Friday, March 23, 2012

Adaptive Communication Strategies for State Government

The short article below was written primarily for an Oregon state employee audience.  As I understand, it will be appearing within newsletter sometime in the near future.  I thought I'd offer a sneak peek, since most of my readers won't catch the internal newsletter.  Here is an additional academic resource.

When I started work at the Oregon Department of Revenue, the Internet was largely an unknown territory.  A lot has changed since the late 1990s.  Today, more than perhaps ever before, we need to adapt our communication to the audience at hand.  Sometimes, we do this without thinking, but other times a conscious effort is necessary.  What is adaptive communication, and how can we utilize it with greater efficiency?  

The first thing to keep in mind is that adaptive communication actually is a fairly broad term. This umbrella covers everything from sign language to simplified letters or online chats.  In the context of the work we do on a daily basis within state government, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for improving our communication strategy from internal to external customers, but with particular focus on individuals between 17 and 24 years-old.  For our purposes, adaptive communications covers the multitude of ways we communicate with colleagues and the public.

Different communication approaches are needed to reach diverse audiences, and this especially holds true for young adults.  Since Generation Y (or “Millennials”) relies so much upon the Internet for its news and information, efforts to reach this group as a whole will only be successful if the Internet is an integral part of the strategy--and if it is used correctly. The 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project Teens and Technology demonstrates this with a vivid statistical snapshot of young peoples’ reliance upon technology.  Nearly 90% of 12-17 year-olds, for example, report daily use of the Internet.  Instant messaging is also beginning to replace e-mail within this group.  Due to income and educational disparities, however, more than ten percent of 12-17 year-olds do not have regular access to the Internet--highlighting the importance of public availability of Internet access sites for educational and employment-seeking purposes.

What are some real-world techniques that may help us better connect with our audience—no matter the age?  When it comes to external communications, it’s particularly helpful if our written and verbal content is clear and concise.  What does this mean?  It means the communicated message should avoid unnecessary acronyms, jargon, or unclear or inconsistently-applied abbreviations.  This also holds true for internal communication—for example, between different divisions of the same agency.  

It’s easy to forget that what we’re saying may be as clear as mud because of reliance upon acronyms or office jargon.  Keeping it simple, clear, and concise will help keep the audience happy.  As food for thought, perhaps more state agencies should abandon the old letter templates of years past and embrace more user-friendly formats?  After all, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to conveying our message to the public.  Are we informing, or are we telling?  Word processors may have replaced typewriters in our offices, but sometimes we seem to be having a more difficult time when it comes to tailoring our content for the modern audience while keeping it clear and courteous.

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