Blog: July 2018
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Communication 
Noun:  com·mu·ni·ca·tion \ kə-ˌmyü-nə-ˈkā-shən \

In its most basic form, communication refers to sending and receiving messages, an exchange.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior.”

The idea of paging through a dictionary to look up the meaning of a word has become archaic especially since technology has made it possible for humans and machines to access and exchange information faster now than at any other time in history. As technology quickly evolves we continually utilize it to streamline and simplify everything in its path, including language and how we communicate.

There are many elements that go into the content we create each day whether by text, email or the creation of marketing materials, and every organization can capitalize on continuous improvement of effective communications.  Considering the statistics showing that many audiences - especially millennials - are plugged into multiple devices at once (watching TV while browsing internet, email or social network sites), this is more important than ever. While we can count on channels of communication to evolve and change with technology, a few core content creation questions apply to writing for all types of media:

1.      What message is being communicated?

2.      Who are we speaking with? Who is the target audience?

3.      What relevant details are needed to support and effectively convey the message and promote your organization’s identity?

4.      What tone will carry the message?

5.      What action would you like the audience to take?

Message:

The simple, specific idea or information that will be shared.  Sometimes an emoji will suffice to communicate a message and we choose the - a picture is worth a thousand words - approach to quickly and efficiently convey an idea in a simple text.  Other times, the message is more complicated and requires narrowing, organization, and careful crafting to effectively reach an audience and obtain the desired outcome.  Utilizing specific, carefully chosen words to convey the message brings up the next element of communication to consider in the process - the message must be relevant to the audience. 

Audience:

Of the many components needed to communicate noted above, the audience must be given careful consideration.  A well-defined audience is important to effective communication.

Audiences can be sliced and diced in many ways:  age, interests, education, industry, background, net worth, etc.  Communication with each demographic segment or combination of audiences has to be tailored in such a way that the message will be most readily received by that group.

Learn the inherent characteristics of each target audience and get to know your audience’s habits and preferences before you attempt to communicate with them.  Just as you narrowed your message, narrow the audience so you may carefully match your message to the audience’s needs and interests. For an association, that may mean sending different messages to different segments of your membership.  For example, sending a message about end-of-career succession planning resources is a relevant message for members who are planning for retirement but not for the rising young professionals of the association.  

Details and Supporting Information:

Consider and include all the relevant details, ideas, evidence, and information your audience will need to easily understand the communication and potentially make a decision.  The details and supporting information need to be carefully selected, prioritized and simplified in order to support the message effectively.  Add words and information that will aid in conveying the message, remove anything that will distract the audience and slow the communication process down.

Tone:

Informative, friendly, matter of fact, professional, humorous … Tone is how the message is delivered – the words chosen to convey the feeling, attitude, values, etc. behind the message.  Choose the most effective and appropriate tone for the audience to convey the message and gain the desired outcome.  Tone helps further define the identity of your organization. It can be used as a powerful tool to provide consistency across communications and can help demonstrate that you really understand your message as well as your audience. Messages about legislative or regulatory issues being faced in your association’s industry may be more direct, matter-of-fact, or somber, while communications about the networking event of the year can utilize a more upbeat and fun tone.

Call to Action:

Messages sent by associations often close with a call to action – something for the member to do after receiving the message - please call, click here to register, vote, attend, etc.  Be clear and specific with the action you want the members to take by including anything they will need to easily respond, act or take the next step, for instance:   renew their membership, sign up for an upcoming educational program, or contact their legislators.  Then always be sure to test each of the call to action points - click on all the links to ensure they work correctly and send tests for electronic communication to check that it delivers the intended result.  Think through obstacles your members may encounter when responding and remove them if at all possible.

The last task, when a written piece is complete, is to carefully review the finished piece before it goes out - twice. Spell check is a tool that can be helpful, but it can also be potentially hurtful to your writing, where occasional homophones or other subtleties in language unseen by the program become a miscommunication. If possible, find a colleague with fresh eyes to partner with you on editing and proofreading.  Peer editing can provide a great opportunity to generate new ideas and promote consistency across all of your organization’s communications.