REACHING AND RETAINING ONLINE AUDIENCES: A STUDY OF TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES BASED ON RESEARCH TO UPDATE ELON/PEW IMAGINING THE INTERNET SITE
Bettina C. Johnson, Sarah A. Moser, Amy E. Parker, Christina M. Pompeo (Professor Janna Anderson) School of Communications

21st century online communications is a fast-changing field with new methods for reaching audiences being developed at a blinding pace when compared to the development of communications in the 20th century. This study, executed by a group of fifteen Elon students over the course of the fall semester of 2005, involves: the assessment of the design, content and navigation strengths and weaknesses of an "old" site (the original Elon University/Pew Internet Predictions Database, built in 2003-2004); a review of new communications technologies available for online information distribution (podcasts; streaming video; audio files; interactive formats; animations); a content study of currently popular, award-winning sites with attention to design, navigation and multimedia and participation elements; gathering of focus-group input to determine site elements likely to reach targeted new audiences (including children and teachers); and the resulting execution of a new Elon/Pew "Imagining the Internet" site design and significant site expansion, reflecting a successful leap to reach new audiences with cutting-edge online content including Flash animation, interactive-participation elements, education elements, sound files, films, and podcasts. Time constraints prevented further study (the building of the new site took nearly 1,000 hours of work, many of which were logged by the students presenting this research). Additional research could have included focus-group testing of the "before" and "after" of the site and a measurement to assess precisely which of the added new-media elements are most significant for drawing an audience, attracting audience participation in interactive elements and compelling return visits to the site.

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