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Blog post
June 24, 2019

Moving away from the Shannon and Weaver model

Understanding how to communicate using the Shannon and Weaver model

So much of one’s daily life revolves around communication. Throughout history, communication has been studied thoroughly, with a number of experts positing models and theories about what encompasses this often-elusive activity.

Here, we explore perhaps the most well known of these schools of thought – the Shannon and Weaver model – what it is, how relevant is it in today’s context and how it can be improved.

What is the Shannon and Weaver model?

Developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in 1949, the Shannon and Weaver model is very popular when it comes to communication theory, and can be traditionally illustrated by a simple telephone conversation.

For example, let’s say Person A (Stacy) wants to call her friend Person B (Laura) to invite her to go swimming. When Stacy picks up the phone to make the call to Laura, she becomes the sender (or the source). The transmitter, or encoder, will be the telephone which Stacy speaks into, and the channel is therefore the telephone’s cable, which makes it possible for the two girls to communicate. Laura’s phone picks up the message from Stacy and, in doing so, becomes the receiver. Finally, the message reaches Laura, who is the destination.

Today, however, these components may no longer be valid. The question we’re exploring is: why?

Issues with the Shannon and Weaver model

Most of the issues with the Shannon and Weaver transmission model stem from the belief that “the context for the model had nothing to do with human communication.”

Many claim that the model doesn’t leave room for simple human nature, like using the wrong choice of words or the nuances of today’s technological world, which carries with it a variety of inherent consequences.  

Critics also say that “you cannot reduce or isolate the elements of a communication situation and make any sense out of them, because communication is a ‘big picture’ that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, the Shannon and Weaver model isn’t extensive enough. It focuses on linear communication when, in reality, it might take a sum of back-and-forths before a message’s meaning can be deciphered. The roles of receiver and decoder continually alternate, and there is no better example of this than the digital media revolution and its effect on the news.

How can the Shannon and Weaver model be improved?

The Shannon and Weaver model is not as easily applied to the communication systems of today, which are much more complicated than the operation of a simple wired telephone.

In the internet age, information is no longer spread in the traditional source-to-destination fashion. Considering the complexity of the internet, and the millions of people and components that form its infrastructure, the Shannon and Weaver model starts to look extremely simplistic.

Consider how a modern online news outlet communicates to its readers. Starting with a source – such as a news article, a tweet, a photograph and so on – where then is the transmitter? Is it the keys on the author’s keyboard that encode the typing to a digital signal? Is it the antenna in the laptop that sends the article to the Wi-Fi router in the office?

And what about the channel? Is it air between the sender’s laptop and the router? Is it the infrastructure of network cables, computers and exchanges between the computer and where the website is hosted?

What of the receiver and the destination? It’s taken for granted that everybody is free to access a news website and to share them with others via links. Not only can people consume this content, they can react to them on social media, creating a dialogue that leads to the further transmission of messages, and so on and so forth.

The Shannon and Weaver model doesn’t account for the public — who were once primarily the receivers — becoming the sources. According to the Guardian, in today’s context there is a “tsunami of primary source, on-the-spot reporting going on all over the planet. It just needs to be focused, edited and published.”

For any communications model to be considered reliable in the digital age, it needs to take into account the millions of possible news sources and the fluidity within modern messaging processes used in modern times.

Therefore, all components of the Shannon and Weaver model are — in modern reality — operating interchangeably. The model should be updated to a branching parallel system, where information spreads out in an undefined and uncontrolled way.

To find out more about communication on social media platforms, read our post on tips to consider when putting together a Social Media Campaign. 

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Sustainability in businesses, and where to draw the line

With consumers taking more of an interest in living a sustainable lifestyle, many companies are prompted to take steps to reduce their environmental impact and embrace sustainability.

 

However, what happens when companies make false claims that they are more sustainable than they actually are? This is where greenwashing comes in. Greenwashing is when a brand frames itself to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but is not making any notable sustainability efforts.

 

We analysed conversations on greenwashing among Malaysia's social media users powered by Pulsar's data.

 

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Who is involved and how did these discussions on greenwashing go?

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Our study shows that the term "greenwashing" is not as widely used when consumers call out practices that mislead the people with positive communications on environmental and sustainability practices when it is not. 

