Communication is a process that often, but not always, ends with feedback. If you want to communicate effectively—in writing or when speaking—you should understand the communication process.
Communication requires a sender who sends a message through a channel (email, letter, report, article, tweet, blog post and so on) to a receiver (the reader). The process is not complete, however, without feedback. Feedback closes the communication loop. Sometimes, noise (competing messages, distractions, misunderstandings and so on) interferes with your message. Feedback lets you know if the receiver understood your message.
Again, you don’t always need feedback. If you are writing an article for a publication, you seldom solicit feedback. You might, however, if you are writing an editorial or writing for a publication that advocates social justice and wants people to participate in the political process. The main thing is to be aware of the communication process so you can make conscious decisions about how to use it.
Advertising and Feedback
When you communicate in person, you can ask for feedback if you want it. You can ask people if they understood what you were saying or if they have any questions. However, when you communicate in writing or other one-way media (such as broadcast, which is primarily speaking the written word), it is more difficult to ask for feedback.
Advertisers want feedback when they communicate so they can measure the effectiveness of promotions, and they have learned how to use direct-response marketing techniques such as discount coupons, time-limited offers, and so on to motivate people to take action–buy something or request more information. They then measure the received feedback—how many widgets were sold, how many people called for more information or, these days, visited a website.
If an advertiser doesn’t know how effective its promotion was, how will they know whether they should run the same ads again, modify them, or scrap them and come up with something new?
In business writing, if you do not close the communication loop, how will you know if the desired action has been or will be taken by the person or group of people you have written?
Again, you do not have to ask for replies from everybody you email or to whom you send information or from everybody who reads your articles. In many instances, your writing purpose might not require you to close the communications loop, especially if you are writing news articles for publications or websites. In business, you often send messages “FYI”—for your (the receiver’s) information. In other words, no action required. Again, the key is to know before you write if you want feedback, and how it should be taken. That way, you can work a call to action into your document—buy now, call today, storm the barricades at 3:00 PM, send a letter of protest.
If you want to know if the recipient has taken the requested action (or has any questions), you need to close the communication loop. You can ask for a reply and monitor the situation to see if action has been taken.
In advertising, as mentioned, and often when using social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on), you go one step further: You not only ask for action to be taken, you try to motivate it.
“Save 20% if you buy before November 30” is an attempt to motivate someone to buy a product by a specific date. If sales go up, you have your feedback and know your motivation worked.
“Click here to read about the new Filibuster 300 and receive 10 free tips on…” is an attempt to motivate a click. “Blog post on <topic>. Read and enter to win. Click here <website address>,” goes the tweet. Without getting into web analytics here, I want you to know that you can monitor clicks to your ten free tips or contest after you send out your promotion, and you can then gauge your feedback or how well your promotion did.
Again, if you do not require a reply (literally a reply or feedback or action), then you may not need to close the communication loop. Deciding whether to close it or not should be a conscious decision, based on your particular needs. The important point here is this: if you need to know that the receiver has received and understood your message or taken a particular action, then you have to put into place a method of closing the communication loop. If the loop does not close in a timely manner—timely as dictated by you and your circumstances—then it is your job to troubleshoot the process.
In other words, you can assume that your message has been received and understood or you can build feedback into the communication process so you know it has or you know if you need to follow up.
Understanding the need to close, or not close, the communications loop or to motivate, or not motivate, action can make you a better writer, but only if you can write well and structure your entire document to lead up to the call to action (or conscious lack of one).