Back to Basics: Giving Constructive Feedback

This is the sixth post in our series on the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

With a new school year underway, you probably have plans for collaborative writing and presentation projects for your students. Any time a student is asked to assess a teammate’s creative output (formally or informally) is a great opportunity to practice the essential skill of giving constructive feedback.

Here are eight tips for providing feedback that is helpful and that maintains a positive working relationship:

  1. Think through your suggested changes carefully. In business, documents and presentations often illustrate complex relationships between ideas. Isolated and superficial edits that don’t grasp the big-picture message or the intricate details can do more harm than good.
  2. Discuss improvements rather than flaws. Instead of saying “this is confusing,” for instance, explain how the writing can be improved to make it clearer.
  3. Focus on controllable actions. The writer may not have control over every variable that affects the quality of the message, so focus on those aspects the writer can control.
  4. Be specific. Comments such as “I don’t get this” or “Make this clearer” don’t give the writer much direction.
  5. Keep feedback impersonal. Focus comments on the message, not on the person who created it.
  6. Verify understanding. If in doubt, ask for confirmation from the recipient to make sure the person understands your feedback.
  7. Time your feedback carefully. Respond in a timely fashion so the writer has sufficient time to implement the changes you suggest.
  8. Highlight any limitations your feedback may have. If you didn’t have time to give the document a thorough edit, or if you’re not an expert in some aspect of the content, let the writer know so that your comments can be implemented appropriately.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 42–43. Constructive feedback is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 3, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 2.

 

30 Ways the Business Communication Course Can Help Your Students

This list has been one of the most popular posts we have ever published. Since we just updated and expanded the list, we thought this would be a great time to repost it.

We like to think there is no other college course that offers as many personal and professional benefits as a well-rounded business communication course. Here is our list of 30 ways this course and the skills it develops can help students in their personal and professional lives.

  1. Succeeding in other college courses. From writing research papers to making presentations, the skills developed in the business communication course can help with virtually every other course students take.
  2. Landing the best available job. The job-search process is essentially an interconnected set of business communication projects using a variety of media and interpersonal communication skills. It’s a great opportunity for students to put their finely tuned skills to work.
  3. Positioning oneself for promotional opportunities. The managers who make promotional decisions like to keep an eye on up-and-coming talent, and communication skills play a critical role in how those employees perform and how they are perceived by colleagues, customers, and influential executives.
  4. Communicating effectively in an increasingly virtual workplace. You and your students made heroic efforts to shift to virtual learning during the pandemic. One positive outcome of this has been giving students real-life practice at the long-distance communication tasks they will be expected to excel at in today’s workplace—and a modern business communication course helps by showing students how the communication process works and how to apply it in virtual work scenarios.
  5. Understanding and preparing for the impact of artificial intelligence. AI is being applied in just about every functional area of business, and many of these applications intend to augment or replace human communication. By learning about the AI advances we discuss in our latest editions, students will know what to expect in the workplace and be better equipped to distinguish useful and ethical AI tools from problematic approaches and over-hyped technologies.
  6. Becoming a more-effective online and offline networker. Networking is a vital skill for everyone from entrepreneurs to top-level corporate managers, and business communication equips people with the audience insights and communication skills they need to become valued and successful network participants.
  7. Interacting with people up and down the corporate hierarchy. College-aged students aren’t always comfortable communicating with older, more-experienced colleagues, managers, and executives. Learning how to analyze an audience’s needs and expectations can help anyone handle these challenges with grace and confidence.
  8. Solving problems. Every professional runs into problems in the workplace, and some jobs are all about problem solving. Communication is central to many business problems and challenges, whether it’s part of the problem or part of the solution.
  9. Selling ideas, proposals, and products. The business world is littered with great ideas and well-designed products that never caught on because the people behind them didn’t know how to promote themselves or their marvelous creations. Even professionals who never come close to working in marketing or sales need to know how to persuade—a valuable skill students will learn in this course.
  10. Understanding audiences. Whether it’s the other person in a one-on-one conversation or a global audience on digital media, knowing how to assess someone else’s information needs and emotional state improves every form of communication.
  11. Developing digital information fluency. Finding, evaluating, and using digital information in an age of data overload is a make-or-break skill in many careers.
  12. Developing visual literacy. From infographics to online video, visual media have become a fundamental part of business communication, not to mention the charts, graphs, diagrams, and other tools that have been in use for decades. A well-rounded business communication course can help students understand the power of visual communication, interpret business visuals, and make intelligent design choices in their own documents and presentations.
  13. Developing a compelling personal brand. Even people turned off by the idea of branding themselves can benefit from knowing the behaviors and skills that combine to create the “social being” they present to the rest of the world.
  14. Detecting and avoiding ethical lapses. Ethical dilemmas and ethical lapses should be core topics in business communication, of course. In addition to general guidelines for ensuring ethical communication, our texts offer such examples as overselling, obscuring negative information, and manipulating charts and graphs.
  15. Avoiding and resolving disputes. Understanding how communication works—or fails to work—helps people minimize confusion, avoid inadvertent insults, and keep tensions from escalating.
  16. Diagnosing communication breakdowns. Sometimes even with good intentions and careful effort, communication efforts can fail. Professionals who understand a basic model of the communication process can use it to diagnose breakdowns and take corrective action.
  17. Using communication technology professionally. It’s a rare student who isn’t equipped with some advanced communication and computing technologies these days, particularly one or more mobile devices, but using those tools in a professional context takes the sort of awareness and practice they’ll get in the business communication course.
  18. Enhancing personal and social relationships. The value of communication skills certainly isn’t limited to the workplace. Knowing how to listen actively, speak persuasively, write carefully, and read critically can help just about any relationship.
  19. Repairing and rebuilding relationships. An unfortunate aspect of life is that mistakes and inattention can create problems in even the strongest relationships. Communication skills are essential to understanding causes and bringing parties back together.
  20. Crafting life’s toughest messages with sensitivity. Rejection letters, condolences, and other messages on unwelcome issues are among a communicator’s toughest challenges. The principles taught in business communication can help writers address these situations with understanding and tact.
  21. Improving communication confidence. By taking the mystery out of effective communication, this course helps students develop confidence in their ability to tackle any communication challenge.
  22. Evaluating, editing, and revising the work of other writers. Professionals are often asked to review the writing of other people, and knowing how to help—without throwing a wrench into the works—requires a specific set of skills that students can learn in this course.
  23. Leading and participating in more-effective meetings. The principles of interpersonal communication, group dynamics, and conflict resolution taught in business communication can go a long way toward making meetings more effective.
  24. Listening actively for information, intent, and nuance. Among the many skills that make up communication competence, few outrank listening. The business communication course can teach the vital skill of active listening and the specific modes of critical, content, and empathic listening.
  25. Communicating in a crisis. With the growth of social and mobile media, companies are under more pressure than ever to communicate quickly, clearly, and sensitively in the aftermath of accidents, tragedies, and other calamities. Anticipating likely events and responding with audience-focused messages are important managerial skills.
  26. Recognizing the powers and pitfalls of nonverbal communication. All communication efforts are influenced by the presence or absence of nonverbal signals, and this course can help students recognize the signals they receive and manage the signals they send.
  27. Communicating efficiently. Knowing how to craft messages and documents at a rapid clip is an essential survival skill for many professionals. By practicing with a proven method such as the three-step writing process, students can learn how to write not only effectively but efficiently, too.
  28. Ensuring positive team outcomes. Team dynamics are a complicated subject, but one simple truth is that dysfunctional teams tend to communicate poorly while highly effective teams communicate well. The business communication course gives students the opportunity to grow their teamwork skills in a safe, supportive environment.
  29. Enriching intercultural interactions. Reaching across international boundaries is a necessary skill for many professionals, and every business needs to connect with diverse groups of customers and employees. The business communication course teaches students how to communicate with people from other backgrounds and cultures—a necessary business skill and a lifelong source of pleasure.
  30. Improving etiquette in all forms of contemporary media. For all their benefits, today’s tech tools create a host of potential etiquette problems. Students can use the course to identify and avoid the missteps that can hurt careers.

