Selecting Your Communication Channel
December 18, 2019
This episode of Nutshell Brainery is brought to you by The Courage to Succeed: Discover and Achieve What Matters Most (and tell everything else to take a hike), by Lon Schiffbauer. Now available at Amazon. Let’s talk pigeons. In early October 1918 Major Charles White Whittlesey and close to 500 men are trapped behind enemy lines at the Battle of Verdun. With no food or ammunition, they needed help and fast, so Whittlesey dispatched a series of carrier pigeons, only to see each one shot down by the Germans. Soon he was left with only one pigeon, a black check cock named Cher Ami. The men knew the pigeon well. The bird had already delivered 11 messages for them throughout the battle. So with the message attached Whittlesey sent Cher Ami off. The German saw him rising up out of the trench and so opened fire. For several moments the carrier pigeon managed to avoid the artillery, then Cher Ami was shot from the sky and tumbled to the earth. Somehow though the bird managed to take flight once again and disappeared off into the smoke. In the end Cher Ami managed to deliver the message, despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and with a leg hanging from a tendon. Help was sent out immediately and 194 survivors were rescued, a group heralded as the Lost Battalion. In recognition for his heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre” with Palm. Major Whittlesey had a clear purpose: to get help fast. His audience was equally clear: the commander of the reinforcements. But pinned down behind enemy lines Whittlesey only really had one channel available to him, a humble little carrier pigeon. Sure, he could have sent off a man up over the top and running through no man’s land, but odds are he would not have made it very far. Whittlesey chose the carrier pigeon because it was the right channel for this particular purpose, and for this particular audience, and in the context of the battle in which he was entrenched. Likewise, the channels that we choose should be those the best suit our purposes. So what’s a channel? Back in episode one we talked about what it means to communicate. We learned that communication is about sending the right message to the right audience at the right time through the right channel in the right context for the right purpose. Since then we’ve explored what it means to communicate for the right purpose, to the right audience, and in the right context. In this episode we’ll see how purpose and audience leads us to the right channel. As we saw from Major Whittlesey and Cher Ami, the purpose of the communication decides the right audience, which in turn decides the right channel. Channels are the media we use to communicate our message. Any single form of communication is in and of itself a channel. This includes the obvious, such as a phone, email, face-to-face conversation, but it also includes the not-so-obvious, such as facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone. Now when it comes to communicating, the challenge isn’t a lack of channels. There are already any number of channels out there from which we can choose. The question is what is the right channel, given our purpose and our audience, and the context? When we look at the list of available channels through this lens the choice becomes pretty clear. For example, leaving a note on the kitchen table telling your parents that you’re engaged to get married may not be the right channel. Sure, it’s an available channel, but is it the right one for the situation? Likewise, sending them an emboss gilded card telling them that you’re out of milk might be overkill. So you see, in many ways the purpose audience and context really tell us what the appropriate channel is. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful in how we choose our media. Even though the purpose audience and context has narrowed our choices, we still need to be careful as we select the right channels. That’s what we’re going to talk about over the next couple of episodes. In today’s episode we’re going to talk about how channel richness affects the channels effectiveness as well as efficiency. Then in our next episode we’ll talk about channel characteristics that we need to consider when putting together a media mix. But right now let’s look at channel richness. To understand channel richness, let’s consider this richness scale. On the right we have channels with a high degree of richness. Richness is determined by the number of ways a channel can effectively communicate a message. Now if you’re not sure what I mean by that, bear with me. It’ll become clear. Right now though the thing that you need to bear in mind is that rich channels are very effective. The richer the channel, the more effective it will be in communicating your message. Now when I say effective I mean that the channel does what it’s supposed to do, and very well to boot. And as we see here, channels with low richness are for the most part fairly ineffective. So why do we use them? Because these channels are extremely efficient. By efficient I mean they go a long way for very little investment–that they give you basically a lot of bang for your buck. Whereas rich channels are very inefficient, they require a great deal of investment to do what you need them to do. Okay, so you might be a little bit confused, so let’s move on and look at some real world examples and see how they fit in the spectrum. Let’s first look at terms and conditions– you know, the legal policies that you run into now and again. Well now when I say you run into them, that’s about what I mean. You’ve never actually read them. These are the things that are 2,000 words of written text and incomprehensible legalese that you scroll through without reading, just to find the accept button at the end. These sort of communications are very efficient. All the company needs to do is write it out and post it on the website for the whole world to ignore. But while they’re very efficient, they’re not very effective. Like I say, when was the last time you actually read one? In fact, Amazon Web Services had a little bit of fun with this and added clause 57.10. This section states that the restrictions previously stated will become nul and void in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Really, I’m not kidding. Go check it out. My guess is the writers added the verbiage as part of a bet to see how long it would take for someone to find it. On the other hand, maybe they inserted the language as an easter egg to reward those that carefully read the company’s terms and conditions. Who knows, but it’s a pretty great stunt. Next let’s look at email. Email is highly efficient. One email can go to thousands of people, which means it’s pretty ineffective when used in, say, a blast email. However, email can also be very targeted, sent to specific individuals for specific purpose. This makes it somewhat more effective. Still, not too terribly effective. Many emails are so long and poorly targeted that they are deleted before they’re even opened. That and email communicates a message only through the words that it contains. This means no facial expressions, no vocal tonality–things that give a channel richness. This brings us to online discussion groups. Like emails, they lack facial expressions and vocal tonality. However, they’re much more targeted to a specific person or group. What’s more, they can maintain a conversation thread somewhat more effectively than can email. For a channel to be truly rich however it needs facial expressions, body language, vocal tonality, and real-time feedback. This is where live speeches come into play. They’re much more effective than the channels we discuss this far, but they tend to be one-sided. True communication is a dialogue, not a monologue. Dialogues begin with a telephone conversations. True, we lose body language and facial expressions with this particular channel, but we still have strong vocal tonality to rely on. It’s also a real-time conversation–synchronous conversation– something we’ll talk about in our future episode. However, you can only have so many people on the line at once before the conversation starts to fall apart, so this is why the channel is very effective but becomes very inefficient. Next we have video conferencing, basically a phone conversation but this time with facial expressions. And as before, we’re moving up the scale in terms of effectiveness, but now it’s even less efficient. Lastly, the most effective communication channel is a face-to-face conversation. This channel has everything: words, body language, facial expressions, vocal tonality, and real-time feedback. However, since face-to-face conversations can only be had with small groups of people, they’re very inefficient. Now that we understand the concept of channel richness and how this affects a channels effectiveness vs efficiency, next we need to consider the specific characteristics associated with each channel. This will help us select not only the right channels but to put them in the right sequence so that we can have the best possible outcome. That’s what we’re going to talk about next time, so I hope you’ll join me. This episode of Nutshell Brainery was written and produced by Lon Schiffbauer. Our theme music was composed by Scott Holmes. You can learn more about Scott’s music by visiting free music archive dot-org, forward slash music, forward slash Stott underscore Holmse, forward slash.