External Communication Done Virtually
by Mark Sivy
Effective unambiguous external communication is essential to the operation of a virtual business organization. Chances are that the means of external communication are more conventional than for internal communication (see previous post) and usually involve email exchanges or phone conversations. Virtual organization leaders engage in a variety of face-to-face external interactions, including one-on-one conversations, private group meetings, and corporate and industry events. Some types of communication to consider are general external communication, client communication, organization representation, feedback and input, and marketing.
General External Communications
Even though internal staff may receive training and mentoring to engage in intentional and meaningful communications, the individuals who are outside of the organization may not. This means that special attention must be given by leaders to ensure proper reception and perception of both outgoing and incoming messages. Prepared leaders make sure that communication plans are in order and that staff understand their responsibilities.
Given client diversity, issues with communications will result from having too many options for communication or lack of productive communication. Usually the task for a client is to determine with whom or what they are to communicate, whether it be someone at a home office, a sales representative, and automated response system, or through an online text message system. It’s the organizations challenge to ensure that the processes are streamlined and the clients receive the attention they need and deserve.
Organization staff and leaders are involved in an assortment of meetings, conferences, committees, and other external gatherings relative to their schools. Depending upon the function, these could include their peers, vendors, stakeholders, members of the media, government officials, special interest groups, and investors. Some of these events are in-person and must then be maintained through virtual communication, while others are strictly born and nurtured through digital means.
Feedback and Input
Virtual businesses often use outward facing surveys, opinion polls, assessments, and evaluations for the purpose of enhancing their operations and offerings. The data can acquired from different sources, such as customers, market specialist, advisory groups, and product testers.
Marketing and Branding
Virtual organizations must promote themselves to remain viable. Successfully branding a company and marketing its solutions and products digitally requires more that preparing a trendy website. There are needs for legal and social considerations, creation of accurate product images, development of brand recognition, establishing a client base, maintaining a positive public image, making announcements and press releases, and pushing out other forms of communication.
To do all of this properly, there must be substantial market research and trend monitoring. Additionally, there must be measures to ensure that the intention of organization communication matches its perception by clients and the public. For instance, the American Dairy Association’s huge success with its campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?” To learn more about improving your advertising communication, check this out.
So What Can We Do?
After having been involved for many years with virtual communication with work teams and clients, here are some pieced of advice to keep in mind:
- It’s all about trust and team building – you have to develop these over time.
- Create communication standards, including response times, strategies and expectations.
- Empower those who you are communicating with. This is done in part by setting the tone of trust and expectations.
- Remember to compensate for the lack of nonverbal visual cues.
- Be aware of time zone differences.
- Schedule synchronous meeting times well in advance, including sending out discussion points.
- Keep communications focused on the topic. This is particularly a challenge with synchronous meetings where conversations can wander.
- Be aware of and respect cultural diversity.
- For synchronous meetings remember to speak slowly, don’t multitask, pause and listen to understand, don’t interrupt, and set aside time for developing relationships.
Reflection Point – “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw