Industry conferences are looking different this year as organizations pivot to virtual events. The organizers of Collision, one of the world’s biggest tech conference, rose to the challenge, demonstrating their digital chops by developing an online platform that allowed their global community (some 32,000 attendees from over 140 countries) to tune into the three-day speaker series rebranded as “Collision at Home.”
Boasting a lineup of renowned speakers (from Arianna Huffington to Shaquille O’Neal), the virtual conference saw huge participation. In the opinion of the organizers, the format was so successful that they’ve already committed to using digital platforms for other conferences, including their marquee Web Summit conference in December.
Over the countless sessions, Q&As and workshops, a consistent thread emerged: an urgent call to action for positive change. Companies and creators have a responsibility to use their business or platforms to make an impact and influence others to do the same.
Below we’ve collected five socially driven trends from the conference that are already shaping businesses, communication plans and playbooks as we move into the latter half of 2020 and continue to adapt to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Consumers want companies to act selflessly
A recent study revealed that 70 percent of consumers want brands to be helpful in the new normal, but 80 percent believe they shouldn’t profit from it (source: That Lot, 2020). As the world faces so many new challenges and hardships, there is pressure for brands to step up to the plate and offer resources to those who need it—without expecting anything in return. Whether you’re pivoting your production efforts like L’Oréal and Kit and Ace to produce hand sanitizer and masks, or offering free access to your services like SiriusXM and Peloton, there are plenty of ways for brands to lend a hand in these times of need.
2. Industries are embracing the unknown to reap the opportunities of new technology
From enabling better access to healthcare, to improving food security through agtech, or implementing tools that support the environment, 5G networks will be the catalyst for the next phase of innovation. Promising faster speeds and reliability, the question isn’t which industries will reap the benefits , but rather, how quickly industries will be able to activate.
When speaking about the impact of the technology, Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, encouraged people to keep an open mind. With every new tech advancement comes initial skepticism from consumers—especially when it comes to mobility applications. This is something the rideshare industry experienced when GPS was improved by 3G networks. It’s also something the financial industry experienced when online banking was first adopted. New technologies will always come with a period of unknown. But they also present an opportunity for companies to leverage these technologies to positively impact lives.
3. Brands must walk the talk
The recent political environment has confirmed a trend that’s been emerging for years: consumers want brands to communicate values. For brands, taking a stand has shifted from a “nice to do” to a “need to do”, as increasingly vocal consumers are calling out brands for bad practices—and sometimes for simply choosing to remain silent. Companies must figure out who their community is, what they need, and how they can genuinely support them, then take action in a way that feels relevant and authentic to the brand.
While difficult to navigate, these elements are now key to a brand’s success. Consumers have quickly shown that they won’t tolerate empty virtue signalling—the act of giving lip service to values without applying it to every aspect of their business. Facebook was a notable example, having shared a statement and donated towards anti-racism movements, but failing to act on their platform after public outcry on controversial posts by President Donald Trump.
4. Social networks are being held increasingly accountable for user content
Social media networks have been put in the hot seat as the public scrutinizes how they’ve taken action (or not) against hateful content shared by users on their platform. Social networks are increasingly being held accountable by the public for what their users post, and are no longer able to look the other way or cite free speech. Instead, they are expected to take positive action to make sure their platforms continue to be safe spaces to congregate online.
YouTube shed light on their approach to accountability in the session Accuracy in the New Age of Information, where they clarified that their focus for censorship is on the content itself, rather than the person sharing the content. YouTube outlined the many steps that they, and other networks, can take when it comes to challenging content. That includes adding context or helpful resources to controversial videos, or introducing new tools for flagging misinformation.
5. Aspirational content has taken a backseat, while relatable narratives step up
According to Jacob Pace of TikTok creative studio Flighthouse, COVID-19 has had no negative impact on his talent’s viewership or engagement, even though they’ve been forced to create content within the constraints of their homes for several months.
Consumers no longer care to see others “living their best lives” in today’s brave new world. Instead, they want to see content that’s relatable and actionable, whether it’s purpose driven to generate positive actions (ex. facilitating petition signatures or raising awareness about current events), or reflective of their current reality (ex. memes about lack of productivity, cooking hacks from influencers, or workout freebies from fitness brands).
It is imperative to consider what your audience is doing, feeling and talking about in real-time as you develop content for today’s online world.
A version of this post originally appeared on the NATIONAL Public Relations blog, an AVENIR GLOBAL company.