25 Communication Tools and Strategies | Understanding Communication Plans

Importance of a Communication Plan

In a technology-enabled society, information is shared more quickly and in higher volumes than ever before. There is more competition to reach your intended audience. As a result, it is of the utmost importance to plan your communication strategy to ensure that your message reaches your stakeholders to cut through the noise.  Having an effective communications plan enables you (and your organization) to effectively deliver information to your stakeholders and measure the success of your communication efforts.

Some other important reasons to have a communications plan include: A person holding a stack of books

  • Clarifies the goals and objectives of you research
  • Clarifies the relationship with your audience and how to reach them
  • Allows for a greater contribution towards shared value when information flows seamlessly between stakeholders
  • Enables you to measure the success of different communication tactics
  • Creates a shared responsibility and accountability among your team
  • Enables you to identify areas of improvement in your communication strategy
  • Creates a sense of community amongst your key internal and external stakeholders
  • Allows your team to spend effort and resources more efficiently
  • Contributes to a better workplace culture
  • Establish buy in with senior management and other funders
  • Establish your research and academic expertise with media and other outlets

Understanding different types of communication

Communication comes in a variety of forms, all of which serve their own unique purpose. In order to develop an effective communications plan it is important to understand these different communication types and the purpose of each.

Human communication consists of four different forms: verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual. Communication to any audience and through any medium contains some or all of these forms of communication. For the purpose of this module, we will concentrate on type and direction of communication based on their audience and objective.

Type: Internal vs. External

  • Internal Communication is any communication that occurs between members of your team. Internal communication is generally used to ensure all members of your team have a shared understanding of the project or research, which enables them to work together as efficiently as possible.

Some examples of internal communication include a shared calendar or events or group chat platform, research protocols and internal papers and boiler plate messages.

  • External Communication is any form of communication targeted to stakeholders outside of your team. These stakeholders could include other university personnel, industry partners, the academic community, or potential customers. External communication can serve a variety of purposes and is the most widely used form in a communications plan aimed at reaching external audiences.

An example of external communication is an email or newsletter.

Direction: One-way vs. Two-way

  • One-way communication is used to share information with stakeholders without the expectation that they will respond or interact with the information. The content of this communication type is typically informative in nature and is used to educate or inform your audience on a specific piece of information.

An example of one-way communication is a newsletter to share updates on your research progress. This can be used to keep your audience up to date on your research in a low-stakes way. The audience is being asked to consume the information. They are educated about your research. a person holding a clipboard

  • Two-way communication is any communication that has the goal of starting a dialogue with your stakeholders. External communication is typically focused on information gathering, fact finding, or community engagement. In two-way communication you are sharing information with your audience with the expectation of receiving engagement or information in return.

An example of two-way communication is a survey that you circulate to potential industry partners to gauge their interest in specific parts of your research. You are inviting your audience to be involved in your research and a response is demanded of them, so that they become invested advocates in your work.

These terms will be used throughout the module to refer to specific types of communication within your communications plan. You might choose to focus on a combination of multiple communication forms to achieve your communication goals. The forms you select to utilize will change greatly depending on your field of study, your target audience, and objective.

Section 3 of this module will discuss specific tools that can be used to achieve these specific communication goals.


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