Communications 101: choosing the right channel

Simon Andrew

24/10/2017
Categories: HR

What’s in a channel?

"If the message is strong, then it doesn’t matter how it’s delivered" - said someone who has never been dumped by text.

Ok, if truth be told, I haven’t either, but I have heard some horror stories over the years. You see, good communications aren’t just about the right message, you need to have the right channel too. But maybe we can help with that.

It’s not you, it’s me

So why is being dumped by text so inappropriate? I’ve told them we’ve grown apart. I’ve asked for my Nirvana CD back. I said we should still be friends. I’ve covered all the important issues.

Now I apologise if this brings back bad memories to anyone – we’ve all had those awkward conversations at some point. But maybe that is the key word – conversations. This implies a two-way scenario in which you talk, then listen, then respond. It shows respect, it shows empathy, and it is a means of exploring or resolving any given scenario. The text message option – that kind of says I’m going to have my say and that’s all that matters. It’s not up for discussion, I don’t care what questions you have, I just want to get this done and dusted in no more than 12p (Ok, I’m going back a few years here).

From relationships to, er, relationships

So enough talking about break ups, let’s talk about work-based communications. But here’s the thing. As an employer, you want a good relationship with your employees. There are obvious differences to the example above. But… you still want mutual respect, you still want mutual empathy and you need a two-way conversation. I say ‘mutual’ because we want our employees to understand when there is a business need ("sorry, but we really need you to stay late because of X"). We build that respect by showing it ourselves and being understanding of their needs.

This may hurt, just a little

When considering which channel to use for a message, the first thing you must do – and this is essential – is take a step back and look at it from the audience’s point of view.

You’re no longer HR manager, or reward consultant, you’re Lisa from customer services. The overtime freeze that’s being announced, that’s what paid for the driving lessons you are having. Those driving lessons, they are to stop you walking home from your Friday night bar job in the dark.

Now, that’s maybe a provocative scenario. But the point is real. We need to conduct an impact analysis of our communications to see what they mean for the people we are talking to. What may seem innocuous to us (who have likely been in several meetings to understand these decisions) may have a big impact on our audience.

How best to analyse this impact? We like these approaches:

  • Create a persona. Ideally this would be based on real-time data but even a guesstimate will reap rewards. Create one for each main group of your target population. Give them a name, an age, a backstory, and explore how your communication may affect them. For best effect, get a picture of a face to go alongside it, this helps make it personal.
  • Nominate responsibility. Pick someone in the team to put themselves in the reader’s shoes. Their sole job is to explore everything from the reader’s perspectives. Just like above, they need to think about the scenario they are in, the backstory etc. So, whilst you’re considering the message, they can view it from a different perspective. This works best in meetings, when they can pipe up and say, “well actually I’m really not happy about that, and here’s why…”.

The point is, it’s very hard to empathise with a collection of people. But pick just one individual and you’d be surprised what a difference it makes.

By the way, you may want to follow this exercise up by thinking about what you want the reader to know, feel and do, as discussed in Leila’s awesome blog post on planning communication messages.

Shopping for channels

Let’s park the impact for a moment. It’s time to consider what channels are available. You’ll need to consider:

  • The reach these have. Do they get to the whole population you need?
  • The capacity for content. Are their limits to the size of your message? Or how this would be displayed?
  • The capacity for two-way discussion. Does this channel invite response? Is it making a statement? Or is starting a discussion?
  • The ability to personalise. Can you speak to the individual about their situation? Or is it one size fits all?
  • The cost. Does it work with your budget? Can you afford not to?

Once you understand the ins and outs of the channels, and the impact the message is likely to have, you can start to match the two up:

  • The message is super-emotive. It should be face-to-face.
  • It’s about the topping of the overtime pizza. Social media.
  • It’s about the closure of a pension scheme. Ooh. Face-to-face. Workshops. Email. Letter. Face-to-face. Maybe more letters. You get the idea.

Let’s talk

The best form of communication is talking. Facial expressions, body language, adaptive discussion – it’s what nature wanted. But it’s not always possible. So, we have many alternatives.

The good news is this. We can help with all of them. We have a communications team who can help you with the whole process. Better still, OneHub has a Communications Manager that can give you personalised emails in just a few clicks. You can target specific populations, personalise the email and set a ‘from address’ that will help manage responses. Now I’m not about to tell you that email is the right channel for everything, it’s not. But it is a great route for a lot of things. And our research shows that of 14,000 employees we surveyed, 84% said it was their preferred channel.

Looking for a strong tool in your communication channels armoury? Drop us a line and let’s talk more.

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