We are slowly moving back into an unlocked-down world after months of distancing. I am picking up the pre-covid workplans that have now been severely altered and for most people whose objective is to communicate, relay and disseminate, the biggest challenge may just be the shifting shape of the audience.
Spreading awareness used to be a combination of online and offline activities with a major offline event as the peak activity. Launches, summits, kick offs, you name it. There has always been an event in the middle and at the end of every comms plan, and the audience built anticipation for said events through a well-strategized campaign on a plethora of digital platforms
Nowadays these activities, the ones where we physically meet and mingle, have turned into virtual ones. The shifting shape of the audience does not imply a shift towards a different form of audience. It is the same audience, human beings with the innate habit and nature to gather and meet, but who now have to make do by shifting their physical persona into a square one.
My husband said the other night “can you imagine this pandemic happening in the nineties? No webinars, zooms, skypes, just yahoo messenger chats and expensive video conferencing via landlines?“. Our advancement in virtualization is indeed a wonderful solution in the time of a pandemic and lockdowns, but despite its convenience, virtualization also diminishes some intangible merits that can only be achieved face to face.
We have identified at least two:
- A virtual meet subtracts us into a square that, with bad connection, reduces us further into an empty rectangle with initials. Added to that is the underwhelming urge to pay attention, especially if we are merely attending a webinar and not speaking/moderating in one. This, in turn, will make it much easier to forego the intent of full attention and therefore normalize the approach of halfly attending the gathering (the other half is doing a push up challenge, changing the diaper, or kneading the sourdough starter) .
- There is also the unavoidable passiveness of just listening to the speakers on a webinar (“mute mics and turn off camera please!“). At an actual offline event we can still initiate chats with our table mates, have a discussion at the coffee break buffet, or exchange cards during lunch. In our squared space of the zoom session however, we are hidden between our muted mics and anonymity, and it (still) is not possible to casually chat with another participant in the square next door while listening to the speaker on frame.
When we are socially disarmed by the limitations of being hundred percent online, is the spread of awareness still a game of numbers and participant count? How do we measure the impact of declining personal interactions during offline events, the ones that potentially set the further spreading of awareness in motion?
The necessity of connecting face to face without an interface will make it’s return, because the desire to overcome the limitation is bigger than the fear for the reason behind imposing this limitation. Until then, spreading awareness through advocacy, campaigning and dissemination will have to be done, one squared participant at a time.