Parallel Worlds - Managing the diversification of reality

What are parallel worlds?

Technology like AR, VR, and hologram technologies increasingly allows us to immerse ourselves in extended, altered, or alternative versions of reality. Taking a step further, tech companies are now working towards developing virtual worlds that offer us a variety of experiences. Since Mark Zuckerberg renamed the Facebook company “Meta,” this vision has been given a name: the Metaverse. Even though the vision of the Metaverse might not come into being any time soon, it is certain that more experiences, interaction, and communication will take place in parallel worlds.

What exactly is the Metaverse? What does it require? And when can we expect it to arrive? Most people will have heard the term Metaverse, but they might find hard to understand what it is about. This is unsurprising as there is not any universal definition of what constitutes the Metaverse. It has been described, for example, as a parallel plane of existence, a 3D version of the Internet, or the “walk-in Internet.” Importantly, the Metaverse does not yet exist, but is primarily a vision for the future promoted by tech companies such as Meta, Microsoft, and ByteDance.

What already exists are precursors of the Metaverse, but these should not be mistaken for being the Metaverse. For example, there is

  • hardware in the form technological devices such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, sensors, and projectors (e.g., HoloLens for holoportation) that allow us to experience and interact with virtual objects, events, people, and entire 3D worlds.
  • software powering virtual platforms that enable users to play, socialize, or co-work with other avatars in 3D or 2D worlds (e.g., AltspaceVR, Microsoft Mesh, Roblox, Fortnite)
  • blockchain technology that facilitates payment rails and the trade in virtual goods in the Metaverse economy.


Which challenges come with the Metaverse?

Although almost half of the German companies (45%) plan investments in the Metaverse within the next five years, several challenges remain to be solved before its realization. Right now, virtual platforms are being developed by different tech companies with different visions. Thus, it is difficult to move seamlessly from one platform to another with an avatar. Also common technological standards for the virtual worlds are still missing. Furthermore, the computational resources required for the envisioned real-time rendering of rich virtual worlds in which a theoretically unlimited number of users interact are simply not yet available. Especially bearing in mind climate change and energy scarcity, one could question whether the immense amount of energy needed to realize even parts of the Metaverse can be justified.

Thus, the arrival of a 3D Internet is not to be expected any time soon. However, the precursors of the Metaverse in the form of AR, VR, and hologram technologies, virtual platforms, and the vision of building a parallel world already affect businesses and their stakeholders today.


Relevance for corporate communications

The technologically enabled diversification of reality also brings multiple challenges for corporate communications:

  • Parallel worlds will affect where stakeholders communicate and what they expect from corporate communications. The consumers, employees, and citizens of tomorrow are growing up with different experiences and expectations regarding virtual collaboration and communication. 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 can enhance existing communication activities and make abstract ideas more tangible. However, these new technologies also pose major challenges for content production as different types of content or strategies as well as skills are needed.
  • New platforms will also change the demands when it comes to monitoring public communication and discourses with strategic significance, managing debates, and building relationships.
  • Parallel world technologies can be a powerful tool for planning real-world interactions. Building digital twins of different stakeholders may help communication professionals to simulate the effect of different communication activities or management decisions. Additionally, digital twins could be explored for enhancing event management and for product presentations in online shops.
  • On a more general level, the media hype about the Metaverse might increasingly put pressure on communication leaders to position themselves with regard to this topic. Here, a profound assessment of what is already and what might become available will help communicators to provide sound internal advice and raise realistic expectations among key stakeholders.


Three points for working with parallel worlds

Here are some starting points for communications leaders on identifying the core challenges and opportunities of parallel worlds:

  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 in the near future, 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 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 describes physical entities or interactions. Communicators can build the relevant data infrastructure to explore possible use cases for digital twins.

Key facts about the 5 trends

  • State Revival: The state is experiencing a renaissance. Governments, regulators, political parties and politicians gained in importance both as a partner and as an antagonist of businesses. After a period with almost no state intervention in the economy (neoliberalism), the pendulum is now moving back in the other direction towards more state control (neodirigism). Multiple reasons such as the pandemic or the Russian war against Ukraine have prompted this trend. The state is interfering more strongly in the economy – both by providing subsidies and accelerating the growth of specific markets by means of high spending.
  • Scarcity Management: After years of abundance, Europe has to get used to scarcity. Whether in raw materials, energy, personnel or products – there are shortages in many areas. This development is being exacerbated by demographic changes and geopolitical upheavals. Price increases, inflation and bottlenecks are the result. Many companies have to adapt their value chains and processes in order to achieve their long-term corporate goals. But scarcity offers opportunities as well. Rare products or services raise profitability for those who can deliver. Additionally, in times of scarcity, innovative and more sustainable solutions are increasingly developed for which there was previously no market.
  • Unimagination: A third world war, widespread blackouts or computers striving for world domination – today many unimaginable incidents are considered for being possible someday. However, companies cannot prepare for every future scenario. Rather, it is important to take precautions. Organizations must adapt their structures and processes and empower their employees in order to remain capable of acting even when the unimaginable happens. On an individual level, psychological stability and robustness are needed. This can be promoted through training on ambiguity tolerance, resilience and improvisation.
  • Augmented Workflows: AI-based technologies will enable new forms of interaction between humans and technology in the next few years. They promise to improve productivity by performing routine tasks, to reduce human error, and to generate insights that improve decision-making. As exciting as these prospects are, they may also be problematic. The prospect of augmented workflows challenges us to think about questions such as: Who delegates tasks to whom when humans and AI collaborate? How do outputs change if an AI makes suggestions – and who is responsible for them?
  • Parallel Worlds: New technologies are increasingly enabling us to create and immerse ourselves in extended versions of reality – so-called parallel worlds. This can make abstract concepts more tangible for consumers. More and more companies are recognizing the potential of these technologies, for instance for product launches. Behind this is also the idea of creating a worldwide "Metaverse" in which the real and virtual worlds are combined in a single environment. So far the Metaverse is primarily a vision. If and when it will arrive and what it will look like is anybody’s guess. Due to the increasing possibilities of 3D technologies, this trend should not be misjudged by communication experts.


  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, the research team 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 2023 (depicted below) based on the outcome of this process.
  5. Reflection: These trends were examined further and later discussed with communication leaders during an online workshop in November 2022.
  6. Report: All trends were analyzed and described in more detail in our publication - the Communications Trend Radar.

Research team

The Communications Trend Radar 2023 project was conducted by a research team of the Leipzig University, the University of Duisburg-Essen and University of Potsdam.

from left to right:  

  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor at University of Potsdam. He is head of the SAP-endowed chair of Business Information Systems and Digital Transformation.
  • 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 Digital Communication and Transformation at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany.