Communication pyramid

It is often said that “You are who your friends are,” but in many ways your friends are a product of the environment which you grew up in, your parents’ friends, and the schools and universities you went to. These coteries were hard to penetrate, but now things have changed. In this world, where we’re all led into social bubbles, there are more opportunities to form connections based on content and interest. For example, there are theme-based groups on Facebook, services like a platform for dog lovers, or physical running clubs. In a world where it takes longer to get to know a person and their friends, you can learn about them from the groups they associate themselves with.

Class based parties | Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

In the past, a talented person could have worked all of their lives and not been discovered. Relationships were created only through face-to-face interactions. It was harder to accept that which was different, as it wasn’t as visible. When different came concealed, it got interpreted as threatening. But today, there is an attempt to celebrate this variety and emphasize it. Today, parents care less about naming their kids the same as others; they prefer names that are easier to find on Google.

The value shift was inspired by celebrities and the ability to share. As a result of this, developing special talents, being able to communicate online, and networking are skills that everyone should master in the quest for a normal life. Through this process, the communication hierarchy changed as well. If your communication skills are good enough, you can skip steps and write something worthwhile to your idols. It might change your life.

Special talent? | Photo by Emily Stein

Making friends

Let’s say, for example, that you had a few friends over for dinner and you decided that you liked one of them. How should you proceed with contact after that dinner? There are so many platforms to focus on: messaging, expressing opinions, and sharing your story. It is important to acknowledge that each one of them is good for specific things. Due to the nature of growth in a commercial sense, these platforms all aspire to be the same, but they are not.

The methods of communication today are completely different than they were a few years ago, but the principles and what people value have remained the same. Across platforms, the level of commitment dictates the importance of that platform to the user. The three levels are:

Consumption: A user is there to read and absorb.

Participation: A user is active and talks to the community there.

Leading: A user has many followers and sets the tone while talking about subjects that interest them.

It is really hard for a regular person to be fully engaged in all platforms, so users choose what’s better for their character in conjunction with what’s popular and used within their circles. No one commits to only one platform, but they definitely focus most of their communication efforts on just a couple of them.


I’ve tried to sketch the principles that drive the usage and hierarchy of these platforms. Let’s dive into the factors:

Consumption method — The medium, form, and digestion time of the information are key attributes of a platform. When it comes to communication, some mediums are harder to create or consume than others. Some require pre-conditions. For example, video conversations have pre-conditions such as: good reception, a quiet place, being dressed, being in the mood, and being willing to reveal your whereabouts.

Privacy — The medium dictates how much is being revealed on that platform. Many people use other people’s content to communicate, as it’s done better or they identify with it. Some also add their own words to explain the context and to give it a personal touch, which is more intimate than just pressing “share”. Since most of us are not the best storytellers, the rawer the content is, the easier it is to see through to that person. Some platforms are more about public sharing; therefore, they are less intimate and lower in the communication pyramid. Yet some people have a unique expressive personality, which usually elevates them to leaders of a platform. A high level of expressiveness means that it’s less private.

Immediacy — Timing is everything. The more intimate you get, the more the other person will let you disrupt what they do in favour of communication with you. Thus, it is easier to contact a person or start a relationship in a place where there is no need for immediacy. Feel the vibe and see when you can jump in and ignite a conversation; for example, the pace at which messages are exchanged dictates whether it’s a conversation or not. When someone slows the pace, they probably want to end the conversation or are busy with other things. It’s a shift in priority.

Emotion — The more you reveal, the more emotional it gets. In videos, we reveal facial expressions, tone, and environment, whereas text messages can contain a tone, but it can be very difficult to interpret. Stickers and emojis help by giving more emotion, but it’s not the same as face-to-face.

Immersion time — Every relationship is built on time spent communicating, and the same goes for the platform itself. The more time a user spends there, the more comfortable they feel about communicating there. Friction (difficulty of use) could be a roadblock to the success of communication. Some argue that Snapchat’s controversial UX contributed to the fact that only millennials use the app. It was simply too complicated for older people to learn how to use it. Familiarity drives engagement.

