How Digital Naturals helps practitioners

PR strategists put a lot of effort into categorising audiences and segmenting “publics”, and a key demographic characteristic for many campaigns is age. It may be fairly obvious that the target group for some products and services will defined by how old they are, but the majority of campaigns need to consider quite a broad age span. Others might place emphasis on gender, education, income, or lifestyle.

Having defined a target demographic the next stage is to try and and identify which platforms and channels they are likely to use. Here it becomes useful to consider the extent to which the targets are likely to be Digital Naturals, individuals who are comfortable in an online environment, being equipped through experience and exposure to the both its cultural norms and the technological competencies required to operate effectively.

The characteristic features associated with being a Digital Natural include:

  • Routine access to online platforms (owning a smartphone, having home broadband etc)
  • Regular use of online platforms for news, conversation and information-seeking
  • Propensity to share information, opinions and emotions
  • Digital aptitude, including the ability to critically assess sources and content, having reading writing skills, motor and sensory skills

Individuals will score differently against these broad  groupings, and the groupings, or propensities, will need to be sub-divided in ways tailored to the behaviour the campaign is designed to influence.

The strategist can then decide to what extent people who share similar values that are linked to the campaign target are likely to be considered Digital Naturals. If these propensities are expressed strongly in a target group, the ways to reach them will become clear. If they targets are unlikely to be considered Naturals, the reason can be identified. For example, certain individuals might be strongly disinclined to share information on social networks but still have ready access to a range platforms and  channels, whereas others may be keen to share but don’t have the economic means to participate. The possibility of these two positions, polar opposites, explains why there is no binary negative to the Digital Natural. (Compare this with the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant divide which is presented as stark, and fixed, based on birth year and and associated assumptions which are increasingly hard to justify).




Digital Naturals 0

What is a Digital Natural?

Digital Naturals are individuals who are comfortable in an online environment, being equipped through experience and exposure to the both its cultural norms and the technological competencies required to operate effectively.

With every passing day the distinction between online and offline becomes more obscure. We are thinking less and less about technology and more about communication. We are more likely to say “I spoke to her yesterday” than “I spoke to her yesterday on my mobile telephone.”

If we buy a new device, be it a smartphone, tablet or laptop, we won’t spend long reading the instruction manual (not least because there probably isn’t one). And we will all use the devices in different ways, with our own favourite apps, sites, games and tools. Understanding who uses which platforms and channels is very important to communicators, but we have long ago moved on from the time that age alone could be thought to be truly significant.

Today, nearly all of us have some digital competence. We are becoming Digital Naturals, routinely using an array of online tools in our daily lives, even if few of us are completely comfortable in this new environment.

Digital Naturals helps both academics and practitioners understand today’s world. It is a helpful and necessary step forward from the outdated and divisive labeling of Digital Natives  and Digital Immigrants. Way back in 2001 Marc Prensky published a widely cited paper, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, in which he argued with some justification that educators needed to adapt to the demands  a new breed of college students, those born after 1980. Prensky believed them to be fundamentally different to those who had come before them.

A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity” – an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. …
Today’s students … represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.

His “Natives” label caught on, and although it is not heard quite so often nowadays, there is still a great temptation for communicators to slice up stakeholder groups by age, as either pre- or post-digital. But even if we set aside the negative connotations of natives vs immigrants division, it is clear this doesn’t represent the world we live in.

To be a Digital Natural is to have the skills and competences to operate in the online environment, to treat internet-enabled devices as a routine to daily life, to expect information to be at our fingertips, always available and endlessly abundant. Digital Naturals inhabit a place where location and distance don’t much matter and where news travels instantly.

This is not to say that all Digital Naturals experience the world in the same way. Far from it, they will be distinguished by access, literacy, social inclination and conditioning. They will have contrasting digital identities negotiated, consciously otherwise across, many platforms and channels.

