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Archive for the 'Future of Communication' Category

The last few decades have been marked by waves of technology-driven innovation in business communication, starting with digital’s disruption of print communication, then social media giving a voice to everyone in the marketplace, followed by the way mobile is freeing communicators from their desks.

We’re well into the next wave, and this one could be the most intriguing and far-reaching of all: the application of artificial intelligence to enhance the communication experience. Starting with the upcoming 13th Edition of Excellence in Business Communication (releasing in January 2019) we are covering communication uses of AI that students are likely to encounter on the job or in their job-search efforts.

The Recent Explosion of Business AI

Although “artificial intelligence” still has a science fiction ring to it, forms of AI are now used extensively in business and business communication. It’s a virtual guarantee that your students are already experiencing AI as consumers—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify are just a few of the companies that rely on AI to deliver their services.

Research in AI has been going on for more than a half century, but the practical outcomes never really lived up to hopes until recently, when several developments converged within the space of a few years. First, the primary focus of the research shifted from pursuing the generalized, humanlike intelligence of science fiction (sometimes called general AI or strong AI) to developing specialized systems aimed at handling specific tasks such as reading text or recognizing images (called narrow AI or weak AI). Second, an AI method involving neural networks, which emulate the function of neurons in the brain, was refined in a way that made it much more powerful. And third, several critical computer capabilities became available around the same time: massive sets of data that AI systems could learn from, low-cost storage to handle all that data, and fast processors capable of handling the number-crunching that the most-common AI approaches require.

Communication Applications of AI

Thanks to these developments, AI is now being applied in virtually every functional area of business. Many of these applications involve business communication, including augmented writing, automated writing, emotion recognition, job applicant evaluation systems, chatbots and taskbots, robotic process automation, cognitive automation, voice recognition, real-time voice translation, and augmented ability systems. Here are a few specific examples:

  • Businesses use text mining for social listening—identifying themes (such as prevailing customer sentiment or threats to a company’s reputation) hidden in mountains of written information, from Twitter and Facebook posts to customer emails and surveys. The Clarabridge image shown above (click on the thumbnail for a larger version) illustrates the use of social listening in the hospitality industry.
  • The Textio augmented-writing system gives company recruiters real-time writing feedback while they draft job postings. By analyzing hundreds of millions of postings and comparing the candidate pools they attracted, the system is figuring out the most compelling way to describe job opportunities. Plus, the system can help writers avoid biased or exclusionary language by showing how various demographic groups respond to different word choices.
  • Any of your students who play fantasy football on Yahoo! Sports might be intrigued to know that the game summaries they receive each week are written by an AI system.

From a user’s perspective, AI-enhanced communication isn’t skills-based to the same degree as social media and mobile communication, but we believe it has become a vital topic to address in any well-rounded business communication course. In future posts, we’ll explore many of these applications and discuss how they are giving professionals powerful new tools to improve communication efficiency and effectiveness.

 

Adapted from Excellence in Business Communication, 13th Edition, Pearson, 2020.

Image: Courtesy Clarabridge



This is the sixth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today (published January 2017) and the 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials (published January 2018).

 

As the most intimate form of communication, touch can convey shades of emotion and meaning in ways that other forms can’t match. Think of the range of messages you can send by the way you greet someone, for example. A firm handshake, a light kiss on the cheek, an awkward embrace, and a fist bump all send different nonverbal signals.

Touch is a vital aspect of human-to-human and human-to-machine interaction, but it is missing from most forms of digital communication. You can’t give someone a hearty handshake over email or feel the vibration patterns of a machine while viewing it over a video link.

However, the field of haptic technology is enabling touch and tactile sensations in a growing number of ways. Mobile devices and wearables such as smartwatches are incorporating haptic input and output in ways that simulate the nuances of human touch or offer sensory substitution—using haptic feedback to translate visual or auditory information into vibration and pressure. When combined with virtual reality, haptics can create simulations so realistic they are being used to train surgeons and nuclear power plant technicians.

