Looking back some years, things were pretty clear in terms of the communication process and the flow of information. Organisations sent out press releases to mass media, which acted as gate keepers and reserved the right to distribute it (or not) to the general or more specialised audiences. Consumers were then either non-responsive or persuaded by the information bits. Everyone knew its role in this scheme and surprises were rare.
Moving fast forward, today we experience a chaotic explosion of information, in which RSS feeds, social media and other news aggregators barely manage to keep us informed. We are certainly long past the one way communication of the Mad Men area, but for sure we no longer are in the two-way model either. One-way, two-way or the high way? Where are we today?
Models of communication
Several models of communication have emerged and evolved as interactions between people changed. Among the main players in this game were the communication channels, which developed as technology advanced. The first steps of progress were slow, from newspapers to radio and TV, but then internet came about to change the pace. Speed, instant access, 24/7 connectivity were the new criteria. And everything after that changed.
One Way Communication or The Linear Model
The linear model of communication was defined in 1949 by Shannon and Weaver, who were working at the Bell Laboratories. It was a technical model meant to be applied for radio and telephone communication, but nevertheless remained as the first major communication model. The graph above describes the model, but here’s how an example would look like. A musician (the source) has some feelings he wants to share with the world (the message). In order to transmit them he gives a live performance at the opera. By playing an instrument (the transmitter) his feelings (the message) are coded into sound (the signal). Sounds travel by air (the channel) and reach the audience ears (the receiver). The listeners (destination) decode the signals and interpret their own message.
Summing up: these were the ad men and PR people who sent their messages in unilateral ways. Experts endorsing a message gave the authority argument.
Two Way Communication or The Interactional Model
The Interactional Model developed by Wilbur L. Schramm goes one step further and states that destination can become in turn a source and notions as feedback come into play. In our case the audience who praises the artist with applause at the end follows the same process of communication only that in the opposite direction.
Summing up: communicators start receiving feedback from the public. Testimonials bring the consumer’s arguments.
Multiple Way Communication or the Transactional Model
Developed by Barnlund in 2008, the Transactional Model states that people actively engage in conversation as both senders and receivers of information and they do so not only at verbal level, but also at non-verbal and para-verbal levels. They also come into the conversation carrying their cultural background and education, but leave the conversation influenced by the exchange. For instance, members of the audience may not like or understand a piece of national music or others may leave the opera changed for life by the experience.
Summing up: Communication happens vertically from communicators to people, but also horizontally among the members of the public who start exchanging opinions about the messages they receive. Peer review is a strong argument.
3D Communication or the Empowering Model
Let’s take a step beyond the existing models. In the social media age of today, the transactional model surely remains valid, as we continue to influence each other, but a z axis is added to x and y as players start occupying a place in space that allows them to interact in any way with all other players and play all roles at the same time, depending on the perspective. The individual is empowered by social media to become an opinion leader, a gate-keeper of his own and influence its own community. He becomes a source of news for his community and sometimes for the traditional media themselves. He is approached directly by organisations and approaches them directly. The individual is simultaneously consumer, producer, evaluator and influencer. He has the power.
Sum up: Communication continues to occur in traditional public spaces, but also happens in private places that open up. Personal experience is the argument. Power of information is individually distributed.
Credit for this post: Dr. Mihai Dinu, my Theory of Communication professor at university, and one of the most beloved teachers, a walking encyclopedia, as we like to call him. A narrow term, if I come to think of it now, as it only describes the incredible amount of knowledge he possesses, but says nothing about his inspirational and captivating lectures.