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Boy, have times changed. Way back in the day, if you wanted to tell people something, you had to go and talk to them face-to-face. That, or send smoke signals. Then along came a primitive postal system, followed by the first newspaper, printing press, typewriter, telegraph, telephone, radio and TV. Along the way, came computers, email, the internet and eventually smartphones and apps. Each one changing how we engage with others. Indeed, communications technology can help leaders stay ahead of the curve. But, it’s knowing how and when to use the technology that makes all the difference.

Communications technology: From smoke signals to smartphones

All joking aside, smoke signals and even drum beats were once an effective means of communication among groups. In fact, Chinese soldiers reportedly used smoke signals to warn their comrades hundreds of miles away of an impending attack.

Fast-forward to today. We don’t know about you, but it’s hard for us to imagine a time when we didn’t have a phone that fit into our pocket. We literally have all the information in the world at our fingertips. It’s amazing when you stop to think about it. But, therein lies the challenge. How do we as communicators cut through the clutter and make sure our messages hit the mark?

Impact of communications technology

Before we jump into some of the positives of communications technology, let’s look at just how pervasive it is in our daily lives. Let’s start with the role it plays in internal communications.

Internal audiences

Think of all the ways you communicate with your leadership, staff and other internal partners. Now think about the role technology plays in those interactions.

There are meetings where you wirelessly connect your laptop to a TV screen in the room to give a presentation. There’s teleconferencing technology that allows people in different locations to see and hear each other. You may use email to communicate important information to staff or vendors. Or you may push out information on a company portal that team members can access 24/7. Then there’s phones that allow for two-way conversations between people.

In today’s business world, there are also apps that can help you communicate with your teams via smartphones. These apps are useful in industries like manufacturing and healthcare. Workers in these environments often don’t have regular or frequent access to computers. But most have easy access to their smartphones. One such app is TheEMPLOYEEApp. There are plenty of others. And finally, let’s not forget about online engagement within organizations via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

External audiences

Some of these same technologies play a role in your communications with external audiences, too. Many companies still use the basics like email and phone to talk with consumers. But technology is quickly changing the game. For example, some companies use social media to boost employee morale by injecting humanity into the workplace. But many more now use their social channels to engage in real-time conversations with customers and prospects. We do it every day!

And some are taking their digital experience to a whole new level with a customer relationship management (CRM) database and marketing automation program. Keep in mind that technology also plays a major role in how well your website functions. Poor functionality due to a lack of sufficient technology can make or break your user experience, or UX. At the end of the day, it can be the difference between a sale and a page bounce.

Value of communications technology

Now that we’ve established the ubiquitous nature of technology in our daily communications, let’s talk about its value. In general, it allows individuals or groups to engage in faster, more direct communication. It can also lead to more collaboration, higher productivity and better interaction with others. Here are just a couple of examples of how communications technology is changing how we approach business—for the better. You may know of others.

Team collaboration

Employees have more flexibility than ever in how they interact with their teammates. Many companies offer collaboration tools that enable staff members in different locations to work together as if they were sitting side-by-side. These people may be in different offices in the same city, in different states, or even halfway across the world from one another. Heck, they might even be sitting in their PJs in their home office. Think of tools like Google Docs, Slack, Skype and WebEx. The list goes on and on. Sound vaguely familiar? Sort of like sending smoke signals, right? You throw something out there and someone else picks up your message and responds or passes it along to the next guy or gal. And so, the communications cycle continues.

Now, before anyone cries foul, we want to point out that this does not necessarily apply to every organization or team. Some work environments are simply not set up for this type of collaboration. Yet, some aren’t letting that stop them from breaking out of old habits and finding new ways to work together.

Collaboration example

A great example can be found in hospitals here in Indianapolis. Hospitals need an adequate number of nurses on the floor 24/7. Most nurses are passionate about their work and often put their patients’ needs ahead of their own. You generally don’t find them sitting at a computer reading emails. And they don’t have time to try and decipher a doctor’s handwritten notes from the previous shift. So, many hospitals have figured out that using iPads at the point of care can help eliminate some of these time-sucking tasks. And it even can help improve patient outcomes. In addition to iPads, some hospitals are ditching email as the primary mode of communication in favor of apps that push out critical company information to their staff’s smartphones. Pretty smart, huh? This is ideal for organizations where traditional email isn’t necessarily the best way to reach busy staff members.

Human capital-building

Technology is making it easier for Human Resources (HR) teams to keep pace with the changing landscape, too.

