The Age of Digital Domination

18/07/2016

Charles Ansdell

This week in digital and the lessons for businesses

The Age of Digital Domination

Three events over the past 72 hours have demonstrated the new domination of digital communications in the communications sphere.

Firstly, the terrible events in Nice on Thursday night played out to a backdrop of social media updates and smartphone videos. Facebook activated its “Safety Check” feature, allowing users to assuage fears of their safety online.

The police and municipal authorities used their Twitter feeds for situation updates and crowd control. The media scoured social media and digital boards for information about the attacks, forming stories from a combination of on-the-ground reporting and citizen journalism sources. Within minutes, many of the most iconic images and videos from the attacks were displayed on the online editions of major news outlets.

Even the expressions of grief manifested themselves in the memes and tricoleurs spread over Facebook.  Anger, rhetoric and political positioning followed on Twitter, as commentators started their recriminations and defences almost instantly. 

In this regard, the attacks were very typical of the modern media reporting cycle. Immediately following the attacks, the digital sphere became the main source of information as the story unfolded, until authorities could put out definitive statements. Over time, the media relied on official sources for facts, and interweaved social and digital sources for the human and emotional angle.

A coup stopped by Facetime

Friday night’s attempted coup in Turkey was stopped using FaceTime – Apple’s video calling app.  In the past coups were protracted affairs, with internal factions jostling to gain control of a country’s military and government infrastructure. Key to a successful coup was controlling the media and, by proxy, the messages to rival factions and the general population. 

Historically, with few mainstream media outlets, coup plotters could manipulate the media relatively easily. With the media under control, it was much easier to persuade factions that a coup had been successful and to put down potential opposition. Typically, the coup leaders would say that they have taken charge of a country, are controlling the military and have arrested former leaders.

Friday was no different. The coup leaders quickly took charge of state television stations and broadcast that they were in power. However, social media and technology has revolutionised our capability for mass communication. 

On Friday, President Erdoğan was able to communicate to key supporters/ political figures that he was still in power. The way he did it? FaceTime. By physically demonstrating he wasn’t under arrest, he was able to quickly reassure his historical power base that he was still in control. He then used social media to call on his supporters to take to the streets to further demonstrate this. 

Without the psychological veneer of communications control, the coup quickly dissipated. This is a key lesson - while social and digital media can be a catalyst for change, such as the Arab Spring, the power of direct communication can be used to maintain or expand existing power.

Pokemorons to the rescue

Few technology launches have attracted as much hype, acrimony and derision as Pokemon Go.  Nintendo’s inaugural, blockbuster, share-boosting mobile app allows users to chase augmented reality critters to gain points. It’s lead to mini zombie apocalypses across parks and streets, as mobile wielding automatons converge to catch “Charizards” and “Omastars”. There have been cases of private land being invaded, people falling off cliffs and loads of close encounters with lamp-posts.

While many despair of this final welding of technology and reality, there has been a silver lining. Pokemon Go is seen as a real solution to the Western obesity epidemic, forcing couch potatoes away from their X-boxes into more physically active “gaming”.

Furthermore, it now turns out that Pokemon Go can be used to fight crime. This weekend, Pokemon hunters in Doncaster, Yorkshire failed to discover their virtual reality targets, instead bagging a couple of robbers (which were duly reported to the police).  Indeed Manchester Police have been even spreading rumours of rare “Charizards” in the booking area of Manchester Police Station to lure fugitives out of hiding.

Digital challenges for company’s issue

It shows, greater than ever, the convergence of digital and physical worlds in communications. The reality is that we face a 24 hour digital and social news cycle, which operates side by side and interacts with the mainstream media. 

This is a challenge that companies need to be prepared for, especially in their crisis and issues communications. Companies have to communicate and influence a wider range of stakeholders than ever before, frequently in tight timescales with limited control.  

However, while digital and social may provide challenges, they also provide immense opportunities, allowing companies to directly communicate to large audiences without the interpretative (and sometimes distorting) lens of the media.


 

To find out more about Crisis Management, Redleaf are hosting an event this Wednesday (20th July) from 8:30 - 10:00am, on how to manage a crisis in the digital age. 

To attend the event please rsvp to Alex Bayliss on AB@redleafpr.com or 0207 382 4755.