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Why we can’t make assumptions in the digital world

Following Ofcom’s recent report into digital usage, 44’s Eddie Gormley looks at how we use our gadgets and how that can remind us to constantly challenge our thinking when it comes to digital audiences…

We all know we spend too long on our smartphones, but it might shock you just how long that clocks up to in a day. A new report reckons most of us spend almost nine hours every day engrossed in the digital world.

And that’s not all. Because we’re tweeting, sending emails, Snapchatting and streaming live TV all at the same time, we are actually able to cram in the equivalent of 11 hours of digital-doings into the eight hours 45 minutes we’re online each day.

It’s all led to a new trend sweeping in for the summer – the ‘digital detox’ – when online over-indulgers take a holiday break from their over-used handsets.

Surprisingly, according to the report by Ofcom, it’s mainly the 16-24 year olds who are braving the digital equivalent of cold turkey. Research suggests it’s the older generation who find they can’t let go of their gadgets.

The report also reveals that younger people are using their detox time to actually communicate with each other rather than just watching TV or trawling the internet.

The Ofcom research may be an eye-opener, but I’m not surprised at the way it challenges the perceived wisdom about smartphones and the way we consume digital media.

As an internal communications professional, I meet lots of people who don’t conform to the norm when it comes to their digital thinking.

For my own part, although I’d be the first to acknowledge how much the smartphone has changed the IC landscape, I’m also the first to challenge some of the established thinking about what’s right in workplace communications.

Here are my top three myths about the smartphone revolution:

1. ‘Shopfloor workers will only look at print, not digital’.

I’ve run employee focus groups recently where shopfloor workers were the biggest advocates for having relevant, timely information on their mobiles – especially if it is based around practical features such as booking holidays or online pay slips.

2. ‘People won’t use their own phones to read communications’.

It can’t be taken for granted, but we have seen encouraging take up of digital channels where organisations are operating a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy. And this is even more notable in companies where people are not given a work phone, and have access to information in their breaks.

3. ‘Print is not valued by employees anymore’.

In our experience, quite the opposite is true. In a frantic world where people are deluged by emails requiring ‘urgent’ responses, print can cut through as a distinctive communications event. People notice print, and magazines and newspapers often score well in employee pulse surveys. One comms manager told me that, when she drops the colleague magazine on desks in her area, she watches as employees sit back straightaway and take time out to leaf through the pages.

The digital world is developing all the time – the remarkable popularity of the Pokémon Go phenomenon has proved that.

We can’t take anything for granted. As internal communications professionals it’s up to us all to make sure we recognise and understand the changes that are happening in our industry, and are nimble enough to adjust our channels and delivery to suits changing demands.

And if we want to be successful we won’t make lazy assumptions about our digital audience.

As sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov said: ‘Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in’.

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