In fact, HR teams can now engage with job candidates more efficiently thanks to streamlined recruitment processes, online screenings and assessments, and skills testing. And it’s no secret that faster, more effective recruitment helps you nab high-performing employees before your competitors do. Technology also plays a role in how companies engage with staff and reduce business costs or risks. For example, some companies are using wearable technology to track healthy behaviors (e.g., Fitbit). This allows them to reward staff with wellness perks. This, in turn, can boost employee satisfaction and improve retention.

But the benefits of technology don’t end there. It’s also helping some companies re-imagine how they work in general. We recently had the pleasure of touring a new banking facility at Indiana Members Credit Union that features interactive teller machines. Wait, what? There aren’t any real, live humans standing behind the counter? Well, technically yes. They’re just stationed at a different location and interact virtually with someone through a machine that connects the two. To some, it may seem impersonal. But from all accounts, it seems to be a hit with nearly all their customers. That’s a win-win in our book!

External marketing efforts

Technology is taking external communications efforts to a whole new level as well. We mentioned it earlier, but many companies are upping their game when it comes to social media outreach. The days of one-way communications are slowly dwindling. Instead, we’re seeing an explosion of social media engagement, or activities where companies and consumers engage in two-way dialogue with each other. Think about all the Facebook pages where people can comment, like, share and review a business. And then think about how this platform allows companies to respond in a way that everyone can see. One caveat here: Think about how you want to engage with people BEFORE you do it. Because, like email, Facebook posts can live on indefinitely. This is where having a social media policy can come in handy.

Marketing automation is another area where technology is making it possible to engage and re-engage with consumers at multiple touch-points, with more precision. For more on this topic, be sure to check out our recent marketing automation blogpost.

Words matter, but so do pictures

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. They’re right. Pictures tell a story. And because they do, many organizations are now using infographics in both their internal and external communications. Some are taking presentations to new heights by using sophisticated software to create living, breathing documents. Examples of this communications technology include Prezi and Visme, among others. Many leaders say these programs help them break complex stories into bite-sized chunks that are easier to digest. Thus, their messages are more likely to resonate.

BONUS: Email communications

You’d think by now that anyone not living under a rock knows the general guidelines for using email for business communications. Sadly, we see some basic rules being broken on a regular basis. So as a bonus, we’re going to revisit some classic do’s and don’ts of using email. Because a little refresher never hurt anyone. And because email is still one of the most widely used and accepted forms of communications!

Long before you decide to send an email, it’s important to consider the message and whether email is the best format for sending it. Is it a casual conversation like where you’re planning to meet for a team lunch? Or is it a more sensitive issue, like a memo from your CEO announcing layoffs? Is it a complex topic such as the rollout of a new tobacco-cessation program? Or is it a quick update on a simple project?

Do’s and don’ts of email

Email is fine for some scenarios. But not all. In some cases, it might be best to make a complicated announcement at a town hall or team meeting, where there’s an opportunity for dialogue. While quick and easy, email is less personal. And the non-verbal void it creates can lead to a significant gap in knowledge. For this reason, it’s important to “mind the gap” and pay close attention to the quality of the message. Because for the message to matter, people must be able to access, understand AND synthesize the info. The following tips can help you the next time you’re drafting that all-important email:

Do: Keep your message simple/succinct and choose your words wisely

Don’t: Write a novel or send an email when you’re angry

Do: Write clearly and use descriptive language

Don’t: Be sarcastic or vague about details

Do: Include an appropriate subject line and prioritize content so the most important stuff is at the top

Don’t: Be ambiguous in the topic or use abbreviations, jargon or shorthand

Do: Give people a way to ask questions, whether it’s via email or otherwise

Don’t: Send the email and forget about it, hoping everyone “got it”

Do: Use numbers for lists/deadlines and include a disclaimer for sensitive information

Don’t: Copy everyone or USE ALL CAPS (you hated that, admit it!)

One final point: There’s no taking back what you put out there. So be sure the message—both in language and tone—is the one you want to send.

Summary

There’s little doubt that technology is dramatically reshaping not only the office environment, but also culture in general. While important, the rapid flood of communications technology has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. Indeed, this “always on” mentality can have its drawbacks. At IronStrike, we believe that with appropriate balance you can make communications technology work for you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an HR manager, a communication professional, the CEO or a staff member. Looking for ways to maximize technology in your workplace? We’re here to help!