The Evolution of Corporate Communications

Effective corporate communication involves not only the message itself, but also the medium that carries and delivers it. The use of e-mail is giving way to RSS, podcasts, and video messages.
Posted January 9, 2006
By

Paul Chin


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Trying to get a message across to every employee in an organization is a lot like trying to control kids in a school bus: some will listen; some will hear but misunderstand the message; and some will ignore the message altogether and later complain, "But nobody told me."

Communicating to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees within an organization is no small feat. This challenge is further complicated in organizations with a global presence, where corporate headquarters is responsible for delivering the same message to satellite offices in geographically dispersed locations. But it's not enough to just create the message.

Effective corporate communication involves not only the message itself, but also the medium that carries and delivers it. It's these two components of a communication that dictate whether employees will receive and understand it. But don't fool yourself in thinking that there's some long process of deliberation when they receive one of these messages. Most corporate communications will grab the attention of an employee for no more than a few seconds — if at all. It's within that very narrow window of opportunity that they will decide whether to read something or toss it aside.

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  • Employees are processing more information than ever before — information dealing with their projects, their clients, and their industry as a whole. With all this information competing for employees' attention, does a single corporate communication stand a chance of making it through?

    Effective Communication

    Organizations have struggled to find the best way to get company communications to their employees for years. These communications can range from notices of service interruptions to announcements of corporate events. But is anyone really listening? Communication is a two-way street; it requires a sender and a receiver. If no one is listening, you're just a crazy person talking to yourself.

    Anyone involved with corporate communications needs to be aware of their receivers' habits and idiosyncrasies before deciding on message and medium. It wouldn't make sense to use technology-based communications with an audience who's not tech-savvy without first providing them with adequate training; or to post an important announcement on a bulletin board when most users rely solely on their intranet for news. An understanding of the audience will help determine the best medium to use in order to get your message across.

    Communication mediums can be classified into two methods: the sender pushes the message to the receiver (e.g., sending an e-mail) or the receiver pulls the message from a source (e.g., reading an intranet post). In the '90s, the IT industry was abuzz with the concept of push technology, a method of delivering content to users' desktop without requiring them to actively seek it out. The technology, however, never lived up to its hype (see my article "Push Technology: Still Relevant After All These Years?" for more on this) and communications fell back to old stalwarts: the intranet and e-mail. But they have their problems too.

    Posting corporate communications on an intranet requires employees to access the system repeatedly because they won't know when new information will be posted. There's a good chance that some employees will miss an important announcement because they were busy with other things and don't get the chance to check when the communication was posted.

    E-mail has the ability to alert every employee once a communication is sent, but there are uncontrollable factors that hinder its effectiveness as a corporate communications medium. E-mail failed through no fault of its own, and was perhaps a victim of its own success.

    E-Mail, What happened to You?

    The advent of e-mail changed the way organizations communicated with their employees in a big way. Rather than post and send out large quantities of paper-based announcements, a single e-mail message could be sent to all employees at the same time, regardless of their geographic location. At the time, e-mail was the biggest advancement in corporate communication — until users just stopped reading them.

    So what happened? Has e-mail outlived its usefulness as an internal corporate communications medium? The answer is yes and no. It's still a big part of corporate communication, but it's lost a lot of its effectiveness. There's perhaps no bigger contributor to this decline than spam.

    E-mail has been contaminated by so much junk that it's difficult to get an important message across. Users might give a company announcement a cursory glance and pass it by thinking it's just more unsolicited mail; or they might set-up e-mail filters so restrictive that the message never even makes it through. With the sheer volume of e-mail that comes pouring in daily, employees may simply treat these types of internal communications as white noise and ignore them. And with the time-sensitive nature of corporate communications, it might be too late when users finally discover the message.

    Problems With E-mail as a Corporate Communications Tool
  • Difficult to grab users' attention since messages are indistinguishable from all other e-mail

  • Messages can be mistaken for spam

  • Messages can be stopped by users' restrictive e-mail filtering

  • Employees have no choice as to what they receive

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