For many people in the UK, the internet has become a more important part of their lives during the pandemic. However, there is a significant subsection of the population for whom the internet is still a hard-to-use resource. Those with limited access to the internet, or less confidence using it, face challenges that other users don’t.
Brands have to be aware of how everyone uses their services, to avoid excluding parts of their audience. In this article, we’re going to look at the challenges facing those on the other side of the digital divide, who face being left behind in a changing world. And by addressing these challenges, how that can make your brand more accessible to everyone online.
Who is being left behind digitally?
The 2020 Ofcom Online Nation survey points to particular areas of concern amongst those in lower socioeconomic groups, and those aged over 65. Members of these groups are less likely to have an internet connection than younger or richer groups. Lower confidence in internet usage also means they typically only use the internet for a limited variety of tasks.
Source: Ofcom Online Nation report
Some groups are also disadvantaged by limited access to the internet, with an estimated 190,000 households still unable to gain access to a decent internet connection. Mobile data is also limited, with 13% of rural premises lacking 4G coverage. Users in these areas will lack the high-speed, easily available internet access that makes online services a convenient part of day-to-day life.
While the underlying causes are different, we can see that there is a significant section of the population who don’t think of the internet as an everyday, easy-to-use service. This has several consequences which brands must be aware of, making your brand more accessible offline is crucial.
Concerns over online security
The growing amount of low-level cybercrime makes the internet a dangerous place for the unwary. Even the web-savvy can easily fall prey to cyber scams, and those who don’t know what to look for are even more vulnerable. Understandably, this makes inexperienced internet users wary about what they do online, opting out of services such as online banking or shopping.
Brands must work to make their audience feel safe when connecting with them online. For instance, ensuring that your site uses a secure connection even if it’s not strictly necessary. Modern browsers will usually warn users if a connection is insecure, displaying an alert like this one:
Source: Atriad Article
Confident, experienced internet users can judge for themselves whether this is a risk, but inexperienced users will run a mile. Brands should take a look at their user experience and ask themselves how a user can be sure it’s safe to click on links or submit information. If people aren’t sure who to trust, how can brands demonstrate that they’re trustworthy?
Slow and unreliable internet connections
Brands should accommodate users with slow or unreliable internet connections by holding back from making assumptions about their audience. Sure, updating your website with 360o product photos looks great, but it also eats up a lot more bandwidth, so it’s wise to leave several standard photos in place. Similarly, users may not have a mobile data connection, so relying on push notifications or mobile authentication opens up potential problems.
For the most part, accommodating the needs of low-quality internet connections also aligns with good user experience design. Minimising bandwidth use, simplifying interactions, and cutting away unnecessary content all make the user experience more streamlined and enjoyable.
Watching out for fake news
Fake news is a common source of concern amongst internet users. Even those who are well aware of the dangers of fake news can still fall prey to it: powerful ‘deep fakes’ like this one make it even harder to tell fact from fiction.
How do brands tackle fake news? We’ve talked previously about the importance of checking sources and being truthful, and brands should always put honesty first. For brands with social media accounts, it’s wise to check the facts before commenting on trends, to avoid adding fuel to the fire. When producing content, brands need to make sure that their sources are authentic: quotes and statistics should be directly attributed, not simply third-hand links from other articles. Truth is the best defense against fake news.
Exposure to offensive and upsetting content
For a long time, the internet has run on controversy, making it an unfriendly and often unwelcoming place to spend time. 75% of users report running into inappropriate content on a fairly regular basis, with a wide variety of online harms reported:
Source: Ofcom Online Nation report
This problem has only grown more acute during the pandemic. For instance, YouTube has had to rely more heavily on its automatic content-filtering systems while staff are furloughed, which isn’t as good as humans at catching inappropriate content. Common online harms such as abuse are also commonplace, as we’ve seen with the racist abuse leveled at English footballers.
While the value of being nice online is going up, there are still plenty of negative interactions happening. Many inexperienced internet users will be reluctant to interact online for fear of receiving abuse, as many perfectly innocuous comments receive a whole host of abuse from trolls. Brands shouldn’t assume that everyone will play nice: they must play their part by encouraging positive interactions within their audience, generating a friendly environment for users.
Accommodating to everyone in your online communications
Generally, people are becoming more comfortable and confident with the internet’s increasing presence. However, brands shouldn’t assume that what’s true for most people is true for everyone. Communications and interactions should always take into account those on the other side of the digital divide. This will allow them to participate along with everyone else.
When communicating online, brands should always be ready to ask these questions of their content:
- Could I access this if I had a poor internet connection, or no access to mobile data?
- Can I trust that this site is safe to use?
- Is this information authentic, or could it be fake? How can I be sure?
- Will I be exposed to uncomfortable content if I interact with this?
It’s important to make your brand accessible and reach across the digital divide. This includes everyone in your communications. Understanding others’ points of view is important, and brands must constantly re-examine their communications strategy to ensure it’s accessible to all.
Do you need to make your brand more accessible and rethink communications strategies? Ambitious PR is ready to help. Contact us today to find out what we can do for you.