Monday, November 10, 2014

How Communication was Won

When we say, “We need to get the word out about this!” what are we really asking? We already have the content, right? Content is king. We need this before we do anything else. We know the Who, What, When, Where, and/or Why of our information or event that we want others to know about, but the real question now is How?

In order to answer that question, you have to understand that there are many forms and types of communication. Each type serves the purpose of providing communication, but each does so in different ways. Marketing properly is the ability to strategically select the media that would provide the appropriate level of communication to the right audience(s) at the right time(s) to acquire the desired result (i.e., light bulbs shining above heads or attendance at an event).

Some of the first communication (beyond word of mouth) was through “posters” or drawings with information. They have always been able to provide a great source of information, but their scope is local. You have to be looking right at them, in the locations they are posted, in order to receive the information.

To get information beyond that point, people rode or sailed (now drive and fly) across the globe to provide news and mail from family, friends, and business associates. It could take some time to get information – days, weeks, and in really bad times, years. However, the information provided could (and still can) be verbose.

Move forward in time, and we had the telegram service which provided speedier delivery, but the messages were much shorter and could not provide drawings.

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students, You are cordially invited to a lessons @ lunch on November 18, 2014 in the dick smith library multi-purpose room (which is through the front doors facing the trogdon house and to the right before the elevator) on the topic of accessible email presented by the electronic and information resources accessibility coordinator Karole Schroeder
Move forward again, and we start to get into the forms of communication we are used to:
  • Phones
  • Television
  • Email
  • Websites
While posters have been become a standard in communications and marketing, they too have evolved. We can use an assortment of colors of ink and paper. We can create them in different sizes, including billboards. We can even make them move or display different things at different times, such as digital signage. There is not one single message that can be placed on all channels of communication the same exact way to get the same result.

Times Square in New York City back in 2004, filled with various sized billboards and moving billboards
Billboards in Times Square in NYC in 2004
Think about it: Would you be able to place the same poster that is on your wall coming into your building as you would a billboard? Note the difference in usage. 

In the former instance, you have the ability to walk up to the poster, read it at your own pace, and continue on. In the latter instance, you are driving down a street, with little time to look away without losing focus of the traffic around you, so you don’t have time to consume as much information. 

The poster on the wall can have verbose information and still be engaging. The billboard absolutely must be engaging (it has to catch your eye in only so many seconds) but must do so with much less textual information because our brains can’t multitask too much (read and understand text, memorize information, keep car straight on the road, keep car from hitting the car in front of it, keep car from slowing down suddenly to causing a similar accident).

Email has its own protocols, but they are less known due to the age and technology involved. Email used to be text just like the telegram, but it was even faster than a telegram – it came right to your computer instead of your door. It wasn’t long before email took on the capabilities that websites have, using the same code that is used to program websites, however, that’s where things get messy.

Email may be like the web, but it does not have the full functionality of the web. And while it has similar problems as the web when it comes to displaying exactly the same in all browsers, it has an even bigger challenge: 
  • web-based email clients (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail,
  • device-based email clients (e.g., Outlook, Entourage, Apple iPhone, Google Android)
The size of each device varies, so the results could be blank space in odd places as well as unusual ordering of images and text. Add to that various email clients block images from loading. Add to that the speed of the internet can slow down or halt the loading of images in your emails. Add to that various email clients block font types and colors and styles… Oh, my!

With so many things to juggle, it is obvious that what works for posters is not going to work for email. But email has so many pluses:
  • Scope: you can get to a large audience fast
  • Breadth: you can provide a much longer message (10 MB limit if you are using the Tarleton email services which is quite a lot)
  • Interactivity: you can get your audience to access calls-to-action immediately, even sign up for an event or put it on their calendar with a link here and there
In order to sort through the mess of email and give you some easy solutions that you can do on your own (Web Services does customized emails for large event projects), we’ve provided a training module and a couple handouts on how to be accessible in your emails on our Web Accessibility website. We are also happy to announce that in conjunction with University Libraries, we will be providing a Lessons @ Lunch on accessible emails November 18, at noon, in the Multi-Purpose Room in the Dick Smith Library.

Feel free to come to the session or contact me any time!