Start with Communication Theory

Communication theory is a foundational explanation of how we convey meaning. In today's hyperconnected world, the theory is more important than ever. In the day job, I spend a lot of time helping clients decide on the overall strategy of what they want to accomplish with their websites before we dig into the specific tactics of how we can help. One of the key models that I always keep in mind when working on strategy is the communication theory.

In this post, we'll take a look at the model and then discuss how it works with a simple blog. Once you see the concepts mapped out, you'll have no trouble seeing how your own communication processes fit with this idea.

Communication Theory

Communication theory is a way of breaking down the process of conveying ideas into a series of elements and demonstrating how those elements interact with one another. At any one time, a presenter works to get a message across to a receiver of that message.

Mind you, we won't be digging in quite as deeply as Claude Shannon did on his work in the days just after World War II, but this summary should get you started on the right track.

Sender >> Message >> Medium >> Receiver >> Feedback

A number of factors affect the effectiveness of a message's delivery. First, what medium is the presenter using? Whether a person is writing, speaking, singing, or acting, that information must then travel through a medium. It could be that the message is simply heard from one person to another. It could be that the receiver is watching television, listening to the radio, reading on her computer, reading on her phone, or any of a slew of other ways of obtaining information.

The receiver must be willing to accept the message for the process to be successful. If this person is too distracted to hear what's being said, then the process breaks down. If the person simply can't receive the message due to a technological disruption or a needy child interrupting, then the process breaks down.

Sender >> Message >> Medium >> || Disruption || >> Distracted Receiver >> Diminished Feedback

If the receiver does receive the message, then the person will create some sort of feedback. If it's noticeable by the presenter, then he can adjust his messaging as he goes. Sometimes the feedback comes in an actual verbal response, but it may be as subtle as a raised eyebrow following a surprising point. This sort of feedback could spur the presenter on to talking on the point at more length.

Overall, there is a give and take to the process. Feedback may be difficult to come by in some presentations, but it is obtainable.

Communication Theory Applied to Blogging

Let's move out of the world of theory and make it more concrete. Let's take a popular blog for an example.

The writer (the Sender) creates a blog post (the Message) and clicks publish, and the message is now available on a website (the Medium). Interested readers (the Receivers) have a chance to access that website (whether through search engines, a simple subscription to the website, an advertisement, etc.) and read the content. If the website design itself is not too distracting and the text is legible on the device of the reader's choice, then the reader can learn something new.

The reader can provide Feedback in one of many ways:

  1. Leave a comment
  2. Share the post on social media
  3. Leave the site without reading anything further

When the writer receives a notification that someone left a comment on her website, then she can easily get a feel for her readers' feelings. If the writer is paying enough attention to social media channels, she may see that readers are sharing her content. The "share" itself is one piece of feedback, while the message attached to the blog share will provide additional sentiment for the writer to interpret.

The reader that simply leaves the site is perhaps the most difficult to interpret. The writer will not be able to determine how the reader felt other than knowing that the reader was not moved to action. In this case, the writer can look at an aggregate view of the information. If nearly all the readers left without further interaction and did not create any social media shares or signals, then the writer may be able to conclude that the content did not move her readers.

Your Communication

We'll talk more about the process of feedback in the next post. For now, your goal should be to map out how your communication process. Can you identify disruptive factors? Are you paying attention to feedback?

These signals are key components to your ability to share your ideas with your audience.