Nonverbal Communication in a Digital World

Most of today’s marketing relies on purely online interactions, which means that our society’s ability to read social cues or nonverbal communication is in a delicate state. In an age of appearing to be “your best self,” are we as consumers and marketers fully understanding the messages consumers are conveying online? Much remains to be worked on when it comes to nonverbal communication online, however, there are certain types of nonverbal cues that marketers can use to analyze consumers true feelings or state of mind.

Based on the model of nonverbal communication (see image below), we can see that there is a hierarchy in place. When looking at the second step in the model, we see that head, voice, eyes, smell, and facial expression are the second thing that humans notice in communication. Although it is impossible to smell something online, the other four vehicles of communication stand true online, especially in social media. Since the launch of time-based stores (think Snapchat, Instastories, Facebook Stories), we are able to see real-time communication that features head placement, the tone of voice, eye movement, and facial expressions. It’s much harder for ordinary consumers to fake than a perfectly crafted post. From the dilation (or lack thereof) in the eye to the way to the inflections made are all tells of feeling.

Credit: Communicating in the 21st Century by Baden Eunson

When going through the hierarchy of nonverbal communication, many can be used as cues such as gesture, posture, orientation, clothing and adornment, environment, and time and cultural context. What does the consumer usually wear? Do they tend to slouch or sit/stand up straight? What’s in their background? How often are they communicating? These are all questions that modern-day marketers should be asking themselves and discovering about their consumers.

Although there is an imperfect art to using nonverbal communications as the means for a consumer’s feelings, using online interactions as a basis for monitoring nonverbal communication is necessary and useful. My suggestions in researching and observing nonverbal communication are to look for patterns and occurrences amongst consumers. Marketers cannot rely on one post, one consumer, one time much like they cannot rely on one in real life. Mastering nonverbal cues online will only aid in companies listening to the needs and desires of their consumers, which will lead to a higher level of trust and future interactions in the future.

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