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Digital Persuasion: Do You Really Know How?

By Tanner Wolverton, Student Representative for the Multi Housing Initiative Council

This quarter’s Multi Housing Initiative Council meeting sought to teach us ways to be better digital persuaders. Erin Gargan has centered her career around the subject. A self-titled digital persuasion expert, Gargan helps companies become more persuasive digital communicators. “Digital” is anything online while “persuasion” is moving someone to action. Gargan specifically delineates between digital persuasion and in-person persuasion because the two require different strategies for success.

With in-person communication, a person can rely on methods such as speech, body language, and setting to persuade a potential partner or client. In digital communication, we most often rely only on text. According to Gargan, people aren’t good at digital persuasion due to a few factors. First, the online disinhibition effect, which loosens social restrictions and results in behavior that would usually be frowned upon in in-person communication, like annoying and persistent emailing. Next, the asynchronicity of digital communication, which keeps us communicating outside of real time. After all, a recipient can completely ignore your email. Finally, the lack of barriers to communication, which has dramatically increased the amount of communication and in turn decreased the amount we pay attention to it. These factors combined have made it much harder to successfully persuade others online.

For these reasons, Gargan suggests ways to make people better digital persuaders. To catch the attention of a potential business partner or client it is important to understand them as a person instead of as another email. “Research is the new listening,” according to Gargan. When you learn what a person cares about, it is possible to connect with them instead of the screen. It is easy to center an email around oneself, but for effective digital persuasion, it needs to be centered around them. For this, Gargan created the PUB method.

P stands for Personal. Your message should include what you can do for something they care about.  U stands for Useful. Can you help them in a way that no one else can? B stands for Brief. Skip the small talk and keep it short because as Gargan says, people now have attention specks instead of attention spans. If the PUB method is followed we can catch the attention of our recipients and hopefully persuade them successfully. Gargan warns, however, that digital persuasion should be used to get a foot in the door and not as a replacement for in-person persuasion. It’s important to go offline to complete a deal.

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