Andreanne Leclerc, DieuCam Nguyen and Emily Poon
PR & Influence
Digital Empathy: Can Virtual Interactions Create Meaningful Connections?

The Metaverse. NFTs. Virtual humans. There’s no small amount of hype around these new forms of digital engagement, but how should brands use these tools to influence people effectively?

The new wave of digital tools is designed to transport us to virtual realities; a world of digital people, possessions, and spaces. The tools may be new, but the art of storytelling is not. It has always been about creating meaningful human experiences through virtual realities. Every work of fiction, from the books we read as children, to the video games we play today, to the best films we watch, presents a world inhabited by characters who exist only in the shared imaginations of creator and audience, a world where we forge powerful emotional bonds.

For the savvy communicator these manufactured worlds present opportunities for very real emotional impact and genuine human connection.

The platforms we tell stories on are changing, but success still depends upon the bedrocks of influence, creativity, and empathy.

These new storytelling vehicles – be they digital people, digital possessions, or digital spaces – feed into the fundamental human desire to learn through empathy. Empathising through stories is part of our nature as social beings, but making meaningful connections requires skilled creators, with deep insights into the lives of the people they are trying to engage. We borrow meaning from a wealth of life experiences, and from cultural immersion, to bring these stories to life, and the expression of that authentic connection is the key to influence. Just as it always has been.

Technology now enables us to personalise these storytelling connections, unlocking remarkable creative possibilities, lowering costs, and enabling engagement and real time reach.

The real value of digital possessions like NFTs, for instance, lies not in their status as objects but in their role as a medium for connecting people in a shared story that evolves as people engage.

This is possible due to innovation in artificial intelligence. AI can gather data from users on a vast scale, analyse that information, and generate content based on people’s behaviour. The ability of AI to learn and create has already transformed the way we produce personalised content online, and that potential is only growing. AI is getting more sophisticated and opening the door to creations such as meta-humans, and generative art in the world of NFTs.

When strategising the creation of digital influencers or other digital communications programs, brands should consider what communities they can borrow influence from, and what team capabilities they will need in order to create the right cultural codes.

A good starting point for brands to begin with is empathy, taking care to feel what audiences are themselves feeling, and using new digital capabilities to offer relevant and meaningful experiences. Whether the connection is digital or analog, empathy is what makes it real.

The paper presents three points of view on how brands can successfully deploy digital humans, digital possessions, and digital spaces to engage communities and craft stories that create positive impact for consumers and brands.

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