We’re communicating all the time, whether we know it or not. We’re even more connected to the world now than we’ve ever been before. Different means of communication are vast and seemingly growing each day. Still, each way we communicate has its own special purpose and rules, whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone, online, or through television.
You can try to understand the rules associated with each method of communication, but it’s a daunting task. We’ll talk about some of the most significant means of communication here, give you some details of the rules associated with them, and talk a little bit about when and how we use them.
What Are the Means of Communication?
When we talk about different means of communication, we are talking about everything from speaking out loud to writing a letter to broadcasting over television. We communicate using our bodies, our phones, and our computers. We even communicate using our cars with vanity license plates and bumper stickers. We are literally never not communicating.
Breaking down all of the different means of communication available to us is a big task, but we’re going to do our best to dig into each of the means you are likely to encounter regularly. We’ll talk about why we use them, where they came from, and some of the communicative rules and regulations associated with each of them.
We’ll also dig into some means of communication that are less commonplace now, and we will discuss why that might be the case.
Communicating online is something most of us do daily. Whether we’re using social media, sending emails, chatting on websites where we share common interests, or Skyping far away friends and family, online communication is a huge part of our lives. The expansion of the internet impacts the way we communicate in every form, from interpersonal to mass media.
The way we communicate online depends on why we’re trying to communicate in the first place. For instance, if we’re using email for professional tasks, there are different rules than when we use it to send photos or information to family and friends. Email can be as formal or as informal as we need to make it.
We want to take time to dig into all of the different means of communication online so that we can talk about the rules and systems involved in those means individually.
Channels of social media have expanded exponentially in the last decade. Almost everyone has at least one form, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or even Tumblr. All of these social media channels work differently, so they all have different communicative rules.
For instance, on Facebook, you can speak interpersonally without the restrictions on turn-taking that you’d have in face-to-face conversations.
On Instagram, you’re doing mostly mass communication unless you’re using the messenger service or responding to individual comments. Posting a picture with a caption is communicating to a large number of people. But it negates the need for anyone to respond in any way other than by “liking” your post.
Tumblr is another beast entirely, since you can share photos or text posts, and can add notes to each other’s posts, but also reblog or edit them as your own. The rules on Tumblr are exaggeratedly different than with most other forms of social media or communication in general. So, it’s kind of like the communicative version of the wild west.
Overall, social media is a wonderful tool because it allows individuals to communicate with a large audience without having to put in the time or effort to individually communicate with those people, but that can also create problems. Social media communication is often impersonal, and it creates a space where people can hide behind their keyboard to say rude or hateful things.
The ways in which email has evolved since it first came on the scene are incredible. What we once saw as a virtual letter that needed to stick to all of the formalities therewithin, we now see as a means of quick communication that can be as formal or informal as necessary.
If you’re using email for professional means, there are some etiquette rules that you’ll want to understand. For instance, your communication starts with your email address, so you won’t want to have an informal or unprofessional one that will give your readers reservations before they even read the body of the email.
You’ll also want to ensure that your subject line is clear, concise, and direct. A subject is basically a title, and you’ll want it to convey the importance of your email’s body so that potential readers don’t bypass your words for something they may deem more important.
Other rules for using email both professionally and personally include the following:
- Use salutations that make sense for your readers (i.e., “yo” only for friends, not your boss)
- Include a signature block on professional emails
- Watch out for exclamation points
- Don’t use emojis in professional emails
- Use humor and sarcasm with caution since they don’t always translate well in written form
- Understand cultural differences in email etiquette
- Always proofread
- Don’t add the email address of the recipient until you’ve written the rest of the email to avoid pre-sending
- Stay away from silly fonts except with friends
- Watch out for the tone of the email; it’s easy to sound angry or harsh when there are no context clues or body language to go with your words
- Remember that nothing is confidential– emails can be printed, altered, or shared without your knowledge so write accordingly and save your important messages just in case
Blogs are unique forms of communication because they are often a mix between a journal, which falls under the category of intrapersonal communication, and a message to a wide variety of others, which is mass communication. Sometimes a blog starts as the former and ends up being the latter without much notice, which can be both a good and bad thing.
Blogging is now a way to make money as well, so some people will do it as a form of advertisement for products or services that pay them. It’s all a major balance, and every type of blog has different communicative rules. The rule that all blogs run by, though, is using natural and conversational language.
The type of blog and privacy settings you use will also change the way you sound in your posts and what type of communication category they fall into. If you have a completely private blog where you keep your deep, dark secrets, then it’s still more intrapersonal. If you let a few friends see what you’ve written without opening up to the public, it’s more interpersonal than anything.
There are advantages and disadvantages to blog sites in other ways as well. For instance, researchers initially thought blogs would be a great alternative to traditional news websites or sources because they allowed for critical thinking and less censorship than mainstream media outlets. However, that can be a blessing and a curse.
