Whether you’re a business leader, partner, or team member, communication channels are your most powerful tool for growing business relationships.
However, communication is a tricky strategy because human impressions come from verbal and non-verbal communication cues and depend not only on the channel used but also on how it resonates with the target audience.
The modern plethora of communication channels allows a company to engage more directly with its audience than ever before. But how do you use these channels to create meaning and not just variety?
From live to virtual, we’ll cover the different types of business communication channels. We’ll also help you choose the best ones for your business and learn to build better relationships with your audiences.
What are communication channels?
A communication channel is a platform one person uses to communicate with another in person, in writing, or digitally. In a business context, communication channels can be external for communication with leads, customers, and business partners or internal for communication between colleagues.
Different communication channels cater to different users. Some channels facilitate communication with new customers, while others are best for regular communications. Certain channels are better for local businesses than online businesses and vice versa.
Types of communication channels
Communication channels can be roughly divided into three main categories: formal, informal, and unofficial. When choosing a channel for a business conversation, ask yourself how well you know the other person(s) and how formal the code of conduct should be.
Formal communication channels help communicate official information about a company, its policies, and news. These channels prefer the written form and are usually a one-way street, meaning they don't require much dialogue.
Formal channels help communicate within the organization and with external sources, such as customers, partners, and investors.
Examples: Email newsletters, internal knowledge platforms, press releases, official emails, website, and company blog
Information channels are crucial for communication between companies, customers, and employees. Dialogue is a critical aspect of these channels. Informal communication channels are more likely to persuade and convert customers through conversational than in-your-face marketing.
Examples: Social media, internal company messengers, live chat, videoconferencing, and team-building activities
Unofficial communications channels facilitate behind-the-scenes interactions not directly related to the business but critical to the organization's communication culture. These channels help privately share experiences about a company that could make or break its reputation with customers and employees.
Examples: Word of mouth, live or virtual social gatherings, and informal activities.
Communication channels by interaction type
Communication channels can be further classified according to the type of interaction. Because different industries and audiences prefer to communicate differently, every company should define a primary and secondary interaction channel based on their needs.
A face-to-face communication format is any form of interaction between two or more people. In a business environment, colleagues, managers, employees, partners, and investors prefer face-to-face communication. It also highlights a business meeting that is too important to go digital.
Examples of face-to-face communication channels:
- Live office meetings and informal chats
- Employee interviews
- Live one-on-ones with managers
- Live meetings with partners
- Meetings with customers
- Meetings with investors
- Business lunches with partners or customers
Best used for:
- Daily internal communication
- Important business meetings
- Contract signing
- Business deals
Any technology-based communication channel is called a digital communication channel. These channels are mobility-oriented and bridge communication gaps. Most digital tools are available as cloud tools or mobile apps. Digital communication channels require an internet connection or Wi-Fi.
Examples of digital communication channels:
- Instant messaging and chat: Messenger, WhatsApp, WhatsApp Business, Skype, Skype for Business, and Viber
- Text messages: Business SMS
- Corporate social media platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
- Corporate communication platforms: Microsoft Teams and Slack
- Project management tools: Monday.com and Jira
- Web chat: Live web chat and chatbots
Best used for:
- Online businesses
- SaaS and tech businesses
- Remote work
- Hybrid work
- Digital nomads
Written communication channels
Written communication channels have existed for centuries and are fundamentally timeless. Many of them offer multiple digital channels for written communication but hardly use advanced technologies.
Examples of written communication channels:
- Web forms, including feedback forms
- Social media messages
- Local ads, booklets, and promotions
Best used for:
- Formal legal communication
- Local businesses without a digital presence, including local non-profits, legal businesses, and local shops
- Local advertising
Communication channel examples
Today, most companies focus on digital communication channels. However, by adding more channels, you expand your audience and reach. Here’s a close look at the most popular and effective channels for different audiences.
Face-to-face communication is still the most robust communication channel for critical business meetings, negotiations, and deals.
- Pros: Creates a verbal and non-verbal relationship between participants. It’s preferred over other communication channels as it offers a satisfying, personalized experience during important meetings.
- Cons: Face-to-face communication can only take place between employees working in the same office or visiting customers at their location. It's time-consuming and doesn't work for people working remotely, colleagues, partners, and clients from different locations.
