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Parallel Worlds: Managing the diversification of reality

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Parallel Worlds is one of five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2023. The trend concerns extended, altered, or alternative versions of reality and how this technology-enabled diversification of reality affects organizations.

The quality and capabilities of technology for immersive 3D experiences in parallel worlds are constantly improving. More and more companies are investing in virtual platforms and services in pursuit of the Metaverse. Communicators can seize the opportunities these technologies offer but should also understand the challenges for corporate communications.

In pursuit of the metaverse

Technology increasingly allows individuals to immerse themselves in extended, altered, or alternative versions of reality. More experiences, interactions, and communication will occur in parallel worlds.

Tech companies are working towards virtual worlds that offer individuals a variety of experiences, ranging from socializing to working and entertainment. This vision has been given a name: the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a vision for the future promoted by tech companies such as Meta, Microsoft, and ByteDance. It does not yet exist, but the precursors that are necessary for realizing the vision. They offer a glimpse of what it might become, look, and feel like. These include technological devices such as AR and VR headsets, sensors, and projectors, software powering virtual platforms, and the blockchain technology that facilitates payment rails and the trade in virtual goods in the Metaverse economy.

“45% of German companies plan investments in the Metaverse within the next five years.”

Bitkom Research 2022

However, several challenges remain to be solved before the Metaverse can be realized. For example, virtual platforms are being developed by different tech companies and are mostly independent of each other. Connecting different virtual worlds in a network requires interoperability, common technological standards for the design of virtual worlds, and communication within and between them. Additionally, the computational resources needed for the envisioned real-time rendering of rich virtual worlds in which a theoretically unlimited number of users interact are simply not yet available. Thus, the arrival of a 3D Internet is not to be expected any time soon.

Imitating reality: Digital twins

Digital twins are virtual representations that can be used to better monitor and understand the physical entity and optimize its effectiveness and efficiency. They originated in manufacturing and can be applied to predict workflows, suggest optimization, and forecast the impact of innovations. Data about the physical entity and its environment is necessary to create a digital twin, but researchers have already created digital twins to better understand and predict human behavior.

Quotation of Matthew Ball, author of the book "The Metaverse" on parallel worlds
Matthew Ball, author of the book “The Metaverse”

Immersive technologies in corporate communications

For corporate communications, the possibilities and challenges induced by technologies that create new realities are manifold. Parallel worlds will affect where stakeholders communicate and what they expect from organizations.

  • 3D technologies (e.g., augmented reality, virtual reality, and holograms) provide new opportunities to enhance existing communication formats, including for in-person events. In virtual stakeholder communication, holograms, AR, and VR have the potential to make virtual communication and collaboration more realistic, effective, and enjoyable.
  • New platforms are also changing expectations when it comes to monitoring public communication and discourses with strategic significance, managing debates, and building relationships.
  • Parallel world technology can also be used to imitate and simulate reality (“digital twins”), for example, by accurately imitating significant communication processes and simulating different scenarios. This may become a powerful tool for planning real-world interactions.

Relevance of parallel worlds for corporate communications

The technologically enabled diversification of reality will challenge corporate communication in multiple ways:

  • Parallel worlds will affect where stakeholders communicate and what they expect from corporate communications. For example, Roblox had 58.8 million daily active users in 2022, half of whom were under the age of 13 (Roblox, 2022). In virtual stakeholder communication, holograms, AR, and VR have the potential to make virtual communication and collaboration more realistic, effective, and enjoyable.
  • New communication channels and formats enabled by 3D technologies (AR, VR, holograms) and virtual platforms provide opportunities to enhance existing communication activities, but also pose challenges for content production. The range of experiences in parallel worlds will be limited by the creativity of designers and users.
  • New platforms will also change the demands when it comes to monitoring public communica- tion and discourses with strategic significance, managing debates, and building relationships.
  • Digital twins are a powerful tool for planning real-world interactions. They can be used to simulate the effects of different communication activities or management decisions, as well as for event management and product presentations.
  • The media hype about the Metaverse is putting pressure on communication leaders to provide sound internal advice and raise realistic expectations among key stakeholders.

Recommendations for communication professionals

The growing importance of parallel worlds requires communications leaders to build new competencies required to understand, shape, and navigate them. They need to deconstruct the buzz and hype, and identify the core challenges and opportunities of the emerging trend:

  1. Form realistic expectations of the Metaverse: The vision is fascinating, and if it were to be realized, the Metaverse would revolutionize parts of our lives and the economy. But many hurdles remain to be overcome. A “corporate Metaverse” with fragmented virtual worlds and different technological standards (as is currently pursued by Meta, etc.) will not be able to unfold a disruptive force similar to the Internet revolution.
  2. Build experiences and competencies in parallel worlds: While the Metaverse will not arise soon, AR, VR, holograms, and virtual platforms such as Roblox, AltspaceVR, or Microsoft Mesh will not leave corporate communications unaffected. Exploring these potentials early on could give corporate communications a valuable head start. Testing and building empirical knowledge are essential in this respect.
  3. Build a data infrastructure and explore digital twin use cases: The basis for imitating and simulating communication processes with digital twins is high-quality data that accurately describe physical entities or interactions. Communicators can build the relevant data infrastructure to explore possible use cases for digital twins.

About the study

For the third time the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future. 

The study analyzes changes in the areas of society, management, and technology. For 2023, the research team identified the trends State Revival, Scarcity Management, Unimagination, Augmented Workflows and Parallel Worlds.

These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems, and Ansgar Zerfass form Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guide decisions.