Blogs can offer alternative ideas, but because there is no one there to monitor the sourcing or information a blogger uses, they don’t always feature truth or facts, but rather opinions. Blogs can often spread misinformation and create a groupthink environment that does little good for society.
That’s not to say that no blogs are good. There are some blogs where individuals do their own research and really dig into information to do better than mainstream media channels. You can spot these blogs by their sourcing information at the bottom of each entry. They also typically have real-life interviews and other means of proving themselves as truthful.
Online communication gets about as close to normal face-to-face interpersonal communication as it can with video chats. These apps and websites allow users to see their conversational partners in a very similar way to what they would in person. That means that you don’t have the struggle of trying to convey sarcasm or humor or tone over simple text like other online sources.
You can now even video chat in small groups using specific websites where multiple people can be on a call at once. That means that not only interpersonal communication works well over the internet, but small group communication can find success there as well.
Blackboard and Other Education Sites
If you’re in college or have taken college courses in the last decade or so, you’re probably familiar with Blackboard or other websites that colleges use to help professors interact with students and classes interact with one another.
These sites represent their own challenges communicatively speaking because they have some areas where communication is one-sided, coming only from the professor, and other areas where students can communicate by posting and replying to posts. The site is also monitored by faculty, which means that communication on Blackboard needs to have some formality to it.
Cell Phone Communication
Cell phones are a unique situation, especially with the various types out there. Smartphones offer different services and ways of communicating than flip phones, and there are so many apps and forms of communication available on these phones that we couldn’t possibly cover them all.
Let’s start with the basic usage of cell phones: texting and calls.
Phone calls on cell phones aren’t much different from those on a traditional landline, but there are some subtle differences to consider. When you’re communicating on a cell phone, you aren’t necessarily in a private setting where you can say whatever you’d like. You need to monitor your volume more so than on a landline, as well, to meet social norms.
Texting is a whole other ball game. It has some of the same drawbacks as email communication since you can’t necessarily convey tone or humor easily. Still, with texting, you’re more likely to have casual conversations where you can utilize emojis to get your point across to the receiver.
Beyond texting and phone calls, cell phones allow you to communicate on social media platforms, to video chat, and to use media that creators specifically designed for cell phones such as Snapchat.
Snapchat is different from many other means of communicating through your cell phone because it allows messages, photos, and videos to all disappear after a set amount of time. It also notifies you when your privacy may be at risk, like when someone takes a screenshot of what you sent. The communicative rules for Snapchat are different than almost all other apps.
Major Media Communication
Communication through major media like television, newspapers, and the like has changed drastically with the invention of the internet and the expansion of streaming services and cable outlets. Now the same news outlet needs to adjust its stories to a variety of audiences depending on where those audiences see the content.
There are a few primary forms of major media that we’ll discuss individually here. Those forms are radio, television, newspaper, and digital.
Radio is an old form of media relatively speaking, but it’s evolving quickly to keep up with the times. Radio has always been a mobile form of media, even before phones and television were mobile as well. It reached the masses when few others could, and that made it an interesting area of study in the field of communication.
Radio reaches a variety of audiences from older adults all the way to toddlers. It is versatile and available in many forms. You can get radio apps on your cell phone for local and national stations, so it’s just like listening in your car or home. You can get online radio apps or satellite only radio like Pandora, Spotify, and Sirius XM, respectively.
Each type of radio comes with unique communicative benefits and challenges. Local radio stations can utilize local businesses as advertisers and reach a relatively small target audience. Pandora can advertise only national businesses or activities, which limits the communication they can provide.
Sirius XM is unique in terms of radio that is available via the internet or an in-car satellite connection because it offers to talk and music programs, but no commercials. Communication on this form of radio sometimes contains national news or celebrity news, but it doesn’t focus on local topics like AM or FM stations.
The TV has long been an essential part of mass media, especially in terms of local and national news. We can also lump talk shows into this category of news media because they typically deal with celebrity news, at least, and sometimes weird news from around the country or world.
Not only does TV allow us to garner information that we may have otherwise missed out on via news sources, but it can also play a role in the communication within our households and friend groups. A TV can become a way in which a family communicates or spends quality time together, which is a piece of the mass media puzzle that we often overlook.
In addition to the impact television has on the whole family; it can have significant and specific effects on children. You may have noticed that many children’s programs now speak directly to your child at certain points during the program. This is because children draw information from the television through interaction, just like they learn from interactions with others in-person.
Beyond just news and children’s programming, the television industry has an opportunity to spread messages through sitcoms, documentary programs, and more. Even when we think a television show is just for fun, we might be getting a message from the creators and writers of the show that is more serious in nature.
Take The Simpsons, for example. We might assume that the show’s writers meant it to be a humorous look at a complicated world. Still, in reality, it talks about current events. It analyzes everything from quirky moments to national and international policy in a way that appeals to the masses and doesn’t seem as stuffy as a normal news show.
