Digital Communication Style

A large part of the working population learned to write business letters in a formal way during their studies. We still find traces of this in our e-mails today. Now this style is further reflected in the language used on social technology (such as digital collaboration tools). The sentences used are complex, the messages are long and usually not easy to read. This style does not suit this 'fast' medium. Social technology requires a different style: fast, efficient and 'to the point'. This does not mean that we have to use informal language. But there is a need for a new formal communication style, that is what I mean by 'digital communication style'. A typical message from someone with little experience with social technology looks like this: Een typisch bericht van iemand met weinig ervaring met sociale technologie ziet er zo uit:

Nick TheWriter

Dear colleagues,

 

As you have probably already heard, new software is coming into our company: Microsoft Teams. This tool will eventually replace the current SharePoint team sites that were launched in 2014. I strongly invite you to take part in the conversations in this handy tool that will enable a new way of working. Next week, you will all be invited to follow a training on how to use this new software. I can recommend this half-day training to get acquainted with the new possibilities this tool will bring us. This software will take digital collaboration to a higher level within our organisation.

 

Best regards,

Nick

It is obvious that this text resembles the format of a letter very much, the format that is also common in email messages. The address and closing greeting at the end of the message may be omitted. You notice in this example that it takes some time to decipher the messages.

A digital conversation

The intention with social technology is to create a digital conversation. Interaction is very important and is often overlooked. A good message flow reads almost like the scenario of a play. It 'feels' like a face-to-face conversation between a number of colleagues. Each message is accompanied by a photo and the name of the person who placed the message (almost like in a scenario text). By formulating the messages concisely, the message can be quickly captured by the reader. This makes it easy to respond quickly so that a digital 'conversation' can arise. As the following figure illustrates, a digital conversation should become just as interactive as a person-to-person conversation.

Be to-the-point

Whether or not your message will be read depends to a large extent on the style of writing you use. Avoid woolly sentences causing people to read them twice to understand what you mean. Use short, powerful sentences that convey the essence of your message quickly. If 10 colleagues need 2 minutes to 'decipher' your message when you could have got your message across in 30 seconds, a lot of time is lost. In this way you tackle 'information overload' at the source. The following example illustrates this. Both messages are intended as a call to formulate powerful and strong messages. Which formulation would you prefer?

Ann MassiveWriter

This is an example of a long message in which you, as a reader, have to search for the essence, a piece of work that has to be done again by each reader, so valuable time will be lost. During our studies we might have come into contact with Latin sentences, which excel in the use of subsidiary and subordinate sentences and even more of that. During the Roman Empire this may have been fashionable and could have been important, but in the context of social technology - the age we live in now - it really doesn't help us. Make your point in one sentence and possibly clarify it in a second sentence. Delete the rest of your prose, and yes, that takes a lot of practice. Everyone has his or her own style of writing in the end, and adjusting it will take time, sometimes even several weeks.

Jan Houdthetkort

This fast communication medium requires short and to-the-point messages. Keep the comfort for your colleagues in mind and adapt your writing style.

Avoid double messages

Avoid duplicate messages within one message. In the example at the beginning of this article, both the announcement of a new tool and the announcement of the new training are made. What should readers respond to? To the announcement of the tool? Or to the announcement that training courses are to organised? A better alternative is to place two separate messages (which also makes them shorter):

 

Nick TheWriter

Microsoft Teams will soon replace the SharePoint team sites that already date from 2014. The new tool will be available on smartphones.

Fien Modern

Fantastic! It's about time our company invested in this. We have been waiting for a long time for the availability of a more modern tool that we can also use on our smartphones.

Nick TheWriter

Next week, the calendar of the training course "efficient use of Microsoft Teams" will be communicated. This training takes half a day. Highly recommended!

Suzy AlwaysHappy

Great that our feedback has been taken into account. A training course of two consecutive days like in the past is really no longer feasible in our agendas.

It is more efficient to support employees in the development of a new digital communication style than to provide extensive tool training. Tool training was certainly appropriate in the past. In those days, colleagues had to learn how to use a word processor and no longer a typewriter. Today's context is different. It is not so much the tool that is changing today (social technology is less complex than a word processor), but the way we communicate with each other. And many employees still have to learn this new way of communicating.

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