If you have other benefits you like to share with students, please let us know via the comments.

Learn more about Bovée and Thill's business communication textbooks, or order examination copies.

See the largest collection of business communication instructional resources on the web.

Best wishes for a successful course!

 

Media Skills: Five Tips for Using Communication Technology Effectively in Business Communication

This is the fifth post in a new series in which we explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Technology brings a wide variety of potential benefits to business communication, which can be grouped into five key areas:

  • Making communication more effective by helping people craft messages that convey their ideas more clearly and persuasively
  • Making communication more efficient by reducing the time and effort needed to create, transmit, and consume messages
  • Improving research to help communicators discover, process, and apply information
  • Assisting communicators with decision-making by guiding them through complex sets of data
  • Removing communication barriers so more people can participate in the communication process more easily

You probably take advantage of many benefits provided by communication technology already, from spell checkers to search engines to a voice-input virtual assistant on a smartphone. While technology can help communicators in some powerful ways, these benefits don’t come automatically. When tools are designed poorly or used inappropriately, they can hinder communication more than help.

To use communication technology effectively, bear the following five points in mind.

Keep Technology in Perspective

Any technology is simply a tool, a means by which you can accomplish certain tasks. Technology is an aid to communication, not a replacement for it. Moreover, it can get in the way if not used thoughtfully. Keeping your focus on your messages and your audiences will help ensure you use technology to enhance the communication process without overwhelming it.

Guard Against Information Overload

The overuse or misuse of communication technology can lead to information overload, in which people receive more information than they can effectively process. Information overload can cause distractions, stress, mistakes, and communication breakdowns, and minimizing it is a shared responsibility.

As a receiver, be your own gatekeeper and stay mindful of what information you allow in. Periodically “prune” your information channels to avoid material you no longer need, and use filtering features in your systems to isolate high-priority messages that deserve your attention.

As a sender, make sure you don’t send unnecessary messages or poorly crafted messages that require multiple rounds of clarification.

Use Your Tools Wisely

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other communication technologies are key parts of what has been called the information technology paradox, in which information tools can waste as much time as they save. In addition to distracting employees from work responsibilities, inappropriate use can also leave companies vulnerable to lawsuits and security breaches.

Use Your Tools Efficiently

Knowing how to use your tools efficiently can make a big difference in your productivity. You don’t have to become an expert in most cases, but you do need to be familiar with the basic features and functions of the tools you are expected to use on the job. As a manager, make sure your employees are trained to use the systems you expect them to use.

Reconnect in Person When You Can

Even when it is working well, communication technology can still present barriers to understanding and healthy emotional connections. Messaging, email, and other text-heavy modes are particularly prone to misunderstandings and bruised feelings because they can’t convey nuances and emotions the same way that voice, video, and in-person conversation can.

Whenever you sense that you’re stuck in a loop of confusion or negativity, pick up the phone or visit the other party in person if you can. A few minutes of direct conversation can often work wonders.

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 16–17. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

Back to Basics: Avoiding Ethical Lapses in Business Communication

This is the fifth post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

 

Ethical communication includes all the information an audience needs to make an informed decision or take an informed stance on an issue and is not deceptive in any way. Whenever you communicate in business, you ask audiences to trust that you will provide information that is complete and true.

If you intentionally violate that trust, you have engaged in unethical communication. Unethical communication can take several forms: withholding information, distorting information, and plagiarizing. Note that some of these choices can also be illegal in certain circumstances.

Withholding Information

Senders can be tempted to intentionally withhold information, such as avoiding taking responsibility for mistakes or presenting an incomplete set of facts when making a proposal. The widespread use of social media has increased the attention given to the issue of transparency, which in this context refers to a sense of openness, of giving all participants in a conversation access to the information they need to accurately process the messages they are receiving.