The Simpsons have even accurately predicted the future roughly 20 times because of its deep immersion into modern society. It’s not just a show, but a way of informing the public and creating deeper conversations.
Although we can see that newspapers are becoming less and less popular with the increased use of the internet to get news, they are still a fairly prominent media resource. Newspapers have adapted to changing times by creating websites and partnerships with other papers. Some require memberships to read their online publications just as they did to read the paper version.
Newspapers are a fascinating form of communication because writers and editors take on the paper version at least a day in advance of sending it out, which means they need to know what topics will still need discussing in our fast-moving world.
If you’ve read a newspaper lately, you probably know there are still some parts that are nicer to read in physical form versus online. From engagement announcements to obituaries and memorials, there are some things you may want to clip and save on that old paper versus printing from the internet with advertisements running down the sides.
Newspapers reach us both on national and local levels. They are a means of communications in small towns where dialup internet still reigns supreme, and they contain crossword puzzles and comic strips we can’t get anywhere else. We may not all start our Sunday with a paper in one hand and coffee in the other anymore, but newspapers are still vital to our lives.
Old School Communication
Of all of the various means of communication we’ve talked about, the most obvious are the “old school” means. Communicating face-to-face, over a house phone, or through letters and postcards aren’t considered modern, but many of us still use these so-called primitive communication methods, and that’s a good thing.
Letter writing keeps our skills sharp. It helps us to practice spelling and real-world language versus the language and slang we use on social media or via text. Postcards offer the same advantages, and who doesn’t love getting good mail these days?
Communicating over the phone in your home offers the privacy you can’t always get on a cell phone. Both bad guys and the good guys are able to more efficiently hack your cell phone than your landline. Plus, in the event of a power outage, landlines don’t need charging or electricity to work in the first place. The downside is that they aren’t able to travel with you on the go.
Finally, face-to-face communication will never have a replacement. The glory of looking someone in the eye, seeing their body language when they speak, understanding the environment they are in a while talking to you, and really spending time together is important. Face-to-face communication is something we overlook in today’s society, but it’s not gone.
In business, face-to-face communication can allow us to build stronger and longer-lasting relationships. It can help us to engage our colleagues and potential business partners in ways we can’t achieve via digital means. It can also allow us to address sensitive topics. Remember when we said bad guys and the good guys could both hack phones and emails aren’t private? Well, in-person conversations are.
Face-to-face communication also boosts efficiency. I’m sure we’ve all been a part of a meeting or two that contain content we could’ve easily addressed with one another with a single, well-worded email, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you spend all day or even week emailing back and forth when a simple one hour meeting would’ve helped you to address all of your questions and concerns.
Some researchers even believe face-to-face communication creates stronger communities and more social capital for individuals than digital communication. Although that thought still faces scrutiny and disagreements in the greater field of communication study, it’s worth considering. Social capital is extremely important in the success of individuals and our communities.
Where Does This Leave Us?
There are many different means of communication, and we can break each overarching method down into smaller and smaller pieces seemingly endlessly. That leaves us with so many ways of communicating with one another that it’s almost overwhelming.
To decide how to communicate, you’ll need to understand why you’re doing it in the first place. Are you trying to build relationships with friends or family? Are you networking in professional settings or trying to get work done with current associates? Are you looking for more clients to use your services or buyers for your product?
If you’re trying to spread the news, whether it’s totally factual or not, then word of mouth is not necessarily the most effective way. Face-to-face communication may not be the best choice in this scenario, then. You’ll probably want to start a blog or give your ideas out on a TV show or a talk radio show to ensure your news gets the largest audience possible.
If you’re looking to make friends, you might start on social media, but you’re more likely to build lasting and deeper relationships in-person by attending events or chatting at work or in class. If you’re looking for a romantic relationship, communicating over social media seems like the new way to go. However, some people still find it too impersonal and opt for face-to-face options instead.
Communication will always happen, and it will always adapt to changing times. Whether or not we lose old forms of communication along the way is up to us. Very few people use fax machines anymore, for instance, but they haven’t completely gone away.
The exit of fax machines doesn’t mark the end of a major communicative method, either. It just marks changes in how we send those same communications. We aren’t losing out on communicating with one another because of a few fewer fax machines in offices around the world, which is the way communication upgrades tend to work. We switch without losing.
By the time we publish this, there will probably be another way to communicate popping up somewhere around the world. Different means of communication are everywhere and are always evolving, and that’s okay.
Communication is one of those things that we need to survive, which means someone somewhere will always keep it going even if it seems impossible. We’ve created a smaller world with the invention of the internet as a means of communication, and we’re sure there will be an invention to make it feel smaller yet.
Maybe next we’ll get a hologram phone or something so you can speak with someone face-to-face even when they’re on the other side of the world. Who knows? For now, we hope you can see the importance of each of these methods of communication. We hope you can utilize them for your needs and the more significant needs of the community and world.