- Best for: Daily office interaction, negotiations, important meetings, and business deals
It's the most reliable channel for sales, support, and general information since most consumers prefer the quick clarity of a phone call. Additionally, modern telephone systems allow a company to implement non-verbal communication strategies to grow business off the line.
For example, when you set up a toll-free number, personalized greetings, and after-hours call handling, people see it as more professional and reliable even before the communication begins.
- Pros: Easy to use, reachable from any location, good connection, ability to personalize the phone system with dozens of modern calling features
- Cons: Can get expensive when using landlines. A VoIP business phone system is preferred for low-cost business calls
- Best for: Any form of business communication, including lead generation, customer service calls, customer support, placing orders, sales calls, customer feedback, checking up with partners and investors, and providing information to customers
In video conferencing, users use a video app to initiate a virtual meeting. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger are popular video conferencing tools. Business users are best off using business video conferencing tools and saving other messengers for private calls.
- Pros: Easy to use with an internet connection or Wi-Fi. It’s more personal than a phone or audio call.
- Cons: Video lags on slow internet connections. The connection is generally worse than with phone calls.
- Best for: Remote or hybrid work calls, daily or weekly stand-ups, remote team activities, customer feedback calls, and remote interviews
More than 306 billion emails are sent daily, making email the most popular form of communication. In a business setting, it's effective for almost any communication, internal or external.
- Pros: Anyone with the internet can use it. It’s also the most popular form of business communication.
- Cons: Relies on an internet connection. Important information can be lost in the inbox. It’s not as personal as a phone call or live meeting and highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
- Best for: Regular business communication and non-urgent communication between colleagues
Text messaging is no longer just a personal means of communication. It has developed into a broader business tool.
Text messages simplify sending a quick business SMS to notify customers of meeting delays, launch an SMS marketing campaign that reaches thousands of customers, or remind them to contact support.
- Pros: You don’t need to download any additional apps – SMS from your business phone number that’s fast and easy and doesn’t require an internet connection
- Cons: Cellular charges may apply
- Best for: SMS marketing, quick check-ups, and messaging without internet or Wi-Fi connection
Another personal channel turned business is instant messaging. Unless there’s an urgency, many customers prefer to contact an online business via direct messages on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The social media channel your audience is active on should be one of your priorities.
- Pros: Popular for social media communication. Instant messaging is usually free as cell phone charges don’t apply when using the internet or Wi-Fi. It’s ideal for remote and distributed teams.
- Cons: Important information can be lost between apps.
- Best for: Businesses active on social media, communicating within remote or distributed teams and freelancers, and urgent communication
Today, most online chats take place via chatbots. While these AI-created “Janes” and “Johns” can answer standard questions, they're not the same as a live chat, where a real agent answers a customer's questions. Most top-rated companies offer live chat.
- Pros: Offers a great customer experience that sets it apart from the competition
- Cons: Live chat agents incur additional costs for businesses and require special software and training to handle inquiries
- Best for: E-commerce sites, SaaS, and IT businesses dealing with a large influx of customer support or order requests
Nobody remembers when social media stopped being a purely face-to-face communication channel. Businesses can now use social networks to market to new audiences through targeted ads and communicate with their clients. Businesses can also use corporate social media platforms like Workplace for team collaboration.
- Pros: Reach customers on the platform they spend most of their time on, free of cost
- Cons: None that we can think of
- Best for: Online, e-commerce, digital, and businesses with a sizeable social media following. Corporate social media works best for larger teams.
Project management tools
Project management tools are essential for distributed, remote, and hybrid environments. With a project management tool, teams can collaborate on projects from any mobile device through a single cloud platform.
- Pros: Ensure smooth collaboration between distributed teams and remote employees and are generally easy to use
- Cons: Usually have a subscription fee
- Best for: Distributed and remote teams collaborating on projects
Internal company blog
A company blog is an excellent source of company news and information. It allows teams from offices in different locations to share information, values, workshops, seminars, leisure activities, and more.
- Pros: Helps employees in large organizations stay up-to-date with company events
- Cons: Requires regular updates and maintenance
- Best for: Large companies with offices in different locations
Internal podcasts are specifically designed for distribution within an organization. They share company news, culture, and even onboarding practices. For example, American Airlines has an internal podcast on company news and practices.
