© ipopba / stock.adobe.com

Leveraging the potential of designing digital environments

Lesezeit: 4 Minuten

Digital Nudging – leveraging the potential of the design of digital environments” is one out of five key trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2021.

Nudging means the purposeful design of choice environments (including digital interfaces). By that it seeks to positively influence people’s decision-making. The concept has been successfully applied in e-commerce, among others. We believe that also communication departments may benefit from digital nudging.  

A nobel prize winning concept

Never heard of nudging? That’s not surprising! The concept of (digital) nudging only slowly finds its way into corporate communications. The idea stems from the field of behavioural economics. It was introduced by the economist and nobel prize winner Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor. 

» There is no such thing as ‘neutral’ design.«

Richard H. Thaler, Nobel laureate in economic sciences

The key idea of nudging is to create a choice environment that helps individuals to take personally and socially beneficial decisions. The economists assumed that humans aren’t simply rational beings (homo oeconomicus). Instead, decision-making is sometimes suboptimal due to personal characteristics and limited human cognition (e.g. biases, heuristics, cognitive load or fatigue). 

People should only be nudged towards personally and socially beneficial decisions. Their full freedom of choice must always be preserved.

Human decision making
Human decision making

Nudging in a digital environment

Digital nudging refers to the design of user interfaces for instance on a corporate website, a brand channel on social media, an email program, or a smartphone app. Choice options or default settings can be arranged purposefully or information is phrased in a certain way to predictably influence people’s decision-making in a positive and ethical way.

To implement digital nudging in an organisation, three steps should be taken: Analysis Design Evaluation.

To implement digital nudging in an organisation, three steps should be taken (based on the process model by C. Meske and T. Pothoff, 2017): Analysis - Design - Evaluation.
Based on the process model by C. Meske and T. Pothoff, 2017

Scenarios for applying digital nudging in organisations and corporate communications

Digital nudging is a versatile communication technique with high potential impact which can be implemented inexpensively. Due to the digitalization in general and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in particular, more work processes have shifted into the virtual sphere making the concept even more attractive. Here are first ideas how digital nudges can be applied in organisation:  

  • Cybersecurity: Nudges can support staff in protecting personal information. Users could be nudged to choose more secure passwords, to be more attentive to potential phishing and spearphishing emails, to share potential security threats with co-workers, and to prepare better for cyberattacks. 
  • Onboarding and employee interaction: New employees working remotely may find it hard to bond with co-workers and to fit into the company culture. Nudges could familiarize them with corporate norms and values. They could also encourage new employees to take part in virtual events or sign up for internal newsletters and social platforms. Similarly, nudges could also be used to encourage external stakeholders to interact more intensively with the company.
  • Learning: Continued learning is important for employees and the company alike, especially as some jobs might disappear in the wake of the digital transformation and artificial intelligence. However, in day-to-day work, immediate tasks are often prioritized over long-term professional development. Digital nudges could encourage staff to participate regularly in training activities and prevent drop-out from online courses. 
  • Accepting new technology: Employees often hesitate to use unfamiliar technologies or software in the workplace. Nudges could be used to encourage users in adopting new technologies, e.g. within internal and external communications. The same is true for external stakeholders like consumers or journalists when new digital modes of interaction are introduced.
  • Well-being: Many employees will continue to work from home and might find it hard to separate work from their private life or to interact with their team. Nudges in internal communications can potentially help employees to schedule downtime in their diaries, to remind co-workers to respect each other’s spare time, encourage social interaction with colleagues, or simply to get up from their desk occasionally. 

One example stems from Pfizer Germany. The company uses nudging in their vaccination communication campaigns:

Pfizer Germany using digital nudging in vaccination communication campaigns

Communications departments are qualified to take the lead

Taking the lead when it comes to nudging provides a unique opportunity for communication departments and can raise their profile within organisations. The successful implementation of digital nudging requires different departments to collaborate: communications, HR, sales & marketing, IT departments, the social workers council, among others. Communication professionals are well equipped to bridge the gaps between these different groups and to become the primary point of contact for digital nudging in corporations. It all comes down to us communicators to seize the chance.

About the study

Digital nudging is one out of five trends for 2021 proposed by the Communications Trend Radar. The other trends are denialism, virtual corporate communications, sustainable communications and voice interaction. (I have shared more on the other trends in past articles.)

Each year, the study sets out to compile key trends in the areas of management, technology and society – trends that will change corporate communications. The research project is headed by Professor Stefan Stieglitz (University of Potsdam) and Professor Ansgar Zerfass (Leipzig University).