Confusing Information in the Coronavirus Pandemic – Everyone's a Player – Transparency a Must

The coronavirus has caused a pandemic, but I think the problem seems to have been an “infodemic.” We've had fake news, and the release of all sorts of information has proven troublesome. When it comes to putting out information, at this time we are all players. We can't tell who is and isn't distributing information, and where the line sits between them and the audience. As with advertising, a one-way communication of information does not get the point across, but rather is sure to induce a backlash.

In this coronavirus pandemic, people have surely felt like the control of information, including on the individual level, has become a serious problem. It is exactly these kinds of times that require meticulous scrutiny of information. I believe that recipients need to confirm the reliability of that information, and that distributors must bear in mind how they can guarantee that information's reliability. With social media at its zenith, everything is already available for everybody to see. In a time when we cannot state falsehoods, the question of how we can maintain that transparency is an important one. It is precisely at a time like this when the failure to engage in careful communication may invite unexpected notoriety.

For example, the Prime Minister of New Zealand used Facebook Live to release information during the coronavirus pandemic. There was a defined process for releasing information in a transparent way on what the government was doing. This is talking the talk and walking the walk, rather than just silently taking action. The time is past when we thought highly upon those who silently got the job done without publicity. If you don't set a goal, make the process clear, then involve stakeholders and put things together collaboratively, the audience will not be receptive. This is a time when unilateral speech and behavior will not bring anyone on board.

Co-Creation Schemes, from Production to Business

A company like Airbnb is one that can enable users and the service to co-create, from production through to business. The company involves everyone to create together. I believe that an open-source way of thinking as in the cases presented here will spread to other domains and become more prominent. Arrangements such as crowdfunding and crowdsourcing do not only have the purpose of merely collecting or earning money, but rather I believe they appeal to people for the greater feeling of participation in carrying out an intent. The scheme itself becomes content and if everybody participates, that in and of itself can become PR. “The Swedish Number,” a case from Cannes, arranged for all citizens to provide tourism information in a new way. It's fascinating exactly because regular people were actively involved. Rather than a plain old awareness-raising message like “We're all in this together,” I think the fact that this campaign could show everybody what they were creating, and spurred them to action on their own, generated empathy and receptivity. I have the sense that values which espouse a cycle of everybody creating something that is for everybody's sake will come to be taken as a matter of fact.

The subscription business model could be one form of co-creation. When a consumer concludes a contract for a video subscription service, at that time they haven't seen anything yet. However, as time passes and they gradually view content, they gain enjoyment from seeing the service improve. The subscription business model has also been applied to cars. In this business, greater emphasis is being placed on what kinds of services consumers will be receptive to after signing a contract for the purchase of a vehicle. This involves immersing yourself in users' lifestyles, examining their daily actions to identify the needs which they themselves have not yet noticed, and then providing new services that offer a clear answer to those needs. In that sense, I believe the service will be one which grows along with the customer, with the idea of clearly seeing the customer as a person with whom you develop a close connection for the medium and long term.

Important Data in the Digital World: Action over Attributes

Conventional advertising has focused on consumer attributes. However, in the digital world, the important thing is not attributes or defining individuals. Instead, action is what has meaning. In China and elsewhere, there are efforts underway to collect data on consumer actions and to study feedback from consumers. This then leads to better services as well as the creation of new services. China is making advances with digital approaches because marketers are using the digital world to directly induce physical behavior. It is important to make action the basis of connecting with people. Those who understand this will succeed online.

For example, even when I post on Twitter, even if the recipient is just seeking knowledge, they are responding to a tweet which I have written to cause an action after they read it. Rather than just acquiring information, I always want them to be jolted into action or to put some impetus to work. My feeling is that the value of information is assessed by whether or not it serves that function.

Just a Single Trigger Can Produce Entirely New Habits

Services among our cases, such as live commerce, employ means to differentiate themselves from simple e-commerce through additional action of some sort, such as enabling users to chat, engage in conversation, or even play a game. Meanwhile, the people who joined Travis Scott's event on Fortnite said it was wonderfully designed and that the action was tangible. Although the game is virtual, the action is there. In China, companies are endeavoring to get consumers to use their apps, but I think the apps are really a kind of game because you can collect loyalty points. QR code readers are ubiquitous throughout China, but the data actually goes back to consumers and plays a gamification role.

The story about online gyms reminds me of when VHS tapes were widespread, and Jane Fonda's lecture videos were big sellers, whose use led to a fitness boom among women who began training. At that time, most gyms catered to bodybuilding men, so women did not feel entirely welcome going there. But in this current environment, it could be that the home fitness trend makes a comeback. But instead of the spread of VHS cassettes, this time I think that digital technology will create entirely new habits.

An Era When Companies and Brands Have to Take Clear Stands and Act in Order to Survive

They say that nowadays, companies and countries outside of Japan cannot take a neutral stance anymore. Apparently, maintaining neutrality actually runs the risk of taking sides. Those who clearly declare where they stand win public trust. Not picking a side means you can't be counted on. One other thing to be careful with is that with the deluge of information in the digital world, no matter how much you state your opinion, it doesn't carry any weight. Those who have something that needs to be said or who induce action have the advantage. This is why people are quick to see through and criticize “woke-washing” and “green-washing” campaigns that are all talk, or that put on appearances as if they are doing something good for society or the environment. This is because in a digital space, the truth comes out quickly. If the action does not match the speech, nobody will believe you or even listen to what you have to say.

The Idea of “Social Construction”

I read that until the 1990s, Japanese companies regularly used a term which translates as “social construction.” The idea was that by working at a company, you are also supporting society. In other words, you are building a good society. However, after Japan's asset-inflated economic bubble burst, companies lost their relationship with society. On top of that, since the 1990s, it has become clear that people strongly feel that corporate activity is not particularly geared toward generating happiness for consumers or employees, destroying the logic that what's good for the economy is good for society. The idea of having an intimate relationship with society and helping people through business has fallen to the wayside. I believe that companies have to once again clearly define their position in society and embed that value as an integral part of their corporate identity.

Director, blkswn publishers

Kei Wakabayashi

Born in 1971. Currently an editor. Spent his childhood in London and New York. After earning a degree in French from Waseda University, was hired by Heibonsha to work in the editorial department for the magazine “Gekkan Taiyo.” Became a freelance editor in 2000. Since then, has edited numerous magazines, books, exhibition records, and more. Also works as a music journalist. Editor-in-chief of the Japanese edition of “Wired” from 2012 to 2017. Founded blkswn publishers in 2018. Author of “Sayonara Mirai” (Goodbye, Future) and edited “Jisedai Ginko wa Sekai wo Ko Kaeru” (How the Next Generation of Banks Will Change the World) and “Jiseidai Government: Chisakute Okii Seifu no Tsukurikata” (Next-Generation Government: How to Make a Small, Big Government).