14.2 Online Engagement

The key differentiating factor between traditional and digital media is the ability to interact, or engage with the communicator, and others in a community. Think back to the basic process of communication: the messenger (encoder) sends a message through a medium, which is received and decoded by an audience. In traditional media, the process was primarily one-way. In digital media, users have the ability to interact and respond to the message — in other words, they can ‘engage’ with the message and messenger.

But why are people drawn to digital communication? For the answers to this question, you might consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which provides you with an understanding of the motivation that might be behind online engagement. Although engaging online doesn’t really satisfy physiological needs (although it can impact our sleep!), it certainly speaks to the other categories in the hierarchy as see in Figure 14.1 below:

image describing Maslow's hierarchy of needs in a triangle illustration, the primary needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization
Figure 14.1. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” by Factoryjoe, CC BY-SA 4.0

Examples from social and digital media paradigms:

  • Safety needs: Online sites are key to finding employment and one of the first places we turn for information on health issues, health products and health practitioners is the internet – whether for ourselves, our families, or our pets. How to protect your child or pet from coyotes coming into your yard? Google will likely provide the answer. As we meet some of our safety needs online however, we may open ourselves up to safety risks such as hacking, identity theft, phishing schemes, and cyber bullying.
  • Love and belongingness needs: engaging online can provide a tremendous feeling of being accepted. Online communities grow friendships, intimacy and a feeling of affiliation.  
  • Esteem needs: Engagement from friends, colleagues and even strangers can feed the desire to improve one’s reputation or gain respect.
  • Self-actualization needs: Digital media is full of examples of people who are working to realize their personal potential, “to become everything one is capable of becoming” (Maslow, p. 64).

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Read the following web article that provides a deeper exploration of social media and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: The Hierarchy of Needs for an Engaged Social Media Audience.

80 Online Engagement” from Communication for Business Professionals by eCampusOntario is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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