The Grapevine Effect in Communication
Communication is a constant part of business. Communication travels from the top or crafted for customers. But these formal channels only make up part of the communication. Most communication travels through informal channels, called “the grapevine.” The term originated during early Civil War days when the telegraph wires strung through the trees resembled grapevines. Nowadays, the grapevine effect is “the informal transmission of information, gossip or rumor from person to person.”
Because this mode of communication is informal, all information that passes through is open to change and interpretation. The grapevine provides an outlet for imagination and truth seeking. Through asking around and sharing information with others, employees are working to piece together the larger picture.
Reasons for the Grapevine
While it is all hearsay, the grapevine effect can be managed and used to spread important information. American psychologist, Gordon Allport, identifies two conditions for controlling the grapevine:
- Importance of the rumor subject to the speaker and listener
- The ambiguity of the facts associated with the rumor
The first condition speaks to how relevant the subject of the gossip is to the person. If you are opening a new branch in California, this may not be important to an employee in New Jersey and worth their time spreading. But if the information is about a reorganization and layoffs, that same person might find it very important.
The second condition suggests the vaguer the facts are surrounding a rumor, the more it will spread. This idea relates back to the grapevine being an outlet for imagination and stress in a company. If people spreading the rumor know more details and share those, it calms peoples worry of the unknown and they continue to pass on the same information.
Both conditions fuel the intensity of the rumor. The more the subject matters to people and the less details everyone knows, the quicker that information will travel.
Controlling the Channel
By directing information through informal channels, you can affect what information is spread through the office. One study conducted even showed that when leadership and grapevine messages were conflicting, 47% pf people will believe the grapevine, 42% will believe senior management and the remaining 11% are undecided.
Now, let’s look at this through the consumer lens. Is a consumer more likely to believe a friend’s opinion about a product, or the company’s messaging? Company’s see an increase in marketing effectiveness by 54% through word-of-mouth marketing. 81% of consumers agree that social posts from friends or family directly influence their purchasing decision.
No matter the size, the grapevine effect is a part of every organization. The more management understands the power of the grapevine, the more they will be able to control it. Apply these same principles to outward efforts. You want people talking about your product/service. But being able to guide that discussion through subject matter and details will greatly increase a positive outcome.
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