Businessman hand working with mobile phone and laptop computer with technology digital graphic
Effective digital communications rely on understanding specific online conventions.

Digital communication

Communicating online might seem like it’s just about good writing on a screen, but different rules do apply. In this article, Marcus O’Donnell sets out four good rules to keep in mind when communicating in digital spaces.

The principles of good communication that my colleagues outlined in the last few steps are also relevant to communicating in digital spaces.

For example, being clear about what you want to communicate and expressing it simply with your audience, purpose and main points front-of-mind are still important.

However, there are also several key differences when it comes to communicating in digital spaces, which may range from formal work-related emails to a short text we might send a friend.

What you need to be aware of is that different conventions apply to each of these in digital contexts, and these are what I’ll outline in the following basic ‘rules’ for communicating in digital spaces.

Basic rules for communicating in digital spaces

1. Understand your context and be clear about what sort of communication will work best

Some online spaces have very specific conventions.

For instance, Twitter allows you only 280 characters to communicate your key message, so knowing how to convey what you want to say in a constrained format is critical. But even more important is understanding what this type of communication is best used for.

One of the main reasons to use Twitter is to make short, timely comments on current events, whether these be news or professional events important for you or your organisation. Because it works in short bursts, Twitter is most effectively combined as part of a set of different communication tools (e.g. a short tweet might link to a more detailed story on your blog or website).

Creating digitally linked networks can be very simple.

As we saw in the Twitter example above, we add value to our online communications every time we can include a hyperlink to another information source. This may be as straightforward as putting colleagues in touch with one another on Facebook or through an email.

The web is all about selectable hyperlinks – this is the unique thing about digital communication and something we can only do online.

Linked communication networks can also be more complex. We can, for example, design a sophisticated online communication strategy for a product launch that has linked tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram and website copy.

We use what each medium does best to slowly add to the story. So, Instagram is visual and might include product photos. Facebook is the perfect place for covering events like the product launch because it’s social. Your website allows you to provide more detailed information.

3. Design your digital communications carefully because people read and use the web differently

We read online differently from the way we read other texts.

In fact, we don’t read; we scan.

We jump from heading to heading or look at a picture and a caption to try to figure out quickly what the piece is about, which is why web-based communication needs to be designed to move the eye through key points.

Some of the ways you can do this is to:

  • chunk your content into bite-sized pieces
  • use paragraphs of one or two sentences
  • keep your sentences short
  • use dot points
  • use headings, subheadings and bold key text
  • repeat your key message in several places (e.g. combine images and captions to summarise your message).
  • 4. Keep in mind the digital world is a visual world, so use images that help you communicate your message

    In digital communications, images can be used in different ways for different purposes. For example, they can:

  • make your online communications more personal by including images of yourself or your team
  • explain something quickly in a diagram or infographic
  • add social context by showing people enjoying an event or a product.

  • Like all communication, using images well involves being clear about what you’re using them for and how they’re adding to the story. What’s the context? How does it build links? How is it incorporated in the screen design to move the eye through the story most effectively?

    Your task

    Think of or search for examples of digital communication done well – or even not well. What worked, what didn’t, why and what could’ve be done better?

    Next, based on these basic rules provided by Marcus, how might you go about applying these techniques to improving or showcasing your own digital communication skills?

    Add your thoughts, links or examples to the comments along with any questions, suggestions or feedback in relation to what other learners have posted.

    Share this article:

    This article is from the free online course:

    Career Credentials: Evidence Your Expertise in Communication

    Deakin University

    Get a taste of this course

    Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: