Commonsense key to good communication

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It surprises me how often the basics of good communications – getting the right information to the right people, in a way that they want to receive it – get forgotten or sidelined.

It surprises me how often the basics of good communications – getting the right information to the right people, in a way that they want to receive it – get forgotten or sidelined. Instead, too much time and effort is spent on developing the ‘fancy bits’ – such as glossy leaflets and design-heavy emails, or Twitter accounts and corporate blogs – and not enough on what is actually being said.

There’s nothing wrong with these elements as such, but if the basics aren’t done well, then the fancy bits don’t matter. Usually, it’s far better to keep it simple, and get the job done, rather than be clever and complicated, and end up missing the mark – or sending the right message to the wrong people (or the wrong message to the right people).

A perfect example came recently from Telstra. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age recently reported that the head of online communications and social media at Telstra had apologised, via the company blog, to a number of ex-customers who had accidently been mailed a bill.

Clearly, Telstra had recognised it needed to apologise for its mistake but was using social media the best way to do so? (And, for that matter, was the head of online communication and social media the right person to make the apology?) It seems that no-one took the time to ask “how many of our ex-customers read our blog?”. Almost without fail, the best way of communicating an apology is to use the same path as the original mistake. If it was by mail, apologise by mail. If it was face to face, the apology should be face to face. This may not always be possible, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

If the apology isn’t going to be read, seen or heard by the target audience, then it is simply a waste of time and effort – or, worse, pilloried as an example of an organisation not understanding communication, or just being arrogant.

It’s too easy for organisations to think about what suits them best when it comes to communicating, rather than what suits their audience best. But ultimately, it’s what the audience wants that’s most important. A good dose of commonsense makes all the difference in effective communications. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that most good communications is simply applied commonsense.