Getting engaged

By Sophia Dower

When trying to charm readers into falling in love with your message, do online channels ‘seduce’ with the same effect that printed publications seem to? And if not, what can we do about it?

Nothing beats getting ‘lost’ in a good book. And by ‘book’ I don’t mean the weighty tome that props up your bedside table; or the Kindle in the ziplock bag that you keep within reach of your bath. I mean printed publications in general, and the way they draw you in, one wonderful word at a time, until you are completely captivated by an idea or story.

It’s a level of engagement that we need, and miss, more than ever in the business communication environment.

The demise of print – a long, slow process hastened by Covid-19 and the daily proliferation of instant chat and social platforms – has seen business communicators grappling with the double-edged sword that is digital communication. In the last few decades, technology has provided many cheaper, faster and more direct ways to deliver messages to employees and customers. But the content that is instantly delivered is often as quickly deleted, because it comes via channels that are more invasive, less liked and less trusted.

At a time when, more than ever, we need communication to engage and connect us, our messaging channels seem to be achieving the opposite.

How do we change that? How do we create ‘pull’ for readers in a generation that spends more time online than they do sleeping? I believe the reason is as simple as it is complicated: User Experience.

Printed communication has one thing that is richer, more personal and more tangible than almost any online version, and that’s the tactile experience that comes with it.

Consuming printed media is a multi-sensory affair: you go somewhere to buy, fetch or borrow a publication. You touch it, see it, flick through it. Talk about it. You notice the curled pages from the last reader. You choose your moment to read it, the seat you sit in, the window you’re next to, the coffee you’ll enjoy while you read. These tactile activities increase the memorability of and your sense of connection to the message. The very process of consuming the information triggers simultaneous decisions and pleasure centres in your brain, resulting in an experience that you choose, shape and remember.

The online experience, on the other hand, is one-dimensional at best. The principles sound the same – you can opt in or out of the news you receive, select which device you view it on, as well as where and when (battery life permitting) you consume it. But the single-click, one-finger scroll that takes place (usually while you’re doing something else at the same time) delivers a very thin slice of the print experience.

So, what does this mean for the business professional who has a toolbox with predominantly digital communication options, but increasingly disengaged colleagues who need a very different type of experience in order to absorb and ‘fall in love’ with your message?

Lessons learnt

I’ve had the good fortune of spending more than a decade of my career focused on agency-developed print work, and almost the same amount of time managing technology communication within a large corporate – two worlds that couldn’t be more different.

While these audiences’ preferences are poles apart (from the employee who only trusts a message delivered in-person, to the techie who feels two WhatsApp notes is too much social interaction for one day) one thing remains true for both: the impact of communication depends on a person’s experience of it.


I believe we can enhance the effectiveness of our communication in a digital world if we start thinking about it as an experience, rather than a format, and planning it with a different set of questions in mind:

QUESTION #1 (timing)

How can you create a sense of urgency that motivate readers to access your content within a set timeframe, while also offering some choice in when and how much they consume?

Example: An online event solution that used to work for our corporate tech audience involved splitting a traditional all-day event into a multi-day series of short live broadcasts. Live Q&A and competitions encouraged people to join in real time, but recordings remained available for two weeks post the event, to facilitate broader content consumption and sharing. Many audience members used both.

QUESTION #2 (location and comfort)

What can you do to encourage readers to consume online content in a comfortable, convenient place – somewhere other than their normal work desk?
Example: Our tech teams coincided their coffee / offsite ‘connect’ sessions with online leadership broadcasts. They watched the broadcast as groups, often from unusual and very different locations, sharing these details as part of the live event feedback.

QUESTION #3 (feedback choices)

What variety can you offer in feedback mechanisms, that allows your audience to respond to the content in a manner and timeframe they are comfortable with?

Example: The advantage of working in a tech team is that we had the latest tools at our disposal, and people who liked using it. Live chats, social media-type messaging, video and audio posts, group WhatsApps, anonymous Q&A/polls and traditional mailboxes were all part of the feedback mix, creating flexibility for people to comment or converse where and when they felt most inclined.

QUESTION #4 (where it lands)

Where can you create ‘doorways’ or ‘front pages’ in your readers’ day-to-day environments that give them quick, easy access to the content from multiple (even personal) locations?

Example: In the tech world, teams often worked across multiple environments and devices – many of which were not linked to the official group communication platforms. Being able to integrate and share links across these enabled colleagues to dive into online content from their current virtual environment without toggling between screens, systems or log in windows. It proved to be a surprisingly effective way of increasing participation numbers.

None of these questions are solutions in themselves but asking them will help you to reframe how you think about your communication efforts and create experiences that go beyond content and format.

And who knows, in time your ‘seduction’ techniques may just lead to the long-term engagement you’re hoping for.