Symphony Blog

Enterprise Messaging: Signal vs. Noise

Katherine Kilpatrick

While information overload is a challenge and an annoyance for consumers, it’s a tangible problem for businesses. We want to empower our employees; we don’t want to overload them. We can’t afford to force them to spend time (and mental effort) filtering the signal from the noise.

It’s a hard task, and getting harder each year as the number of information channels proliferates, and as the volume of messages on each channel grows. I am overwhelmed with messages, and suspect that you are too.

Some of my messages are from colleagues, customers, friends and family. Symphony messages. Emails. Texts. Alerts via an increasingly wide array of social media outlets. Those messages are (usually) relevant, and frankly, I want to see them, but not always right away. A question from a customer is worthy of interrupting my workday; alerts on what my friends are eating today and colleagues sharing a cool car photo can wait for later.

But it’s too hard to know what’s important to me, and what can be safely ignored.

Call the important messages “signal.” Call the unimportant messages “noise.” What’s signal and what’s noise varies based on context, it’s a fluid division. If I’m in a planning meeting, nearly any interruption is noise. I don’t care about a new Twitter follower right now, or even a reminder to take an exercise break. But if I’m working at my desk, I’m more open to disruptions.

There’s more to the signal/noise issue than lost productivity. There’s also the danger that as the signal/noise ratio gets worse, workers – myself included – will begin to tune out, or simply turn off the notifications and messaging systems. I’ve already done that with most Twitter alerts going to my phone, and aggressively unsubscribe to just about anything that I can. Anything, anything, to cut back on the noise. In other words, I’m willing to take the risk of missing an important message (lose some signal) if that cuts back on the sheer overload (control the noise). It’s only going to get worse.

What do we need? Communications platform designed, from the ground up, to filter and prioritize messages. We don’t need complicated rules engines that will be too hard to configure, or which are too inflexible to adapt to changing signal/noise needs. We need to make sure that our messaging platforms respond to our employees’ needs, rather than force our employees to adapt to the limitations of their messaging platforms.

It's a big vision, to be sure, but the signal/noise ratio is a big problem. We need to provide our employees with a service that let them control the noise, otherwise the signal will get lost – and the business will suffer.

How are you currently managing your noise? Check out some of the features Symphony has engineered to solve this.

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