Communication in the Digital World
In today’s digital world, the way we communicate has changed dramatically. More and more, communication is reliant on technology. Therefore, your ability to effectively communicate has never been so critical. For instance, think about the frequency and ways you choose to communicate. Your choices affect how you build, retain and grow relationships. In addition, how you engage with different generations and ultimately, win customers. Whilst the digital world has enhanced the way we communicate, it’s not without its pitfalls. We hide behind a screen. We’re losing the human elements of tone and body language.
As a startup owner or small business professional, how do you rank your ability to effectively communicate? What does effective communication look like and mean to you? Ask a broad group of people and the chances are, you’ll get a variety of answers. For example, effective communication could result in a change in behaviour. Alternatively, increased sales, revenue or profit. What about increased motivation and productivity? Effective communication can mean all manner of things, so how do you effectively communicate?
For sure, none of us are perfect. We are human and on a daily basis, we make mistakes. Some of these can be costly mistakes, particularly when it comes to communication issues. For example, making a mistake with a customer order or providing poor customer service during a call or email exchange. Communication breaks exist everywhere; from interactions between customers/clients and suppliers, to internal issues between staff and management. Ultimately, your success depends on how effectively you and your business communicate. To effectively communicate in this digital world, be authentic, honest and manage expectations carefully.
How do you Effectively Communicate?
Every day, and in one form or another, you communicate. This can be verbal or non-verbal communication. Whilst face-to-face communication isn’t extinct, increased globalisation and advances in technology have resulted in the need to learn new ways of communicating. In addition, the necessity to be more flexible and adaptable.
As a startup business, all eyes are on you. At least to varying degrees, depending on the size, age and nature of your business. In this digital world, everyone is connected 24/7. For instance, internal intranet sites and chat tools to externally facing company websites, social media account pages and instant chat and video tools. Not forgetting the old favourites like phone calls, emails and SMS text messaging. Whether you use Slack, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and/or anything else, you need to effectively communicate.
In order to effectively communicate, you need to be even more vigilant. For example, cross-checking social media (and email) content before it’s published. This includes; logical and clear content, which also keeps to applicable guidelines (internal and external to your organisation). The same applies with email; ensuring relevant and suitable to, cc, bcc fields and appropriate attachments, when applicable. No one wants to hit send on content that could cause offence, anger etc. or that contains mistakes.
Generational Impact on Communication
More than ever, your target market, customers, suppliers and internal resources have easy access to communicate with you. Get it wrong and it could be very costly. Most importantly, you need to be flexible and adaptable. For example, do you know which social media tools your target market predominantly uses?
Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Post-Millennials have different digital preferences. For instance, Generation X tends to use Facebook. Whilst Millennials prefer Instagram and Snapchat. Not only that, but different ways of communicating and engaging with each other. For example, the advent of emojis and text-language. Certainly, for Baby Boomers and Generation X, this is a very different and new way of communicating. So much so that there’s now a World Emoji Day (17th July). Most importantly, not everyone agrees with the use of emojis and slang in a business setting.
Your market and customers are one thing, but you also need to consider your resources. The different generational groups like to receive and give information differently. For example, Millennials use sound bites and acronyms. How will you adapt to ensure communication is clear, understood and easily digestible by all? What tools will you use and when?
Certainly, times have changed. If you don’t keep up, the digital age could be your downfall. Whilst digital transformation has helped connect us globally and virtually, have we also become disconnected?
The digital world has resulted in some ‘un-programming’. Before the advent of Smartphones, social media apps and tools, our conscious mind was more adept at filtering. It was easier and a more conscious decision to identify what’s ‘appropriate’. Now, we have the means of greater anonymity. We can hide behind a screen and/or persona. For instance, communication through body language and tone is lost.
The golden rule; know your audience. Certainly, collaborate and ask what works or doesn’t and why. Don’t be afraid to talk to the person who sits at the desk next to you either. In this new digital world, you still need to connect with people through communication. You need to effectively communicate, which means you need to carefully choose tools and systems. In addition, assess, modify and/or improve communication in order to effectively communicate.
Most importantly, remember that effective communication is based on mutual trust. According to Helen Morris-Brown; “Most successful connections happen when we meet face to face”. However, in the digital world, we have less face-to-face communication. Therefore, manage digital and written communication in a similar way. For example, don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to say face-to-face. How will your communication be perceived or make people feel?
Considerations to Effectively Communicate
Non-verbal communication is essential, but in order to effectively communicate, you need to manage the risks. For example, social media means faster communication. It’s about efficiency, but equally, it can have the reverse effect if you don’t manage the risks. Think about mistakes and misunderstandings.
Have we also become lazy communicators? With the use of digital tools and apps, we have distance. This means we either forget or choose not to utilise filtering. We’ve become lazy. Do you think about how messages and communications are perceived? How does this differ between generations? Does it depend on the tools and who is using them?
What works for you and your networks? There isn’t a one size fits all. Therefore, it’s important to know your market as much as you know your resources. Most importantly, engage and collaborate in order to effectively communicate. Secondly, make sure you do what you say you will. In this digital world, what you say is often published and available for everyone to see.
In addition, it’s also important to follow up timely, don’t leave people hanging. This can be as simple as an acknowledgment, ahead of a solution or decision. In addition, carefully manage expectations and be sincere throughout. Remember, quality over quantity. To effectively communicate, make sure communication is of good quality. For example, think about pitching, customer retention, payments/invoicing and customer service. It’s not just marketing, sales and sales development. Communication touch points exist everywhere.
Effectively Communicate = Success Factor
To effectively communicate in the digital world, you need a robust communication strategy. Most importantly, a strategy that understands how the digital world is still evolving. Certainly, technology is an enabler, but you still need balance. Within organisations, it’s about creating and supporting a culture of effective communication. This means leading by example, from the top down.
Walk the walk and talk the talk. Empower and support your employees with the right tools and systems, which help them effectively communicate. Above all, remember to be human and if necessary, coach your people so they aren’t another robot stuck behind a screen.
Agree the rules of engagement and follow accepted etiquette. Regardless of what communication tools you use, be concise, clear and mindful of how written communications can be misinterpreted. Most importantly, be present, even when you’re not.
With globalisation, remote and virtual teams, communication tools facilitate speed and access to information. With easier access to information in the digital world, attention to detail is even more crucial to securing success.
Finally, keep up to date, listen to the voice of your customer (VOC) and staff. In order to effectively communicate in the digital world, you need to be better equipped to assess and filter messages.
Further Support & Reading
In addition, the below reading list is provided to support this blog post:
- The psychology of communicating effectively in a digital world, by Helen Morris-Brown
- How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie
- Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
- The New Elevator Pitch: The Definitive Guide to Persuasive Communication in the Digital Age by Chris Westfall