In addition to the information itself, audiences deserve to know when they are being marketed to and who is behind the messages they read or hear. Two important concerns in this regard are native advertising and stealth marketing. Native advertising, also known as sponsored content, is advertising material that is designed to look like regular news stories, articles, or social media posts. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires companies to label such material as sponsored content if it is likely to mislead consumers into thinking it is “anything other than an ad.” Industry groups such as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau give their members specific guidelines to help prevent consumer confusion.

Stealth marketing is the practice of promoting companies and products without making it clear to the audience that marketing activity is taking place. For example, “street team” marketing, in which team members promote goods and services to their friends and members of the public in exchange for prizes or other compensation, is unethical if team members don’t disclose the fact that they are affiliated with a company and are being rewarded for their efforts. Such practices also violate FTC advertising guidelines.

Distorting Information

Intentionally distorting information is also a form of unethical communication. This distortion can involve words, numbers, or images. For example, selectively misquoting someone in order to create a different impression than that person intended is unethical. Statistics and other numerical data can also be presented in ways that distort their implications.

Two examples are using averages to conceal extreme individual values and manipulating trend calculations to suggest future values that the underlying data might not support. For example, you might boast that sales increased 40 percent in April as evidence of a big upward trend, when in fact March sales had been a disaster and all that 40 percent increase did was bring sales back to their earlier level.

Images can be manipulated in unethical ways, such as altering photos or changing the scale of graphs and charts to exaggerate or conceal differences. Distortion and outright fabrication of information are becoming greater concerns as the tools for manipulating sound, images, and video become more sophisticated.

Convincingly “Photoshopping” images to fool audiences (using Adobe Photoshop or a similar program) has been possible for a while now, and the same potential for deception is becoming possible for sound and video files—a phenomenon known as deep fakes.

Business communicators must be more vigilant than ever as information consumers and more careful than ever as information creators.

Plagiarizing

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s words or other creative product as your own. Note that plagiarism can also be illegal if it violates a copyright, which is a form of legal protection for the originators of creative content. Copyright law covers a wide range of creative expression, including writing, visual design, computer programming, and sound and video recording.

Note that plagiarism standards and copyright law don’t mean you can never use someone else’s work. However, you must use it ethically and legally, including properly documenting your sources, clearly labeling anyone else’s words and images as theirs, and using only minor portions, such as brief quotations. (Depending on the nature of the project and the material, you might need to get written permission to use material.) You can be sued for copyright infringement if you copy a significant part of a work, even if you don’t copy it word for word or profit from doing so.

The concept of fair use provides some flexibility in using others’ creative work without violating copyright, particularly for noncommercial use, but there are no precise guidelines on how much you can use. And as attorney Kerry O’Shea Gorgone explains, fair use can only be invoked as a legal defense after a copyright owner sues you for infringement. You can’t simply take someone else’s content and preemptively label it as “fair use.”

Get in the habit of double-checking yourself on these pitfalls, and you’ll be assured of earning respect as an ethical communicator.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 24–25. The basic communication process is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

 

Media Skills: Writing Promotional Messages for Social Media

This is the fourth post in a new series in which we explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

The AIDA model (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) and similar approaches have been successful with marketing and sales messages for decades, but in the social media landscape, consumers are more apt to look for product information from other consumers, not the companies marketing those products. Consequently, your emphasis should shift to encouraging and participating in online conversations. Follow these guidelines:

