Communication, Relationship and the Modes of Writing

The importance of problem-solving in creating rapport and relationship - and, in branding terms, trust and loyalty - should not be underestimated. Whatever people may choose to search for, they are looking to solve a problem - even if it is simply their own boredom.

So knowing a little about how relationships build through communication, and how this translates into the way we produce written content for the web, can be an excellent place to start when launching a blog or content-overhaul project.

The Communication Pyramid

The image below is of a model I was taught while studying for my degree in Language, Literacy and Communication. I have long since forgotten the original place of reference for this diagram - and have rebuilt it using information from a variety of online sources to back up my own memories - but I have applied it in practice and know that it works.

Key to the Communication Pyramid is the complexity that comes with more in-depth modes of communication. We can speak to any stranger about a certain list of topics - the weather, health, happiness - and expect certain responses. "Yes, it's hot today," is far from being the kind of reply we might expect from a good friend - it's just a little basic.

However, as we move up the pyramid, we reach more complex levels of communication. Ultimately we reach a complex problem-solving level. Perhaps both individuals are facing the same obstacle - a particularly difficult exam or a stressful family situation. While neither may have a simple answer, together they can look at the available data and discuss their way to a solution, or at least to a route forwards.

Communication and Relationship

The thing with the pyramid model outlined above is that it is not just a syndrome of communication; it does more than simply describe what occurs at each level of familiarity between two people. It is also a tool by which relationships can be driven forwards, to establish that familiarity artificially - without being too unethical about doing so.

For instance, if on meeting somebody for the first time, you power through the small talk and share some small personal details instead, you leapfrog the first tier of the pyramid and quickly reach the Communication tier.

Share personal information - such as an individual failing or fear - and you hit Transaction. At this level, facts are like currency, each buying a portion of trust as you let your fellow communicator into your circle of trust.

It is when you hit on a shared obstacle - work fears, personal life problems, even just a disliking of a popular figure in the media - that you have the opportunity to share and overcome one of these transactional parcels of information.

I have done this in practice and seen relationships develop within minutes - genuinely. What's more, it's a largely ethical process as there's an inherent tendency to feel that the relationship created is a true one. Despite being aware of the pyramid model outlined above, that does not destroy the fact that sharing and Transforming information is a fundamental tenet of friendship - and being there for your customers is an equally good way of establishing brand loyalty, trust and rapport.

Relationships and Writing

So how does all of this inform our blogging? Well, there are four main purposes for written text:
  • to inform

  • to describe

  • to instruct

  • to entertain
Often there are other terms used; texts can try to persuade people to subscribe to a particular point of view either through entertainment (as with ascerbic reviewers like Charlie Brooker and Mark Kermode), instruction or description of the relevant topic. As usual, there are few black-and-white distinctions to be drawn.

But this gives us power in itself. A blog is ostensibly about entertainment - we want the reader to feel engaged during the time they are reading it - and description, as the origins of the term 'web log' are in the sense of a diary describing recent events.

We can easily incorporate information into our posts - they would literally be nothing without it, even if that information is in the form of an editorial opinion. By matching the tiers of the Communication Pyramid above, we can also make sure that this information is Transformational and create the sense of trust and rapport required.

However, ultimately it is instruction that is the crucial element in the process. Even the words 'click here' are an instruction. More explicit instructions - 'buy our product/service now' - require even greater trust if we are to persuade the reader to part with their money.

So we start with the Communication Pyramid and create this sense of trust. With the relationship established, we have a platform for engagement and even enjoyment on the part of our readers. It is from here that, whichever of the four modes of writing we are ostensibly engaged in, we can incorporate elements of persuasion and instruction to create explicit or implicit calls to action - and hopefully achieve that higher conversion rate (or higher total number of conversions) that is desired.