What is communication?
There’s an obvious answer to this, spelled out in the Oxford Dictionary.
The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. (Oxford English Dictionary)
On the surface this is correct; but as humans, communication means more to us than just the sterile definition offered by the dictionary. Yes, it’s about exchanging and imparting information, but for us it’s also about building and maintaining relationships.
We look at the meaning of that information.
As humans, we aren’t machines simply processing the information we receive, and then outputting a programmed response. Communication – and the lack thereof – makes us feel things; it’s not only an intellectual process, it’s an emotional process; but most of all, it’s a two-way process.
Whether it’s marriage, friendship, family, or even professional, communication is one of the most fundamental requirements of maintaining an effective relationship between people. Communication in a relationship isn’t so much about talking as it is about listening.
Yet, oftentimes, this isn’t how we tend to look at communications in business. From most businesses’ perspectives, communication is only applicable in a single direction: It’s how we impart the information. And sure, we run feedback surveys, and we operate complaints departments, but we don’t really look to engage with our clients and customers, so much as we expect to tell them what we have for them and how they can benefit from it, right?
I performed a very quick Google search in writing this article, and looked at three free options for communications strategy templates that came up in the results. Accepting that a sample size of three isn’t exactly statistically significant, not one of the options mentioned a single thing about two-way communication. There were places to define key audiences, SWOT analysis, key messages and focal points, but not a single word about the relationship or engagement with those audiences.
Business communication is more than just marketing.
Let me clarify one thing from my little rant above. None of these things are bad. When it comes to creating a communications strategy, yes, we need to know who our audience is, we need to be clear on our message, we need to be prepared so that the right message is consistently being sent out.
What I’m saying is that there’s more to it.
If communication is a two-way street, then why do those of us in business tend to only focus on one direction?If communication is a two-way street, then why do those of us in business tend to only focus on one direction? Click To Tweet
Sure, we have complaints handling procedures, and we probably run through the occasional feedback survey, but neither of these is really about engagement with our audience, are they? A complaints policy is just about mitigating negative impressions, and a feedback survey is a one-off thing, it’s not a conversation.
But how do you have a conversation with your customers?
On the other side of this coin, any business owner will tell you that you just can’t sit down and have a cup of coffee with every single person who wants to do so. If you try to listen to everyone, you will get nowhere, and you’ll get there very fast.
But we do live in the easiest time for customer engagement.
With social media and content marketing being some of the most influential aspects of marketing and communications in 2019, you cannot afford to run your communication in a single direction. If you’re not using content creation as a marketing tool, then you need to start, right now; if you are, then you need to engage.
I want to make this very clear. Social media is not a one-way communication tool.
Content marketing is not a one-way communication tool.
Too often I see businesses and brands posting content on social media or on their website, and then walking away from it. Even when a post starts generating traction and interaction from the audience, there’s no sign whatsoever of the business wanting to have anything further to do with that post.
You know how that makes your brand look?
None of these are descriptors that most business owners should want for their business, which means that you need to be engaging and bouncing off your audience when they do make responses. It doesn’t have to be much, either. Hit the like button on the good comments, if someone asks a question, answer it, and just generally have fun with it!
The same goes for your other content, whether it’s a blog or a YouTube channel, let your audience engage with you by acknowledging their interactions.
All Business Communication Matters
The reason why I want you to be thinking about all of your communication is because even though I’ve just spent the above article saying that communication is more than marketing; communication is all marketing. Every single communication that you have with the outside world is important, and is a reflection on your brand.
Once upon a time, I applied for a job with a company that I was really excited about potentially working for. I crafted my cover letter, made sure my CV reflected the best parts of my career achievements to match what they were looking for, and thought that I went well through the interview process. Following the interview I emailed them to say thanks for the opportunity, and to provide some additional information that they had asked for in the process, and received a response.
Thankyou Josh, we will be getting back to candidates prior to Tuesday next week.
To this day, I have never heard from that company again.
I can’t tell you the sour taste that left in my mouth, and it had a significantly negative effect on my perspective of that company. I’ve worked in recruitment and human resources; I know how many applications some jobs can receive. I also know that it’s not actually that time consuming to craft a bulk document, BCC all of the rejected applicants, and let them all know in a fairly straightforward manner that they’ve not been successful. The experience of actually putting all the effort in, only to be ghosted was not good, and I can guarantee you, like any dissatisfied customer, I have told that story to friends and family since then.
Business communication techniques go further than just marketing. Business communication is about relationship building and maintenance, and like any relationship, communication needs to operate in both directions, and needs to provide a strong representation for your brand.
How can you improve your two-way communications with your customers?