The search industry thrives off content, but in order to deliver good content we need to be able to communicate effectively.
Having graduated with a degree in Intercultural Communication, this subject has always fascinated me and I call upon it on a daily basis in my job as a German Search Marketing Executive at Search Laboratory.
So how does communication affect the search marketing industry?
(Mis)Communication is everywhere
The way we dress is communication (i.e. which ethical/religious group do I belong to), the way we look at others is communication (Germans tend to stare more than the British), and our bodies talk before we do (i.e. rejection/insecurity). As you can see, communication starts before we even say a single word.
With human communication being complex we are predestined to miscommunicate. In our job however, it is important to communicate clearly: among ourselves in an international business environment and especially with our clients and partners.
The Four Sides Model
To visualise miscommunication and the root of it, German psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun developed the Four Sides Model in the 1970s, which can help us all to avoid miscommunication and understand one another better.
Synopsis of the model
Every message that a Sender sends out and a Receiver receives has four sides/channels. The model sometimes talks of the Sender with four beaks and the Receiver with four ears.
- Factual information: Focus is on dates and facts – we send/receive factual content.
- Appeal: Focus is on desires, appeals, advice, instructions, and effect – underlying wish to influence the person we speak to/receivers perception of being influenced.
- Relationships: Focus is on the relationship between the sender and receiver – they send/receive what they think of each other and how they communicate (non-verbal communication/body language/intonation etc.) is more important in this situation than what they communicate about.
- Self-revelation: Indication of what is going on inside us – implicitly or explicitly by sending me-messages.
If the Sender and Receiver communicate on different channels (different sides of the model), it can lead to miscommunication. They speak the same language and understand the words, but they are both left with the feeling that the other person just didn’t get what they meant. Being aware of this model, reflecting on your own communication skills and trying to figure out which channel a message is being sent out on can help with understanding one another better.
The Four Sides Model and SEO
Albeit being a science and having a technical focus, the search marketing industry needs professionals who communicate well. On a daily basis we communicate in several different ways:
Different hierarchies, origins and professional backgrounds are challenges to successful communication in a multicultural business environment. When talking to our British colleagues for example, we multilinguals had to learn the very basics, such as that the question “how are you?” doesn’t require an answer. Members of other cultures might hear the Factual (“how are you?” as part of the greeting) on the Relationship side of the message and feel invited to open up.
With partners, influencers, journalists and bloggers
We regularly speak to influential journalists and cooperation partners. The way we communicate with them is a key factor for our success. These relationships require us to build trust before asking for links etc. Whether over the phone or via email, it is important to focus on the Relationship side before we send Appeal-heavy messages.
A simple message like, “Your website structure needs improvement,” can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings. Even though a technical SEO professional might send this message on the Factual or possibly Appeal side, the client of a SME might feel offended, because they put a lot of work into it (Relationship side) or patronised (Self-revelation side) and the SEO comes across as faultfinder.
These example-situations show how easy it is to miscommunicate. The Four Sides Model can help us as private persons and as professionals in the search marketing industry to communicate better.