Beyond training, the technology has exciting potential in such diverse areas as retailing, maintenance and repair in dangerous environments, and assistive technologies. Imagine being able to feel the texture of fabric from halfway around the world or letting an expert’s hands remotely guide yours as you learn a new procedure. The ability to manipulate objects and machines through simulated touch, rather than abstracted devices such as joysticks, offers more subtle control and feedback. Haptic navigation systems can provide directions via vibration actuators in shoes or other wearable devices. Biometric yoga pants guide users into proper form and motion, and with haptic metronomes, musicians can literally feel the beat, without the potentially disruptive sound of a conventional metronome.

As sensors and actuators get smaller, cheaper, and more flexible, we’re likely to see haptics integrated into an even wider array of products and systems.

Class activity idea: Have students research the current state of haptic technology to identify one way in which the technology has the potential to change business communication practices, such as replacing detailed verbal descriptions of products with touch-enabled virtual interaction. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

 

Sources: Gregory Mone, “Feeling Sounds, Hearing Sights,” Communications of the ACM, January 2018, 15–17; Wearable X website, accessed 31 January 2018, www.wearablex.com; Andrew Wade, “Revolution in Touch,” The Engineer, September 2017, 22–24; Roland Moore-Colyer, “Good Vibrations: What’s Next for Haptics in Wearable Tech?” Wareable, 22 August 2016, www.wareable.com.

Image: Photo on Visual Hunt

 



This is the fifth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today (published January 2017) and the 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials (published January 2018).

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the several billion devices now connected to the Internet and the networking potential of having all these gadgets communicate with each other, feed data into powerful analysis and control algorithms, and interact with people and the physical environment. These “things” range from simple sensors that measure temperature, location, and other parameters all the way up to robots and other complex systems. People and animals with Internet-capable sensors (such as implanted chips) or devices also qualify as things in this model.

Imagine you walk into a department store and your mobile phone automatically gives you directions to the aisle where you could find the clothing styles you have recently been browsing online or discussing in social media. When you reach that aisle, a coupon pops up on your phone with a discount on the specific items you’re considering. When you pull a garment off the rack, the store’s customer database checks other purchases you’ve made and suggests which items you already own that coordinate with this piece. If you could use an accessory to complete the outfit, the store’s computers can tell your phone just where to take you. And if you need more advice, you can text or talk—and possibly not know whether you’re conversing with a store employee or an automated chat algorithm.

Now imagine this simple concept expanded and applied in various ways to industrial facilities, agriculture, transportation, buildings, health care, and other systems. By relying on networked IoT devices for such communication functions as observing, measuring, and reporting, these enhanced systems can supplement or replace communication flows that were previously carried out by human participants. IoT raises some serious concerns about security and privacy, but it’s already a multitrillion-dollar industry that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

IoT's impact on business communication will be fascinating to watch over the next few years, particularly as the technology gets linked with automated writing and other AI tools. Ideally, it will take over some routine communication tasks and give businesspeople more time for higher-level communication and strategizing.

Class activity idea: Have students research the current state of IoT innovation to identify one way in which the technology has the potential to change business communication practices, such as automated data collection and status reporting. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

 

Sources: Steve Ranger, “What Is the IoT? Everything You Need to Know About the Internet of Things Right Now,” ZDNet, 19 January 2018, www.xdnet.com; Bernard Marr, “The Internet of Things (IOT) Will Be Massive In 2018: Here Are the 4 Predictions From IBM,” Forbes, 4 January 2018, www.forbes.com.

Image: laboratoriolinux on VisualHunt.comCC BY-NC-SA

 



TextioThis is the fourth post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched in January 2017, and 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials, which launches in January 2018.

 

What’s the best way to say this?

That’s a never-ending question for the typical business communicator. For just about anything beyond the simplest messages, we can never be entirely sure that we’ve found the most powerful words or crafted the most effective phrases. We have to send our missives out into the ether and hope we’ve done our best.

Moreover, in many cases, we get only one chance to hit the mark. In contrast to interactive conversations (in person or online), where we get instant feedback and can adjust the message if needed, a lot of business writing is a one-shot affair and we’ll never know if we’ve been as effective as we could be.

Digital tools have been assisting writers for decades, as far back as spell checkers that predate the PC era, but most haven’t done much beyond applying simple rules. However, recent advances in natural language processing show some potential to fill this feedback void by providing instantaneous advice about the effectiveness of our language.