The pyramid of communication relies on these assumptions. From bottom to top, basic human interaction is about:

Politeness — Being nice to a different person because you happen to be in the same situation with them. In this case, the relationship is harmless to you and you don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Self-promotion — Measuring yourself as nice, successful, and someone who the other person should want to have a connection with. Everyone is a brand nowadays.

Communication

This is where we have genuine interactions with others. It’s these people that we actually talk to on some basis and have an interest in pursuing positive communication with.

Acquaintances — People that you know you will meet again and whom you might need for some purpose in the future. It is worth keeping a positive relationship with them. This applies more for a work environment but can also, at times, be relevant in personal relationships — for example, parents of other kids from school. Another way to look at it is the concept of followers or people collection. In terms of public sharing, these are your digital acquaintances.

Far friends —people that are close to you; friendships that have lasted over time.

Close friends — People whom you talk to on some sort of a regular basis.

Relationship / Partnership — People whom you talk to on a daily basis multiple times a day, share information with through multiple platforms, and have associated contacts.

This leads to the platform distribution across social circles:

Joining the journey: If someone posts their personal life or whatever they want on a social platform like Instagram or Twitter, it means that they are OK with people from around the world seeing it. This makes it OK for you to look at it. There is also a chance they won’t even know that you are now following them unless you start interacting with them on the platform by liking their stuff or messaging them.

Messaging platforms: There is one thing that really differentiates them from one another: what kind of login they’re based on. For example, Hangouts sits on your Gmail, WhatsApp sits on your phone number, and Messenger sits on your Facebook.

This distinction is extremely important since most people don’t fiddle with the privacy settings. Therefore, if you want to talk on Messenger, you’ll need to be Facebook friends or else it’ll go to a section which could be missed by the person you want to contact. However, that user might prefer communicating in a different way, since being a Facebook friend of theirs would give you access to all of their photos, and they might not necessarily be keen on that. A phone number will give you the ability to actually call them or SMS them, which is also intrusive.

For millennials, Snapchat would be less intimate than Messenger and WhatsApp mainly because it is ephemeral. They are less worried about it staying there. They will be savvy enough to block a user from watching their story, while still allowing communication. Snapchat doesn’t block any user from just adding you, following you, or communicating with you — similar to Twitter and Instagram.

Live video and Video stories — These make it much more immediate and easy to know where you are and when. That could lead to really creepy scenarios, where someone just shows up because they saw that you were in a particular place. Alternatively, they might start to hang out there in an effort to meet you, which is a tiny bit less creepy (but appreciated).

Actually talk (Phone then Video) — Jesus, does anyone call you besides your parents or recruiting agencies? I remember hearing someone talking on the phone on the bus, and then telling my wife that it was so rude. Talking in a way so that everyone hears you? No — talking on the phone in public at all! Ninety per cent of my friends text me before they call, to ask if it’s fine to call. By the way, I’m OK with just calling; it’s so exciting when this finally happens.

I want to put aside the case of audio messages and video messages. It is a bit weirder because it introduces a lot more friction. Many times you are in areas where it’s not really appropriate to talk or consume that message. Moreover, since you don’t know what it contains — we all have that friend that sends porno (yeah, I’m sure I’m not the only one that these things happen to) — you don’t want to view or listen to it around other people in case it’s inappropriate.

I really don’t get why messaging apps can’t translate the voice in the cloud and send it as a text-based overview. That would enable people to get a glimpse of what’s in the audio/video. It seems trivial, especially when they have so much time to compute it.

So, next time you break up with someone, how would you do that? Face-to-face, video call, or Twitter?

Work

The nature of work is different, and it’s mainly reflected in two areas: Privacy (don’t want others to really know what I’m doing in my personal life) and Immediacy (a lot of meetings over long hours). Therefore, face-to-face becomes the most difficult way to communicate.

There is always the possibility to connect via personal, friendly channels, but sometimes it’s simply not appropriate. This is mainly true if it is with a corporate person.

Most business-related social networks are not used as real-time communication tools. As a result, people visit them only once in awhile, mainly when they are scouting for a new job. Consequently, the usage case is at times wrong. For instance, it is better to know the person’s email address than to find them on LinkedIn if you want a more immediate response. Luckily, this can happen through many of the networking events that happen in big cities.

Getting to immediacy is much harder in a professional world. The emotional aspect seems to be less dominant on the surface of communication.

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