The Gatehouse Blog

Retro communication

Had an interesting meeting yesterday with Martin Loat, the guy behind Grasswhispers.

At our consultancy Gatehouse we make a habit of keeping tabs on the latest developments in employee communications. We had heard a lot about the Grasswhispers service – which ‘broadcasts’ voice messages to mobile phones – and, as something that will no doubt be of interest to many of our clients, we wanted to find out more.   

In these days of email overload and message bombardment we communicators need to find different ways of getting to – and getting through to – our audiences. The humble telephone remains under used as a channel and, in my mind at least, has a bigger role to play in many organization’s communications.   

The Grasswhispers service taps into this need by enabling communicators and business leaders to record voice messages or mini radio-style programmes which are then delivered via mobile phone. The clever bit is that the system actually dials the ‘listener’s’ number, so they have to listen to at least the first few seconds of the message.

Effective employee comms if very much about ‘push and pull’ and, because this is a relatively intrusive audio-based approach, I think it has a useful role to play as part of a wider channel framework. Like any channel though, the key is to use it in the right way and to resist the temptation to over-use it.

What I really like about the Grasswhispers system is that it is measurable – as a user you receive data on, for instance, how many people have listened to your message and for how long. That’s useful information for any communicator.

During our conversation we observed that, in this era of all-singing, all-dancing electronic comms many people are adopting a back-to-basics strategy by utilising ‘old school’ communication channels – like the good old telephone and face-to-face. Martin, in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, referred to this as ‘retro communication’.

It’s a phrase that’s grown on me since – and there’s definitely something in this. Face-to-face has always been critical but I feel business leaders are now at last beginning to treat it more seriously, more strategically.

Similarly, as social media begins to make its presence felt inside organizations, we’re once again seeing the advantages of more traditional approaches and technologies – print publications, telephone messages, physical workspace comms (posters, etc) and the like.

The result, and it’s a real result, is that leaders are now seeing the need for a multiple-channel approach – realising that the intranet or an occasional newsletter are no longer sufficient and that most large organizations require a mix of print, face-to-face and electronic channels.

I get really excited about social media, but I’m equally passionate about these ‘retro’ channels. As a child of the 1970s I think that’s rather appropriate.