How relevant is face-to-face communication for corporations? Which formats of face-to-face communication exist? And what expectations do internal and external target groups, such as managers, employees and journalists, have? From the point of view of communication research, these issues have not yet been sufficiently investigated. This study therefore seeks to answer these questions and provides information on how face-to-face communication formats can be used most effectively in corporate communications.
- Face-to-face communication is of enormous importance, especially in complex, critical and emotional situations.
- To avoid overstraining the potential of and resources needed for face-to-face communication, it should be incorporated into existing communication channels.
- Most formats of face-to-face communication target internal stakeholders, especially executives and employees.
- However, many formats are not real dialogues, but are no more than communication channels with the characteristics of a dialogue.
The importance & goals of face-to-face communication
- Face-to-face communication is of enormous importance especially in complex, critical and emotional situations. It usually complements other communication formats.
- The targets of face-to face communication are building trust, creating opportunities for feedback, achieving credibility and authenticity, mutual understanding, target group participation - especially among employees, and loyalty to the company.
- To avoid overstraining the potential and resources of face-to-face communication, it should be integrated into existing communication channels. As far as possible it should be supported by technology (e.g. video transmission of events).
- It is clear that face-to-face communication does not have an effect per se but must be adapted to the expectations of the targets groups.
- Most formats of face-to-face communication are aimed at internal target groups, especially executives.
- However, face-to-face communication also offers great potential to reach out to external stakeholder groups, such as journalists and politicians.
- Many formats of face-to-face communication are not real dialogues, but are communication channels with a dialogic character. However, this could change in the wake of digital and social media communication.
- Formats of face-to-face communication can be distinguished according to whether they are aimed at a smaller group or a large plenum - for example at all employees of a large global company or only at selected executives.
- Many formats of face-to-face communication are more likely to address small groups in order to build trust or improve networking. Many formats are aimed specifically at company executives - for example strategy dialogues, management conferences and workshops as well as information events of the executive board.
Expectations & Satisfaction
- Target groups of face-to-face formats prefer a small circle of participants, exchange on equal terms and open discussions instead of lectures.
- The employees consider the mutual exchange on relevant topics particularly helpful. They want to have a discussion that is open and tries to reach a common goal.
- Employees and executives also expect openness, transparency and credibility.
- It is challenging to balance the expectations of the target groups and what is actually feasible in terms of resources.
- The management board should express themselves clearly and base communication on the facts. The views of the target groups should be taken into account and should be valued.
Methodology & scientific background
- Firstly, we analyzed existing communication research papers on this topic.
- Then we conducted telephone interviews with 17 decision-makers from corporate communications departments of the top 500 companies as well as from one medium-sized company in Germany. We asked them about the importance and goals of face-to-face communication, their reasons for using it, about how they plan and implement it as well as what kind of expectations their target groups might have.
- In the last step we asked 670 managers of German companies with at least 1,000 employees about their views on face-to-face communication and what they expect to gain from it.
- Channels or media: in communication science research has traditionally focused on mass media communication as opposed to interpersonal exchange.
- Actors: face-to-face communication refers to the exchange between two individuals. In line with the mass media's focus, PR has long concentrated on the exchange of a single actor, e.g. a company with diverse target groups.
- Characteristics and forms: above all, the idea of dialogue is repeatedly linked to face-to-face communication.
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