Evaluating Modes of Communication

Last week I wrote a bit about what it means to inform people on their terms.  In this day and age, we simply can’t assume and expect people to be always looking for or listening to our communications.  People are constantly being bombarded with messages and have a natural tendency to skim and filter, sometimes missing important messages.  They also have so many different choices in the ways, tools, or modes to use to communicate that it’s impossible to get a message to everyone using the same mode.

“The big challenge, however, is deciding which modes of communication to use.   Does a small church in a rural farm town need a website, an e-newsletter, and a blog complete with RSS feeds?  Should a multi-national ministry mail out monthly newsletters to all its supporters?  Does a business need to be able to text message their clients when they have a sale to remain competitive?”

Let’s take a look…

Communication Mode Evaluation Factors

Before you can make a decision about what modes of communication to use, you first have to figure out what factors you’re going to base that decision on.  What makes one mode of communication more valuable or effective than another?  Here are some factors to consider:

Audience acceptance – What percentage of your audience is tuned in to each mode of communication?  The best way to find out is to survey your audience.

Responsiveness – Some modes of communication are more effective at generating a response.  If your church is collecting food for the needy, more people are going to donate if the pastor stands in front of the congregation makes a plea to give than if the request is buried on page 7 of the 10 page monthly church newsletter.

Cost-effectiveness – How much money does it cost per person who actually reads/hears the message?  There are a lot of factors involved here.  There’s the overhead cost to develop the message itself, which could be nothing for an email or a lot if you’re having a marketing company design a brochure for you.  There’s the cost per message to produce and distribute the message, which could be nothing for an email or lot if you’re mailing a full color newsletter.  On the other side of the equation, you have to know the number of people in your audience that really read/hear messages in this mode.  Keep in mind there’s a big difference between the number of people who receive a message and the number who actually read/hear it.

Time-effectiveness – How much time does it require per person who actually reads/hears the message?  Often times organizations look at digital communication (email, e-newsletters, blogs) and think because it doesn’t cost anything to distribute it that it’s “free” and therefore they should do it.  Just because you don’t pay money for something doesn’t make it free.  Your time is very valuable.  It’s probably not worth it to spend 2 hours every day writing a blog articles if on average only 5 people a day read it.

Inclusiveness – Sometimes it doesn’t matter how cost-effective or time-effective a mode of communication is if it’s the only way some people are going to get the message.  Copying the pastor’s message to audio tapes and then driving around town to hand deliver them to people who can’t leave their homes is never going to get high ratings in the cost-effectiveness or time-effectiveness categories.  But if you believe a message is too important for anyone to miss, then you do whatever it takes.

There are probably other values that weigh into the decision about which modes of communication to utilize but those are five important ones that come to mind.

Evaluating Each Mode

The next step would be to evaluate all of the possible modes of communication for each factor.  Since this blog is geared towards a Christian audience and most Christians are involved in a church, I’m going to evaluate various modes a church might consider.  If you’re involved in a business, school, non-profit, or some other kind of organizations you might consider other modes or your evaluations might be different but the process will be similar.

Verbal announcements

  • Audience acceptance: high, although for some churches 20%-50% of members may miss services on any given Sunday.
  • Responsiveness: high.
  • Cost-effectiveness: high (no cost).
  • Time-effectiveness: high.
  • Inclusiveness: high, for some people this may be the only chance you have to convey a message.
  • Conclusion: very high ratings across the board, which is why every church does verbal announcements.

Sunday bulletin

  • Audience acceptance: high, though again, significant percentages may miss it.
    Responsiveness: medium-low, most people don’t read the bulletin and even fewer respond to it.
  • Cost-effectiveness: medium, low overhead, mild printing costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: medium-high, usually not too much work involved.
  • Inclusiveness: medium-high, after verbal announcements may be the only other chance to convey a message.
  • Conclusion: not as effective as verbal communication, but still fairly effective.  Most effective at communicating details that can be forgotten from verbal announcements.  

Letter from the pastor

  • Audience acceptance: high, everybody gets mail, most will read a letter from their pastor
  • Responsiveness: medium
  • Cost-effectiveness: medium, low overhead but moderate printing & mailing costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: medium, takes time to print, fold, label, etc.
  • Inclusiveness: high, could be the only way to communicate with low-tech people who can’t attend regularly.
  • Conclusion: not particularly cost- or time-effective, but very effective for important things.

Printed monthly newsletter

  • Audience acceptance: medium, everybody gets mail, but do they read it?
    Responsiveness: low.
  • Cost-effectiveness: low, big printing & mailing costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: low, takes a lot of time to create, print, fold, label, etc.
  • Inclusiveness: high, could be the only way to communicate with low-tech people who can’t attend regularly and for information that is too wordy for verbal and bulletin announcements.
  • Conclusion: a lot of churches have abandoned print/mailed newsletters because of they just aren’t cost-effective.

