Understanding the communication requirements of different audiences
Have you ever taken a moment to consider the role that effective communication makes? Take, for example, the classic story of Louis Braille. Born blind, he developed a new technique using raised dots which allowed people, previously unable to read, to master this new form of communication.
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That was innovation in 1824. Come up to the present day and 21st-century technologies constantly remind us that different audiences respond to a variety of communication formats in a multitude of ways. Yet, whatever the medium of communication, Cheryl Coates’ ‘Five C’s’ of communication still applies. They are to be:
As she concludes, “Communication is the key to influencing others and creating powerful teams, relationships, and joint forces to achieve successful outcomes.”
In a business context communication in its myriad forms has become a central pillar for organizational success. So what do we mean when considering different types of communications requirements?
External Communication methods
External communication between organization and audience has evolved rapidly in recent times. Communication methods to reach key external groups has blossomed with digital platforms allowing one-to-one or one-to-many channels. In addition to well-established approaches, such as telephone or postal communication, we now have a vast array of messaging tools that have pros and cons depending upon the role required. These include:
- Text messaging/SMS
- Social Media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn
According to Statista, in 2018 the average emails sent topped a somewhat staggering 281 billion messages per day. That’s a lot of communication by any measure, yet begs the question, how much of it hit its mark?
Twitter has recently been maligned for many of the world’s ills, yet it’s an effective way to manage customer complaints and queries. Its key communication benefits are speed, trackability, and transparency. A customer question can be identified and responded to very quickly which, crucially, makes the person feel they are being listened to.
This was recently put to the test by Wayne Huang and colleagues when they performed an analysis of the platform to establish whether there was empirical evidence that using Twitter to effectively communicate between brands and their audiences brought measurable value. They focused on airlines and telecoms companies which often receive complaints on the platform.
As Huang explains, “We found that prompt and personal customer service does indeed pay off — customers remember good and bad customer service experiences, and they’re willing to reward companies that treat them well.”
Internal Communication Methods
In a typical contemporary organization a variety of communication methods are employed, depending on circumstances:
- Formal: Formal communication is primarily used with customers and senior management.
- Informal: Informal communication is generally delivered in the moment. Typically brief, it is most often used when talking to work colleagues or in brief internal emails.
- Verbal Communication: In an office environment, verbal communication will include phone conversations, face-to-face team or individual conversations, group discussions and meetings.
- Non-verbal Communication: Body language is perhaps one of the most powerful, yet least understood forms of communication. A raised eyebrow, the rolling of eyes, a pout, or a thumbs up and any variety of other non-verbal signals, can communicate a great deal about a person’s view on a topic. This has been replicated digitally with the emergence of emojis.
- Visual Communication: Think PowerPoint presentations, charts, graphs, videos.
- Written Communication: Despite the promises of the post-paper culture, written communication, typically in the form of emails and letters, is more central to organizations than at any time before. The written word appears not only in paper but in email inboxes, on phones, tablets, and large-screen monitors.
Horses for Courses
Before venturing down a particular communication path we need to understand that these various forms of communication are not all created equal. Some will be more appropriate and effective for certain circumstances.
For example, few people working in an office setting would write a formal letter to communicate a message to a colleague sitting next to them. Yet, if reaching out to communicate an important piece of service information with customers it might be deemed appropriate to send a traditional letter or, where a client has expressed a preference, an email. (As a brief side-note, remember recent EU legislation if emailing/communicating with clients).
Know Your Audience
It’s fairly clear that faced with a choice of ways to communicate with key audiences, it will pay dividends if some thought is put into the best approach. One-on-one communication will have very different requirements for a mass messaging task across a whole organization or segments of its customer base.
The former may be face-to-face and require considerations such as location, body language, tone of voice, eye contact and myriad other conscious or unconscious signals which will affect the message’s impact. For the latter, almost none of these aspects come into the fray, yet crafting words for internal or external audiences really matters.
With people inundated with visual information on a daily basis, you are vying for attention as much as for understanding. That necessitates effective composition to quickly engage the reader and draw them to then take in the message you are trying to disseminate.
As a rule of thumb…
- Keep it brief
- Do not use overly-complex words or acronyms
- Keep sentence structure short
- Make the most important point as near to the start of the communication as possible (with email, getting it into the subject line may be critical)
- If you have to make more than one key point, use short, meaningful sub-headings
- Think about how it will be seen – PC screen, phone, print?
- Think about who is receiving it – young, old, male, female. Different segments respond in varying ways to communication approaches.
Today, whether internal or external, the window of opportunity to communicate with different people and groups has significantly narrowed as the attention and focus of audiences have been diverted by a surge in the volumes of information that every person now faces. That is perhaps the single most important issue that anyone tasked with effective communication needs to understand. You need to select the right medium for the message to make an impact with your intended audience.
But don’t be daunted… getting your message out is half the battle and, generally, a whole lot better than saying nothing at all.