The Importance of Community and Communication

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What is the most effective way to communicate with your team and your organization?  Probably one of the most classic questions asked with no best answer other than “it depends”.  Why does it depend?  We’ve got access to all kinds of communication devices now - email, Instant Messenger, text messaging, e-newsletters, websites, etc.  The key is getting to know your community to figure out the best interaction.

Take the PSVillage Newsletter as an example.  I subscribe to get the newsletter electronically.  It comes with all kinds of great information, discussion groups, and links to helpful areas that I may need.  However, I know it’s a newsletter and it gets prioritized in the email queue until I get all those critical customer emails taken care of.  Is the delivery means effective?  Yes.  Does it demand response from me?  No.  Do I review it in a timely manner?  Honestly, it may take a few days but eventually I get to it.  This format suits the PSVillage community.  We are a group that wants to share information and communicate with each other informally. 

In thinking about your own organization, take the time to determine if you need to inform people, if you need responses from people, or if you are looking to encourage feedback/discussions among your group.  Not all of your communication needs to be handled with a single approach.  Email is effective in getting the information out there but there are LOTS of emails out there.  Using options like read receipts can help ensure people are accessing the email but unless responses are required, you cannot determine if the email has actually been read.  Newsletters are a great reference provided they are relevant to the audience and regularly delivered; if they become sporadic, then the audience doesn’t rely on them for information as much.  Websites become a good site for posting reference information and may also serve to encourage discussions using tools such a blogs or discussion groups.  Instant Messenger (or similar tools) gives you more of an “in the office” feel with user interaction expected - something that can easily lead to distractions if etiquette is not laid out.  The communication method you need may span one, some, all or more of these options.

Now think about the type of community you are dealing with.  Are they on the road a lot?  Are you dealing with multiple time zones?  Are they at customer sites?  This will drive how information would best be received and accessed.  If you’re posting everything to an internal website which requires internet and VPN access, your mobile team may run into difficulties accessing it.  If your team is primarily at customer sites, having random Instant Messenger windows pop up with questions may not go over well.  Email and Newsletters ignore time zones and can be read on your own time so time critical responses may not be received when expected or desired.

It would be helpful for your organization to layout a communication plan.  What types of information or feedback do you send and receive?  What is the frequency?  Who are the recipients?  What is the communication method you prefer?  You may have your Project Managers creating communication plans as part of their methodology but you can apply the same technique to your organization.  Make it available to everyone so there’s an understanding of what is critical, what is informative, and what is meant to become a community building tool that will benefit everyone.  Take the time to also setup an etiquette guide for things that are a bit more dynamic like email, Instant Messenger, and discussion groups.  The expectations you set for your community on clear communication will save time and energy in the end.