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Which Communication Medium is Best? Part One.

Above image: jonashcroft.com

Thanks to James Evangelidis—friend, social media guru and author of What Do Clients Really Want?— who contributed helpfully to the following thoughts.

Choice confers freedom—or paralysis

An overload of options kills decision-making. At gut level we know, and statistically it’s true, that the more options we have, the lower the chance we’ll choose the ‘right’ answer. A prevalence of opinions and conflicting theories doesn’t help. In communication, it’s rich media versus media naturalness versus social naturalness, etc. How can we know which one is right? Neither do Internet searches provide clarity. Google’s 200m results for ‘Which communication medium is best?’ gave several stupid answers on page one, including three links to psychic hotlines.

Before answering our headline question it will be helpful to ask a few more questions to narrow down the communication context:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Why are you communicating?
  3. What is your message?
  4. What is your urgency?
  5. How much money do you have?

Your answers will likely point to some media over others.

Qualifications aside, below is a non-exhaustive, non-academic, discussed-over-coffee, list of strengths and weaknesses in a short list of mediums.

Internet video is best kept short and sharp

  1. Easy to record and upload. Sometimes too easy. See (2).
  2. Weak content and production are obvious.
  3. Easy to find, download and watch, if your audience have broadband connections and can find your content.
  4. File sizes can be a drag.
  5. Requires full audience attention. Most of us don’t watch videos while driving.
  6. Can work for big screens or small. Think before you leap.
  7. Potentially engaging, human, intimate, but too often wooden and inauthentic, in spite of the potential.
  8. Relatively inexpensive to produce, even if you decide to buy cameras and chromakey screens, etc.
  9. Relatively visual. You can creatively incorporate demonstrations, locations, props and other aids.
  10. If loaded to a public site (e.g. YouTube), your video could be on the Internet for a long time.
  11. Linear, chronological. Great for stories and gags and conversations, but offers limited audience selection and control.
  12. Prone to rambles and inefficiency, the hallmarks of natural speech. Proper planning and preparation can alleviate these problems, without harming effectiveness.
  13. The illusion of spontaneity.

Summary: Video is mostly one way, but great for short lists, updates, entertaining and conveying personality.

Podcasts offer portability, repeatability and the opportunity to educate

I have downloaded more than 500 podcasts onto my MacBook Air and iPod—but only listen to a couple of podcasters regularly.

  1. Podcasts are easy to get repeat access and to download.
  2. Portable. Audiences can download podcasts to all kinds of devices, including smart phones, and listen while walking, riding, commuting, gardening, etc. (Hopefully not while performing brain surgery.)
  3. File sizes are usually much smaller than video.
  4. Easy and inexpensive to make.
  5. Unless it’s instrumental, you’re reliant on words and how you say them. There can be a lot in that. Requires a broader communication repertoire than most people have, to pull it off well and consistently.
  6. Prone to rambles and inefficiency.
  7. Linear, chronological.
  8. Searching through is not as efficient as with text, but the fast-forward and rewind tools are getting better all the time.
  9. Great for conversations, interviews.

Summary: Podcasts are also mostly one way, but great for updates, lectures, seminars, lessons, conversations, interviews—and telling stories.

 Books, papers, written articles and blogs: beautiful, interruptible, searchable text 

  1. Flickable, skimmable, scannable, searchable. Using either a text-based Find function or round wet things called ‘eyes’, in moments you can find the most abstruse word or topic in a thousand page dictionary or in a ten-thousand page encyclopaedia. To find the same content in video or audio is not (YET!) so easy. I imagine a near future in which video and audio will be more easily searchable.
  2. Speed. We can read faster than humans can understandably speak. Yes, there are tools to speed up YouTube, etc., but still, we can read faster. Speeding up speech introduces articulation and intelligibility problems.
  3. Does not require electricity to turn it on.
  4. I have it in my hands.
  5. Bulky. Enter Kindle, iPad, etc.
  6. Paper’s low light reflectivity.
  7. Portable.
  8. Length and depth. Who would watch a 140,000 word video? But books of that length are written and sold every day.
  9. Potentially articulate, considered. Writing forces thinking. Good writing forces refined thinking.

Image: jonashcroft.com

Email is useful, but overused and increasingly ineffective

  1. Used to be a great idea. In corporations and business now, it’s a pain in the neck. Why? Because too much of it is flying around for the wrong reasons.
  2. Useful for one-to-one or small group communication if the information is non-contentious, truly informative, concise and clear.
  3. In the wrong hands, prone to substantial errors of tone and meaning.
  4. Fast. Except when people ignore it.
  5. Everyone (bar poorest Africa?) has it.
  6. The challenge is we’re in a rush when reading and writing it. It’s not a job we want to spend all day doing.

Twitter is for headlines and links to useful content

  1. Tool of the decade in crisis communication for its speed and brevity.
  2. Google the 70-20-10 rule for Twitter. If you don’t find anything useful, get back to me.
  3. Very public and searchable.

In person communication should be ‘premium’ communication

  1. Opportunity for your audience to get the measure of the man or woman.
  2.  It better be good.
  3. Dialogue, questions (and presumably answers), interaction.
  4. Today, you have to be authentic, likeable and reasonable—or do something else.

What tools would you like covered in Part Two?