3 AM. Sucked in again playing with the internet. Why are we so drawn into this medium? Some say the interactive nature of web sites makes us stay engaged, even mimicking one-on-one human interaction in some cases. Others say interactivity just distracts viewers from thinking.
A recent study adds ammunition to the argument that interaction can increase the effects of a message, particularly persuasive effects.[i] This is good information for nonprofits with an aim to create social change through attitude and behavior change – an extremely challenging goal.
In the study, researchers had college students view a web site with anti-smoking messages. Some conditions included interactive features such as slider bars that morphed images and/or navigational controls that allowed users to create their own path through the information on the page. Adding these features made the students feel more absorbed and encouraged positive feelings toward the web site and its messages. The ultimate result for the study participants? Greater exposure to messages that smoking is unattractive and bad for your health.
There are caveats, of course. The slider encouraged fairly superficial thoughts about the messages, which may mean that the reactions to the web site might be short-lived. The navigational controls elicited deeper thinking, but only seemed to have an attitudinal effect on those who didn’t consider smoking to be a highly important subject.
Nonetheless, these findings suggest several important strategies for the way nonprofit organizations can use the internet:
- Add interactive features to your web site, such as infographic zoom, image 3-D rotation, location sensitive maps, mouse-overs, and more
- Allow users to open additional content while staying on the same page (e.g. text boxes that expand and collapse) instead of navigating to separate pages or stacking information into long pages
- Produce online documents like annual reports in a program such as Acrobat that allows interactive features
- Provide links to your interactive web features in social media posts
- Ask questions in your social media posts to start conversations
- Create a space for conversations on your web site
- Alert supporters to interactive features in newsletters and emails
I hope the next time I find myself still awake at 3 AM to the glow of my laptop or phone, it will be because I can’t seem to leave the site of a nonprofit that is trying to change the world.
[i] Oh, J., & Sundar, S. S. (2015). How does interactivity persuade? An experimental test of interactivity on cognitive absorption, elaboration, and attitudes. Journal of Communication, 65(2), 213–236. http://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12147
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