The public’s perception of a company or agency can be impacted considerably by its external communication, while the job satisfaction of the company’s employees depends in part on its internal communication. Crafting an effective message or communication campaign begins with an examination of several factors.
Answering the Main Question
In a world where people are deluged with thousands of messages each day, their primary question is often “Why should I care?” or “What’s in it for me?” Effective communication makes this answer clear to the reader or listener. Ask yourself what information would be most important to you if you were a member of the audience and make sure your materials deliver these details. Emphasize the benefits at the beginning of your message or materials before adding less-important information.
Keeping your communication straightforward increases the likelihood that it will be effective. Target a sixth- to eighth-grade reading level for written materials. Avoid using acronyms, regulatory terms or jargon. Delete words if an average person you stopped on the street would not know their meaning. When preparing written materials, keep sentences short and break up copy with headings and graphics. A page full of text is not appealing to potential readers.
Make information available to customers and employees through a variety of formats. News releases, text messages and e-mails can be used to communicate urgent information, while newsletters can be an appropriate choice for content that is less time-sensitive. A website is vital for communication with external audiences, and a well-organized Intranet that displays news content and practical resources can be very helpful for employees. Incorporating video presentations allows you to appeal to visual learners and offer new perspectives or details. Holding meetings with employees or the public offers face-to-face interaction that can build credibility and make audiences feel valued.
Information that your customers need to know should be communicated as quickly as possible. When your audience learns information from the media instead of directly from your organization, there can be a perception that you intended to hide the information or that you do not truly care about your audience. The Centers for Disease control notes in its crisis communication handbook that two of the most serious mistakes an organization can make when communicating with stakeholders are providing information that is too little and too late or coming across as arrogant and not valuing stakeholders. These thoughts are summed up in an agency slogan: “Be First. Be Right. Be Credible.”
Transparency and Frequency
Employees and the public are often suspicious of corporations and government agencies, but you can build trust by increasing the transparency of your messages. Executives should be forthcoming with bad news and be willing to express the regret they feel about difficult circumstances. Sharing the reasoning behind difficult decisions may also build understanding.
“When you reveal damaging information you didn’t have to reveal, you earn a reputation for transparency,” says Peter Sandmann, a risk communication expert and corporate consultant. “People begin to notice that when you do something wrong, you say so; it follows that when you don’t say so, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
Customers and employees should not just hear from you when the news is bad. A monthly newsletter or quarterly meetings can keep employees informed about company activities, while articles on the company’s website and opt-in e-mails keep customers in the loop.
Ann Frederick has been a professional writer since 1993. She began her career as a television news producer and then transitioned into public relations, working for local, state and federal government agencies. Her professional awards include a silver ADDY. Frederick holds a Bachelor of Science in communications from Florida State University.