Chapter 5.1: Digital Audiences

Part 2: Chapter 5.1

Almost everything we write today, from text messages to emails and websites, uses technology to communicate and interact with a digital audienceYou, as the writer, should speak to your audience no matter where your writing appears; however, when you approach a digital audience, you need to examine some specific issues that are important to communicating clearly and effectively with your digital audience. 

A woman sitting at a table reading from her smart phone.
Image by gato-gato-gato. Used according to Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Digital audiences  receive very different messages depending on both the genre that you write in, and the formatting that the genre requires. A digital audience will also be aware of when your tone is appropriate or inappropriate for the given digital genre that you use. In order to write to a digital audience, you’ll want to pay close attention to the Persona that you are writing to, make sure your message is clear and direct, and ensure it adheres to genre conventions and formatting.  

An image of a group of people on a white background. Title reads: Public or closed?
Figure 1: Public and Closed Audiences, graphic by Anne Turner, CC BY 4.0


1. Choose a Public or Closed Audience

When writing for a digital audience, you want to first determine whether your audience will be a public one or a closed one. A public audience is able to access your writing when you have published it in a more public space, such as a website or a social media platform like Twitter. In these public digital spaces, you will not be able to control who can and cannot see your writing. A closed audience is one that you are able to choose more carefully, and who requires some kind of permission before accessing your writing. An example of a closed audience would include followers of a private Instagram account or those with a link to an “unlisted” video posted to YouTube.  

Deciding your target audience, public or closed, gives you parameters to craft your message. It may also change how you present yourself to your audience and the language choices you use. In a public digital space, you might use more formal language—or you may use casual language if it suits the circumstance better. The same is true for private spaces .  

It should be noted that even when writing in a completely closed venue, your writing can be copy and pasted or screenshotted—so it is never truly a “private” space. 

2. Write to a Digital Persona Using Audience Demographics 

Understanding who you are writing to is vital to digital communication. Because of the varying demographics that read digital writing across the internet, your audience may not respond well to what you have to say if you don’t have a good idea of what their needs and values are.  

When writing to a digital audience for the first time, it is a good idea to create a personapersona is a simple character sketch of your digital audience’s demographicsWriting to a persona helps your message reach the right people in the right digital spaces. When writing a persona, you should consider the following questions: 


  1. Who is my audience? 
  2. What are their values? 
  3. Where is my audience located (physical space)? 
  4. How will they be viewing my message (digital space)? 
  5. How might they respond to my message? 
  6. What age group does my audience fall into? 
  7. What gender is my audience? 
  8. What is my audience’s race and ethnicity
  9. Depending on your topic, you might also want to consider other demographics such as political and spiritual beliefs.



A person using a computer

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Image by Andrea Pass. Used according to Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0

The questions above help you determine the demographics of your audience, their needs, their values, and their attitude towards your content
You need all this information to get your message to them  

3. Reach Your Digital Audience Through Genre, Formatting, and Tone: 

After determining your digital persona, you will want to determine what digital spaces this persona might be part of. Choosing a digital genre helps your writing reach your digital audience.  Several categories of digital writing are listed below to help you see the differences in rhetorical situation and formatting so you can make a better choice for your digital audience. (This is not an exhaustive list of digital genres that your audience might read, but it should do for now.) 

In each genre, you will want to pay particular attention to the audience demographics to determine if your digital audience uses this genre. You will also want to identify the formatting that each genre requires and the tone used (whether professional, casual, etc.). Attention to these details will draw your audience into your message. If you do not follow the genre conventions, including correct formatting and tone, your audience could easily lose interest and miss out on your message. 

Email Audiences

Nearly everyone with access to the internet has an email addresswhich almost guarantees that any digital audience uses this genre. The purpose of email is to provide a space where more lengthy communication can happen in a digital space. Using email, a writer can not only send text, but they can also send and embed links and images, in addition to attaching documents. Email is used for both personal messages and for professional messages. Because the audience is broader, you will want to take into consideration your message and who you would like it to reach.  

Email sub-genres range anywhere from advertisement and newsletters to job inquiries and customer service responses. You can find more information on emailing as a form of college communication in chapter 1.1Each genre has a unique approach to reaching a specific audience, so be sure to research each genre closely. 

Typically, emails are formatted beginning with a subject line to catch the attention of the audience, followed by a salutation with the audience’s name, a body with the main message, and a closing. For newsletter and advertisement-type emails, the information is arranged visually but still follows the above format. This format helps the audience know what to expect from an email the moment they open it. 

The tone used in email writing is typically more formal and professional, though a personal email to a friend or family member may be casual 

Social Media Audiences

With over a hundred social media platforms available for use from a smart phone, chances are your audience can be found on social media. Popular social media platforms are available across the world, so your digital audience’s location may vary. In terms of age demographics, Twitter spans age demographics fairly evenly from 18-65+, while Facebook tends to have more of a Millennial and Gen X demographic. Younger audiences can be found on InstagramSnapChat, and TikTok 

Reaching your digital audience through formatting is especially important with social media, where each platform has its own way of presenting and organizing information. Twitter has a 140-character limit and allows text, photo, video, and linked content with hashtags to organize informationFacebook is similarly organized, but without the character limit.