What is the dominant skill set in your communication group -- or in your company, for that matter? Among your public relations, internal communications, web site content, and even sales, finance, human resources, and legal type of work -- what percentage of the work deploys written communication? Let me guess, they're sending emails and text messages, drafting contracts, writing news releases, creating PowerPoints, updating the web site text, creating data sheets, putting together a newsletter or a blog post ... all good. But what is missing?
I believe visual communication skills should comprise at least half of your focus if you want to connect with your audience. Example: Twitter stat -- Tweets with a photo get a 70% higher read rate.
When people get home from work, you know they're spending at least half their time getting information and entertainment visually (TV, face to face talk, YouTube, the multi-media mix of Facebook) than via the written word (magazines, newspapers, blog posts, text). This is the way they enjoy getting information -- in a mixture. Reading all words, all day, makes for a dull day. Why does the business environment need to continue to deliver information in an old-fashioned way?
It used to make sense, basing most of what we wanted to say in text form. Heck, it was too expensive to do it the other way, and nifty, inexpensive photo, video, and telecommunication technology did not yet exist. Today, every iphone can take a photo, video, edit, and upload to a free YouTube channel in a matter of minutes. The cost to store and distribute digital content has fallen through the floor. What are you waiting for?
"The Medium is the Message."
I believe the communication, sales and executive office departments of the future will hire people with visual communication skill sets more often than not. People with on-camera and on-stage skills, people with photography, and video skills. And editing skills!! There will also be dedicated Strategic Content Editors, of a sort, who can mix the right potion of photo, video, live drama, and text to get the message across in a compelling way. To quote the decades-ago communication guru Marshall Mcluhan, the "Medium is the Message." *
What is the stat? 90% of communication is interpersonal? People need to see body language to best connect.
How are your executives doing in the realm of non-written communication? Still a memo a minute? Is your communication leader helping to turn the boat?
For internal communication: I love John Chambers of Cisco's take on this. Current image crisis aside, I think he is on to something by doing short video blogs to his team (and inviting dialog back!). They're a heck of a lot faster to craft than a written memo. And -- they convey intent and body language that just doesn't come across in email. Best of all, it takes the speechwriter out of the equation. A friend of mine (that's you Chuck Hollis!) has a great saying: "Oats always look better when they go into the horse than when they come out." Too many people messing with a message gets, well, messy.
For mass-market communication: I love the near-lack of words in Steve Jobs presentations. They are centered on visuals, and the person delivering the message.
For targeted external communication: I love how EMC subject matter experts create tech white board talks and post them on YouTubefor anyone to see. What a help for a customer, a partner, or a sales prospect to be able to quickly "see" a walk-through of how something works, rather than fish around and spend the time reading a ton of data sheets or news releases that wouldn't do the job half as well. For a more bizarre and entertaining version of this concept -- see this Chad's World nod to the old cult comedy movie, "Wayne's World."
For communication to your devoted followers: I love how companies have added social launches and social news releases, where they include candid video, telling photos, and bulleted text -- along with the traditional news releases for the traditional folks (whoever they may be) -- to convey the news, and make better connections. You can find examples of these here.
A challenge, and a best practice with all of the above to is to work to make all communication a two-way street. Build in a way for your target audience to easily share information back with you if you truly want to make a connection. Because, as my old communication coach taught me, "Communication is a Connection Sport."
----------------- Talk Back ------------
How is your company doing in the transition from a written world to a multi-media world when it comes to connecting with your target audience?
It is okay if you are behind. Heck, I am behind. I should have done this post with a short video clip to go with it. While I know that would ultimately be FASTER to do than write this all out, for now there is still a learning curve, a comfort curve and oddly a vanity curve (video feels a bit vain for the broadcaster, doesn't it?) for even folks like me to overcome. This post is meant to be a peek into the future. The sooner we all start the journey, the better our careers, and our company-connection-with-the-target-audience will be. Yes?
* In writing this post, I came to find out that Marshall McLuhan was a professor at Saint Louis University. Oddly enough, that is where I studied communication and became wise to his words.
PS: My thanks to Alan, Learning and Development head at Children's Hospital, who prompted me to write this post. His son is a videographer, and I shared my belief that video is an essential skill set for successful communication groups today. Companies "who get it" should hire video and photo folks as often as they hire traditional writers or PR folks.
-- Polly Pearson
@PollyPearson on Twitter