For example, Textio’s augmented writing platform suggests words and phrases that it has determined to be more effective in a particular context. It does this by measuring the success of similar writing efforts and analyzing language choices that proved to be more or less effective.

Textio’s initial focus has been on helping companies write job postings that can attract more of the most desirable candidates. By analyzing hundreds of millions of postings and comparing the candidate pools that they attracted, the system is able to figure out the most compelling way to describe a variety of job opportunities.

Organizations ranging from Twitter to Apple to the National Basketball Association are now using the system to improve their job postings. HR departments enter their job descriptions into Textio’s predictive engine, which analyzes the text and suggests specific wording changes to attract target candidates. It also provides overall assessment points when it analyzes a posting, such as “Uses corporate clichés,” “Sentences are too short,” and “Contains too many questions,” all based on how other job descriptions have performed.

Textio’s clients are reporting success in terms of the number and quality of candidates they attract and how much faster they are able to fill job openings as a result. Plus, the system can help writers avoid biased or exclusionary language by showing how various demographic groups respond to different word choices.

Of course, a system like this relies on a large set of similar messages and the ability to measure the success of those messages, so it’s not a general-purpose solution that one can apply to every kind of business writing. But Textio and its clients are already trying the tool on sales emails and other types of recurring messages, so its use could expand.

You can take a look at the feedback Textio provides here.

As we develop our upcoming editions, we’re studying augmented writing and a variety of other AI-driven innovations, and we look forward to sharing more of these fascinating developments.

 

Sources: Textio website; “How Textio Is Changing Writing as We Know It,” Scale Venture Partners, www.scalevp.com; Rachel Lerman, “Investors Pump $20M into Seattle Startup Textio, Which Helps Job Recruiters Find the Right Words,” Seattle Times, 25 June 2017.

Image: Textio website



smiles-conversely-chatThis is the third post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched in January 2017, and 8th Edition of Business Communication Essentials, which launches in January 2018.

Trying to converse in a language in which you are not fully fluent presents a rather staggering cognitive workload. As a listener, you have to convert the incoming sounds to discrete words and assemble those words into coherent phrases and sentences in order to extract the meaning—and if the other party uses idioms or slang, the task can get exponentially harder. And unlike reading a written document, you have to do all this processing almost instantaneously, without the luxury of going back over something you didn't get. As a speaker, you have to find the right words, assemble them into phrases and sentences using the language’s grammar rules, and then pronounce them all correctly enough so they make sense to the other party. Honing this level of proficiency can take years of study and practice.

Machine translation has been one of the long-standing goals of artificial intelligence, offering hope for real-time communication between people who don’t have a common language. Developers have made impressive strides toward translating speech in near real-time by combining deep learning techniques that apply computational models of human neural networks to massive data sets of languages with advances in natural language processing and natural language generation.

Systems such as Skype Translator and Google Translate are getting remarkably adept. Google’s new Pixel Buds ear buds offer nearly instantaneous translation across dozens of languages (when paired to a Google Pixel phone), making it possible to travel much of the world and converse with anyone who is similarly equipped. A variety of other smartphone and smartwatch apps offer translation without the need for each party to have identical equipment; speakers take turns talking to the device, then listen as it outputs the translated speech. Microsoft’s PowerPoint Presentation Translator adds real-time translation for presenters, making it easier for global professionals to connect with their audiences.

This video from the launch event for Google Pixel Buds shows the devices translating a conversation between English and Swedish. (The translation demonstration starts at 0:48.)

Class activity idea: Ask students to research several apps and other solutions that offer real-time translation. Are they being used successfully in business communication? Do students think these tools will ever eliminate the need to learn other languages in order to communicate effectively with diverse, global audiences?

 

Sources: Andrew Tarantola, “Google’s Pixel Buds Translation Will Change the World, Engadget, 4 October 2017, endgadget.com; “Skype Translator,” Skype, accessed 10 November 2017, www.skype.com; iTranslate Voice, accessed 10 February 2017, itranslatevoice.com; Davide Castelvecchi, “Deep Learning Boosts Google Translate Tool,” Nature, 27 September 2016, nature.com; Devindra Hardawar, “Microsoft PowerPoint Adds Real-Time Presentation Translation,” Engadget, 10 May 2017, endgadget.com.

