Nov 27
Communicating the ‘art of feeling’ in the digital world

"You may forget what a person says, but you will not forget how he made you feel" is a gem of a quote, often voiced by public speakers while connecting with their audience. It's true that a speaker's body language, the energy, the expressions—can either add to or take away from the effectiveness. The actual words spoken account for only 10 per cent of the reception, research says. This means nonverbal communication, including body language, constitutes 90 per cent of every communication that we make. But how does all this apply to the most popular form of communication today, which is over digital media? In the digital age with all the visual and other iconic representations at our disposal, our communication though restricted in the physical sense, is actually much more emancipated. And more than merely communicating words, we are communicating who we are. We're communicating feelings through the medium of new technology, and we're making people feel.

Over several decades, researchers have examined human communication in terms of linguistic and paralinguistic expression. Voice and tone are main components of paralinguistic. Posture, artefacts and accessories such as glasses, earrings and clothing constitute what we're saying about ourselves while we communicate. Gestures, body movement, touch and eye contact are considered critical distinguishing factors in our personal communication. By the way, who we are is often communicated unawares: Our taste in clothes may reflect the colourfulness of our personality, for example.

Unlike human expression, digital expression is almost always conscious. Digital body language is a deeply investigated version of who we are, when we communicate. Profile pictures, banners, selfies, the groups you follow, the tonality of your posts, the activities you broadcast are all communicators. The consciousness of our digital expression choices makes it somewhat easier for us to communicate who we want to be. Are you wearing glares in your profile picture? What facial expressions do you have in your selfies, and how often do you take selfies? Do you like to tell people you're going to the gym? Do you keep your posts brief and informal or lengthy and impersonal? Why did you choose a particular background picture on your account? Soon, these may evolve into questions that may be answered by a bot.

So what does your digital body language say about you? Do you use words or visuals to display how you're feeling? Most of us, armed with smart phones, have no trouble communicating over the digital medium as people communicated in-person, until fairly recently. The difference, this collapse of geography in the digital communication world, has brought technology and humans closer.

Our digital emotions. As you can guess, emoticons constitute a big part of our digital communication—of how a communicator makes us feel. According to an industry estimate, more than 30 per cent of chats over the digital medium today are in the form of stickers. Emoticons are a big relief to many of us who find it easier to use a visual expression across a medium, especially as our digital communication increasingly becomes immediate, impactful and personal. This visuality of digital communication is so popular for a big reason. Indeed, emoticons are so popular that companies are localising them—this summer, Apple released headscarf-clad female emoticons in response to demand from Middle Eastern women.

The emerging new face of digital body language. Digital communication's new fad, instant messaging (IM), addresses much of this gap. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, the three top IM platforms in the world, offer the alluring option of never-ending conversations at no cost. Worldwide, the use of IM, at 55 per cent of Internet users, has overtaken the use of social media, at 48 per cent. China shows the widest gap (69 per cent versus 41 per cent). In India, thanks to increasing availability of broadband and better bandwidth, the two usages have caught up with each other at 38 per cent each.  

We know who you are! And while we are busy digitizing ourselves, the 'meta-communication' from our digital selves makes it easier to track and analyse our habits. If you're a marketer, you can map these behaviour into predictive analytics. For instance, a keyword frequency search, can throw up interesting stats on what people look for. Statistics show that 40 per cent people who buy an air conditioner also end up buying a refrigerator, and 45 per cent of men who buy a new suit end up buying a white shirt within a week. Marketers utilise the digital analytical tools to also connect with their consumers for surveys and feedback. And as our digital avatar attends several meetings at once, it also tells the marketers how we think.

Online chats and webinars simulate meetings or bumping into someone in the corridor—with one big difference. Response, feedback and analysis are the happy hunting ground for researchers and marketers. Most online environments offer some statistics—the number of times a video or a discussion is viewed, for example. Google analytics helps ascertain interest levels through page views, visits, heat maps, geographies of interest, and so on. Social media analyses shares, likes, tonality of conversations before the bots take over and suggest products we "should" like. Email marketing tells us click ratios. Search engine optimization (SEO) efforts help us optimize our digital footprint on the basis of our searches. How do you trust a person and his capabilities in the digital world? Well, as we speak, we're leaving a digital footprint.

That footprint may get closer and closer to who we are in flesh and blood: Even as soon as 2020, you might not attend a meeting in person. Your digital avatar may represent you—one who, through robotic intelligence, knows what you'll say and how you reason. And of course, this means you can attend multiple meetings at the same time—just in case you are one of those busy bees who never have time. Think about how that would bolster your personal productivity levels!

As marketers employ behavioural analytics to investigate what our new eyes, ears, voice, and expressions say about what we like, their products and services stand a better chance to be pulled off the shelves. Even as technology simulates human activity, not for a moment should we assume that the digital revolution is static and 'here' to be absorbed in its current form alone. As virtual reality (now more popular as augmented reality) promises to be our 'digital avatar' especially as it is being plugged into social media, we can only expect this tendency to get more exciting in the next few years.

Amidst this mindboggling certainty that our immediate future holds for our digital selves, many fascinating questions remain. The one that fascinates me the most is: Will all this digitization of human expression result in a change in human behaviour? Will, in a role reversal, human behaviour simulate technology? Time and research will tell.

Authored by:-  Prateek Chatterjee, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications & Marketing, NIIT Limited

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