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2590025080_d5ce7bf163Earlier this week I participated in a focus group with the goal of helping a trade organization better communicate with its members. As the group was discussing ways in whcih the organization could improve its communications it struck me, with the increasing popularity of social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter it’s becoming harder to communicate instead of easier. Wait, let me qualify that – it’s becoming easier to find and communicate with strangers and long lost friends, even easier to create new valuable business relationships, but harder to communicate with other groups of people. The reason is the number of tools being used and the different adoption rates. Think about it, when email was the only tool available,most everyone used it. But now, some people primarily use Twitter to communicate, while others use Facebook, and still others use LinkedIn, it comes down to personal preference. Then there are all the other social networking sites out there that people are using.

Conversations are taking place everywhere, but as the tools increase the active listeners become smaller. That’s an important point – your audience may be huge, but your active listeners are much smaller in number. This happens when people join a platform, try it out and then ultimately either become active using the platform or abandon it. And even when they’re active it’s doubtful they’re reading everything you publish.

This particular trade association is doing a lot of things right – they’re on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The problem that was uncovered during the focus group is the very large membership became much smaller as they spread across the different platforms and a large chunk of the membership wasn’t participating on any platform, either by choice or not knowing the channels exist.

It became clear duing the discussion that if you’re not monitoring all three platforms you might be missing some conversations that could lead to beneficial partnerships with other members. But then who has the time to monitor all three? It leads to the question of whether it’s better for the trade association to be everywhere, or if it’s better for them to choose one communication vehicle and make it meaningful. By being everywhere you’re communicating with members in their space, but potentially reducing the quality of the conversation by diluting community engagement. By focusing on one channel you’re forcing your membership to that channel (which may backfire if members don’t like the channel) and providing a larger community of active listeners to take part in conversations. Which is the right way? You tell me.
Image credit: Flickr user djfoobarmatt
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manonphoneCommunication preferences vary. Some people prefer to handle all communications via email, others phone conversations and still others via social networking sites. I prefer email and texts. But those are my personal preferences, not necessarily those of the people trying to communicate with me. And shouldn’t I communicate in the way others are comfortable reaching me, especially potential clients or partners?

I was reading an article and was struck by the following excerpt: Mr. X (not his real name) consciously decided not to become over-reliant on e-mail and does not carry a Blackberry or PDA. He does spend a lot of time on his cell phone and always has it with him. People who he regularly works with know that’s the way to reach him quickly. It’s his way of being available and responsive. Mr. X can be reached by email at MrX@company.com.

All I can wonder is, if Mr X prefers to be contacted by cell phone why not leave that as his point of contact instead of his email address? The statement above leads me to think that if I email him, I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a reply.

Luckily for Mr. X, or maybe me, I have no need to contact him. But what if, after seeing the article I thought Mr. X’s might be the perfect company for an upcoming project? I might feel like an email is likely to go ignored and since that’s the point of contact he left (instead of his much more paid attention to cell phone number) I may decide to contact someone else about my project.

The moral of the story? Communicate how your clients want you to communicate, whether or not it be aligned with your personal preferences. When you’re easier to get a hold of, regardless of the medium, people trust you more and feel that you value them more. And that’s exactly what you want.

Image credit: Flickr user cobalt123

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