When was the last time you had a conversation with someone face-to-face. Actually, think about this for a second – was it recently? If so, how many people have you communicated with virtually in the same time frame?
Virtual communication has severely changed the way we interact with one another. In fact, a 2017 study by LivePerson reported that Gen Z and Millennials communicate with others digitally 65% more than in person (and 73.5% more in English speaking countries)!
As a digital marketer fascinated by virtual communication trends, I wanted to know where this is all going – what are the technologies and driving forces behind the massive shifts we are experiencing? What will the future look like? How will this affect the business world?
After all, in a world shaped by virtual communication, you’d better get up to speed or get left behind.
This article explores the most prominent virtual communication trends and technologies of the 2020’s.
What is Virtual Communication?
Virtual communication is defined as the exchange of information between two or more individuals using digital technologies. It includes traditional media such as telephone, text messaging, video conferencing, and instant messaging. It also includes newer forms of media, such as social networks, blogs, and wikis.
The Evolution of Virtual Communication
We’re a far cry from the days of the telephone. Alexander Graham bell invented it in 1875.
Since then, the next largest evolution in virtual communication was the invention of the internet (invented in 1983).
The internet spawned many inventions that built the basis of virtual communication moving forward – namely blogs, video platforms, forums, chat rooms, and eventually social media. \
The Need to Adapt to New Technologies and Trends
Back in the 90s, people had to call each other. If you wanted to get ahold of them, you had to call their house and hope that they were home. Answering machines were a luxury.
Moving into the 2000s, cell phones changes how people interacted with each other. All of a sudden, we could call each other at any time and reliably assume the other person would pick up.
Texting started to pick up in this period with technologies like MSM messenger and Blackberry keyboards.
IPhone and Facebook entered the scene and changed the way we communicate forever.
All this is to say that everyone wants to use the newest, easiest form of communication.
Companies strive to create the next big craze and get everyone to adopt their technologies. This is a fast-moving cycle that’s getting faster and faster – people understand that they need to keep up or get left behind.
The Importance of Staying Connected in a Digital World
Clearly, staying connected is important. Human beings need personal connection as much as any living creature. We’re always pinging energy off of each other That’s why solitary confinement is essentially torture.
In days of past, humans would meet up at the community hall or at church on Sunday. This is where the socializing would take place.
Nowadays, many important discussions happen online. If you don’t get in on the conversation, you’re likely to miss out!
The upside of this new online communication phenomenon is that you have the ability to talk to other people anytime you want.
Interested in pickleball but no one in your town shares your interest? That’s ok because you can join a Facebook group with pickleball enthusiasts all over the world!
According to Dunbar’s number, humans naturally like forming small communities of less than 150. Therefore, the internet allows us to pinpoint who we would like to interact with and who we would like to form a tribe with.
The Rise of Video Communication Platforms
Video communication platforms have become a cornerstone for virtual communication. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Webex enable people to talk on opposite sides of the globe.
These video communication platforms give people to actually see each other’s faces in real-time. This is a big advancement from the days of telephone which was just voice.
Now, people use video communication to perform business functions such as running remote teams, sales, and other kinds of meetings. In fact, it’s estimated that 85% of one-on-one meetings take place virtually.
B. Remote Work and the Increased Demand for Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings are one of the most important facets of remote work. As of 2023, 27% of the US employees work remotely. This is a staggering number of employees.
So with all these people working remotely, why is it so important to have virtual meetings, why not just let people work on their own and send emails to each other?
Communication of all types is important in virtual teams because of the need for collaboration. Active discussion is best facilitated by open communication over calls where viewpoints can be shared in real-time.
Virtual meetings allow for this active discussion in real-time. Where other forms of virtual communication tools like email and chat can be good for quick one-off questions, more complex questions require meetings.
Over my years working in remote teams, I have found that running a few organized and efficient meetings is the best way to get things done.
Collaboration Features and Integrations with Other Tools
In addition to the rise of individual communication platforms, cross platforms integrations exploded during the same period. Business software tools now commonly have integrations with other big players in the space – for example, many sales engagement platforms are connected to popular customer relationship management systems such as Salesforce.
Additionally, productivity tools such as Asana and Slack have become common communication platforms for remote teams. These tools link up with many outsourcing platforms to make a seamless user experience and a highly effective remote work team.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Communication
The Internet made it possible to video conference with someone across the planet, but augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) tools make it seem like you’re in the room.
AR and VR are technologies that immerse the user in artificial realities by projecting external inputs into the user’s senses.
AR experiences typically involve overlaying artificial features onto the field of view of the user such that they can interact with their artificial environment. An example is the popular mobile game Pokemon Go – where users will walk around to real-world locations while interacting with the game.
VR technology aims to fully immerse the user in an alternate reality. VR includes technologies such as the Metaverse, or home gaming systems such as the Oculus Rift.
Examples of AR/VR Applications in Various Industries
AR and VR have many obvious consumer applications such as video games, movies, and even porn. But the industry and business potential is even more profound.
Take for example the surgery industry or the automotive repair business. If you don’t know how to do something, you have to call up an expert and get them to explain the issue over the phone.
