The Hierarchy of Contemporary Communication

I’m constantly amazed at how many people have such a hard time catching on to the various forms of available communication, and don’t realize what is appropriate usage for each of them. There are ways of reaching out to people that require very little research to find out an address, and those are the places least likely to get a response. On the other hand, one can easily abuse having access to someone’s cell phone number or email address. For what it’s worth, here is my assessment of the priority given to the various forms of communication…

1. The Telephone: Yes, you read that right. The phone is still the best way to reach out to someone with urgency. I went to a conference recently where they put up a slide that said, “You can’t get milk from a cow by sending an email.” If you need an urgent answer, pick up the phone.

2. Text Message: If your message is urgent, but does not require a detailed response, then send an SMS. They are hard to ignore, and I’ll always respond quicker than other forms of messaging. But I reserve this for only my closest family and associates, and I do get pissed if anyone overdoes it. If it doesn’t require an immediate response then you’d be better off with…

3. Email: This is the best route for everyday communication.  It’s easy to wade through and prioritize. As long as you have someone’s email, it is not an imposition to communicate that way, because it is understood that you may not get an immediate answer, or some cases, the message may not require an answer.  If you are planning to communicate with a large number of people, and no answer is required, then you may be better off with…

4. Twitter: It’s counter intuitive to put Twitter ahead of Facebook, but because Twitter is always in my pocket, I see more of what is there, and I’m more likely to absorb it. It’s great for casual communication. Once you learn the ins and outs of how to use it, you’ll be less likely to piss people off, but for starters, direct messaging on Twitter should be put in the same category as SMS messages. This is not casual, and should only be used when you are seeking an immediate answer from someone you actually have a relationship with.

5. Facebook: While Facebook status updates are similar to tweets, there is more upkeep required. People post responses, and the more active you are, the more you are inviting responses that require other responses. In other words, don’t expect a response from me unless I’m trying to get the conversation off my wall (so to speak). Facebook emails are a total PAIN IN THE ASS. They pop into my regular email, but I can’t just hit “reply.” I’ve got to log in to Facebook, and then reply. If I get to that once a week, that’s a lot. So, don’t expect a quick answer on Facebook. However, Facebook can be a good source of contact info if you don’t have any other method of getting in touch with someone. I have tracked down a few people who I had no other way of reaching, but as soon as I connected with them, I started communicating in other ways.

6. Linked-In: My impression of Linked-In is that the only active participants are those that are looking for jobs, and if you are a participant who is currently employed, the only communication is from people asking for recommendations or referrals or introductions. That’s why I closed my account.

Anyway, that’s how it shakes out for me. Disagree? Let me know.

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  1. Hi Ira

    Completely agree with all but the last point (especially the Facebook messages). Regarding LinkedIn — I’ve found it useful to quickly review someone’s background for collaborators, vendors, etc. Have also reconnected with some old colleagues through LinkedIn.

  2. Hi Ira, the main point is a great one — just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. As you outlined you need to use judgment and context. That being said, here’s my .02. I prefer no one leave me voice mails anymore and also that people only call as a last resort. Even with voice-to-text accessing and returning voice messages is a pain and also doesn’t keep any key information handy for reference at a later date. And I do like LinkedIn — there are many active groups and the “Answers” section is very informative and a good crowd-source for many issues. For professional networking LinkedIn is an amazing tool.