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Archive for the 'Future of Communication' Category

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



One of the more intriguing effects of social media is the way these tools have put organizational culture on public display. Companies that might have once been known mostly by products, headquarters architecture, and advertising campaigns are now also represented (officially and unofficially) by legions of bloggers, YouTube producers, and Twitter users. Professionals and managers who used to be invisible to the outside world are now presented in rich detail on LinkedIn. Glassdoor and other platforms give employees the chance to vent or boast about the conditions in their workplaces.

Few companies show off their internal culture with the quite the gusto of C3, a customer communications outsourcer based in Plantation, Florida. The company's Facebook page looks more like an internal employee social network than one of the official faces of a corporation with a global footprint. You'll find more photos of office birthday parties and costume-day getups than you will official company announcements or marketing messages.

This inside-out approach to communication is by design, according to C3's marketing VP Alicia Laszewski. Quoted in Workforce Management, she explains that it's part of a strategy to position the company as a great place to work, which helps attract employees (and, presumably, clients who want to outsource their customer contact work to a company populated by happy employees). "If your campaign is about people loving the work environment, you'd better create a company where people really love to come to work. If not, it's just a marketing campaign." Hence the party-hat, pajama-clad atmosphere of the Facebook page.

As the Internet-raised generation moves onto and up the corporate ladder, we can expect more companies to put themselves on public display like this. Will the gap between external image and internal reality collapse as a result? How will this affect the practice of corporate communications, which has long had control, or at least the illusion of control, over how the company was presented to the outside world?

With this and other communication matters to ponder, we'll leave you with best wishes for a relaxing summer. We'll see you again as the fall semester approaches. Have a great summer!



One of the more intriguing aspects of age diversity in the workplace is the degree to which technology has shaped the communication habits and preferences of each generation. For instance, Generation Y (roughly speaking, those born between 1981 and 1995) has a well-documented preference for electronic media, from texting to IM to social networking. Coupled with a generally more casual approach to information privacy, this reliance on electronic media can clash with the habits and expectations of older workers and managers.

As Generation Y continues to move into workplace and up the managerial ladder, these cultural mismatches are only going to get more common. Moreover, as a recent article in Workforce Management ("Gen Y Execs Shake Up Office Culture") points out, this generation's embrace of entrepreneurship is creating new organizational cultures built around electronic media.

The differences in technology preferences can be significant on their own, but the changes run much deeper than just the tools themselves, of course. Here are some of the issues to consider:

  • Lean versus rich media. Lean media, those with the fewest informational cues and least potential for feedback or personalization, are at the core of this culture clash. For example, Baby Boomers accustomed to walking down the hall to a colleague's office or using their phones for actual voice communication are sometimes dismayed at the tendency of younger workers to fire off a terse text message in situations where they believe a more nuanced live conversation would be more effective. Gen Yers, for their part, can sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about, having grown up texting and IMing.
  • Synchronous communication with real-time feedback. Richer media, including phone and face-to-face conversations, can make it much easier to resolve misunderstandings and negotiate shared meanings. We've probably all had the experience of getting stuck in time-consuming email loops where neither side seems to be getting the message, only to resolve the confusion with a quick phone call.
  • A comfort level with distributed, virtual team communication. As networked and even unstructured organizations become more common and traditional employment gives way to independent contracting for many workers, the ability to communicate without a fixed organizational framework is becoming increasingly important. For all their perceived shortcomings in other areas, Gen Y communicators have a big head start here—and could be developing information encoding and decoding methods that work well in this environment but are perhaps underappreciated by older communicators because they don't fit established patterns and process models.
  • Illusions of communication efficiency and effectiveness. Every mode is vulnerable to the illusion that communication efforts are successful, of course, but email and other asynchronous modes are particularly prone to this because it is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that hitting the "send" or "publish" button is the same thing as communicating.
  • Attitudes about privacy and sharing. These concerns range from publishing sensitive company information (or inappropriate personal information) to treating information as a resource to be shared, rather than as a "power lever" to be hoarded and used selectively.

