As I again set my sights on venturing into the world of freelancing in online communication, I find myself redefining communication. After all, I come from a generation that has gone from corded rotary kitchen phones to do-everything iPhones, from cutesy stationery to instant email, from friendly drop-ins by neighbors to Skype conversations with family far away. Back in the day, as they say, all the self-help books on personal and business communication centered on actively listening to the person speaking — mostly, well, in person.
While the channels for communication have changed, the basics are still the same: be clear, be consistent, listen. The biggest difference is that the messages we are trying to convey in all aspects of our lives must be tailored to the medium, without changing what Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls the “human moments” – those interactions of being in the presence of someone and having his or her emotional and intellectual attention. The idea of human moments may be evolving, but changing the message in any way undermines any trust that you need to get your message across.
Think about how much we communicate every day. I’m not just talking about talking here. We communicate in hundreds of ways every day: talking, emails, body language, facial expressions, phone conversations, Facebook status updates, Tweets, texts, blogs, ….are you getting the idea, because I could keep going like Bubba expounding on his shrimp? As a teacher by day, I spend every minute of my eight-plus hours with students communicating information and feedback, not to mention communication with parents, other teachers, administrators, and other educational stakeholders. As an aspiring web designer and marketing freelancer, I spend a great deal of time making sure the message I’m sending is the message my clients intend. We are communicating constantly. To be taken seriously, be it personal or business communication, we need to establish and maintain an element of trust in our communication relationships.
In today’s fast-paced world, building trust may not be as difficult a task as it once was. As Steph Hay, founder of NovaCowork and co-organizer of the DC Lean Startup Circle, wrote in her August 2012 article for A List Apart, being real and more human is real.
“Real is trustworthy. Trust in that,” said Hay.
Hay applies what she calls the “Mom Test”. She suggests we stop fixating on what makes each of us different when we approach online communication, and instead acknowledge the more human side of who we are, what we do, and why people choose us. By reading copy either to Mom or with Mom in mind, we can call ourselves on the bullshit and cut down to what is real.
Approaching communication, be it online or in person, with a genuine effort to be real while also being accurate and consistent is a great way to establish trust. Making it effective to maintaining that trust is another story.
According to Steven Snell in February 2009 edition of Smashing Magazine, communication is a fundamental element of web design that often takes a backseat to visual attractiveness. Design, development, and content works best in tandem. In his article, “Clear and Effective Communication in Web Design”, Snell offers several tips for effective communication, goals for communication in web design, and results of good communication. Prioritizing communication, keeping it simple, keeping it relevant, and making everything count or get rid of it are just some of his recommendations for building trust. Good communication that helps visitors understand the site’s purpose, reduces bounce rates, create less frustration, and reduces the numbers of unnecessary inquiries goes a long way to maintaining trust among visitors.
From the first minute of the first day of classes every year, I communicate to build trust. From the first meeting with a potential client, I communicate to build trust. From the first hit on a website, I communicate to build trust. Communication and trust, trust and communication — forever hand-in-hand.