Tune Your Communication
Picking the Right Channel for Your Message and Audience
There's a rumor going around that your department is closing, but you can't get to speak to anyone to find out if it's true. You only have an email forwarded to you from your manager, originally sent by the head of your division.
This type of situation can create uncertainty, as people will naturally be worried about their jobs. It would have been more helpful if they had been briefed face to face, and been given the chance to ask questions and air their concerns.
There's no "one-size-fits-all" way to deliver business communication. But using one channel for every situation is not a viable option, if you want your messages to be received and understood by the right people, at the right time.
There is a range of communication channels you can use, for example, email, phone, instant message (IM), print, and social media. In fact, the number of channels available can be overwhelming and confusing, particularly if you haven't been trained to communicate effectively.
In this article, we explore some of the most popular communication channels in detail, to help you to decide the most appropriate one for your message and your situation.
Before You Start
Ask yourself the following four questions before you reach for your pen or your keyboard:
1. What do you want to achieve? For example, if you need to distribute a small piece of information quickly, IM would likely suit your needs. However, social media could get your message noticed by a much wider audience. Depending on which channel you pick, your message will arrive in seconds, days or weeks – is that an important consideration for you?
2. Who are you trying to connect with? Consider how each channel could increase or decrease your communication's appeal for your audience. For example, is there a chance that your email could be lost in an overloaded inbox, or that your IM could be an irritating distraction? Would using social media or print be more appropriate for your needs?
3. Are you on top of the practicalities? Each channel will require certain skills and knowledge – do you have them? Your budget might also limit your choice of channel, whether for buying software, printing brochures, or training your team. Will you see a return on your investment, in terms of increased productivity or sales, for example?
4. What are the legal pitfalls involved? In some countries, digital channels are regulated in order to comply with online security and privacy laws, and recording a phone conversation without letting the other person know might not be legal. For example, U.S. federal law requires that at least one person taking part in the call must be notified, before the recording begins, that a recording will take place. More information on U.S. call regulations can be found here.
Get to Know Your Channels
Let's look at the main channels' features and benefits, and when they would be appropriate to use.
Social media is fast becoming the most important communication tool that businesses use to interact with their customers.
The reach of such outward-looking channels is vast, and it far outstrips more traditional ones such as print. In mid-2016 for example, 1.65 billion people used Facebook each month, 433 million people used LinkedIn, and about 310 million people used Twitter.
This makes social media ideal for:
- Developing a conversation about a brand. Releasing engaging content and bonus material, such as short videos or podcasts, and being able to answer your customers' queries promptly, can dramatically improve your product's profile.
- Carrying out market research. Social media platforms allow you to study your customers' behavior and to analyze trends in the market as they appear. They also provide regular, detailed metrics on such things as "likes" for products or services, allowing you to adjust your marketing strategy. You can also pick up on your customers' discussions, giving you an insight into their concerns and opinions.
- Publishing corporate blogs and podcasts. Sharing corporate blogs can help you to showcase your particular field of expertise, and get the attention of potential new customers and industry professionals, as they begin to better understand what you're offering. However, remember that well-written blogs require a lot of time and attention to complete.
Be aware that "new media" channels can pose new problems. With such a huge potential audience, you need to target your messages effectively, or run the risk of having your information lost or ignored. Also, people could accidentally leak important or confidential business information if they use their personal accounts for work.
So, be sure to train your colleagues in the best practice for this deceptively simple tool. This could include checking privacy settings, not posting unnecessary information, and keeping in mind that online postings are effectively permanent, despite your ability to delete your original message.
Email is likely a big part of your day-to-day work. Most emails have a clear aim, such as passing on details of an upcoming meeting or providing an update for an ongoing company-based event. They are also generally targeted at individuals and small groups, and have a specific message to deliver.
The main point of an email is not to start a lengthy discussion. You should use it to share information, and when you want people to act upon it. Clear and precise writing is essential.
Making the nature and content of the email clear in the subject line is also very important, as it will help grab your readers' attention, and highlight the level of importance without them having to even open the message.
Committing silly but common email mistakes, such as using vague subject lines or writing too much, can result in your key messages being lost, as the people receiving them can become confused about what they're reading. It can also make you look unprofessional. Sending too many emails to colleagues and clients will likely overload them with information and irritate them.
And, it's easy to mistakenly forward a "confidential" email to people who shouldn't see it, so be extra careful when you are sharing sensitive information on this channel.