Photo via Visualhunt



ViolinistThis is the second post in a series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following a dozen-plus technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments. They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). Many of these systems rely on artificial intelligence, which is reshaping business communication in some profound ways. All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched this past January.

Most people like to think they are unbiased and capable of making fair, objectives decisions when it comes to judging or assessing others. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. Decades of research suggests that unconscious or implicit bias is universal, and these attitudes and stereotypes affect decision making in ways that people aren’t aware of. Even people who consciously go out of their way to avoid biased assumptions can be influenced by unconscious biases that have been accumulating since childhood.

Implicit bias has been a longstanding concern in job interviewing and hiring decisions. A classic case that opened many eyes to the problem involved classical musicians auditioning for symphony orchestras. In the 1970s, women made up only 5 percent of professional symphony musicians. Orchestras gradually moved to blind auditions, where the performer is hidden behind a curtain so the people evaluating them can hear but not see them—meaning they can’t make judgments based on gender, age, appearances, or anything other than how well the musicians play. Within a decade, the ratio of women had risen to 25 percent.

The concept is now applied across a range of industries and professions. The GapJumpers system, for example, enables job applicants to take skill auditions anonymously. The employers sponsoring the auditions have no personal information about the applicants when they judge the scores—it is strictly about talent. Applicants who do well on blind auditions are then invited to participate in a more conventional interviewing process, at which point the employers learn who they are. GapJumpers’ analysis indicates that more women and more community college graduates make it through to the second stage of interviewing than they do in a traditional selection process.

As your students start to turn their attention to the job market and begin preparing their employment communication packages and interviewing strategies, this is a great time to discuss the intersection of human and machine communication. Students may encounter a range of communication technologies during their job searches, from online skill auditions to applicant tracking systems that “read” their résumés before any humans see them. We’ll continue to explore these innovations here on the blog and in all the upcoming editions of Bovée and Thill texts.

Class activity idea: Ask students to research current practices in blind auditions across professions. Is the technique catching on? Do they think variations on this method hold promise to reduce employment discrimination?

Sources: “Understanding Implicit Bias,” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, accessed 3 May 2017, kirwaninstitute.osu.edu; Sarah Fister Gale, “Turning a Blind Eye to Hiring a Good Idea,” Workforce, 30 September 2016, www.workforce.com; GapJumpers, accessed 3 May 2017, www.gapjumpers.me; Jacquelyn Smith, “Why Companies Are Using ‘Blind Auditions’ to Hire Top Talent,” Business Insider, 31 May 2015, www.businessinsider.com.

Photo credit: FaceMePLS via Visual hunt / CC BY



RobotThis is the first post in a new series about technologies that are shaping the future of communication. We’ve been following a dozen-plus technologies that cover an interesting array of possibilities, from enhancing existing communication modes to replacing at least one of the humans in a conversation to assisting people who have a variety of motor, vision, and cognitive impairments.

They are all across the adoption curve, from technologies that are already approaching mainstream usage (such as bots and gamification) to a few that are closer to the sci-fi end of things (such as holograms and telepathic communication). All of them present interesting discussion topics for business communication, because they get to the heart of matter, which is trying to exchange information and meaning in the most effective and efficient ways possible. To offer students a peek into the future, we've started covering these innovations in our business communication texts, beginning with the 14th Edition of Business Communication Today, which launched this past January.

The bots are back. Automated bots (short for robots) made a small wave a decade or so ago when “chatbots” began appearing on websites to help companies handle online conversations with customers. Ikea’s Anna, perhaps the first chatbot to receive widespread attention, was built to answer routine questions from customers looking for advice regarding the chain’s furniture products. Other chatbots followed, smartphones gained virtual assistants, and nonchatty bots continued to do automated work of various kinds on the Internet, but bots didn’t really catch on as a mainstream technology.