 

'Investment', 'banking', 'ESG', and 'sustainability’ are just some of the keywords most commonly used when Malaysians talk about greenwashing. 

 

Consumers tend to be sceptical and raise concerns with sustainability claims as they question the effectiveness and legitimacy of such initiatives. Some have linked such "green efforts" as a tactic for cost-cutting and even for financial gains.

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What are the audience segments that have been talking about greenwashing online?

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Malaysians talking about greenwashing online lean slightly more towards males. In terms of age group, the 18 to 24 years old have shown stronger interest in the topic. 

 

They are most interested in watching movies and TV and have high media affinity with some of the nation’s prominent media outlets such as Astro Awani, The Star, and Bernama. They tend to be sentimental, particular, and analytical.    

 

The top three audience segments we have identified talking about greenwashing are The Green Lovers, The Informers, and the Activists

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The Green Lovers who are passionate about sustainable lifestyle are highly interested in entertainment and social issues. Their choices are driven by a desire for well-being. 

 

The Informers, on the other hand, follow media outlets such as Astro Awani, The Star, and Bernama and tend to share content that concern the people with their networks. Their desire for organisation drives the choices that they make.


The Activists describe themselves as advocates for social issues. They follow political figures such as Khairy Jamaluddin, Syed Saddiq, and Hannah Yeoh. They are philosophical, authority-challenging, and empathetic.

Despite having different interests, their purchase decisions are likely to be influenced by online advertisements, brand names, and social media.

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What industries do consumers associate with greenwashing?

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Sustainable businesses are focused on continuous improvement and long-term goals. They seek to promote the health of a company and the community in which it operates while balancing these goals with the need to develop profit.

 

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However, despite efforts to campaign for sustainability and adhere to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards, some industries such as banking, oil and gas, and fast fashion have been called out for greenwashing.

Consumers have also pointed out initiatives such as the RM0.20 plastic bag pollution charges by the public sector for missing the ESG mark for seemingly profiting from the use of plastic bags. 

Generally, these sectors have been criticised for failing to fulfil their 'green commitments’ adequately.

Greenwashing can be harmful to a company’s reputation in the long run. As many consumers are focusing on ‘conscious consumerism’, companies are expected to live up to their sustainability goals. 

 

Get in touch with Isentia today to learn more about what consumers are saying about your company and brand in relation to greenwashing.

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This blog was produced using data from our sister company 
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Blog
Isentia Malaysia Case Study: Exploring Malaysians’ Perception of Greenwashing
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Credit keeps the world economy moving, with Visa, MasterCard and American Express brand names easily identifiable. As time passes by, we can see a definitive shift taking place, with each of these brands increasingly becoming part of conversations taking place around the world.

This Global Report, powered by Isentia and Pulsar's data, analyses international trends and zeroes in how credit card incentives are discussed in Singapore.

Fill up the form below to download the whitepaper and read more.

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Whitepaper
[Pulsar Report] Transactions & Reactions: The Online Credit Card Conversation

Credit keeps the world economy moving, with Visa, MasterCard and American Express brand names easily identifiable. This Global report sheds light on international trends and zeroing in on how credit card incentives are discussed in Singapore.

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This week, we talk to Stella Muller, the Chief of Enlightenment and Creative Director of Bright Sunday about communicating with diverse audiences. Stella shares a case study on how pacific media agencies in New Zealand worked together to get COVID-19 messaging out in nine different languages to reach New Zealand Pacific audiences.

Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends and conversations we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and the role of simple, clear messaging in crisis response.

https://youtu.be/Wt44l37XuRQ

Ngaire Crawford talks about the change in media conversations

4:22 - Media narratives have shifted to a global social change movement. The mainstream media is talking about:

  1. The political relationship between Australia and China
  2. Police behaviour and racism across the world
  3. Concern for global economic recovery
  4. Life after restrictions (more prominent in New Zealand)

5:12 - The social media narrative is more focused around the Black Lives Matter movement and has opened a dialogue about white privilege and police targeting across the world. In the US especially, brands are very clearly being called on to have a view and make that known. Silence is viewed as complicity.

6:11 - On Google Trends, people are searching for:

  • Responses to Black Lives Matter (Chris Lilley, Adam Goodes)
  • Pete Evans (due to a recent 60minutes Coronavirus conspiracy interview)
  • AFL competition starting again
  • Launch of the new Playstation 5
  • Wage subsidies and economic recovery

6:55 -  For communicators, be clear in what you say and what you stand for.