Given the range of important differences involved in media choices, how far should the business communication course move toward reflecting these emerging preferences? There is never enough time to cover everything we'd like to cover, naturally, so how do we find the optimum balance? For instance, many instructors like to devote time to telephone skills, and understandably so, but should some of that time be shifted over to skill development with instant messaging (as one example), given the shifts in workplace habits? On the other hand, one can argue that the very lack of practice and finesse with phone conversations makes this mode even more important to cover in the business communication course.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you've already made changes in your topic coverage or teaching style to accommodate these evolving habits and preferences.

 

Image credit: woodleywonderworks



Newsfeeds from blogs and other online publishers can be a great way to stay on top of developments in any field. However, anyone who has signed up for more than a few RSS feeds has probably experienced the "firehose effect" of getting so many feeds so quickly that it becomes impossible to stay on top of them. Moreover, when a highly active publisher feeds every new article, from the essential to the trivial, the reader is left to sort it all out every day.

An intriguing alternative to newsfeeds is media curation, in which someone with expertise or interest in a particular field collects and republishes material on a particular topic. Business Communication Headline News, for instance, was one of the earliest examples of media curation in the field of business communication.

The latest curation tools, such as Scoop.it, make it easy to assemble attractive online magazines or portfolios on specific topics. To see these tools in action, check out Bovee & Thill's Online Magazines for Business Communication:

  • Business Communication 2.0: Social Media and Electronic Communication
  • Teaching Visual Communication
  • Teaching a Modern Business Communication Course
  • Teaching Business Communication and Employment
  • Teaching Business Communication and Workplace Issues
  • Teaching Business Communication and Interpersonal Communication

And on the right side of our Scoop.it home page, you can see the many curated magazines that we follow as well.

Curation promises to bring the power of community and shared expertise to a lot of different fields, and we're excited to see how it will shape business communication.

See media curation video.



Happy New Year! From everyone on the Bovée-Thill team, we wish you a successful new term.

Looking at what lies ahead for business communication, this recent article in Workforce Magazine certainly caught our attention. The consulting firm MBO Partners predicts that over half the U.S. workforce will be independent by 2020. Reaching that threshold would require an increase from 16 million independent workers today to 70 million in just eight years, but even if the eventual growth falls short of that forecast, the rapid increase in unattached professionals is dramatically reshaping the nature of business—and business communication.

The sheer number is not the only important change going on here, either. In past years, corporate refugees made up an important share of the independent workforce. We know from our own experience that these people often benefited from the mentoring, formal training, "safe" learning opportunities, and professional networking that corporate structures can provide. When they went solo, they took these skills and connections with them.

However, with the spread of virtual organizations, the increase in freelance project work, and the weak employment market, we suspect that many workers will take—or be forced to take—the independent route without the broad skill sets that former corporate employees have.

Not only will more workers be operating outside a formal organization structure, in other words, but a significant number are likely to be fending for themselves without the benefit of much organizational communication experience at all.

Depending on how this scenario plays out in the coming years, the implications for business communication education could be profound. As freelance work has gone mainstream, from a relative rarity to an accepted career path to the very model on which some companies operate, the assumption that business communication takes place largely within a defined organizational context is becoming less and  less valid.

Moreover, in this new world of work, business communication skills will become even more important than they are now. On the one hand, less-skilled communicators without the support of an organization to carry them along face a rough future as independents. Even experienced corporate pros can be shocked at the demands that suddenly being one's own salesforce puts on their persuasion and negotiation skills. Many freelancers are in nearly constant job-search mode, always scrambling for the next project and the next client.

On the other hand, skilled communicators can use their talents to land the most interesting and profitable projects and to build sustaining client relationships that ease the pressure of constantly needing to sell, sell, sell.

We've addressed virtual work and networked organizations in our textbooks for some time now, and we'll continue to adapt our coverage and content as the business landscape changes. In the meantime, we invite you to share your thoughts on how this seismic shift could change the practice and study of business communication.

One this is certain: The communication skills you are helping your students develop now are going to mean the difference between struggle, survival, and success in the future.