Use texting to send short, quick messages. For example, to give team members instructions or a quick summary of important information.
Text messages can be particularly useful for internal communications with remote workers, who are often on the move and encounter unpredictable or intermittent internet connections.
A 2015 survey by secure mobile messaging provider TigerText revealed that almost two thirds of people now use texting as part of their work, highlighting its importance to many employees and employers.
Even in the digital age, printed materials are still widely used by organizations of all sizes. For example, banks and retailers still market services to their customers in this way, while many companies circulate hard-copy newsletters internally.
Print can be harder to ignore and dispose of than email so, if it's well designed, it can give your brand a lasting and positive visual identity. It can also be more engaging, because it offers you the chance to discuss an issue in depth and demonstrate your understanding of a topic.
Print is ideal when you want your audience to receive information that it is likely to need over the next few weeks or months, such as travel directions to an upcoming conference. There is no need to find a connection to the internet to retrieve this information. Print is also an ideal medium for material that your audience will want to keep as a formal historical record.
You can also integrate old and new media, as brochures can direct users to your website or social media channel. However, printed materials are usually much slower and more expensive to produce and distribute than digital ones, so you'll need to plan ahead carefully.
If you want to learn more about writing effectively, have a look at our Bite-Sized Training™ session on written communications.
The phone, whether cell, landline or VOIP, is still an intrinsic part of sales and customer services departments. When you use it, you're able to convey nuances that written communication can't, such as warmth, personal presence and humor.
It provides a more personal touch in an increasingly impersonal world, and it allows you to respond immediately to your customers or colleagues. You can even run meetings over the phone, engage in a group discussion, and clarify things that might otherwise be hard or time consuming to explain in writing.
Phone systems can, however, also be expensive to install and maintain. Charges can mount if you don't budget correctly, or don't have an effective system in place to monitor use.
There can also be problems if you need to keep a record of what's been said, as laws about recording telephone calls vary from country to country. And, it's impossible to read a person's body language and facial expression on a phone call.
An eye-catching presentation can reinforce your credibility, help you to reach out to new clients, and strengthen your brand identity. Presentations are one of the most effective business tools that you can use to get your message heard.
Presentations work best when you're sharing information that connects with your audience's interests, and when they stimulate questions and debate.
But a good presentation takes a lot of effort to create and refine, so it needs to be information that's worth sharing, and that colleagues or clients will want to receive, and not information that could be shared, for example, via a group email.
You're also vulnerable to technical difficulties: power cuts, failing batteries, crashing laptops – we've all been there! It's helpful to have several paper versions of the presentation with you, allowing you to read through the main points. Digital versions of the presentation can be sent later to those in attendance.
Webinars are increasingly used to deliver training and information across dispersed teams. Although they share the same potential technical pitfalls as presentation technology, they're still useful tools that allow you to engage and interact with people in other locations.
You do need to master a variety of skills, however, from technical knowledge of the webinar platforms that are available, to scripting and public speaking. So, it's important to consider your training needs carefully if you are going to use them.
Face to Face
A face-to-face conversation is the oldest form of communication that we have, and it's often the most useful. Communicating in this way is far quicker, simpler and more direct than other channels. You can clarify confusing or ambiguous topics immediately.
Clearly, the physical range of face-to-face communication is limited: you can't use it as a global marketing channel, for example! There is also an element of trust involved, as these conversations tend not to be recorded. So, be sure to be clear, make a record of what's been said, and to keep your integrity.
However, when it comes to using your presence to get your message across, dealing with sensitive topics, recruiting new staff, connecting with important clients and business partners, taking people into your confidence, and getting immediate feedback, face-to-face communication is hard to beat.
And, when you combine strong speaking skills with a good understanding of body language, you have a tool that is invaluable in building stronger relationships.
Before you begin your communication, stop to consider what you want to achieve, both for you and your audience. Then, match the channel to that purpose.
Do you need speed, global reach, detailed data-sharing, a call to action, or some human warmth and understanding?
Be aware of any legal pitfalls or skill gaps that act as barriers to a channel. And don't be afraid to adopt "old technology," such as phones and print, or even face-to-face meetings. These can often be quicker and more effective.
By analyzing the needs and objectives of your communication, your audience, and the practicalities involved in using a particular channel, you can identify which one will work best for you, your message, and your business.