With AR, you can get the expert to SHOW you how to do the task through a virtual portal – markings on the field of view, interactive displays, the whole thing.
VR and AR are both being widely adopted by pilots – VR in the training aspect and AR for remote pilots in various industries. VR remote operation of heavy equipment is also promising for saving operational costs and improving worker safety.
Challenges and Future Developments
Some of the challenges associated with VR and AR technologies are user interface, integration with existing technologies, and current costs.
User interface challenges for VR and AR technologies are one of the main barriers to widespread adoption. Specifically for VR, users report feeling nauseous after using the technology for long periods. This sick feeling comes from the disconnect between your brain and your body – when your body is stationary and your brain thinks it’s moving, the resulting feeling can be disorienting.
Luckily you can mitigate these effects with common motion sickness remedies such as taking ginger and anti-motion-sickness medication (such as meclizine).
Integration with Existing Technologies
Some of the VR programs out there today are very impressive. Take the Occulous Quest for example – the game “Beat Saber” had over 1.47 million users per month in early 2023 alone.
However, VR still doesn’t play well with other technologies.
With other video games, transferring the program over to another console or computer is usually easy. With VR, every game requires a VR system to function. The same would go for any computer software programs for business or personal dealings.
High Costs of VR
Unlike regular computer screens, AR and VR require the infrastructure to create an immersive environment. These specialized VR headsets or AR interfaces require more hardware to run – hardware that many people don’t have lying around.
As simple supply and demand dictates, if the demand is higher than the supply, the price will be high.
Over time, it will be interesting to see how the supply of the requisite parts and technology will influence the price. Until then, people will have to cough up a pretty penny for access.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chatbots
Chatbots mimic human interaction. They are AI mechanisms that allow companies to answer questions and provide customer service. These little bots make it so routine human-to-human interaction is becoming automatable and cheaper.
The Rise of Chatbots for Customer Service and Support
Businesses are always looking for ways to automate tedious processes such as customer service requests Chatbots are a great way to automate customer support. In fact, 62% of consumers would rather use a chatbot to answer their questions than wait for a human user.
Chatbots are extremely popular for software, websites, and apps. Oftentimes, people have similar questions about how to use the platform. These questions can be answered with a query-based onboarding system like a product onboarding tool – chatbots integrate quite smoothly into these tools.
With a smoothly implemented chatbot, the business can save labor costs or multiple customer service agents and the customer saves time – it’s a win-win!
Personalization and predictive capabilities of AI-powered communication tools
personalization is all the rage in sales and marketing. According to a study by McKinsey, companies that use personalization make 40% more revenue than companies that do not.
Personalization could be anything from sending personalized mass emails to remarketing campaigns that speak to a customer’s precise pain points.
Speaking from personal experience, I find that personalized emails sent to highly targeted prosepct lists have far better deliverability and open rates than generic messages.
Now, with AI, it’s easier than ever to analyze a dataset and pull out the personalized aspects that you need. 84% of marketing leaders use predictive analysis to make data-driven decisions.
The Future of Social Media and Virtual Communication
The invention of social media launched a new era of communication. The post on social media world allows everyone to have a voice. This massive change in the public dialogue is commonly referred to as Web 2.0.
The Role of Social Media in Shaping the Future of Virtual Communication
Web 2.0 brought on many new changes in the consumer/producer relationship. Consumers could voice their concerns to companies quickly and without hindrance for the first time in history.
This ability is in contrast to the days of big companies blasting out advertising and the consumer having to sit and take it without recourse.
Social media gives the little guy a voice.
However, an unintended side effect of Web 2.0 is the proliferation of peer-to-peer relationships predicated on algorithmic settings. These relationships are formed on a technical basis using text, video, and audio inputs. Additionally, users have formed massive networks of peers that casually interact through highly impersonal channels.
The result has been negative and polarizing content dominating the top of feeds, transactional interactions reigning supreme, and ultimately mental health crisis among adolescents (especially young girls).
This town-square type of virtual communication is likely to have a profound effect on the human species moving forward especially as wider swaths of the world gain internet access.
The Integration of Virtual Communication Features in Social Media
Social media. is pushing the bounds of virtual interaction like never before. New forms of online interaction are popping up constantly.
For instance, virtual reality gaming in which players can join a simulated world and interact with each other using their avatars is becoming increasingly popular. Additionally, augmented reality technology has enabled users to communicate with each other in exciting new ways such as through interactive holograms or 3D animations.
As users build out increasingly complex online worlds, we’ll be sure to expect this to profoundly impact the “real world’ communications that predicate the relatively new virtual spaces.
Virtual communication is here to stay. Whether you call your grandma once a year at Christmas, or you use video conferencing technology to run your business daily, virtual communication has a place in our lives for good.
While the future of virtual communication is unclear, the current trend certainly suggests that innovation will continue and even accelerate over time. Therefore, it is imperative for businesses to stay informed and adapt to the shifting competitive landscape. Adopters of powerful virtual communication technologies such as VR and AI will undoubtedly gain an edge in the marketplace.
A more connected, immersive, and efficient future is well within reach for each and every one of us. Get connected or get left behind!