  • Consider expanding your view of crisis communication to include response to social issues/ social change. Do you know what your organisational response would be if you were asked?
  • Constantly evaluate how inclusive your communications are. Audiences are constantly shifting and moving - you have to regularly evaluate and challenge what you think you know.
  • Know your organisational history, is there a risk that you should consider and plan for? 

8:40 - Some things to look out for in the media:

Nationalist tension vs social change.

  • There's a broad media narrative brewing - watch for nationalist responses to restricted borders, juxtaposed with broad social discussions of racial inequality.

Stella Muller talks communicating with diverse audiences

10:26 - In March when New Zealand was about to go into lock down, communications were being prepared for the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern to communicate to english speaking audiences across mainstream channels. There was a gap as some New Zealand Pacific audiences do not speak english. We needed a solution. 

My team spent days translating level 3 and level 4 messages into nine different pacific languages to ensure the pacific community received the correct messaging about COVID-19 and the government’s response. 

12:37 - Before communicating the various levels of messaging, there were many clinical messages about washing hands and social distancing, and although these were being translated to our pacific audiences, there was no context around the message. The pacific community was confused for the sudden need to buy toilet paper and the increased need to wash or sanitise their hands. 

13:30 - Our elderly, Pacific and Maori communities were most at risk to contract COVID-19 so we needed to ensure they understood the situation. After pitching our idea to the Ministry of Health and Ministry for Pacific Peoples, we had 24 hours to create and record our messaging in the studio, ready to be released after the Prime Minister made the Level 4 alert announcements.

Level 4 alert messages in New Zealand
Communications message shared on TVNZ

14:50 - For 6 weeks, we broadcast weekly 15 minute bulletins in each of the nine pacific languages. They were distributed across social media, New Zealand radio and mainstream television network TVNZ. Historically, Pacific languages are not televised on mainstream television, so it was quite amazing to see. 

Updates in nine pacific languages
Weekly episodes of the latest updates in nine pacific languages

15:40 - We were able to deliver the essential information to our leaders and elders in a timely manner so they could then inform their communities. It’s impact also meant we could debunk myths that were circulating around the Pacific community and be the source of truth. 

Compliance was a big part of COVID-19 and for our leaders and elders to communicate with confidence, they needed to have access to have the facts direct from the Government.

17:46 - At a time when everything was being categorised as essential or non-essential, it proved why communications are an essential service. Any content that is created or translated during a time like COVID-19, is premium content. To have the ability to cut through to audiences is really impactful. 

18:35 - Of the 1,154 cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Pacific people made up 5% of those cases and with zero deaths, we feel honoured to have been involved in the communications process for Pacific community.

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Rachel Clements at Centre for Corporate Health

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

Isentia Conversations: with Daniel Flynn at Thank You

Isentia Conversations: with Campbell Fuller at Insurance Council of Australia

Isentia Conversations: with Craig Dowling at Mercury

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Thought Leadership
Isentia Conversations with Stella Muller from Bright Sunday

We talk to Stella Muller, the Chief of Enlightenment and Creative Director of Bright Sunday about communicating with diverse audiences. Stella shares a case study on how pacific media agencies in New Zealand worked together to get COVID-19 messaging out in nine different languages to reach New Zealand Pacific audiences.

Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and the role of simple, clear messaging in crisis response.

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We talk to Craig Dowling, the Head of Communications at Mercury. Mercury was underway with some major construction and refurbishment projects; it had launched a new brand campaign; it was preparing to welcome a new Chief Executive - and then came the unforeseen. Craig reflects on how COVID-19 flipped the focus of communications almost overnight. He’ll share what went well and what the challenges were in such a dynamic environment. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and a quick look at what communication is working well right now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhAh4gkEP7s&feature=youtu.be

 

Ngaire Crawford talks about predicting the future

4:06 - The current overarching media narrative is about predicting what the future will look like and the long term personal impact COVID-19 will have on us.

The mainstream media is talking about:

  1. Economic impact and how long the recovery will be (property, wealth and government response)
  2. Restrictions easing and cases of the virus in specific regions or specific person
  3. News is starting to resemble normal again.

5:43 - As anxiety about physical distancing eases, discussions on social media are turning towards the government response to the economic downturn and how businesses will course correct the job losses that have taken place.

6:23 -  What people are looking for on Google across Australia and New Zealand:

  • Individual COVID-19 cases based on a particular region, age etc.
  • Coronavirus App across both regions
  • Broader global and entertainment stories (Lady Gaga, Josh Reynolds etc.) This is reflective of the world slowly returning to normal.

7:00 - Now is the time to start thinking about the future and how to apply the learnings seen through COVID-19 in your future communications.

It’s important to understand how to communicate during an economic downturn; know your audience, be creative and innovative with how you demonstrate your message to your audience.

8:00 - There are interesting conversations around PR ethics and misinformation and the role they play. In particular, the Whitehouse challenged social media companies and their legal responsibility for content posted on their platforms. It also reignites the conversation/debate around the role of tech and their ethical responsibility. Anything to do with ethics and misinformation is important for communications professionals to know and understand during this time.

Craig Dowling from Mercury talks disrupted and disrupting conversations

9:49 - There’s a lot of value revisiting some of the lessons we’ve learned during COVID-19 to help us build new habits and progress forward.

9:55 - Sticking to the communication messages; clarity, compassion and creativity will hold us true to the course of recovery. This includes the ups and downs still to come throughout COVID-19.

10:10 - The 2010 New Zealand Canterbury earthquake is the biggest parallel to COVID-19. This earthquake was a long running issue for those directly impacted and the grief cycle involved a cycle of responses to our customers, partners and internal staff that lasted years. This could be similar with COVID-19.

11:05 - We had a range of things planned for the first half of 2020. We had our strategies, tactics and specific activities the business had decided to do. We were working on a brand campaign, planning price changes, and a major infrastructure investment of building New Zealand's largest wind farm.

11:53 - We strategically launched our brand campaign on Valentines Day. As a renewable energy company, our pointy messaging was telling people to break up with oil and kiss it goodbye. We had a lot of supporting work scheduled for release but it was apparent 2 weeks after launch, people weren’t listening to the renewable energy message (which usually has a fertile audience) so we decided to pull the campaign.

12:56 - The timing of our brand campaign coinciding with COVID-19 meant we had to segway to old neutral advertising to keep our brand presence and most importantly, not offend anyone. Neutral advertising also bought us time to determine what our longer term response would be.

13:25 -  We had announced a price increase to our customers in early February giving them one months notice before it was implemented. A number of those customers did not face their price increase until New Zealand were a week into lockdown. This presented us with reactive messaging - we had to let our customers know the background of the price increase and validate its existence. This was tricky to navigate but we needed to think like a customer in this scenario and understand their pain points.

14:30 -  The lockdown meant we had issues getting workers to our wind farm that was under construction. We had locked in community engagements; we spoke to our community once a month with face to face meetings and we had to think of new ways to best manage those tactics and situations.

14:54 - It’s fundamentally important to build relationships and trust for messaging to be well received.

16:20 - In terms of our own communications plans, in a neutral environment away from issues such as COVID-19 and other crises, you have the luxury of thinking and speaking in areas you may not otherwise.

Test the waters of communicating and take it back to the core elements of your business. Say less and find out what is important to say, and then test it. 

17:40 - It’s important to understand the tone of your message and how it is going to be received without making any assumptions.

19:42 - There’s been a lot of talk about businesses pivoting and whole business models being threatened. From a comms perspective, caution should be taken with a pause implemented between pivots. Test the business is pivoting for the right reasons, and understand what the underlying values are supposed to be. The change pivoting brings won't be sustainable unless it’s true to your business’ core values.

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Rachel Clements at Centre for Corporate Health

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

Isentia Conversations: with Daniel Flynn at Thank You

Isentia Conversations: with Campbell Fuller at Insurance Council of Australia

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Blog
Isentia conversations with Craig Dowling from Mercury

We talk to Craig Dowling, the Head of Communications at Mercury. Mercury was underway with some major construction and refurbishment projects; it had launched a new brand campaign; it was preparing to welcome a new Chief Executive – and then came the unforeseen. Craig reflects on how COVID-19 flipped the focus of communications almost overnight. He’ll share what went well and what the challenges were in such a dynamic environment. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and a quick look at what communication is working well right now.

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