Looking at 2021, a theme has emerged. Rather than holistic trends driving us. We see tension points. Opposing views. Paradoxes. Conflicts. Opportunities.

Need proof? Look down south where within the first week, the United States’ political tension erupted in armed conflict.

These tensions are not just political. Rather, the political tensions are the result of others: generational, economic and societal.

As communicators, our job is to understand the context and provide clarity. Our jobs are made harder when there is no clarity, but shades of grey. As we look ahead to 2021, embracing and recognizing these tension points will be key. We need to recognize there isn’t one dominant world view or one way of communicating.

Rather, 2021 has to be a year we understand the tensions that are accelerating and driving our world forward and live in the in-between. Below are five key tension points driving communication in our digital-first world and the key questions communicators must ask themselves to drive impact, remain relevant and deliver value.

1) Tribalism vs. universal experience

Social media channels have given new life to tribalism – we want our worldviews supported and reinforced, and social algorithms ensure we largely only see the content of those with like minds. Yet, at the same time, social channels have allowed for universal experiences. This year we saw how countries all grappled with COVID-19, uniting us, even when our social feeds remained divided.

The question: Can we tell universal stories still? Or do we need to build and speak to individual communities to succeed?

2) Facts vs. emotions

Many have said we live in a post-factual world. A small group of media used to be our primary information source. There were fact-checkers that verified the news. Today, social feeds are a primary news source. And they filter the world we see. Misinformation abounds and a common set of agreed upon facts are a thing of the past. In social media, facts and education perform, but emotions perform better.

The question: How do we communicate without a common factual framework? And how do we find our authentic emotional voice?

3) Virtual vs. IRL

Futurists believe that someday soon there will be no divide between online and offline. That technology will be so seamlessly built into our lives, that what is virtual and what is real, will disappear. For now, we exist in transition. COVID-19 has accelerated a digital-first reality and e-commerce and social commerce have skyrocketed. But at the same time, people crave in-person connections more than ever. It’s hard to imagine friends preferring a Zoom drink to an in-person night out when the pandemic lets up.

The question: How do we bridge the divide between the two worlds? And will virtual remain a priority in a post-COVID world?

4) Digital natives vs. digital immigrants

Generational tensions are not new. But they are more prominent as technology increasingly accelerates change. Gen Z operates at ease online. Their consumption of media only takes place on their phone. Boomers have increased their time online during the pandemic, but it is not their default, and may never be.

The question: As digital accelerates, will older generations move to digital-first or remain offline? Do programs accelerate for generational differences?

5) Privacy vs. convenience

Digital advertising has become advanced enough to customize marketing funnels for every individual. But that comes at a cost to consumers’ privacy. Consumers must share data about themselves to receive customized information. As Facebook and Apple battle the privacy war, which web giant wins may point the way for the direction of the internet.

The question: Will consumers care more about their privacy? Or will convenience and considerable marketing dollars at stake dominate?

Got more to add to the list? What tensions are you paying attention to in 2021?