Some will not feel themselves to be Naturals, but the reasons will be many and varied; there is no binary opposite to being a Digital Natural. Some will not have the economic power to engage, some will not have the communicative literacy, some will have the ability but not the social or emotional inclination to engage with online platforms.

Although age is important to behaviour patterns, it is does not bestow unique understanding. Those born after 1980, certainly after 1995, may not have known a world before the internet, but that doesn’t mean they have an intrinsic understanding of technologies; indeed assuming that they do brings dangers . A 15-year-old may have faster fingers and cooler apps than a 50-year-old but is probably not as good at decoding social messages or knowing who to believe or to trust in everyday dealings. Forgetting this risks exposing the vulnerable to significant danger.

Finally, beware the apparent paradox in the definition of Digital Naturals, which is to assume that being competent to operate in the new environment is the same as being comfortable there. Many Digital Naturals will make good and effective use of online tools and resources but will be only too aware of the trade-offs they make in terms of personal privacy and accountability. The natural athlete may be very good at a particular sport but they will also be aware, even fearful, of the risk of injury.

Digital Naturals 0

NEMO14 Meet the Digital Naturals: Round-up


The third NEMO conference, Meet the Digital Naturals, held at Campus Helsingborg on Friday October 17 featured some great presentations from guest keynoters and NEMO researchers, and lively debate on social media. Here comes links to the slides, photos (with more on the NEMO Facebook page), and Tweets.

A big thank you to the presenters, panelists and guests!


Neville Hobson (@jangles) Presentation: Setting the Agenda for Tomorrow’s PR

brit stakston

Brit Stakston (@BritStakston): Can PR Survive in a Digital World? Download: 141017 Stakston Nemo red

IMG_2626Robin Teigland (@RobinTeigland): Leading Into The Third Industrial Revolution 

Tim Thor

Timothy Coombs: Digital Naturals as Activists

IMG_2634Marja Åkerström, Nils Gustafsson and Sara von Platen

Veselinka Möllerström: PR and Social Media VM SvP HM


Cecilia Cassinger: Cocreation_images_practices


Uncategorized 0

Thank you for NEMO14!!!

orgtim thor

A big thank you to everyone who made this year’s NEMO Conferences such a success!

Watch out for presentations, photographs, and the best of Twitter, which will all be rounded up here on Tuesday.

Uncategorized 0

NEMO14: Meet the Digital Naturals

Here’s the line-up and running order for Friday’s 2014 NEMO Conference – Meet the Digital Naturals. If you can’t make it on the day, follow the action on Twitter, #NEMO14 and stay in touch through NEMO Facebook.

Venue: Room U202, Campus Helsingborg – five minutes from the rail station, follow the signs to Campus. If arriving by car, ask for a parking voucher at reception.

Brit_Stakston hsNeville Robin Tim

Here’s the full line up….   

Registration opens at 8.30

Moderator: Andreas Ekström (@andreaskstrom)

9.00     Welcome to ISK – Charlotte Simonsson, and This is NEMO –
Meet the Digital Naturals – Philip Young (@mediations)

9.20     Neville Hobson (@jangles): Setting the Agenda for Tomorrow’s PR

10.00    Brit Stakston (@britstakston): Can PR Survive in a Digital World?

10.40    Coffee

11.00     Howard Nothhaft and Philip Young: PR in Unlikely Places: Games, Cars and Fridges

11.30     Nils Gustafsson (@NilsGustafsson) and Marja Åkerström (both ISK):  The Swedish Election and Young People: Social Media, Passion and Trust

12:00    Lunch at Amica (Free with voucher, pick up when you register)

13:00    Robin Teigland (@RobinTeigland): The Third Industrial Revolution

13.40     Sara von Platen and Veselinka Möllerström (both ISK) Public Relations and     Social Media – Good for Business, Good for Society? Plus panel, including Brit Stakston,  Ander Mildner, and Timme Bisgaard Munck, chaired by Philip Young

14:30    Cecilia Cassinger (ISK): Images, Co-creation and Practice, and Mia LarsonCo-creation and Community

15.00   Timothy Coombs (USA): Digital Naturals as Activists:  Superheroes or

15.30    So What Does the Future Hold?  Panel Discussion, chaired by Jesper
Falkheimer (ISK)

16:00 Close


Uncategorized 0

NEMO14 Meet the Speaker: Brit Stakston

We are delighted to announce that media strategist and author Brit Stakston has joined our very strong line up for the NEMO2014 Meet the Digital Naturals Conference on October 17.