  • Facilitate community building. Give customers and other audiences an opportunity to connect with you and one another, such as on your Facebook page or through members-only online forums.
  • Listen at least as much as you talk. Listening is just as essential for online conversations as it is for in-person conversations.
  • Initiate and respond to conversations within the community. Through content on your website, blog posts, social network profiles and messages, newsletters, and other tools, make sure you provide the information customers need to evaluate your products and services. Use an objective, conversational style; people in social networks want useful information, not “advertising speak.”
  • Provide information people want. This information can include industry-insider news, in-depth technical guides to using your products, answers to questions posted on community Q&A sites, and general advice on product selection and usage. This strategy of content marketing is a great way to build customer relationships by providing value-added information.
  • Identify and support your champions. In marketing, champions are enthusiastic fans of your company and its products. Champions are so enthusiastic they help spread your message through their social media accounts and other outlets, defend you against detractors, and help other customers use your products.
  • Be real. Social media audiences respond positively to companies that are open and conversational about themselves, their products, and subjects of shared interest. In contrast, if a company is serving its stakeholders poorly with shoddy products, bad customer service, or unethical behavior, an attempt to improve its reputation by adopting social media without fixing the underlying problems is likely to fail as soon as audiences see through the superficial attempt to “be social.”
  • Integrate conventional marketing and sales strategies at the right time and in the right places. AIDA and similar approaches are still valid for specific communication tasks, such as conventional advertising and the product promotion pages on your website.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 358–359. Social media communication is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 8, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 6.

Back to Basics: Crafting Messages to Cut Through the Clutter

This is the fourth post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

For an audience member to receive a message, three events need to occur: The receiver must sense the presence of a message, select it from all the other messages clamoring for attention, and perceive it as an actual message (as opposed to random, pointless noise).

You can appreciate the magnitude of this challenge by walking down any busy street in a commercial section of your town or city. You will encounter hundreds of messages—billboards, posters, store window displays, car stereos, people talking, car horns, street signs, traffic lights, and so on. However, you will sense, select, and perceive only a fraction of these messages.

Today’s business audiences are much like pedestrians on busy streets. They are inundated with so many messages and so much noise that they can miss or ignore many of the messages intended for them. One of the mind’s defenses against this barrage is selective attention, which is focusing on a subset of the incoming stimuli or information sources and ignoring others. Not surprisingly, this focused attention can be helpful at times and harmful at others. If you are on your mobile phone trying hard to hear the other party, your mind will try to block out all the noise sources—one of which might be a car horn warning you to get out of the way.

The business course teaches a variety of techniques to craft messages that get noticed. In general, follow these five principles to increase your chances of success:

  • Consider audience expectations. Deliver messages using the media and channels that the audience expects. If colleagues expect meeting notices to be delivered by email, don’t suddenly switch gears and start delivering the notices via blog posts or group messaging without telling anyone. Of course, sometimes going against expectations can stimulate audience attention, which is why advertisers sometimes do wacky and creative things to get noticed. For most business communication efforts, though, following the expectations of your audience is the most efficient way to get your message across.
  • Make messages user-friendly. Even if audiences are actively looking for your messages, they may not get the messages if you make them hard to find, hard to navigate, or hard to read.
  • Emphasize familiarity. Use words, images, and designs that are familiar to your audience. For example, company websites usually put information about the company on a page called “About” or “About Us,” so today’s audiences expect to see such information on a page with this title.
  • Practice empathy. Make sure your messages speak to the audience by clearly addressing their wants and needs—not just yours. This is the essence of the “you” attitude.
  • Design for compatibility. Make sure your messages are compatible with the devices your audiences will use to read, listen to, or view them. For example, websites designed for full-size computer screens can be difficult to view on mobile devices, so contemporary web design emphasizes the need to support a wide variety of screen sizes and modes of interaction.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 13. The basic communication process is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

 

Media Skills: The Email Subject Line: Persuading People to Open Your Messages

This is the third post in a new series in which we explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

The email subject line may seem like a small detail, but it is one of the most important parts of an email message because recipients use it to choose which messages to read and when to read them. Many businesspeople receive dozens or hundreds of email messages a day, and subject lines help them decide where to focus their attention. In addition, the subject line often serves as a “browsing label” when people scan their inboxes to find a message they’ve already read but need to find again.

The optimum wording for a subject line depends on the message, the situation, your relationship with the recipient(s), and whether you are using the direct or indirect approach in the message. For routine, direct messages among close colleagues or subordinates who are likely to read all your messages, a straightforward description of the message’s content is often sufficient. However, if there is a chance that recipients might ignore your message or delay opening it, the subject line requires some creative thought.

