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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing various facets of content creation, including finding, understanding, evaluating, and creating (part 1 and part 2). This week kicks off another two-parter, this time focusing on communicating.
Despite being a fundamental part of human existence, it can be easy to overlook the importance of communicating. After all, it’s all around us, from the fussing of a hungry baby to a billboard selling fulfillment through consumerism. It wasn’t long ago that most of humanity lacked any kind of platform beyond the people in their immediate vicinity. Now, however, many of us are just a few mouse-clicks away from being heard by the whole wide world. But while this affords us a wealth of opportunities, it also requires creators to demonstrate new levels of agility in order to succeed.
The pillars of digital communication
Let’s start with the basics: what is digital communication? Simply put, it’s the use of tools like blogs, email, social media platforms, or text messaging to convey specific messages. As with other aspects of digital literacy, it can have Cognitive, Technical, and Social/Emotional aspects. The technical aspects encompass the basic skills necessary to use the various platforms, while the cognitive aspects are those that pertain to skills such as problem-solving. Finally, the social/emotional aspects are things like following each platform’s rules of etiquette as well as general good behavior.
Although digital communication shares many similarities with traditional methods, it also has some peculiarities of its own. For example, studies have shown that people generally only read about 20% of the text on an average web page. If they don’t find what they’re looking for within that segment, they’ll move on. This means that succinctness is far more important in the digital sphere. As generations of journalism instructors have warned, don’t bury the lede.
Jose Luis Orihuela of the School of Communication, University of Navarra (Pamplona) has reflected on some of the other ways in which the Internet has consumed the way we communicate. For example, creators need to remember that their audience has a lot more control over the types of content they consume. In the digital world, we have a level of granular control over the content we consume that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. If people don’t want to consume information by text, they can listen to podcasts or watch videos. There is also an increasing level of intersection between text, sound, and imagery. But it’s not enough to add a photo to a blog post and call it a day. A multimedia approach is fast becoming the new default.
Tools and platforms for digital communication
The digital landscape offers many different options for communicating. Things like blogs are relatively straightforward, but other tools offer more variety. For example, social media can feature text, imagery, sound (or even all three!). That being said, different platforms cater toward different types of media: X (formerly known as Twitter) has traditionally focused on text, while Instagram has been a place for photos. Here are some of the leading platforms in each category. Different tools also offer varying levels of control. For example, Wix lets you create a website even if you know nothing about coding or web design, but you don’t have much control beyond the basics. WordPress, on the other hand, offers many more customization options, though this means it requires a bit more technical know-how to get the most out of its features.
With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to make an informed choice. Asking yourself the following questions can help you make up your mind.
- What type of content do I want to focus on? If your core content will be text-based, then you should probably focus on blogging platforms. On the other hand, if you want to do product reviews, you might consider video-based platforms like YouTube or even TikTok;
- What are the demographics of my target audience? Different platforms attract different types of people. If you’re looking to target Gen Z, putting effort into platforms like TikTok or Instagram is a safe bet. But if you’re looking to attract baby boomers, you’d be better off with Pinterest.
- What topics do I want to write about? Certain topics tend to perform better on certain platforms. If you’re producing B2B content, you should consider something like LinkedIn, whereas entertainment-focused topics do well on Tumblr.
Bear in mind, however, that you shouldn’t put all your eggs into one basket. Like with investing, it’s a good idea to have a diversified portfolio. Here’s how a journalist looking to write about a game like Baldur’s Gate III might approach the issue:
- Their in-depth review of the game would go to their publication’s WordPress site.
- Recorded footage of them playing the game would go on their YouTube channel.
- Livestreams of them playing would take place on Twitch with recordings being uploaded to YouTube later on.
- X would be a place for bite-sized commentary as well as interactions with readers (e.g., a poll asking them which class they intended to play first).
The art of digital storytelling
Storytelling is a great way to help you get your message across. It’s so powerful that humans have a tendency to see stories even when none exist. In a 1944 study, college students were shown a film where two triangles and a circle moved across a 2-D surface alongside a stationary rectangle with one side open. Most of the viewers anthropomorphized the shapes, with some claiming that the circle was “worried” or the big triangle was filled with “rage.” Stories can also make facts stick in a reader’s mind, making it a great way to foster a connection between you and your readers.
When it comes to the elements of good storytelling, this article from Writers.com is a good place to start. Even if you aren’t writing fiction, it’s important to consider things like plot, character, and conflict. For more information, check out “How to use storytelling to lend authenticity to your content.”
Of course, you don’t have to write something akin to War and Peace to tell a good story. On the contrary, it’s possible to craft a compelling narrative without many words at all. Consider the song “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. It’s a story about a family’s reaction to the titular character’s suicide, and it still manages to be powerful even though Gentry leaves us with many unanswered questions. It’s implied that the narrator had a close relationship with Billie Joe–she’s clearly more affected by his death than everyone else–but the specifics are left to our imagination. When it comes to storytelling, less is often more.
So far we’ve looked at the pillars of digital communication and the various tools that can be used to convey messages. We also considered the importance of good storytelling. Next week, we’ll be looking at topics such as challenges in digital communication, digital citizenship and responsible communication, and collaboration.