What Does It Mean To Be A Digital Citizen In 2016?

16th September, 2016 by

Today’s consumers are evolving.

Every autumn, hundreds of education, IT and online marketing professionals convene for a Digital Citizenship Summit. These live-streamed events provide a forum for discussing the safe and ethical use of technology and communications platforms, and this year’s conference will be held at Twitter’s California headquarters in late October. A UK spinoff took place at Bournemouth University back in January, underlining the importance of engaging with the next generation of decision-makers and thought leaders.

Although digital citizenship may sound like a concept created by those aforementioned marketing professionals to justify their salaries, this is very much a recognised phenomenon. By aiming to improve the online experience for everyone through a combination of education, etiquette and extra security, there is an underlying focus on integrating the digital life into real life. That really matters because everyone with a smartphone or an internet connection on their laptop is now a digital citizen and part of the online world.

Digital citizenship has been defined as nine interconnected themes, from full electronic participation and online purchases through to psychological well-being and safety when using platforms like social media. It acknowledges that most people now use the ‘net, while recognising that they may not understand their rights to privacy and data protection. This is a recurring theme of any discussion about being a digital citizen, reflecting the less wholesome aspects (and attendant risks) of having an online presence.

At the same time, digital citizens are often perceived to be among the most educated and knowledgeable members of our society. With an innate understanding of concepts like targeted advertising and data mining, they are typically environmentally conscious and keen to fashion a better world through inclusivity and communication. This makes them a challenging demographic for companies to target and connect with, though the rewards for doing so can be great.

Any company wishing to engage with this particular audience needs to remember that digital citizens are cautious and often cynical, requiring persuasion rather than the hard sell. Their strong ethical focus means products or services with humanitarian or environmental benefits will appeal far more than low-cost mass-production – organic eggs rather than battery eggs, for instance. It would be idealistic to promote products and services as being better for the planet, but they should at least be portrayed as the moral or proper choice.

Because digital citizens are acutely aware of online security and safety, this is a fertile area for companies to target. After all, security extends into every aspect of the web, from 2FA social media logins on new devices through to SSL/TLS certificates. Online retailers should extol website protection at every opportunity, while service providers need to reassure customers that supplied data is as safe as possible. Should anything untoward happen, another plank of digital citizenship is honesty – attempting to fudge the issue or issue false denials simply won’t wash with today’s consumers. A public mea culpa, compensation and details of how lessons will be learned represent the only way to move forward in such circumstances.

In truth, marketing departments and sales teams have nothing to fear from this generation of ethical and web-savvy consumers. Indeed, since today’s digital citizens will be tomorrow’s breadwinners and key decision-makers, effective engagement will be crucial to any company’s long-term success. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, we are all digital citizens now.

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