What are Communication Channels | Best Medium for Your Message

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Learn how to find the best medium for your message. We discuss what communication channels are most appropriate for the personal, professional, and public communication context. Learn when it's appropriate to send a DM, email someone, call up the person, so you'll be socially savvy and get the outcome you want.

Since we’re talking about communications channels, let’s play a quick game. What do you find strange in each of these scenarios?

  • A breakup happens over an Instagram DM after several months of dating. Worse than ghosting? Probably.
  • Your bestie goes on an angry rant in a social media post about why they’re not going to speak to you anymore.
  • Your boss Facetimes to assign you a new project. 
  • You tweet your favorite entrepreneur asking them to be your mentor.

Yikes. Talk about topsy turvy. The reason these scenarios stand out like a sore thumb is because the type of communication channel is not appropriate for the speech act or for the message.

In this video we’re going to explearn the question:

What channels of communication are appropriate for a particular type of message and audience?

In other words, what communication channel would be best for the speech act I’d like to perform, or the message I want to transmit?

If you’re ready to supercharge your social skills, then keep on reading.

In this lesson, we are going to explore a framework you can use to determine which types of communication channels you should use in what situations. This is something that you can rely on the next time you are unsure of what medium will best convey your message.

As a communicator, you want to pick the most effective communication channels for your message.

My goal isn’t to go through every communication channel that exists. That would take way too long, and besides, new communications channels are emerging every few months. But for illustrative purposes I do highlight some of the channels that are most prevalent in today's society among Millennials and Gen Z.

More important though, I encourage you to think about the communication channels you use most often, now and in the future, and decide where those would fall into this framework. Once you do that, you’ll be better equipped to use them appropriately to make the transmission of your message all the more powerful.

If you're paying close attention, you’ll notice that I’ve left out one communication channel from the framework. Stick around until the end where I’ll share my absolute favorite communication channel and why I think it’s the most important for our success and wellbeing.

Alright, time to Explearn. 

The Two Questions

Step one of the framework requires you to answer two simple questions: 

(1) who are the recipients of the message (i.e., who’s your audience), and

(2) what is the purpose of the message

For the first question about the audience, I want you to think about their proximity to you. How close are you to them? Are they in your inner circle as a family member or best friend? Or are they just an acquaintance. A potential client. A complete stranger (or group of strangers). Each situation has a different audience, so be sure to identify it.

And for the second question, regarding the purpose of your message: usually, our purpose is tied into an action we’d like to perform such as inviting someone, apologizing, making a request, giving a suggestion, making a promise, telling a joke, expressing frustration. Think carefully about what the purpose is.

The Three Communication Contexts

Okay, now that you have those two questions in mind, let’s take a look at step two of the framework, which is to determine the communication context.

Our three communication contexts are (1) intimate, (2) professional, and (3) public.

Before we dive into these, you’ll notice that some of the communication channels fit into more than one category. That's to be expected. If each channel fit squarely into just one category, then this would be easy and we wouldn’t need a video. But life is never that simple. 

Intimate Context

Okay, so the first category in this framework is called “intimate” because this is a context where you are engaging people who are friends, family, and part of your inner circle of trust. Thus, the nature of the message will be more personal, intimate, and personalized. When these people receive a communication from you, you expect them to read it, and likely expect a response. It tends to be personalized, because that’s what the recipient would expect. 

So let’s look at a few channels that allow for more intimacy and personalization:

DMs on Instagram 

When you send someone an Insta DM it might be a reaction to their IG Story, a private comment about their post, sharing an inside joke or something personal that you don’t want to broadcast to Instagram more broadly. 

Now, some of you might be thinking, “well, sometimes I slide into famous people’s DMs but I don’t know them personally.” But chances are you aren’t expecting a response, because chances are they get a bagillion of those and won’t prioritize yours. So that is an example of using an intimate form of communication in a situation where you probably shouldn’t.

