Digital media is changing at a fast pace.

Social Media Trends

Some of the trends predicted at the end of 2013 – such as the rise of image services, mobile growing in importance – have already been fulfilled this year. The companies and groups that have incorporated these changes have been winning the digital space. This includes Ikea and the British Monarchy but there are many more out there doing a great job – see Instangram and Pinterest.

The key elements to keep in mind for the next year are:

  • integration of channels and types of media but also of offline and online strategy (see links below for readings on the importance of aligning the online strategy with the offline one)
  • dominance of visual communications (this includes both video, short video, photograhs, infographics and more)
  • personalisation (this includes hyper-personalisation too)
  • automation (this mainly refers to big data, planning and automated insights)
  • mobile

However, these are only trends of practice and technological development that influence how communication industries implement their plans. The implications of these developments are wider and with a much larger impact. To determine and fully understand them, an incursion into the theories that have defined the web and the scholar’s views about this environment are needed.

Web Culture

We are usually aware of the positives related to the emergence and rise of the Internet. We celebrate the growing rates of Internet adoption and penetration around the world, increasing in many cases our demands and claims for accessibility (see here the expectation to have wi-fi in hotels and restaurants while abroad and the demands of reducing or even cutting of roaming costs including data roaming). But access to the Internet, like every technology, comes at a cost. The assumptions that “everyone has access to the Internet” or that “everyone should know how to use the Internet” lead to in some cases to a widening digital divide and in others to a wider discussion about media literacy and human rights.

Digital Divide

For instance, access to the Internet also requires knowledge of how to use it. This is why, in many cases, deciding to move an entire aspect of a business online can negatively affect the service and contact with some users who either do not have the technology, do not know how to use it or both. Instead, what organisations should do, is provide customers multiple options of contact. While doing that, organisations should also consider the human and financial implications of a wider contact option provided to their customers and stakeholders.

Responsibility. Utopian and dystopian views of the Internet.

This also brings questions about whose responsibility is it to ensure people have access to the Internet. Finland’s access to broadband as a human right in 2010 puts the connection within the responsibility of local/national governments. This, however, has been expanded to also cover promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as called by United Nations Special Rapporteur.
Such an inclusion has multiple meanings: one the one hand it recognises the necessity of an infrastructure for the technology to be used, on the other hand it recognises that conflicting interests that would lead some to use the internet. These interests (and the fact that technology gains value depending on who uses it) is made especially clear by Evgeny Morozov and his “Net Delusion” book (on myBU).


The Hive Mind

Morozov’s dystopian view of the Internet, is countered by many other utopian views (see utopialist). Some, for instance, are focusing on the he advantages of connectivity, of working remotely and reaching out to people and communities that think alike without being bound to the traditional setup of offline organizations. Check Shirky’s (2008) book Here comes everybody (excerpts available on myBU) for more details.

But crowdsourcing (an alternative term for the hive mind) has its pitfalls too:

  • when associated with idea generation questions about ownership, intellectual property, copyright and exploitation of the concepts need to be answered;
  • when associated with funds, the purpose, use and alternative uses of the funds in case the original project does not come to fruition need to be disclosed;
  • when associated with collecting data (whether for a university research project, market research or governmental reporting), the uses as well as the methods of data collection and disclosure need to be communicated openly.

The Cult of the Amateur

The growth in popularity and use of Internet, like with the growth in popularity of reality-tv and talent shows, reflect a societal trend according to which talent is hidden in plain sight and can be discovered or uncovered with the aid of technology. This is what also feeds the myth of the user generated content (the easiness to instill it, the easiness with which is created and its value). We’ll revisit user generated content later in the semester when we’ll speak about audiences and later on about content development and planning.

However, far from being positive, Andrew Keen (2007), describes a rather a apocalyptic view of the Internet when speaking about the cult of the amateur. He suggests that without standards, taste, and institutions to filter the content that the amateurs will produce, the Internet will surely destroy us (check also Lessig’s review, especially his reaction to intellectual property claim Keen makes).  If you were to consider any of these 5 singers dubbed the next Rebecca Black , you could argue that Keen is right.

Technological determinism

This is very much about the relationship we have with technologies and whether technology drives what we do or vice versa. Neil Postmas’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is a particularly good read.


Think of Forthsquare, Farmville or any other online space with games-like features where the users get into a high state of concentration and engagement. Gamification is not easy. It requires a story-line, it needs to credible and it needs to grow gradually increasing the level of the challenge as the story progresses. Some great examples are here.

The Long Tail

Is mostly about segmentation and online communities. You can see Chris Anderson’s own explanation here.




Csikszentmihalyi on Flow 

Epstein, D., Nisbet, E.C. and Gillespie, T. (2011). Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications. The Information Society, 27: 2, 92 — 104.

Keen, A. (2008)  The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy. Nicholas Brealey Publishing Ltd.

Morozov, E., 2012. The Net Delusion. Public Affairs.

Shirky, C., (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Allen Lane.


About Ana ADI

Professor of Public Relations/Corporate Communications @ | Researcher | PR & Social Media Consultant | Fulbrighter

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  1. […] has access to the internet (check the “Digital Divide” to see that is not the […]

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