With advances in artificial intelligence and the growing use of messaging systems for both consumer and business communication, however, a new wave of bots as personal assistants has taken off. Major categories of bot technology include taskbots that perform routine chores within digital systems and socialbots that mimic human conversation.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes bots will transform technology usage the same way mobile apps have. As bot capability is added to more devices and systems—particularly workgroup messaging systems, where a growing number of employees now conduct increasing amounts of their routine business communication—bots are finally entering the mainstream. If you’ve ever carried on a Facebook Messenger conversation with the band Maroon 5, for example, you were talking with a bot.

Bots are popular on the widely used Slack workgroup messaging system, where they can do everything from ordering lunch to monitoring the mood of team conversations. The Howdy bot, for example, can perform such tasks as simultaneously interviewing all the members of a project team to give the team leader a real-time status update. On Slack, bots are treated just like human team members in many ways—they can send and receive messages, be assigned tasks, and be invited to join specific groups and communication channels. As bots get better at understanding language, they’ll be able to contribute to conversations, such as finding background information that could help solve a problem colleagues are discussing, without anyone asking for their help.

We like to get hands-on experience with as many communication technologies as possible, so we've been developing our own socialbot. It's up and running on our Facebook page, so please drop by for a chat. 

How far this bot revolution will go is anybody’s guess, but the appeal of this new generation of digital genies is undeniable. They are more connected to the systems that people use every day on the job, and they can reduce the need to navigate yet another website or learn yet another app in order to get something done. Instead, you just message your bot and let it figure out how to make things happen.

Class activity idea: Ask students to research the current state of bot communication to identify one way in which the technology is changing or has the potential to change business communication practices. Do they agree with the predictions the experts make? Why or why not?

Photo credit: peyri via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND



Social learningVia newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other information-sharing platforms, learning in various forms was one of the earliest social uses of digital networking. Moving into the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media eras, the opportunities to teach and learn online expanded beyond what even an optimistic dreamer might’ve envisioned decades ago.

From informal crowdsourcing of research on Twitter to comprehensive collaboration systems that use gamification to encourage employees to help other, companies have lots of ways to enable their employees to learn on the job—and specifically, to help each other learn on the job. These social learning opportunities include real-time training (delivering information when and where an employee needs to apply it, rather than offline in a classroom), capturing expertise and market insights from wherever in the organization they might exist, helping new employees get oriented and productive, developing mentoring networks, and helping blended workforces build a new sense of community in the aftermath of mergers and acquisitions.

Given the vital role of communication in corporate training, were we intrigued to read the results of a survey of human resources executives discussed recently in Talent Management. The research measured how important social technology was to nine major HR functions, from recruiting to career and succession planning. The respondents listed employee recruiting as the most important HR application of social technology. This certainly makes sense; as the article’s author points out, recruiting is a social activity to begin with. Moreover, recruiting is a key performance metric for HR managers, so they would naturally be interested in tools to help them perform better. As we’ve highlighted here and in our textbooks, companies such as VMWare and Zappos have jumped on social recruiting in order to compete for the top talent in their industries.

The most surprising finding from the survey was the middling level of importance these HR managers attached to social learning. With the rich history of networked learning and the cost-effective opportunities for getting vital information where it needs to be in the organization—not to mention all the ways employees are already learning via social media—we might hope that the one functional area most responsible for employee development would view social learning in a more positive light.

On the other hand, given all the challenges involved in establishing new systems and processes, perhaps this lukewarm level of interest with HR shouldn’t be so surprising. The article points out that social media have been an area of concern for HR, considering the potential consequences of inappropriate use and a lingering misunderstanding about the differences between social technology in a business context and social media in a public context. Losing at least some degree of control over a core function such as training might be an issue as well.

Looking forward, we suspect that in much the same way that the “bring your own device” phenomenon forced many IT departments to figure out how to safely incorporate personal devices on company networks, a “create your own training” phenomenon led by independently minded and digitally enabled employees might push more HR departments to embrace social learning.

One of the most noticeable attributes of the millennial/Generation Y and Generation Z workforces is the demand for a digital experience in the workplace that mirrors the digital experience in their personal lives. Employees who grew up using social media as an all-purpose recommendation-engine/status-updater/question-answerer are likely to expect the same capabilities on the job—and may well create it themselves if their companies don’t have the necessary systems in place.