If your goal is to engage someone like that, you are better off with options in the Professional context, which we’ll get to next. 

But DMs to your inner circle are a quick and easy way to let someone know you are thinking of them.

Phone Call

Phone calls work really well in intimate contexts. While it’s more time-consuming, and it can require some coordination, the phone is a great way to connect with a personal touch, because you hear their voice and they hear yours. The sound of a voice can make big difference psychologically, because our brains are programmed to derive a huge amount of information from the tone and timbre of a voice. Sure, it’s easier to text, but I can assure you that if you call your grandma up, she’d be delighted to hear your voice. And the spontaneous nature of live conversation can take you and your friends down all sorts of fun tangents that makes this type of engagement so fun.

Video Chat

Video calls, such as Skype, WhatsApp video, and Facetime, are next level phone calls because they’re as close as we can come to face-to-face communication. Because the image transmission takes up quite a bit of broadband, you might have to save this for when you’re on wifi, but while phone calls are great for catching up and connecting, I’d say that video chatting makes tremendous sense when you have some big and exciting news: recent engagement, job offer or promotion, or giving someone a tour of your new digs. It works well for when you want to have a shared experience in the same moment because it’s synchronous communication – it’s happening in real-time without any delays.

Text Messaging

So we love texting and I think one of the reasons is because it’s an easy way to be “in touch” without being intrusive or invasive. We’re talking about SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messagenger, etc.

And while we expect near immediate response time, we understand if that’s not the case. MobileSquared and SinglePoint revealed a statistic in the whitepaper called Conversational Advertising that showed that 90% of text messages are read within 3 minutes of receiving it. We like that immediacy.

So texting is great for intimate personal messages to friends, family and people in our inner circle, because it’s an easy way to update people without qualms about when we get a response. 

Digital invitations 

Believe it or not, these are intimate because you get a personalized invitation. These are what you receive or send for baby showers, engagements, birthday parties, Holiday and Christmas parties, etc. If you’re familiar with online invitation services, like paperless post, you can design really nice invitations and address them to each participant. And you’ll also get a quick RSVP list because it only takes a click of a button to say whether you’ll be in attendance. One word of caution is that some people expect more than just a digital invitation. Your best friend probably wants to know you’re engaged or are having a baby long before you throw the party or shower. So keep your most intimate contacts in the loop through other more immediate methods.

Email

Email deserves an honorable mention here. It’s great for putting sprawling ideas into words, or for outlining travel plans, or anything where having an easily searchable written record would be useful. Just keep in mind that, if your recipient is anything like me, you’re less likely to get an immediate answer, so avoid using it for anything that is urgent.

 

Professional Context

The next context is professional. Here, there is more distance between you and the participant. For example, it could be your boss, clients, colleagues, or general acquaintances, with whom you’re not yet close enough to put under the intimate category. 

What medium of communication best suits this context?

Email

Email is a great way to structure ideas, communicate instructions, and outline multi-step processes. It also provides a durable written record, which is handy in many business situations. But that durability means you should put extra care and thought into composing the message. Avoid email if you’re sending an emotionally charged message or don’t have time to write something clearly. In other words, be deliberate and disciplined with this medium of communication, ‘cause once you send it, it ain’t goin away. 

Phone Calls

While phone calls among younger generations may be on the decline, when it comes to professional situations, a phone call can go a long way in expediting progress and strengthening important client relationships. The voice interaction significantly improves the quality and clarity of communication. If you talk to any sales person, they’ll tell you they close more business over the phone than any other channel. And if you’re doing an interview, this is a much better way to get to know someone than reading their resume.

Slack / Asana / Project Management Software

These modern software tools are great for project collaboration and syncing up with fellow employees just to keep posted on anything you need to know and to work together on work-related projects. They also provide an easy way to make institutional knowledge public or private with just a few tweaks in the settings. And they keep things organized by containing conversations to specific projects or topics. They are a good alternative to email when your communication fits neatly into a specific topic.

