The digital age of instant communication and virtual social media communities has unquestionably affected the way people communicate at every level. These developments have also impacted the way people form their identities, both individual and collective. And these new forms of communication and identity formation are directly tied to business success through messaging media platforms, content development, marketing strategy and research, consumer exposure, brand awareness and alignment, and customer service and relations.
Literacy in digital communication and influence across media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is essential for the modern communications professional. This is reflected clearly in Southern Utah University's online Master of Arts in Professional Communication, with the impact and effective use of technology and social media in communications and identity development being an integral component of study.
What Does Identity Have to Do With Communication?
Identity is a broad concept and can mean many things. But, in essence, it is defining who a person is, what that person feels or thinks, and how they see themselves in the world. Communicating one's identity takes place through written or spoken words, actions, and body language. So identity is integral to why people communicate, what they communicate and how they communicate.
What Does This Mean for Business Communications?
For the communications professional, it is important to understand this connection between communication and identity. Although the above description uses the individual representation of identity, it is every bit as applicable to a community and that community's collective, shared aspects of identity.
It is also applicable to the individual's or the collective community's perceived alignment with a company's identity. Every public representation of a company or its products and services communicates that company's identity to the public. This is where companies can build brand awareness, loyalty and the longevity of the customer relationship.
How Have Technology and Social Media Affected Identity and Communication?
Although communication and identity have always been inextricably tied, technological innovation and social media have given new dimensions to this connection. Given the immediacy of communication through modern devices and media, information can spread across the globe at unprecedented speeds. Trends can appear and disappear as fast as a video goes viral on Facebook.
Virtual communities within media platforms, such as Facebook groups or online gaming communities, develop cultures and distinct shared aspects of identity. These virtual communities and the digitally literate culture at large develop new norms of interaction based on these newly constructed identities and forms of communication.
This has affected every aspect of communication. Virtual communication has also changed the language people use, be it shorthand, grammar and punctuation; the pervasive use of acronyms; and the replacement of words with emoji, to name a few. With the exception of video chatting and messaging, virtual communication has also minimized body language in interpersonal communication.
The relative anonymity of virtual communication versus in-person communication has also led to a change in cultural norms like politeness. For instance, social media, forums and the like provide people a platform where they can communicate without the consequences of in-person interaction, leading to more emphatic, overt statements of opinion, whether negative or positive.
Plus, instant digital communication has brought about more interaction between people and communities in vastly different global cultures. This impacts culture in many ways, both in the increase of interaction between cultures and in the creation of virtual identities that have immense potential for influence across the globe.
What Effects Do These Developments Have on Professional Communications?
As in years past, interest in a product may ensue from a good marketing campaign, with continued, targeted marketing furthering it. But sustaining and building that interest or scaling it to the coveted "viral" level relies in large part on a new form of word-of-mouth. This is based on members of formal or informal communities across social media platforms spreading the word about a new product or service.
An individual consciously or unconsciously promotes the product (or digital content promoting a product) through social media posts, showing that it aligns with their identity. People within that individual's sphere of influence assume similar alignment with that product or content, and share it with their online communities, resulting in widespread alignment with a product, content or brand.
Technology and social media also provide a wealth of information for market research and the possibility of relatively immediate exposure to consumer trends. And the digital environment allows for widespread, around-the-clock communication with consumers. More and more, people expect this, in both content creation and direct virtual interaction with customers.
The influence of technological innovation and social media on identity development and communication, both personal and in business, is extremely complex — far beyond the scope of a single article. But this influence is a central aspect of study in modern business communications. Clearly, today's communications professionals must become experts in social media communication to be effective in their roles.
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