DeloitteOne of the more intriguing challenges/opportunities created by the array of new media choices is the concept of the multi-stage or multi-platform message, in which the delivery of a message starts on one platform and moves to additional platforms in order to give readers the complete message. For example, you can use Twitter to grab readers' attention, then link to a blog post for an in-depth narrative on the topic, then link to a database-driven webpage with reference material, then link to YouTube or SlideShare for a presentation.

The ability to transport readers across multiple platforms offers some significant benefits:

  • Casting a wider net by using multiple media to capture more target readers
  • Staging a complex message in a way that keeps readers intrigued without overwhelming them
  • Weaving in multiple media types along the way (such as embedded videos or infographics)
  • Giving readers the flexibility to navigate their own paths through the information as they discover how it applies to them

In the old days of print-heavy communication, a complex message was usually communicated via a lengthy printed report, working from the title page through the introduction, body, supporting graphics, and appendices. While such reports suffered from the usual drawbacks of printed media, they had the huge advantage of being closed systems in the sense that everything was there in one place, within a single, unified message structure. Readers didn't need to click around to get additional information, and writers didn't need to worry that readers would get distracted by a more entertaining YouTube video halfway through the document.

Crafting a successful multi-stage message requires all the skills needs for every business message, including using several of the compositional modes for electronic media, plus the ability to plot a clear path from the message's beginning to intended conclusion (or conclusions, as various readers might want to take different paths). It can be a big challenge to move readers from stage to stage without losing them to the multitude of distractions online while balancing the need to guide them while also offering the flexibility to choose their own paths if appropriate.

The accounting and consulting firm Deloitte offers some great examples of multi-stage messages to share with your students. Deloitte frequently uses Twitter (https://twitter.com/Deloitte) as the first stage, such as sharing a startling statistic or a provocative forecast, then linking to one or more other platforms where readers can get the rest of the story. In some cases, the message delivery system is more or less closed, such as a tweet that links to a special landing page for a new research report or an upcoming webcast, making it easy to keep information delivery on track. In other cases, though, a tweet might link to one of the company's regional homepages, where the reader is then tempted by a dozen or more other interesting graphics and headlines, all competing for attention.

You can use this concept of multi-stage messages to demonstrate for students (a) the importance of being able to write in the various modes, from compelling teasers on Twitter to engaging narratives in a blog post or webcast, and (b) the need to plan carefully before crafting multi-stage messages so readers don't fall off the bus before the tour is over, so to speak.

You might also create a "treasure hunt" exercise for students, asking them to start with a single tweet from a company such as Deloitte, follow that message through as many links as they can find, and describe the structure of the overall message they uncover.



A recent survey took the emotional pulse of the American workforce, and the results are not encouraging. In fact, downright dismal would not be an overstatement. According to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of U.S. employees consider themselves either "not engaged" (52 percent) or "actively disengaged" (18 percent).

Gallup says its research shows a strong correlation between employee engagement and the key measures of business success, including productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. The price of disengagement is high—the company estimates that actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy a half trillion dollars a year.

Better communication alone can't cure structural employment problems or strategic blunders, but it can surely help in many ways. Consider just one example: According to the survey, "Only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands." Wow. Talk about an opportunity for internal communication to make a difference. (Of course, company leaders themselves need to know what their companies stand for and how their brands are differentiated, which isn't always the case.)

Of the six steps Gallup suggests for improving company performance (page 11 of the report), five of them are virtually all about communication, and the sixth (selecting the right managers) emphasizes the need for managers to be effective communicators.

Of course, managers don't need to take all the blame for this situation. Employees with better communication skills are likely to connect more successfully with their managers, their customers, and each other and therefore feel more engaged with their work.

On the plus side, these results confirm the importance of the work you're doing with students, helping them understand the value of effective communication and what it means to communicate in a professional context. More than ever, students who enter the workforce better informed and better prepared will be more likely to succeed in their own careers and to lead successful companies.

With that, we wish you a relaxing and productive summer, whatever your plans may be. We look forward to exchanging more ideas with you in the fall.

 

Image credit: hawk684