There are countless communication channels out there nowadays. Audiences are fragmented, with people hanging out in multiple places at any given time. We also tend to hop between channels more frequently than ever before. With so much fragmentation, what’s the best way to reach your audience? This week we review three main types of communication channels, the pros and cons of each one, and when to use them.
Where Does Your Audience Hang Out?
Today’s communication landscape is moving at lightning speed. Choosing the right channels for your business isn’t easy. Even those of us in the field struggle to keep track of ongoing developments. The good news is there are some classic rules to help us choose the best communication channels for our message.
The easiest place to start when determining the best way to reach your audience is to identify where your audience members hang out most of the time. What are their primary sources of information? For what purpose? And how does your message fit into this picture?
When we communicate remotely, we’re asking people for their time and attention, in their own space. For a busy professional, time and attention are the most precious resources. If you want your message to land, consider that person’s environment carefully. If you were in their shoes, what messages would you be willing to listen to? What would grab, and hold, your attention?
We’ve spoken before about the biggest mistake people make when communicating: we focus too much on what we want to say, not on why we’re saying it. When you choose a communication channel, it helps to start with this rule.
Match the Channel to Your Objective
There are loads of marketing gurus out there who can give you a cookie-cutter model for how to develop an Instagram following, or how to instantly grow your email list. These tips are useful, of course. But what happens when your main goal is sales? Does that Instagram community or email list convert? Can your social media presence help you reach leaders at top companies for investment opportunities?
Let’s look at this example more closely. If your main goal is to sell a premium business service to traditional business leaders, chances are Instagram is not the number one place to find them. You’re more likely to reach this audience through business publications, such as The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business Review. Perhaps you can grab their attention with a well-written piece on LinkedIn.
There are always exceptions to any rule. Some traditional business leaders may very well hang out on Instagram in their (limited) spare time. Perhaps they even record TikTok videos with their kids. The question for you to ask is: does your product or service match your audience’s mindset while consuming a particular media? This way you can position yourself in the right place at the right time.
Who Speaks to Whom?
It’s also useful to group communication channels based on the way they work. In general, communication flows in three ways. The first is Broadcast mode, where one messenger speaks to many people. The second is Social, where we have many messengers connecting with many audience members. And the third is Personal, or one-to-one channels.
The main feature of Broadcast, or one-to-many, channels is broad reach. The exact number of people we reach could be in the hundreds, thousands, or possibly even millions. Broadcast channels include news reports, articles and interviews, as well as company announcements and webcasts.
The best time to choose a Broadcast channel is when you need to inform, create awareness, or possibly even entertain, a large group of people. Broadcast channels aren’t the place to go into great depth about complex concepts. On the contrary, you’ll need to work very carefully to craft a clear main point, and use accessible language.
Some of you may argue there is no pure form of broadcast in our world of social media. This is absolutely true! With the rise of employee advocacy and citizen activism, it’s not possible to command and control messages anymore. This is where Social channels come into play.
Everyone’s A Messenger
Be careful not to confuse Social channels with social media or digital—although these platforms, or formats, fall under this category. (We’ll speak more about Formats in a future post.) What we mean here is the communication mechanism: in this case, many-to-many. With Social channels, a lot of people interact with one another. There are multiple messengers connecting with a large number of audience members.
Two of the most common examples of Social channels are employee advocacy and citizen activism. In both cases, regular “people like me” exchange information with audience members. Nowadays, peers are considered one of the most trustworthy source of information. With employee advocacy, this is employees who share news on behalf of their company. While with citizen activism, we usually see individuals representing an advocacy group or their personal agenda.
Typically you use Social communication channels when you want to inspire action or influence others on a large scale. These tools can be extremely powerful. At the same time, you need to give up a little bit of control, because the messenger—whether it’s your employee or an influencer—will leave their imprint on the message.
How About Picking Up That Phone?
The third main group of communication channels is Personal, or one-to-one. These direct communication channels, such as face-to-face meetings or phone calls or email, are the best choice when you have sensitive information to share. Or when you have complex and detailed information that requires a lot of time to digest.
Obviously our reach is limited with one-to-one communication channels. On the other hand, the impact of connecting directly with an audience member can be enormous. Use these channels when you need to persuade or reassure an important stakeholder, especially during times of change.
Your Optimal Communication Channel Mix
If you want to communicate with impact, use a mix of channels for your project or campaign. If you get stuck, go back to your communication objective and audience. Remember to meet your audience where they are, and choose a mix of channels. When you want to get a message out fast and far, use Broadcast. When you want more engagement, try Social mechanisms. And for that in-depth explanation, Personal communication channels are the way to go.
Choosing the right communication channel for your message is a both an art and a science. There’s no exact way to do it. The choice you make depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the content of your message. Play around a little. Test them out. See what works. And what doesn’t. Soon you’ll find the best communication channels for your business.