reassess social norms so there is a tighter balance between freedom and constraint (“how much liberty am I prepared to give up for the sake of my community, and for how long?”). Expect to see citizens more consciously look at their own moral decision making (“should I stay home when sick and lose income or go to work and potentially infect others?”).  And expect, as a result, to see more ‘small c’ conservative behaviours (“will less kissing, hugging and social interaction continue to keep me safer?”).

Life lived at home

During the pandemic, consumers spent more than they planned on home improvements and expensive home-based products (flat-screen televisions, gym equipment and new kitchens for example). While some people will initially look to reconnect with family and friends, most will likely spend less on holidays and travel as they make the most of (and pay off the cost of) their new purchases. At-home experiences are now the norm (think of all those restaurant-quality meals that can now be delivered straight to our dining rooms): home will remain central to our lived experience.

More at-home, video-based, entertainment will continue to be consumed. But watch out for the risk of ‘screen fatigue’: might a sense of ennui prompt people to look for different types of distraction?

Life lived online

Since 2020, our socially-distanced population has become significantly more reliant on digital networks to make sense of the world. Citizens turned to the internet to keep connected, informed and entertained. As a result, social media and messaging all saw significant increases in use. There were also substantial expansions in internet-related activities such as browsing the web and social networking.

Early in the pandemic, the Government Practice and Adobe identified that well over a third of surveyed citizens across G7 countries had accessed a public service online in the past week. This represented an increase of 50% or more in the volume of people accessing government services prior to the pandemic. The experiences they had from online public services (spoiler alert: not wholly positive) has helped shape their views of government competence moving forward, and also their likelihood of continuing to access government support online.

The expansion of e-commerce

New behaviours of self quarantining and social distancing created adash to digital to fulfil basic needs such as sustenance and safety, as well as higher-order needs such as social connectedness and retail therapy. E-commerce became no longer just about shoppingand food delivery: it’s now also for healthcare and entertainment and education and more. Global e-commerce sales were 81% higher in May 2020 than in the previous year.

Our colleagues at Ogilvy Social Lab identified three key contributing factors to the growth of e-commerce: smartphone adoption (more than three billion people worldwide now have access to one); artificial intelligence (AI) driven natural language processing (enabling customer service at scale); and customer expectations (we’re now much more comfortable conversing with businesses via messaging, chatbots and other language interfaces).

With health and wellbeing more front of mind, citizens are also making more value-based purchasing decisions in an effort to minimise any negative impacts their lifestyles have upon the world. For example, 67% of UK consumers say they are more cautious about the scarcity of natural resources due to the crisis, while 65% say they are more mindful about the impact of their overall consumption in the ‘new normal’.

Consumers are also taking control of their own personal financial situations to navigate their way through the pandemic andbeyond – adopting a thrifty and self-sufficient mindset. GroupM research suggests that globally, 85% have actively made some form of change to their financial behaviour.

The growth of e-commerce during the pandemic has increased the public’s reliance on telecommunications providers too. Citizens needed faster and more robust broadband services not only to shop, but to support home working and home schooling. Now they have better access to it, they’ll use it even more.

The rise of user content

The pandemic showed just how great the public’s appetite for user-generated content and opinion really is. Instagram Live views doubled in just one week during the pandemic. The live streaming platform for gamers, Twitch, broke records in quarter two with users watching over five billion hours of content. Tiktok hit 100 million users in Europe. Less than six months into the pandemic, 16% of people globally had created and uploaded videos (and 7% plan to continue after the pandemic).

Brands leveraged user-generated content to humanise their communications, putting customers and staff at the heart of their messaging and making their campaigns more relatable and authentic.

While the content being shared online is vast and diverse, it’s also riddled with inaccuracies and conspiracy theories that can strongly influence people’s behaviour and the effectiveness of government campaigns. This concern is so acute that academic models to forecast the virus’s spread have now begun to take into account how communication dynamics might influence the public’s response to content.

Implications for government communication

Those who shifted to digital platforms to meet their day-to-day needs during the crisis are unlikely to revert back to an analogue existence. More of marketing’s ‘moments that matter’ will happen online, and so will governments’ efforts to change behaviours. So, how can government communicators adapt to such emerging trends in a way that allows better communication with citizens?

The experience of closer connections through digital technology has changed fundamentally the rules of communication. Social media is no longer just about catching up with friends or posting selfies. It’s now where we read news, arrange protests, engage in debate, play games and watch our favourite bands. This means that all the complications of civil society are now problems for social media companies. Yes, racism, bullying, sexual abuse, political polarisation and conspiracy theories all existed before social networks, but all took on new contours as more of our lives moved more online.

The line between ‘misinformation’, ‘disinformation’ and ‘malinformation’ has become increasingly blurred and, with it, both our ability to distinguish between the three, and the potential for them to cause even greater harm.

Social media networks have created the potential for even more political and cultural polarisation by enabling networked mindsto form tribes based on shared values, and by amplifying the most passionate (which, sadly, often means the most extreme) voices. Such tribes or groups are dangerous because their members have wholly bought into ideologies. Once people can confidently live part of their lives online, they start to seek self esteem and validation in this space. The sharing of an item of fake news, among people who share the same ideology, ultimately provides psychological validation.

At a time when citizens are receiving information from multiple angles, how can governments better help them fact check what they’re reading? How can they better moderate debate and discussion? And how can they better provide citizens with a greater understanding of how social media networks work and influence?

Immunising against misinformation, Taiwan

Immunising people from misinformation is key to combatting Covid-19. In Taiwan, the country’s digital minster, Audrey Tang, has fostered digital democracy by using technology to encourage civic participation, build consensus, and strengthen trust.

During the pandemic, the country suppressed fake news by implementing a ‘humour over rumour’ strategy. A response to misinformation was provided by the Government within 20 minutes of it being spotted, in 200 words or fewer, alongside two fun images. Early in the pandemic, for example, people were panic-buying toilet paper because of a rumour that it was being used to manufacture face masks. The Taiwanese premier, Su Tseng-Chang, released a cartoon of himself wiggling his bottom, with a caption saying “we only have one pair of buttocks”. It quickly went viral. Used correctly, humour can be far more effective than serious fact-checking.

Next: Key Findings – Media Shifting

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