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Extreme makeover: Online communication edition


In today’s digital world one in four people spend more time communicating online than in person. Whether it is a discussion, timeline, or circle we are all involved in group communication in some way.

But how effectively are you communicating? When you post to a group or discussion board how are people responding to you?

  • No responses?
  • Misinterpretations?
  • When it is your turn to post how well do others respond?
  • Does this sound like you?
    • Great post!
    • Thanks for the information.
    • I like that idea :)

If you answered yes to at least 3 of these scenarios then maybe it’s time for an extreme communication makeover.

Online is not the same as face-to-face

What specific elements do we miss out on when we trade face-to-face communication for connecting online? We tend to forget about the importance of body language, voice inflection, and the simple act of looking someone in the eye during a conversation. Granted, technologies such as Skype can provide us with the screen image of the person to whom we're talking. But is eye contact as palpable on a screen as it is in person? And how ‘undivided' is our attention when we're reading someone's email message, as opposed to when we're sitting across a table from them? Can a text message convey the nuance of a facial expression?

Online communication requires thinking differently. Up until the mid-20th century most people communicated by letters when they could not meet face to face. Letter writing became an art and some of the most fascinating glimpses into history can be found in letters.

Just as in letter writing there is an art to online communication. Daily communication needs to be short, concise, and able to convey meaning without having the benefit of body language. There are also some rules and guidelines that you follow.

  • DON'T USE ALL CAPS!!!!!! No one wants to be yelled at. Be careful of using all caps and too many exclamation points in your content. You're not living in a Seinfeld episode like "Top of the muffin TO YOU!"
  • Always use good grammar and correct spelling. This is important whether you are composing communication for the work environment or virtual classroom, poor grammar and miss-spelled words are unprofessional and reflect poorly on your commitment to the project and your message.
  • Take note of your tone. The use of good tone is critical with electronic writing. The wrong words may leave a bad impression and upset the reader. It's easy to sound bossy and unprofessional with persuasive messages so be mindful of how you construct your messaging.
  • Be respectful. Be polite, friendly and professional at all times. This also applies to the timeliness of your response. Sometimes you have a little bit of a leeway with certain deadlines, but particularly if a response is requested, be sure to provide one at your earliest convenience.

In addition to general rules there are ways to increase your communication effectiveness based what channel you are posting in.

Discussion boards and forums 

The discussion board is the new normal for online courses. This is not the appropriate place for rambling.

  • Get to the point quickly. Remember that an online forum is meant to be a discussion, so always respond to those classmates that respond to your original posts. This develops community and rapport and quite frankly it is the polite thing to do. You wouldn’t ignore someone if they spoke to you, would you?
  • Don’t ignore a lively discussion. When you are in a learning environment it is appropriate to ask questions, or state opposing opinions. School is about learning new ideas and be exposed to other points of view. Just be sure that you are polite and respectful. For some people it is emotionally difficult to state a potentially controversial opinion.
  • Stay on topic and write with the response you're seeking in mind. Make it clear what kind of action you want the readers to take if you're looking for something specific.

Social Media

Know your audience. If your Facebook, LinkedIn or other platform is primarily used for friends status updates and baby photos don’t over post. If you use your site to promote your business or for class discussion post a bit more often. Just make sure that you are adding value to your audience not cluttering them with meaningless hashtags.

Your mothers advice of “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all” still applies. If your friend is a political junkie you can expect strong statements. If you don’t agree stop and think before you post. Imagine that person standing in front of you. Would you say the same thing in the same way? Really?? Remember it is a real person on the other end of your post.



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