Virtual Corporate Communications

Virtualization in corporate communications

Virtualization as such is complex because routines are altered, logics are different, and typical advantages of established formats no longer apply. These changes need to be compensated for by other features of virtualization. This is also evident in corporate communications. Many formats for stakeholder communications are now offered online.


Advantages of virtual formats

Communication departments already use digital solutions for internal and external stakeholder communication. There are various advantages virtual formats can offer:

  • Significantly larger audiences
  • Overcoming boundaries as virtual formats can involve stakeholders around the world
  • Saving time due to less travel and fewer physical meetings, freeing up time for other tasks
  • A positive impact on the environment if virtual solutions have a smaller carbon footprint than live events, which often include travel, facilities, and catering





» I believe the quality of communication suffers, as no real dialogue can take place and questions are dealt with one after the other. The reaction of participants to the answers remains hidden. Interjections or applause that make a debate lively are not possible. The only indication of the mood among the staff is the language used in the chat. Here, the tone is often harsher than it would be in a real event. «

Stefanie Hansen, Head of Communications Austria, Germany, Switzerland, BP Europa

Challenges of virtual corporate communications

Although, many virtual formats already run very smoothly, there are still challenges ahead:

Stakeholder dialogues

  • Many companies use stakeholder dialogues to build relationships with different stakeholder groups. Such formats help to understand interests and to pre-clarify options for action.
  • However, transferring stakeholder dialogues to the digital world is not easy. Critical topics and stakeholders can be better addressed in live meetings, but now communication departments will find virtual ways. A new research project will address this topic.

Employee involvement 

  • As for employee communication, many virtual formats have been introduced to keep employees informed and motivated in the short term.
  • But looking ahead in the long term, the question arises how a strong corporate culture and identification with the employer can be promoted among employees who don’t work in the office every day, or who work exclusively from home.

Finding the right balance

  • The pandemic has led to an oversupply of virtual communication offerings and has caused a Zoom fatigue. At the same time the desire is growing to return to face-to-face formats where possible.
  • Practitioners should therefore consider which of their offerings are crucial in terms of presence, which are best staged digitally, and which can be dispensed with altogether – to protect both their own resources and those of their audience.


Key Facts about the 5 trends

  • Denialism: Denialism has become a central issue in out digitalized world. Rumors and false information can be spread much easier trough social media platforms than ever before and so have the potential to influence public opinions.Communicators have the task to identify denialism and find suitable strategies to obviate misinformation and protect the company.
  • Virtual Corporate Communications: Due to digitalization, new ways of communication, such as virtual formats, have become the new normal. This opens up several opportunities, but also challenges for communication departments. Topics such as remote leadership, digital collaboration and employee motivation show the importance of personal communication and thus the urgency of proper virtual formats.
  • Sustainble Communications: Environmental Sustainability has become an important issue in society, but also for corporations. Thus, this topic has raising relevance for communication departments and communicator, who have to integrate sustainability in their strategic communcation.
  • Digital Nudging: Digital nudging can support in leading the way towards effective virtual decision-making by employees throughout the organization. For communication leaders it is an opportunity to raise their profile within the company as experts on optimizing digital environments. 
  • Voice Interaction: The increase in voice-based searches might affect the visibility of any company’s public communication on search engines. In addition, Voice interactions allows corporate communications to reach out to stakeholders in a new way, and to position the company as an innovative brand. 



  1. Sources & screening: First, information sources which provide relevant insights into the professional discourse in the areas of management, technology, and society were monitored and screened. These sources primarily include recent publications from scientific journals and conferences in the respective domains, but also selected newspapers (e.g., Economist Science and Technology), magazines (e.g., Harvard Business Review, Wired), social news sites (e.g., Reddit Science), blogs and websites (e.g., ReadWrite, The Next Web), whitepapers, and corporate trend reports.
  2. Trend profiles: Each potential trend was systematically documented in a trend profile consisting of a brief description and several criteria estimating the trend’s relevance to corporate communications. Specifically, we assessed the impact of the trend on the corporate communications function, processes and management.
  3. Scoring: Based on the criteria detailed in the trend profiles, a scoring method was developed that was used to rate each of the trends.
  4. Selection: These trends were first discussed among the Communications Trend Radar team during a workshop. Each team member then voted individually for the top trends in the areas of management, technology, and society. We proposed five trends for 2021 (depicted below) based on the outcome of this process.
  5. Reflection: These trends were examined further and later discussed with approximately 20 communication leaders during an online workshop in November 2020.
  6. Report: All trends were analyzed and described in more detail in our publication - the Communications Trend Radar


Research team

The Communications Trend Radar 2021 project was conducted by a research team of the Leipzig and the University of Duisburg-Essen.

from left to right:  

  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A. is a research associate at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Sünje Clausen, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Florian Brachten, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. 
  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.