How to use framing to shape your messaging strategy

Framing is used to construct, refine, and deliver messages. How information is presented (the ‘frame’) influences and changes decision making and judgment about a subject. Frames consist of the words, images, metaphors, comparisons and presentation styles to communicate an issue.

Essentially, we absorb new information by fitting it into the framework of something we already understand. People use mental shortcuts (heuristics) to make sense of the world. These mental shortcuts rely on ‘frames,’ which are internalized concepts and values that allow us to give meaning to new developments and information. These frames can be triggered by various elements, such as language choices and different messengers or images. These communication elements, therefore, have a major influence on decision making.

Even a simple choice of words influences people’s interpretation. For instance, do you have an old car or a vintage car? Have you made mistakes, or learnt lessons? Are you heading into your twilight years or your golden years? The choice of your words creates a frame or theme on which to base the message.

You can think of your words in terms of metaphors to add strength to the frame. For instance, legendary US journalist, political commentator and former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers (right) said in his email newsletter of 12 July 2020 that:

Joseph Campbell once told me: “If you want to change the world, change the metaphors.” That is, help people understand what’s new and strange by describing it as comparable to what they already know. Examples are: “A mighty fortress is our God.” “The city is a jungle.” “Chaos is a friend of mine.” “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

These comments are a wonderful reminder of the power of metaphors, and how easy they are to use in your messaging frames.

At its most basic level, communication is about sharing information. In recent years, researchers have found that language used in communication is much less neutral than it may appear. It is mainly a way for influencing people to agree with an opinion or at least to act in line with it. Even when we think we are simply describing something, we are actually using language that influences people towards thoughts consistent with our view. For instance, when describing something simple like a news event or a movie, we use terms that reflect our own view – it is extremely difficult to be totally neutral in simple descriptions, much less more complex and emotive subjects found in issues and politics.

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Photo: Smashing Magazine.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

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A message frame is a guide. It informs people where to look, but more importantly, helps them interpret what they see. Every message – whether written, spoken, illustrated, or signed – is presented through a frame of some kind, according to the UK FrameWorks...


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