Book your ticket here – and be quick!

Brit_StakstonRegularly appointed as one of the most influential digital opinion makers in Sweden, Brit  has been an advisor to the Swedish IT minister 2010-2014. Her third book,  Three tweets is not a fury: On Digitization and Democracy will be published shortly.

Brit now runs a  company that she describes as “more of a digital think tank then a traditional communication agency.”

Brit Stakston’s website   @britstakston Twitter

Uncategorized 0

NEMO14 Meet the Speaker: Neville Hobson

Neville 2104 hsWe are delighted that Neville Hobson will deliver the opening keynote for NEMO’s Meet the Digital Naturals Conference on Friday October 17 (Book Here).

Two years ago, Neville opened the first NEMO Conference: now he is back in Helsingborg, with Setting the Agenda for Tomorrow’s PR. As one of the best connected people in the UK communications network, Neville is uniquely well-placed to spot trends and assess implications. His blog ranks number one in the Cision Top PR blogs, he has 13,000 followers on Twitter, and quite remarkably, the prolific For Immediate Release podcast he pioneered with Shel Holtz way back in 2005 continues to set the agenda.

Neville has over 25 years’ experience in public relations, marketing communication, employee, compensation and benefits communication, and investor relations. He has diverse international experience from living and working across continental Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. He’s worked for a wide range of organizations, from global enterprises to small- and medium-size businesses, to specialist consulting firms to independent consulting.

He also brings a decade’s practical experience with social media for business with an extensive presence and influence across the social web. Over the past decade, he has analysed and discussed trends, behaviours and practices in digital communication to help individuals and organizations understand what they mean for people and business.

He’s a co-founder of new-media start-ups. He co-founded The FIR Podcast Network series of business podcasts including its anchor podcast, For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report.”

Neville is based in Wokingham, England and at On Twitter he is @jangles.

Uncategorized 0

NEMO Academic Conference: Thursday, October 16

Here’s the line up for the NEMO Academic Conference:  Theorising the Digital Naturals, to be held at MindPark (was Ship), Campus Helsingborg, on Thursday, October 16. It is primarily aimed at researchers, and will feature presentations and discussion from contributors to the NEMO Anthology, Strategic Communication, Social Media and Democracy: The Challenge of the Digital Naturalsbut anyone who is interested is very welcome. (Please email if you want to join us, to help with catering arrangements). Theme: Theorising the Digital Naturals

  • When: 09:30 – 17:00, Thursday, October 16
  • Where: MindPark (was Ship) ….

09:30 Welcome and Intro – Mats Heide and Philip Young

09.45 What is a Digital Natural? Philip Young

10.00 Session 1: New Media & Strategic Communication 

The Role of Communications Professionals in the Digital Age:  Henrik Merkelsen, Veselinka Möllerström, Sara von Platen Discussion: Future directions for Strategic Communication

11:00 Visual culture and new media – conditions of the co-creation of vision: Åsa Thelander, Cecilia Cassinger

Communication Practices of Social Media Communities: Mia Larsson, Szilvia Gyimothy

New Media and Internal Communications: Mats Heide

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Session II Modern Democracy

The Ecology of the User-Generated Public Sphere: Howard Nothhaft

Social Media and Parliamentary Infighting: Nils Gustafsson

What Digital Naturals Demand from Democracy: Marja Åkerström, Philip Young

Discussion: Exploring the Language of Social Media: Conversation, Engagement etc … All Just Talk? led by Tim Coombs, Philip Young

