Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing your communication method


Call, email, text, Skype? Far too often I look down at my phone to contact someone, only to get stuck with the question, "Should I call? Text? Email?" With so many options right at our fingertips, what format of communication is best used when? Your distinctions may differ slightly with industry norms, but here is a general overview of when to use which communication method and what kind of urgency is most appropriate.

Phone
When to use it: When you need something immediately (a task or an answer) or need to schedule something for the future. Also good for meetings or discussions when getting together in person is not feasible. I've noticed the phone has fallen by the wayside for many people who don't have assistants, but if the person you're trying to reach has an assistant you can call, that's often the most direct route to reaching a real person.

Urgency: Medium to high.

Email
When to use it: When sending attachments, longer explanations, requests for information or to follow-up on a previous conversation or phone call. Email is also a nice format for long form personal communication, like keeping in touch with old friends. Check out additional email tips in this post (one of my first on the blog).

Urgency: Any, but make it clear in the message if you have a deadline or timeline to meet. If you need it within the hour, a phone call would be better—there are no guarantees that emails will be read right away.

Instant Message
When to use it: Some good uses for IMs include asking a clarifying question, prepping for a meeting or making plans (for a meeting, lunch, etc.). If you're asking a question that requires a lot of explanation, just walk over—IMs are best for one or two sentence answers.

Urgency: Low to medium. Since people may not be at their desk or available to chat at all times, you should expect that they'll answer on their own timetable.

Text Message
When to use it: To find someone in a crowd or at an event, or when meeting up outside of the office. Best used sparingly and when you only have mobile access.

Urgency: Medium (though it varies). In my head, I often think of text as the most immediate, second only to phone. Because of this, I have my phone set to vibrate on text, but never for email.

Social Media (Facebook or Twitter)
When to use it: Facebook and Twitter are most useful in a business setting to build personal rapport or to make new connections. When making new connections, use social media to bring the conversation off-line or to more traditional business communication by getting email or phone info.

Urgency: Low.

What is the communications urgency hierarchy in your industry? How do you decide what format to use?

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