Movement communications insights/Report/Speak human

Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

3. Speak human

Use language that is simple, relatable and translatable. Resist the temptation to over-explain when issues are complex or to be vague rather than acknowledge when details are unknown.
Wikimedia Strategy Salon in Rajshahi, 2019

هذا التواصل رغم أن لي حوالي 10 سنوات أو أكثر مع ويكيبيديا، لكنني لم أشعر يوما أنني أنتمي إلى ويكيبيديا مثل هذه الجلسة… ولذلك نود أن تزيد مثل هذه اللقاءات… لقاءات تعريفية تشاركية بشكل يسمح للمتحدثين بغير اللغة الإنجليزية (وهذا هو المشكل) فأغلب من أعرفهم يترددون في المشاركة بسبب اللغة. لذلك أقول لكي تكون تشاركية أكبر أننا نحتاج [[<للترجمة]].

"Though I have been part of this movement for 10 years, I never felt that I belong to Wikipedia as much as I did today,” one of our participants told us at the end of a session. “I would love for us to have more sessions like this… meetings where non-English speakers can participate. Most of the [Wikimedians] I know hesitate to participate because of the language… we need to have [interpretation] for more collaboration.

The depth of his quote surprised us. We suspected participants would of course appreciate the option of participating in their own language -- but the emotional response was impactful.

Language is connection


Language is connection. Language is belonging. We can talk about the importance of inclusion all we want, but speaking to people as people is the single most important factor in making them feel like they belong. This means voice and purpose. It means using language that people can relate to. It means using language that is easy to understand, translate and localize.

Blunter, simpler English would be good. WMF is viewed as using marketing speak which a) reads as untrustworthy but b) is fine for English natives, but a pain to translate.

Something is missing


Our focus groups suggest that the Foundation is often missing this sense of connection and voice. It is reaching people as a bit cold or aloof.

If the Foundation were a person at a party:

“Estaría tomando Champagne, mientras evita a una cantidad de personas que quieren hablar con ella.”

“They would be drinking champagne, while avoiding a number of people that want to talk with them.”

Every communication is an opportunity to connect, person to person. What we are hearing is that we are not communicating as humans. We come across as a removed, faceless monolith. This means our communications are missing a critical opportunity to relate.

Get away from an anonymized, standardized voice. This promotes the idea that ‘The Foundation is speaking’” -- Foundation staffer

How might we address this?

WMF office shots April 2016-5
WMF office shots April 2016-5

This could involve making some conscious decisions about not just our messages, but also the voice that we strive to use moving forward. Participants want communications that are clear, human and localized. Concretely, they gave these suggestions:

  • Clear: Use an updated style guide. A glossary of terms with their translations. Use of international English. Communications support to ensure standardization with personal flare.
  • Clear: Spell out importance / urgency / why now? “All the communications from WMF sounds like super politically correct. But not necessarily providing a depth or intensity that I would need to understand urgencies.”
  • Clear: Include clear calls to action / ways to get involved. With timelines. “Send concise, active emails with clear instructions and deadlines.”
  • Human: Showcase the humans inside the organization. Be candid about who we are: a bunch of humans tackling complex challenges. Hear from a variety of people more often, speaking from specific roles as themselves. “Showcase the human experts of different topics in the Foundation. For example, the 20th birthday, we heard generic messages from the same number of usual voices... Versus hearing from subject matter experts, lower down in the Foundation.”
  • Localized: Use simple international English, and invest in localization of messaging. (See Regional Communications Specialists). “... Get a formal training for all staffs, so they can communicate better in the international community. I will ask the Foundation to invest the language training for the staffs.”

If it’s this so straightforward, who don’t we do it already? This recommendation risks seeming obvious to the point of not actually being that useful. Nobody sets out to write something over-complicated. So what stands in our way?

Complexity as a defense, or simply a missing skillset?


Our announcements are so vague without a clear ask and it makes our conversations very meta. --Foundation staffer

What purpose is this vagueness and complexity serving? Do we avoid making clear proposals or messages because we’re afraid? Do we hide potential controversy in complicated messages? Are we exhaustive and encyclopedic to try to avoid an elephant in the room? Or do we lack the skills or the time to compose clear, simple messages that contain enough specific details without over-complication? Whatever the reason (and all these reasons may be true), both staff and community participants want us to tackle unclear communication head-on.

"Simplicity as a service"


An overwhelming suggestion for how Communications can add value for communities was this: simplify stuff. Hire skillful human writers to summarize, shorten and simplify things that are just way too long. Use translatable multimedia like short videos, infographics, and short slide decks to present information to simplify—it also makes the communications experience more joyful and personal.

I think that we should use video and images as media to communicate with the volunteers. It is hard work to read through 100+ new changes that happen every month -- these could be summarised into a video with links to the details of the changes in the description.

Especially for major projects with lots of material (which is how Foundation projects, and movement projects generally, tend to go), ongoing curation takes the burden off the follower/participant to spend time weeding through, digesting, and understanding, and instead invites them to be part of what is happening.

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