To write a compelling headline when you need to persuade someone to open your message, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. How can you relate the content of your message to this person’s immediate needs and interests, and how can you catch his or her attention in just a few seconds?

Start by identifying issues that are important to the recipient and how he or she is likely to feel about them. What can you do to add positives and remove negatives? For example, someone working in sales wants to close as many deals as possible as quickly as possible, so anything you can offer that relates to that desire could make good material for a subject line. Similarly, a department manager cares about such things as hitting budgets, keeping employees motivated, and avoiding expensive mistakes. If your message relates to any of those goals, use that in the subject line. Whenever you can, give recipients a “selfish” reason to open your message by conveying that it relates to them and their needs.

Next, if a response is needed by a specific date, indicate that in the subject line (such as “Marketing plan draft for your review; please respond by Dec. 14”). Conversely, if a message doesn’t require immediate action, recipients will appreciate knowing this so they can focus on other messages. If you are forwarding information that someone wants to have on file but doesn’t need to attend to right now, for instance, you can add “(no action needed)” to the subject line.

Finally, look for ways to add intrigue to your subject lines, when appropriate. For example, “July sales results” may accurately describe the content of a message, but “July sales results: good news and bad news” is more intriguing. Readers will want to know why some news is good and some is bad.

For every message, keep these general tips in mind for effective subject lines:

  • Make sure you clearly convey the subject of the message. Vague subjects, such as “Interesting idea” or “Update,” don’t give the reader much motivation to open a message.
  • Shorter is better. Assume that recipients will see your messages on mobile devices, which often display fewer characters than full-size screens.
  • In addition to the subject line, the inbox listing in many email systems and mobile email apps displays the first line or two of the message content. You can use the first few words of the message body to continue or expand on the subject line. Alternatively, if you are replying to a message, you can include the opening line of the original message to remind the recipient which message you are replying to.
  • Revise the subject line if an ongoing thread has altered the focus of the conversation or to distinguish newer messages from older messages with the same subject.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 197–198. Email skills are also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 8, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 6.

Back to Basics: Understanding What Employers Expect from You

This is the third post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Today’s employers expect you to be competent at a range of communication tasks that reflect the value of effective business communication. These capabilities can be grouped into four general categories:

  • Acquiring, processing, and sharing information. Employers expect you to be able to recognize information needs, locate and evaluate reliable sources of information, organize information into cohesive messages, and use information ethically. This collection of skills is often referred to as digital information fluency. Information fluency includes critical thinking, which is the ability to evaluate evidence completely and objectively in order to form logical conclusions and make sound recommendations.
  • Using communication to foster positive working relationships. This capability includes listening, practicing good etiquette, resolving conflicts respectfully, and communicating with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Representing your employer in the public arena. Employers expect you to act responsibly and professionally on social media and in other venues and to follow accepted standards of grammar, spelling, and other aspects of quality writing and speaking.
  • Efficiently using the tools that your employer provides. Aside from in-person conversations and meetings, every instance of business communication involves some level of technological assistance, so employers expect a level of proficiency with the tools they provide you to use.

As you advance in your career, either by moving up in an organization or perhaps by starting your own company, the first three groups of competencies become increasingly important. When top executives are looking for the next generation of leaders for their organizations, they will observe how their employees use information, develop relationships, and represent the company to the public. Shortcomings or poor habits in any one of these areas could stall your career prospects, so keep all these skills in mind as you find your footing early in your career and map out how you would like to progress over time.

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 6–7. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

 

Media Skills: Four Content Strategies for Business Social Networking

This is the second post in a new series in which we explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

One of the most appealing aspects of social networking for both internal and external communication is the range of options you have for connecting with your communities and for creating and sharing content.

Developing and Sharing Original Content

For business social networking, much of the value you can provide will come from original insights and information you can offer. A good approach is to put yourself in the minds of your social connections and ask what information they could use to improve some aspect of their personal or professional lives. In many instances, the need or desire to share information will be triggered by some change or event, such as when you need to let your employees know about a new company policy. In others, your motivation will be a matter of enlightened self-interest, when you want to create some visibility for yourself or your company while helping others.

