The brand power of digital inclusion

CMO speaks to those on the fringes of digital literacy and utilisation in Australia as well as industry experts to shine a light on digital inclusion as a strategy and corporate responsibility


Brand benefits

It is a different story in the UK, however, where Barclays Bank’s Digital Eagles program for example is helping both customers and non-customers to understand and embrace the new digital revolution, including free ‘Tea and Teach’ sessions which provide practical and helpful advice to build confidence with computers and the Internet. These are held within branches, libraries or local community centres across the UK.

According to a Barclay’s spokesperson: “We firmly believe Barclays has a commercial and social responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind on the digital journey - not just receiving support to send an email, connect through social media or knowing how to bank online but in understanding the emerging language of the new digital economy.”

UK-born social change charity, Good Things Foundation, has been coordinating the efforts of public, private and not-for-profit organisations to build digital skills across the community, including Lloyds Banking Group and the telecommunications company, Talk Talk. Good Things is also now active in Australia, with 1500 network partners.

According to Good Things’ CEO, Helen Milner, there are three key benefits in a company or brand supporting digital inclusion.

“There's a huge overlap between people who are excluded from society because they can't use the Internet - unable to get a job to being lonely and isolated - many businesses support vulnerable and excluded people and digital inclusion is another cause they can and should support,” Milner says.

Secondly, she says many businesses are improving their offer through digital, and the link between their better digital services and making sure everyone has the skills and confidence to use those services is strong.

“The third benefit is large businesses want their staff to feel part of the rapid evolution of their services and offers, which are all digital. Being digital champions or digital mentors gives them a chance to feel involved in the digital revolution outside of the pressures of the office/branch,” Milner says.

Spriggs also sees the possibility of using digital skills training to create positive brand experiences.

“If you are running a digital skill pop-up anywhere, it is great way to engage your customers and a great way to promote your brand without explicitly selling anything,” he says. “And you have the added benefit of building those skills, so customers will be more confident to use the online services.”

In Australia, several commercial organisations have stepped up to the challenge, including Google and Facebook. While both have been active in creating programs and technology to extend access and skills in the developing world, using technologies such as high-altitude balloons and free limited access services, they have also been active in fostering digital skills development in Australia.

Google, for instance, has been working in conjunction with Infoxchange and local partners to deliver its Digital Springboard program, which helps consumers learn the digital skills they need to thrive in work and life.

Facebook has also been working to build the digital skills of people in regional communities, working with local newsrooms, small business, not-for-profit organisations, students and parents in Mackay and the south-west of WA. Facebook has held 70 workshops and trained more almost 2000 small businesses and not-for-profit organisations, while also hosting online safety workshops for more than 120 students.

One Australian-born organisation that has also taken on the challenge is Telstra. Its general manger for digital inclusion, Nancie-Lee Robinson, says this is in line with the ASX-listed telco’s purpose to ‘create a brilliant connected future for everyone’.

“We believe everyone should be able to use digital technology, to manage their health and wellbeing, access education and services, organise their finances, and connect with friends and family,” Robinson says.

“With a growing range of education, information, government, and community services moving online, internet access is increasingly regarded as an essential service. The benefits of the digital economy cannot be shared equally when some members of the community are still facing real barriers to online participation.”

Australia Post has also swung significant effort behind digital inclusion initiatives. While its research has identified 9 per cent of Australians as non-online users, it has also identified a further 34 per cent who are online but only in a very basic way.

“The best part of 50 per cent of Australians aren’t engaging in the Internet in a way that maximises the choice and opportunity around accessing products and services, as well as the way they connect,” says community relations manager, Julia Symons.

As a result, Australia Post has developed several programs designed to raise skills and change behaviours, working in conjunction with Infoxchange and community organisations such as the Australian Seniors Computer Club.

“We’ve been connecting Australians for years and years,” says Symons. “The way people connect with Australia Post varies, and the digital world is no different. People engage in a way that is relevant to them, and we want to provide that choice for people to be able to connect online. And we recognise four million Australians just don’t have that choice.

“Because we work so closely with local communities, we can learn from the way they are already upskilling in the digital world and try and enable and empower those community organisations and our people to help in that area.

“I can’t think of a more important area we should be playing in.”

Case study: Regional remoteness

While 86 per cent of Australian households now have ready access to the online world, that still leaves 14 per cent of households on the far side of the digital divide, including Tiani Cook, whose family runs a cattle station in the Northern Territory.

Cook is the Northern Territory president for the Isolated Children and Parents Association, and frequently hears stories of the social isolation that lack of access to digital communications can create. While accessibility has improved with the advent of NBN services, she still suffers frequent dropouts, and her overall experience is still inferior to those of city dwellers.

“You never have enough data,” Cook says. “We don’t have the luxury of getting on and watching YouTube videos, and we don’t get to use it for social reasons.

“We are already physically isolated due to geographic location, then to have that compounded by the social isolation on top. There is so much emphasis on mental health at the moment, and it is definitely something that is definitely identified as contributing to mental health and social and emotion wellbeing, from not feeling that connectedness.”

It is an issue Cook believes is actually becoming worse as more services are migrated online.

“It doesn’t matter who you call, they’ll say ‘go to a web page and click on a link and you’ll have all the information there’,” Cook says. “So people’s expectation is that everything is at your fingertips.”

But you don’t need to live in a remote community to reside on the far side of the divide.

Gisele Mesnage is visually impaired, and while she was initially thrilled by the promise of the Internet delivered when she first came online 20 years ago, she soon hit issues in the form of inaccessible websites, which led her to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

Three years ago, she took Coles Online to the Federal Court after its site became inaccessible.

“It was settled amicably, and since that case Coles has been doing fantastic work in that space,” Mesnage says. “The company realised it is not just about winning a legal action, this was really something that would be good business. But it took quite a long time to get there.”

These experiences also led her to form the Digital Gap Initiative, to push for legislation and standards. To this day, she says only 26 per cent of government websites are fully accessible.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu   

 

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