Website

  • Audience acceptance: medium-high, depends on the church but on average 80%-90% of Americans are online, but how many people actually go to the church website?
  • Responsiveness: low, because people go to the website when they are looking for something, it’s not particularly effective at getting people to respond to a message in a timely manner.
  • Cost-effectiveness: medium-high, overhead cost depends on capabilities of the staff and volunteers, but very low distribution costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: medium-low, depends on how much original content is put on the site, it can take quite a bit of time to keep a website up to date
  • Inclusiveness: medium-high, for people who have yet to visit your church or visited anonymously, this is your only way to communicate with them.
  • Conclusion: because a website has very low distribution cost and unlimited space, it is a viable alternative to the print/mailed newsletter, and it’s a very important tool for communicating with visitors and prospective visitors

E-newsletter

  • Audience acceptance: medium, just about everyone has email, the challenge here is getting people to subscribe.
  • Responsiveness: medium, better in this area than a website which is passive, but people don’t necessarily read all their email, depends a lot on the quality.
  • Cost-effectiveness: high, low overhead and distribution costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: medium-high, depends on how much original content is put into the newsletter, but if done right it’s brief and borrows content from the website and bulletin
  • Inclusiveness: low, not a big deal, but a church isn’t going to do an e-newsletter because that’s the only way to reach some people.
  • Conclusion: because an e-newsletter is very cost- and time-effective, this should be one of the primary ways a church communicates with its members.

Blog

  • Audience acceptance: medium-low, most church members simply aren’t going to read a church blog on a regular basis unless it’s very compelling and helpful like a sermon blog or a heavily promoted devotional.
  • Responsiveness: medium-low, not particularly effective at calling people to action
  • Cost-effectiveness: high, low overhead and distribution costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: medium-low, takes a lot of time to create original articles
  • Inclusiveness: low, not a big deal, but a church isn’t going to do a blog because that’s the only way to reach some people.
  • Conclusion: because most church members won’t read a church blog, it usually isn’t very effective.  The two notable exceptions are a sermon blog that offers notes and additional resources related to the sermon message and a devotional blog which a church could rally the entire congregation to read for a season.

Audio podcast

  • Audience acceptance: low, most church members simply aren’t going to listen to an audio podcast unless it’s a sermon message they missed or want to hear again.
    Responsiveness: medium
  • Cost-effectiveness: high, low overhead and distribution costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: high, if it’s an already-recorded sermon, low if the audio something original created exclusively for the podcast
  • Inclusiveness: low, not a big deal, but a church isn’t going to do a podcast because that’s the only way to reach some people.
  • Conclusion: because most church members won’t listen to an audio podcast unless it’s a sermon they missed or want to hear again.

RSS feed

  • Audience acceptance: low for now, still not widely used except among tech geeks, but this is expected to change with the release of Windows Vista.
  • Responsiveness: medium-low, works much like email but people are less likely to read their feeds than email when they get busy.
  • Cost-effectiveness: high, low overhead and distribution costs.
  • Time-effectiveness: high, once you set them up, there’s no ongoing time requirements
  • Inclusiveness: low, a church isn’t going to do an RSS feed because that’s the only way to reach some people.
  • Conclusion: not many people subscribe to RSS feeds now, but that is likely to change.  A lot of e-newsletter systems, blog software, and website management systems now come with RSS feed capabilities built in, so if you’re looking to add any of those items in the future, it’s a good idea to select one that has RSS capability.

Whew!  Like I said there are a lot of options available now days.  And these are just some of the more popular modes for churches.  There are lots of others we could look at especially for other types of organizations.

Using Multiple Modes Efficiently and Effectively

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “There’s no possible way we can do all those things.”   Good!  You probably shouldn’t be doing all of them, but you should be doing several of them.  The good thing is that as you choose to add a new mode of communication it should require proportionately less effort than modes you are already using.  You can add new modes efficiently and effectively by leveraging your existing modes of communication.  I’ll talk about that next week.

For the time being, what factors do you consider when evaluating the modes of communication to utilize?  Do you agree or disagree with the assessment of each factor for each mode?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

2 Responses to “Evaluating Modes of Communication”

  1. Some modes of communication are more effective at generating a response. If your church is collecting food for the needy, more people are going to donate if the pastor stands in front of the congregation makes a plea to give than if the request is buried on page 7 of the 10 page monthly church newsletter.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » 9 Time-Saving Tips for Using Multiple Communication Modes - Jan 30, 2007

    [...] Last week we began talking about how to determine which modes of communication an organization should utilize.  With so many options like websites, e-newsletters, blogs, podcasts, bulletins, printed newsletters, brochures, and more, deciding among them can be a huge challenge.  We looked at some of the factors to consider and evaluated several communication modes on those factors.  Hopefully, it helped clarify the pros and cons of various modes and got you thinking about new ways you might be able to communicate more effectively. [...]