15:00 The Gamification of Democracy: Howard Nothhaft, Jens Sieffert

Adjudication as Democratic Practice: Marja Åkerström, Matthias Baier

Civic Engagement and Collective Remembering: Hui Zhao

New Media and Terrorism: Jesper Falkheimer

16:30 Conclusion: The Anthology Coombs, Falkheimer, Heide and Young

Uncategorized 0

NEMO14 Meet the Digital Naturals: Full Programme

There is still time to book your place at the third NEMO: New Media, Modern Democracy Conference, to be held at Lund University Campus Helsingborg on Friday, October 17.

Brit_Stakston hsNeville Robin TimCommunicators and PR practitioners working in business, politics, charities and NGOs need to understand the fast-changing world that is increasingly shaped by Digital Naturals. At NEMO14, keynote speakers including Brit Stakston, Neville Hobson, the UK’s most popular PR commentator, Robin Teigland,  of the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness at Stockholm School of Economics, and international crisis communications analyst Timothy Coombs, will join NEMO experts to explore new research findings which are redefining strategic communications.

Here’s the full line up….   

9.00     Welcome to ISK – Charlotte Simonsson, and This is NEMO –
Meet the Digital Naturals – Philip Young

9.20     Neville Hobson (UK): Setting the Agenda for Tomorrow’s PR

10.00    Brit Stakston

10.40    Coffee

11.00    Howard Nothhaft and Philip Young: PR in Unlikely Places: Games, Cars and Fridges

11.30      Nils Gustafsson and Marja Åkerström (ISK): Humour, Sarcasm and the Facebook Election

12:00    Lunch

13:00    Robin Teigland: The Third Industrial Revolution

13.40    PR in Practice Panel: Sara von Platen, Henrik Merkelsen, Veselinka Möllerström (all ISK) and guests

14:30    Cecilia Cassinger (ISK): Images, Co-creation and Practice, and Mia Larson: Co-creation and Community

15.00   Timothy Coombs (USA): Digital Naturals as Activists:  Superheroes or

15.30    So What Does the Future Hold?  Panel Discussion, chaired by Jesper
Falkheimer (ISK)

16:00 Close

Please book now  – Registration closes at 17:00 Friday, October 10.

Uncategorized 0

NEMO14 Meet the speaker: Timothy Coombs


At NEMO13 last year, Timothy Coombs invoked the threat of a Zombie attack to show the challenges and dangers of social media in a crisis (video).

We are delighted that Tim, a professor at the University of Central Florida and a world expert on crisis communication will return to Campus Helsingborg for NEMO14 on October 17 – this time bringing lessons from Marvel Comics’ Nordic superhero, Thor, in his presentation “Digital Naturals as Activists:  Superheroes or Dilettantes?

Tim explains: “Digital naturals have been at the forefront of the shift in activism to the digital environment.  Instead of media advocacy, digital channels are the preferred option for modern activists.  But some critics wonder if cyberactivism is too easy and causes people to limit their activism to simply pressing computer keys, what is called slacktivism.  An opposing view is that digital channels provide great potential to enhance activist power turning them into a type of superhero with cyber-enhanced power.

“With Thor’s help, I am going explore both options and argue that superhero is the most likely outcome as digital naturals become activated. ”

Book your place the NEMO Conference 2014: Meet the Digital Naturals (Oct 17).

Screenshot 2014-09-17 10.35.19

Tim’s books include Applied Crisis Communication and Crisis Management: Cases and ExercisesCode Red in the Boardroom,and, with Sherry Holladay, Managing Corporate Social ResponsibilityPR Strategy and Application, and The Handbook of Crisis Communication.  His crisis communication research was awarded the 2002 Jackson, Jackson & Wagner Behavioral Science Prize from the Public Relations Society of America. Dr. Coombs has published more than 40 research articles, most focusing on crisis communication, as well as more than 30 book chapters on the subject. 

Uncategorized 0