Welcome to a special Connections edition of The Rundown by Citizen, a monthly round up of conversations that count. This month, off the back of the release of our 1st annual Citizen Connections Report, we’re offering bite-sized big thinking on recent “crisis of connection” headlines we’re seeing from around the world.
Closing The Connection Deficit
It’s evident our world is going through a crisis of connection right now. Around the world, we’re hearing loneliness be described as an epidemic and the greatest public health challenge of our time. But how can marketers play a role in addressing the crisis and why should they care?
Earlier this month, Citizen launched its inaugural Connections Report, where they surveyed 3,000+ consumers across the US, UK & Canada to understand how they connect – with each other, with society and with themselves. One thing, which they’re calling the “Connection Deficit,” became glaringly obvious:
Almost universally, people desire more connection – but they’re held back.
It boils down to three things:
- Selective Social Interaction: Post-pandemic, 74% of people have become more selective about their social circles.
- Online-Offline Balance: While 78% prefer in-person interactions for better communication and camaraderie, a quarter also find value in online connections due to their convenience and specificity.
- Mental Health Challenges: Not only is mental health the #1 barrier to social connection, it’s also the #1 issue people want to see brands and organizations address.
Consumers expect brands to address this “Connection Deficit” too – nearly 90% of respondents expect brands to address at least one societal issue and bring about change. As such, Citizen has laid out a new mandate for brands to help them tackle social connection. To learn more, check out Citizen’s full report here.
WHO Has Spoken
A couple weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally declared the ‘epidemic of loneliness’ a global health priority and launched a new Commission on Social Connection. The commission’s goal is to design strategies to help people foster deeper social connections over the next three years.
This announcement comes after extensive research by the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vikram Murthy, on how loneliness impacts health, mental and physical. Mental health and social disconnection go hand in hand, it seems. While Murthy claims social disconnection is driving the mental health crisis in the US, Citizen Relation’s inaugural Connections Report also found that mental health poses the biggest barrier to social connection. In fact, it is the number one issue consumers across the globe want to see brands increase their advocacy for.
The impact on physical health is becoming increasingly evident, with one study calling it equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can lead to poor immune health and cardiovascular diseases. It can also cause cognitive decline and contribute to an increase in dementia.
As bleak as it all seems, not all hope is lost. Over the next three years, the Commission aims to not only spread awareness on social isolation but will also work with key figures in governments and private sectors to tackle the issue. However, the onus doesn’t just lie on them. Across industries, organizations can play a role in fostering deeper connections in society. Brands, for example, can let this purpose drive their campaign and, subsequently, drive change. To learn what else brands can do, take a look at the Citizen Connections Report 2023 here.
The Loneliest City
The epidemic of loneliness has become a global phenomenon. But what’s ironic is that even the most densely populated cities are faced with this crisis of connection. A new report by the Toronto Foundation suggests Toronto may just be the loneliest city in Canada. The irony, however, is that with 6.6 million people living in the city, it’s also the most populous.
So what gives? According to the study, nearly four out of 10 Torontonians report feeling lonely three to four days a week, higher than any other city in the country. Considering the state of loneliness and social connection in a post-pandemic world, this doesn’t come as a surprise. And even though we’ve been living in a post-pandemic world, the impact of Covid-19 is still running deep.
Pre-pandemic, Torontonians said they had a lot more friendships and connections than they do today. In 2018, 55% of respondents reported having many or very many friends; this dropped to 44% in the most recent survey in 2022. Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone, which explains the disconnect people in the city feel from their larger community.
The report touched on mental health factors as well, with work-related stress and affordability in the city top of mind for over 50% of Torontonians. With immigration on a steady rise, the survey showed 17% of respondents live in overcrowded situations, a third of which were newcomers. With all these factors, what ends up happening is that people become increasingly siloed.
The Citizen Connections Report revealed another factor that has led to this isolation: polarization. Around 80% of respondents say they’ve been impacted by polarization, which has shrunk social circles even more. What happens, as a result, is that people have lost the ability to have open conversations with people who don’t think the same way. Find out how brands can step in to encourage people to listen to each other and let conversation flow freely – respectfully and judgment free – in our report.
Slow It Down
With all the headlines on the epidemic of loneliness and rise of isolation, it can feel like there’s no end in sight. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Companies have recognized this increase in isolation and have already started combating it, in their own ways.
Dutch grocery chain, Jumbo, introduced “chat checkouts” at their stores shortly before the pandemic. The idea comes from a “relaxed checkout lane” Tesco, the UK grocery store chain, introduced in 2017 for those customers that need a bit more time.
Jumbo’s introduction of the chat checkouts, however, is one of the many initiatives they have to encourage customers to chat and reduce loneliness. The grocery chain has also set up chat corners around the stores where customers can stop for a coffee and get a chance to connect with their community and neighbors.
This connection is encouraged in online platforms as well. Dating app Bumble recently launched Bumble For Friends (BFF), where users can connect with like-minded individuals to develop friendships over similar interests.
These small steps are sometimes all it takes to make a difference in fostering deeper connections. It’s also an easy way for brands to address a social issue and bring about change; the Citizen Connections Report found that nearly 90% of respondents want brands to take a stance on a societal issue.
One way to do this, and tackle the issue of social connection, is finding those weak ties and nurturing them. The art of small talk is lost and brands can easily bring that back by finding those moments and being intentional in how we spend those moments.
Join Us Live On December 7th!
It’s clear that the world has never faced a larger crisis of connection than right now. Whether it’s the UK’s Minister of Loneliness calling it the greatest public health challenge or the fact that approximately 45,000 deaths in Canada are attributed to loneliness – the numbers speak for themself. And while Covid-19 definitely added to it, the conversation of being less socially connected amidst an epidemic of loneliness, surge of polarization and rising reliance on technology permeated discussions across our social fabric long before the arrival of a global pandemic.
Marketing and communication leaders today have the platform, power and responsibility to tackle today’s crisis of social connection and change the game. Following the recent release of The Citizen Connections Report, join Citizen’s SVP of Strategy, Lindsay Page alongside corporate responsibility expert and author of “The Lost Art of Connecting” Susan McPherson, as they unpack the drivers of today’s “connection deficit” – and the new opportunity brands and organizations have to bridge it.
Tune into the LinkedIn Live conversation on December 7th at 12pm ET. Register here.