Digital nudging in corporate communications

Supporting the digital transformation

The interviewees perceived applying digital nudging to increase technology acceptance as an interesting application area. Several interviewees mentioned cases where new digital communication channels such as employee apps were introduced but stakeholders hesitated to adopt them.

Technology use could therefore be encouraged by … 

  • A communication information that the majority of the colleagues already use the technology
  • Pictures of colleagues interacting with the platform or service
  • Visualizing or displaying user numbers in employee peer groups

“We’ve just switched from Skype to Teams, which brings the typical change problem with it because people prefer to stick with what they know; something new is difficult. And I can imagine that if you use nudges, you can get support. I could imagine that [digital nudging] works very well for change projects in general."

(► Examples of cognitive bias: Social references & norms)


Examples of cognitive bias

Social reference & norms
Especially in new or uncertain situations, humans tend to adjust their behavior and attitudes to those of other humans. Most humans conform with social norms because they fear social isolation and want to be accepted by their peers or because they believe the group “knows better.” Explicitly  stating social norms in decision situations can steer users towards complying with them (Mirsch et al., 2018) and is one of the most frequently used nudging strategies (Hummel & Maedche, 2019). This nudge is particularly effective if the referenced social group is local and specific (Sunstein, 2014).

Present bias & hyperbolic discounting
Humans have the tendency to prioritize short term implications (e.g., finishing a task) over long-term implications (e.g., improving their qualifications), regardless of whether future outcomes are of greater value (Mirsch et al., 2018). This can lead to situations in which individuals fail to work towards their long-term goals. This might be circumvented by asking individuals to commit to a certain course of action before the decision is taken or providing them with feedback about the (suboptimal) outcomes of their own past decisions (Sunstein, 2014).

Status quo bias
Humans like to maintain the status quo and tend to perceive potential disadvantages of leaving a current state to be greater than potential benefits of switching (Mirsch et al., 2018). This bias can be addressed by setting a default, which is not only one of the most common but also the most effective nudge (Hummel & Maedche, 2019).


Encouraging learning and knowledge transfer

"I used to take a lot more training courses, and only last week I finally took another one … And it was so inspiring, it was so good and so important for the job and so on. And a colleague of mine decided against it because she said: ‘But I have too much on my plate at the moment.’ "

This is a typical scenario in the context of learning and development. However, staying up to date and advancing one’s skills is increasingly relevant in the quickly changing work environment. Certain cognitive characteristics might cause such behavior which could be addressed with digital nudges.

(► Examples of cognitive bias: Present bias)


Compliance, health and the “anti” nudge

Some of the interviewees mentioned compliance and security as relevant application areas and  had already implemented nudge-like interventions, such as

  • a warning whenever confidential documents were sent to an email address outside the organization
  • encouraging staff to be more aware of phishing if the sender of an email was unknown
  • nudge people towards choosing safer passwords by visualizing password strength

Supporting health and well-being were also mentioned as important applications – for instance, using nudges to

  • support the separation of private and professional lives
  • get up from the desk from time to time
  • take a walk to recharge
  • get vaccinated.

Additionally, several interviewees stated that being aware of nudging effects could also help to avoid influencing decisions (“anti-nudge”) where it’s not wanted, for example when conducting employee surveys.


"I see marketing as the primary application for digital nudging, as it’s easier to measure and evaluate the impact. However, there are thousands of ways to use digital nudging in corporate communications as well. I think the most important areas are professional development and compliance.

I expect that some of the underlying ideas of nudging are already being used. However, they’re not based on scientific insights but on intuition and professional experience. Digital nudging would allow communications professionals to systematize their approach and could increase the success of communications." 

Thomas Mickeleit, Communications Consultant Digital Transformation, KommunikationNeuDenken!


More about Digital Nudging: 

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Key findings of the study

  • Potential: The study suggests that communication professionals see digital nudging as an interesting and promising method to increase the effectiveness of communication activities. Learning about digital nudging could be useful even if the method can’t be applied by communication professionals directly.
  • Application possibilities: Most interviewees hadn’t yet implemented digital nudging themselves. But the interviewees identified the following applications as particularly promising:
    • Supporting digital transformation
    • Encouraging learning and development as well as knowledge sharing
    • Increasing compliance behavior, especially regarding cybersecurity
    • Improving employees’ health and well-being

  • Challenges:  The applicability of digital nudging depends on whether the organization uses digital platforms that allow for customization, if there is leeway regarding corporate design, and whether ethical concerns can be sufficiently addressed.



The methodology of the research project involved two main parts:

1.) Literature Review of publications primarily from the fields of behavioral economics, information systems, and human computer interaction were reviewed. The review focused on the theoretical foundations of digital nudging, models for developing digital nudging, and empirical evaluations of digital nudging applications.

2.) Semi-structured interviews with 13 professionals in corporate communications and adjacent areas (e.g., marketing, human resources) from 11 different companies were conducted via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Here are some companies, which participated in the interviews, e.g.: 

Research background

How can we make digital communication more effective?
This was a question in mind identifying digital nudging as a key trends of the Communications Trend Radar 2021, a research project conducted by the Academic Society for Management & Communication. The study describes five key trends from society, management and technology that will influence corporate communications in the near future.


Research team

The research was conducted by: 

  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor and head of the research group for Digital Communication and Transformation at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
  • Sünje Clausen, M.Sc., is a research associate at the chair for Digital Communication and Transformation at the University of Duisburg-Essen.