Video Chat

Similar to phone calls, video calls work really well if you need to check in on your team, department, or project collaborators in a more intimate way, particularly if you are working remotely. Being able to read peoples’ faces can be very helpful for gauging how they are feeling about the topic being discussed. That can make a big difference in the outcome of a project or interview.

 

Public Context

On to the last communications context: public. The goal with public communication is to connect with strangers or large groups of people. In many cases, the bigger the better. Unlike the first two contexts, with public communications you have much less control over the audience and often you will have no personal connection with the individuals that make up the audience. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Social Media Posts

Here, we’re talking about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. This is a great way to publicize a thought or statement. Due to its wide distribution, it’s also a great way to collect feedback, positive or negative. It can be risky, because you will be held accountable for what you say. But that’s sort of the point. Your goal is to let people know what’s on your mind. This also includes commenting on other people’s posts. In fact, commenting on a celebrity’s post can be a great way to increase your visibility if your following isn’t as large.

Knowledge Databases

These are places like Quora, Reddit, and other public forums where people share their experiences and expertise with the goal of helping others and contributing to a global body of knowledge. This can be a great way to establish your credibility and develop a following on topics that you’re passionate about. Even better, the higher quality your contributions are, the more visibility you will get.

Blogs

Blogs have been around almost as long as the internet, and they are still a fantastic way to broadcast information that you care about. What’s cool is that, while blog posts are public, they can be inspired by interactions you had in intimate or professional contexts, so there’s absolutely some synergy between contexts.

YouTube Videos

Well, we all know this one. And we know it’s near and dear to my heart. I think of YouTube as sort of a combination of social media, knowledge databases, and blogs. It really comes down to how you want to use the platform. What I love most about it is that it enables anyone with an internet connection to plug into the rest of the world and learn so much, all for free. And with live streams, YouTube offers a level of intimacy that you don’t get with a lot of other public channels. It’s just so cool. But as with all public communication channels, be thoughtful about what you broadcast, because what you say can spread quickly!

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Phew, well that was a long one. Let’s quickly recap.

Today we explored the question of what communication channel is appropriate for what context. As we know, we need to choose a communication channel that will best reach the intended audience.

To get there, we have a two-part framework. First, determine who your audience is and what the purpose of the communication is. Second, establish the communication context, be it intimate, professional, or public.

Once you’ve run through those steps, you will be able to choose a communication channel that is appropriate for the task at hand, ensuring that your message is delivered effectively.

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. 

At the beginning I said that I’d reveal my favorite communication channel. 

Let me start by saying that, yes I adore YouTube and I love that I get to create content for the Explearning community.

But I have to say that, for me, face-to-face communication takes the cake. Nothing else really comes close to the power of personal interaction, where all your five senses can be involved in the communication process. 

What’s more, face-to-face communication is appropriate for every single context. The best interaction with your friend is a face-to-face one. The most effective way to communicate complex business topics with your colleagues or persuade your boss to give you a raise, is face to face. If you’re speaking publicly, an audience is always going to listen more closely if you are standing right in front of them.

With face-to-face communication, everyone has made the effort to be at that place, at that time, to participate in the interaction. They’ve explicitly chosen to do that rather than use a more convenient form of communication. That decision demonstrates a level of commitment that ensures the highest quality and clarity of communication, and on a psychological level, everyone derives the greatest benefit.

I’m someone who loves to have deep, philosophical conversations about life, the world, and a smattering of topics. I think it’s definitely a muscle we need to condition because in our age of screen-based communication, it’s at risk of atrophying. Face-to-face is the best way to nurture relationships, get to know people well, and it does wonders for our mental health and wellbeing.

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So now I’m curious. I want to know what other communication channels you would add to these communication contexts. And I'd love to know what your favorite communication channel is and why you love it!

Share those two things with me in the comments below.

And, if you loved this lesson, please be sure to let me know.

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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners. 

Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson. 

Happy Explearning 😊