Communication tools

Planning your communication strategy – Choosing your tools

The key to a successful communication strategy is to tap into HOW people communicate at any one time. By this I mean what TOOLS people are using to communicate. Going back many centuries, people used verbal communication as the main tool. As time progressed, however, and people’s ability to read and write improved, written communication became increasingly important. But traditionally this was always on paper. However, nowadays written communication is predominantly digital and this has given us the ability to communicate far more widely and much more quickly than ever before. We literally can convey a message to millions of people in a split second, at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse.

So where does this leave communication strategies? For starters, because of the rapid nature of how this is changing almost on a daily basis, it brings the whole idea of a communication strategy to the front and centre of any organisational operations, and consequently it should be at the front and centre of a leader’s thought and planning processes. A leader who understands HOW his community communicates, in other words, what tools they use, knows how best to reach them. This is almost as important as understanding WHAT it is we want to communicate. 

In this module we will look at some of the pros and cons of commonly used communication tools so that by the end you should have gained some food for thought on what tools you want to include in your communications strategy that will suit you and your team. For the sake of ease I have selected six tools that I feel represent a cross section, and from there you should be able to extrapolate the principles for each and apply them appropriately to suit you and your team. 

Let’s start with email. The way that email has been used over the past couple of decades has really evolved. The way it is used now is quite different from when it first entered the communication scene.

We have all used email before and over time you may have noticed how email has increasingly been used as a tool for sending larger documents and more formal communications that it was before. 20+ years ago it was used as a way of sharing memos, short messages designed for internal information sharing. However, whilst this still does get done, other tools have taken over a more effective memo sharing purpose. 

The advantages to using email are that you can of course, send large files and documents to people, it maintains a time stamp and a record of being sent. This can be very important in establishing paper trails in certain circumstances!

Disadvantages include inboxes being swamped with junk mail, messages not being picked up timeously (depending on how the receiver makes use of his/her email) and overuse can result in confusion on one or other party. 

Whatsapp is the next tool that is very commonly used these days. Short memos are ideally communicated using whatsapp or similar platforms, and because we are so attached to our phones these days, whatsapp has become a very reliable way of sending information reliably and quickly to groups of people.

The disadvantages are that, because it is essentially an informal messaging system, the lines between social interactions and work-related matters can become blurred. As the leader of a team who makes use of this tool, it is worth considering agreeing with your team a set of ground rules that work for everybody. These may include time frames that messages may be sent, a no-response policy and brief guidance on informal professional discourse to be used. The point of agreeing these principles with your team applies to many forms of communication if you wish to make your comms as positive as possible overall!

Letters are useful when communicating outside of the organisation, to a group of customers or clients. They allow you, as the leader of the team, to phrase your words so that you communicate the exact tone that you want and to provide the high level of professionalism that is always very useful to share. They allow your brand to get out into the wider public, and this can always be an advantage.

Once again the disadvantages are that it takes skill and practice to craft a fine letter that will successfully convey your tone and information.. Letters can also be time consuming to distribute so are not really suitable for use if you want to get info out as quickly as possible. 

Face-to-face meetings are something which you, as a leader, should encourage as much as possible. Whether these are group meetings or 1-1 meetings it is important to build the skills within your team to make sure that these can be conducted in professional and productive ways that suit the needs of the organisation on all levels. 

The advantages to using face-to-face meetings are of course that conversation is an inevitability and this always allows for clarification of different points, debates and discussion, which are all very valuable and all lead to reducing any ambiguity whilst highlighting any concerns that may arise. In light of this it is wise for any leader, when bringing any sensitive information to the table, to hold a face to face meeting if possible (whether this is on a 121 basis or in a group) to discuss the information, even if it feels uncomfortable. Try to avoid hiding behind email or letters if possible, in these circumstances!

The disadvantages are, of course, that it takes a lot more skill to generate the correct tone and to be able to hold the conversation on the right track, but this is something which I would encourage all leaders to work on and practice because the benefits of being able to communicate personally to your team are very evident in all good leadership examples.

Finally, it is worth a quick mention about the use of social media platforms. Increasingly these can be used to replace letters to customers or clients. Many people will access a spoken message from the CEO, Principal or the MD of an organisation far more readily than they would read a letter. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all currently used to communicate “verbal letters” to the outside world. The advantages to this are that it brings a personal touch to the communication which is always appreciated. It also is far more immediate and accessible to many people nowadays. And further, it does allow for your message to be shared and communicated more widely than just your immediate client base. This can have obvious advantages when it comes to marketing. 

The disadvantages are, however, that these sorts of messages should be carefully scripted and if they’re not, they can sound unprepared and sloppy. And because of the ‘shareable’ nature of them you don’t want a sloppy message from your organisation getting out into the public arena, this could become disastrous for your brand image and your organisational reputation. 

Another disadvantage is that these sorts of messages do require a level of technical know-how in terms of lighting, sound and general production. If you have that on your team, great! If not, be careful and perhaps learn a bit about this first, before sending out broadcast messages.

Well that covers five types of communication very broadly but you should be able to extrapolate the principles to look out for when planning your next communication. In summary these are:

  1. Understand your audience and what they need to hear and how they should hear it.
  2. Always opt for the personal touch where you can. Go for a face to face meeting before choosing written, if possible.
  3. Be as efficient as you can with your communication by choosing wisely. 

Point of Reflection

Reflect on the most difficult communications you have had to make in the past six months. Have you made wise choices on the modes of communication that you have chosen and if not, what has stood in the way?

Personal Development Activity

Scenario Activity (30 mins)

In the scenarios below the Principals involved have all made different choices about how to communicate their message. Read through each one of the scenarios and decide whether their choice was well made or not and bring your reflections to the PLC to discuss with your colleagues.

Scenario 1

Principal A is planning a Strategic Planning workshop for his school community. In an attempt to encourage as many people from the community as possible to attend the workshop he sent out an email to the school’s mailing list inviting all those on the list, along. In his email he asks that the recipients spread the word and invite anyone who may have a vested interest in the school’s future, to come along too.

Scenario 2

Principal B has been the subject of harmful rumours in the community. She decides to put out a video broadcast on the school’s social media sites to address some of the issues that have caused the rumours.

Scenario 3

An angry parent sent an aggressively worded WhatsApp message to the Principal, complaining that their child had not been given fair treatment on a residential trip. The Principal decided to respond with an explanation in defence of the teachers on the trip, using a well worded email.