Talking Business Online: How To Communicate In An Increasingly Digital World

Larry Alton

The days of telling stories through cave paintings are long over. As more and more businesses rely on technology for things like telecommuting, online customer support systems, and webinar training, it’s important to keep up with the times – or you risk falling behind. As a business owner, how do you rank your ability to communicate?

Why communication matters

Let’s step away from corporate culture for a minute. What does communication look like in our day-to-day life? In person, we use words, body language, and nonverbal cues to let people know our thoughts and feelings. The deaf community uses sign language to communicate. Even developmentally disabled individuals who can’t produce verbal speech communicate, often through gesturing and by using assistive technology.

There’s a reason we do it every day: Communication is a valuable and necessary component of building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. In the business world, these relationships are just as important. Employers give instructions to their employees during meetings; employees discuss projects and strategize with each other. Perhaps most importantly, businesses need to communicate their value to consumers through marketing and advertising.

What good communication looks like

That’s why it’s so important to communicate effectively. Your business should have an identifiable voice that establishes you as an authority in your field. But you can’t just talk all day and assume someone’s listening; effective communication also involves stepping back and opening space for someone else to take the floor.

The social media experts at Buffer do a good job explaining the importance of active listening. Active listeners are attentive and empathetic, which leads to more meaningful conversation. As a business, you can do this by inviting feedback and making customer service easily accessible. Think of it this way: It doesn’t matter if the customer is right; as a business owner, it’s your job to treat the customer as though they’re always right.

Taking it to the Internet (and beyond)

Certainly, good communication is valuable. But it’s also complicated. Right now, we – the collective businesspeople and consumers of the world – exist at something of a crossroads of digital and physical communications. It doesn’t take a ton of technological chops to understand how each type works on its own. Online dialoguing offers each party a cloak of anonymity, while face-to-face interaction requires you to bare all. Email is digital; an in-person meeting is “real.” Right?

Well, the times, they are a-changing. As technology develops and communication styles converge, the dividing lines between digital and in-person communication are dissolving.

Here are just a few tips for staying on top of your game in the world of digital communication.

  • Use SMS. Texting isn’t just for teens anymore. In business, you can use SMS as a tool to distribute surveys and solicit employee feedback. When employees feel heard, morale improves, and productivity goes up. It’s also a useful tactic to incorporate into an emergency plan – because when calls don’t go through, texts often do.
  • Follow up quickly. It’s bad form to let customer questions and comments sit around for several days – especially online. You can’t use the “too busy” excuse when mobile consumers are engaging in real time from all corners of the globe. Fortunately, the digital world can equip you with tools, like social media monitoring, to streamline the process.
  • Meet up online. Sometimes you can’t meet with a client or colleague in person. Maybe something came up and you had to reschedule at the last minute, or maybe the person you need to meet with lives four time zones away. Skype is one amazing tool for online conferencing, but countless others exist with better optimization for businesses. Similarly, a rudimentary search will turn up dozens of options for virtual meeting rooms.

What’s particularly useful about a good online meeting client is that, not only will it support voice and video communication, but it also provides a virtual whiteboard or flipchart, which allows participants to write and draw in real time as the conversation progresses.

Final thoughts: Keep channels open

It’s easy to feel unengaged by digital interactions. After all, who wants to talk to a robot? But take a step back for a minute and remember that there’s another person on the other side of the web, and that person’s voice is just as important as yours. Look at it this way: By taking advantage of digital communication technology, you’re making yourself available as a business owner to the needs of your customers and your employees. What’s more personal than that?

For more communication strategies that get results, see Social Media Is Not The Death Of Meaningful Communication.

About Larry Alton

Larry is a freelance marketing & technology consultant with a background in IT. Follow him on Twitter @LarryAlton3.