For example, you could share tips on using a product more effectively or ideas for saving money. If the information is useful to your readers, sharing it will solidify your reputation as a valuable social media partner.

Responding to Existing Content and Questions

Responding to questions can be a great way to encourage conversations, build your personal brand, demonstrate your company’s commitment to customer service, and clear up confusion or misinformation about your company and its products.

Keep in mind that when you respond to an individual query, whether on your own pages or on a forum or other community Q&A site, you are also “responding in advance” to every person who comes to the site with the same question in the future. In other words, you are writing a type of reference material in addition to corresponding with the original questioner, so keep the long time frame and wider audience in mind.

Curating and Sharing Existing Content

At its simplest, content curation can involve sharing links to useful articles or videos via your social media accounts. Companies can also set up dedicated websites that publish links to original content in a variety of topic categories.

As an alternative, several web services offer ready-made content curation solutions. Pinterest and Scoop.it, for example, make it easy to assemble attractive online portfolios or magazines on specific topics. Content curation is also a good solution for internal communication, if the employees in a firm need to stay up to date on developments in their professions or in the industries in which the company does business.

Curating content for a target audience can be a great way to add value and stand out as an expert in your field, but content curators need to be aware of two key ethical concerns:

  • Never copy anyone else’s posts to your site, even if you properly attribute the source. Instead, provide a link from your site back to the original so that you drive web traffic to the originator’s site. It is acceptable to copy a brief introductory segment, such as the first paragraph, to your site in order to give the link some context.
  • You are promoting yourself as an expert when you curate content, and people will expect you to do a competent job of finding and filtering materials. As with any communication task, make sure you understand the needs of your target audience so that you can provide the best material to meet their needs.

Facilitating User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is any social media content about a company or its products that is created independently by customers or other outside stakeholders. As with other social media, one of the keys to effective UGC is making it easy for people to contribute content that others will find valuable. First, encourage content that people will want to see and share with colleagues, such as tips from experienced customers on various ways to use a product.

Second, make material easy to find, consume, and share. For example, a branded channel on YouTube lets a company organize all its videos in one place, making it easy for visitors to browse the selection or subscribe to get automatic updates of future videos. YouTube lets fans share videos through email or their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 228–230. Social media communication is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 8, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 6.

Back to Basics: What Makes Business Communication Effective?

This is the second post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Communication efforts are successful when they transfer information, meaning, and understanding. In some instances, this is a simple matter of sharing basic facts about a topic, but it others it can be complex process of building understanding and negotiating meaning until both parties are satisfied with the exchange.

To make your communication efforts as effective as possible, focus on these five goals:

  • Provide practical information. Give recipients useful information that helps them solve problems, pursue opportunities, or take other action. Understanding your audiences and their needs is a key step to providing the right information.
  • Give facts rather than vague impressions. Use concrete language, specific detail, and information that is clear, accurate, and ethical. “We need to get better at this” isn’t terribly helpful because it doesn’t explain or quantify what “better” means. Depending on the situation, it might also be helpful to explain why the improvement is important.
  • Communicate efficiently. Concise, well-organized messages and documents show respect for people’s time, and they increase the chances of a positive response. Efficiency also means reducing the number of messages or conversational exchanges required to achieve your communication goals. Spending a little more time in the planning and writing stages often saves time in the long run by eliminating multiple rounds of explanations.
  • Clarify expectations and responsibilities. Craft messages to generate a specific response from readers. When appropriate, clearly state what you expect from audience members or what you can do for them. Always look for ways to make your communication efforts more precise. For example, instead of writing “we need to have a plan as soon as possible,” describe what kind of plan is needed and when it is needed.
  • Offer compelling arguments and recommendations. When you are offering an analysis or a recommendation, present compelling evidence to support your message. When a situation calls for persuasive communication, show your readers how they will benefit if they respond the way you would like them to respond.

These five points make a great quality-control checklist as you develop messages, documents, and presentations throughout your career.

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 6. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

 

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