Communication is relationship, the medium is memory

I have been reflecting on how our churches and small projects do communications. Some recently have come to me and said that they need help and are not very good at it. What they mean is that they struggle with social media and are hopeless at updating their websites.

It seems to me that if a project or a church has healthy relationships among its people, and that those people are engaged relationally with the organisational and local community, than all will be well.

If, on the other hand, the people in the church don’t get on well together, their sense of identity is poor and they are insular then something needs to be done. Creating a website or issuing a press release is not the answer.

In many small and large organisations the concept of communication has become quite narrow and uninspiring, it is reduced to maintaining the website or putting out press releases. We might imagine that if we get some good words out it is “job done”. Communication has become a packaged specialism and much less a human activity. We transmit messages as an alternative to carrying them personally. Communication is relationship, the medium is memory.

Organisations large and small have communications functions charged with making sure agreeable company messages are sent out. This is understandable but it is not relational and it doesn’t address the need for communities to have presence within themselves and externally. We need to consider if our social media world is as social as it professes to be or if we need view corporate communications development in a much more radical way.

Communicating is relational, something which is organic and human, even spiritual, we do it every minute of the day, so why do we need expert services? If an organisation is going to have a communication department I think it should be much more concerned with culture and identity and less about controlling the words we use.

Who we are and what we do (individually and corporately) will become evident no matter how much we try to package our image. Our culture and how we conduct ourselves will leak out into the world with all the attendant praise or controversy. Let’s get used to it. Creating a manufactured media profile is a game played by people who want to kid themselves not the public.

Huge amounts of energy is spent getting quick fixes in popular media – an item on the nightly news or a headline on the front page. Focussing on the mass media is only as good as the last headline and very labour intensive. As we know, mass media audiences are in decline and reach is limited to tightly defined audience segments. To get coverage that reaches beyond any one demographic bubble is very difficult.

Key idea: Good communication happens when we are present with one another; beware that media replaces the need to be present.

We think that by creating the right impression in the popular press we can build connections and engage with real people. This is not relational communication but an act of dissemination and perception influence. By smiling side by side with our enemies at carefully arranged photo-shoots we think we can give the world an impression of concord. Wouldn’t it be much more honest to throw a punch?

Real communication happens between people not primarily in the broadcast media. The only enduring medium is that of the human memory. To be fair broadcast media can precipitate relational communication and create memory – this happens when people start to discuss what they have seen in the pub or, say, gather in protest, but it takes a really big media event or great art for this to happen.

It is in human responses and interactions that messages are transformed into embedded memory. To put in another way, if people aren’t talking about you or throwing a punch then you may not have connected.

There is a challenge not just to relate to our friends but also to be present with those who are strangers. If we talk to our friend but send newletters to everyone else then we will become progressively isolated.

If we are stirring up action, challenging assumptions, defying expectations; if we are changing how people think, feel and behave; living a life which is authentic and brave then connections will form. Our stories will be birthed out of who we are, our message will leak out, we won’t need to write a script or employ a marketing manager.

Stories are powerful when they embody truth. Our real life journeys and experiences are the most powerful communication opportunity we have. In these days of social media we don’t need a specialist support team, what we need is confidence in who we are. We must not be ashamed of being ourselves but simply tell our stories to anyone who will listen – while being present .

So the best kind of communications department is one which will inspire others to tell their stories with confidence and courage. We need people who will listen and appreciate the stories being told, inspire those with the least confidence to write, to take photographs, to make films.

Most of all, to create memories.