- Pros: Unites large teams and companies
- Cons: Requires dedicated staff and software. It’s expensive for small companies.
- Best for: Large organizations with multiple offices and international companies
If your business isn't big enough to host an internal blog or podcast, you might still want to send out an employee newsletter monthly or quarterly. Keep it less formal and fun to share team moments, new hire news, awards, and employee achievements.
- Pros: A simple and less formal way to share company news and values
- Cons: Requires management and input from PRs and designers
- Best for: Medium-sized businesses and businesses with multiple locations
Is there such a thing as a wrong communication channel?
Different channels serve different purposes. But can you go wrong with a communication channel? Seventy-five percent of customers want consistent communication regardless of the channel. Any channel that doesn't provide reliable, consistent communication is "wrong" because it doesn't prioritize audience needs.
Choose the wrong communication channel is likely to have some effects:
- Wasted time and effort in implementation
- Subscription or service costs
- Wasted employee learning time
- Wasted customer time
- Distributed customer or employee attention
- Lost audiences due to poorly managed channels
There are no wrong ways of communicating but an inappropriate relationship between a goal and the means of implementation. When a company chooses a channel based on impersonal criteria and doesn’t keep its target audience in mind, it wastes its efforts and costs.
How to choose the best communication channel
Choosing the right communication channel is the first step to creating a great customer experience. So how do you go about it?
Find your unique voice
Identify your brand's voice and convey it verbally and non-verbally. Non-verbal cues are the communication between lines and the emotions your brand conveys to customers.
Every detail adds to your voice. If you’re a niche clothing brand, your audience will benefit from a personalized experience. Let's say catch their attention with "organic cotton bedding," then keep them up to date about it with personalized newsletters, social media posts, seasonal business voicemail greetings, and live chat.
Personalize channels based on audience needs
As the lines between business and personal life blur, customers want businesses to speak like real people using everyday channels. Nearly 60% of Gen Zers and Millennials contact customer service via the same social media platforms they use to chat with friends.
Go where you're most likely to be found. Invest in this channel if you have an active audience on social media. If you're a local organization, host more live events to connect with people in person. If you're a multi-office company that feels disconnected, create a new business platform to share your values, achievements, and experiences.
Find a fit for your budget
Remember that some channels come with subscription and service costs or require contributions from your employees. Before making any big decisions, weigh your needs against your budget.
If you want to cut costs, try a simple set of channels. For example, a small business might benefit from a business phone system with SMS messaging, 2-3 social media profiles, and a simple project management platform.
Weigh the pros and cons
Communication channels have both strengths and weaknesses. Once you shortlist your preferred channels based on audience type, business needs, and cost, weigh the pros and cons.
If you're a local business with little use for social media, you may find multiple profiles unnecessary and just use one. Social media profiles are free, but creating and managing them can be challenging.
Map out your goals and KPIs
Goals and feedback play an important role in channel selection. Choosing channels without consulting employees can negatively affect key performance indicators (KPIs).
Remember American Airlines' in-house podcast? Before the launch, it surveyed 100,000 employees and found that most struggled to understand changes in the organization and liked their messages to be in an interactive format. If the survey had given different feedback, investing in this channel wouldn’t make sense.
How to implement communication channels
Now that you have a personal list of channels to use, here are some quick steps to implement them.
- Group the channels: Divide channels by internal and external use.
- Set up tools: Customize cloud tools or software to suit your needs.
- Assign employees: Once you have a new channel, identify who’ll manage it and analyze performance.
- Make a plan: Write a detailed communication strategy for each channel and mention who’s responsible for it.
- Think ahead: Budget the necessary costs to manage each channel going forward, including monthly or annual subscriptions.
An optimal channel is key to effective communication
Modern businesses are lucky. Pretty much all communication channels are available to them for instant worldwide communication. But the right communication channel is not the most innovative or on everyone's list.
The best channel is the one you've tested, measured, and optimized for your specific audience. It's the channel that thrives on customer and employee feedback, where your target audience asks questions and earns loyalty.
Customer communication is an important component of any customer relationship, but it can also be a challenge for many businesses.
Learn more about customer communication and tips to save time and money.