Media Richness Theory (A comprehensive guide)

In this blog post, we talk about the Media Richness Theory.

We explain what it consists of, what are the criteria that define it and what are some good examples of rich and lean media.

What is Media Richness Theory? 

Media Richness Theory is a theory about the forms of media communication, which explores the purpose, advantages and disadvantages of each type of communication. 

This theory supports the idea that rich forms of communication are best for discussing messages with a complex, sometimes sensitive topic.

And lean forms of communication are most often used to convey a general type of information.

What is Media Richness Theory based on?

Effective communication involves both expressing the content of ideas and the intention of communication partners.

It is, first and foremost, a matter of trusting and accepting the ideas and feelings of others. 

Effective communication is a process that involves the willingness to use, among other things, empathy as a way to establish a relationship. 

Behaviours useful for effective communication are those in which the communication partners listen to understand, speak to be understood, begin the dialogue from a common point of reference or from a point on which they have agreed, and continue by gradually approaching the issues.

It is commonly believed that the following five media characteristics can affect communication: 

#1. The immediacy of feedback.

The immediacy of feedback involves the extent to which one of the conversation partners knows and provides quick feedback to his interlocutor.

Feedback aims to maintain a certain balance, it is a response to a certain cause, it must not be a reaction to what triggered the cause, but only to the effect!

Feedback means giving others an effective response to tell them exactly what is bothering us, how it affects us, or what we want others to do. 

There are three types of feedback:

  • Evaluative feedback – this does not generate the best results, unfortunately. Often, this type of feedback is interpreted, especially when it is negative, as malice or attack on the person. Evaluative feedback is effective only in cases where it is positive. If we are dealing with negative feedback, it will only in rare cases lead to a change in behaviour. In addition, it will not be a factor of stability and balance, as the definition requires;
  • Prescriptive feedback – this type of feedback does not provide accurate information. When someone provides such feedback, he does not clearly communicate what the evaluated person did, but rather what he should do. Thus, it is inconsistent. Because it sounds more like advice, the person who receives such feedback will close in on himself, thinking that it is easy to talk, but it is harder to act;
  • Descriptive feedback – the only one that corresponds 100% to the definition. When offered correctly, it brings major improvements. Because it reduces the defensive reaction of the subject, this type of feedback produces remarkable results. Descriptive feedback is effective because it does not make value judgments, because it is specific, because it is well targeted, and because, most of the time, it is required. In addition, this type of feedback is well-intentioned, can be applied, is realistic and even brings improvements.

#2. Symbol variety.

Symbol variety refers to the way in which information can be transmitted.

For example, a certain type of information can be transmitted in a visual or auditory format.

Also, let’s not forget that we transmit a lot of information through the nonverbal message.

If you find that someone’s words do not match their nonverbal behaviour, you should start paying close attention to the situation.

For example, someone may tell you that he is happy as he frowns and looks down.

Studies have shown that when words do not match nonverbal cues, people tend to ignore what is said in words and instead focus on unspoken expressions, moods, thoughts and emotions, meaning they tend to believe nonverbal language instead of verbal language.

So, be careful and take into account subtle nonverbal cues.

Good eye contact can be another essential skill in nonverbal communication.

When people fail to maintain strong enough eye contact, they may feel that they are avoiding or trying to hide something. 

However, good eye contact does not mean staring into someone’s eyes. You will ask me how I know how much is too much and how little is too little.

Well, communication experts recommend intervals of four to five seconds of eye contact. 

Studies show that good eye contact with the other person could be about 60-70% of the time we spend with him.

Remember the idea that, in fact, eye contact should make you feel natural and comfortable both you and the person you are talking to. 

#3. Parallelism. 

This criterion refers to how many conversations you can have in parallel. Especially nowadays, it’s pretty easy to do that.

For example, someone can talk on the phone with a client and focus all their energy and resources on that client.

Another person can talk on the phone with a client, send an email to another client, and at the same time “participate” in a parallel conversation with his/her office colleagues.

Here comes the question: how good is it to do this?

Progress is good, but no one is thinking about the disadvantages behind the scenes.

Thus, the development of information technologies and media has made multitasking possible, and this, in turn, leads to brain damage, decreased IQ and even … death.

One of the side effects of multitasking is diagonal reading.

When the reader’s brain reads the text, he does not have time to understand the complexity, the feelings of other people or to perceive the message of those exposed.

Deterioration of mental and emotional processes negatively affects the absorption of knowledge, their understanding and complexity, perception, reasoning by analogy and inference.

It also has negative effects on the ability to understand another person’s point of view, empathy and critical analysis.

By practising multitasking, you lose a lot of your life.

A simple example: talking to someone, typing an SMS or an email while walking, you don’t notice what’s going on around you.

A photo or a video recording can capture the beauty around you, but it’s not enough to provoke an emotional response.

Such “blind attention” does not allow you to get impressions – that vivid emotional experience that inspires reflection and creativity.

In addition, the more time you need to complete the task, the less time you have left for recreation and fun.

In other words, stop and smell the roses.

#4. Rehearsing.

Rehearsing allows an individual to reread and edit a message before it is transmitted, in order to increase the accuracy and credibility of the information.

This criterion, often ignored by others, can save relationships, collaborations, sometimes even lives.

It is important to understand that although it is human to make mistakes, our messages are often misunderstood by the interlocutor.

Of course, it’s not anyone’s fault, because we each have our own filters through which we pass information when we receive it.

However, the ability to edit the message before it is sent is extremely valuable.

#5. Reprocessability. 

Reprocessability is similar to the point above.

Reprocessability includes the extent to which a message can be repeated and discussed until both interlocutors reach common ground.

We each have our own filters and a mind map through which we pass information when we receive it, and which often makes us misunderstand things.

In order to avoid conflicts, it is necessary for efficient communication and the desire to listen to the other.

Examples of Rich Media

Some examples of the rich media that will make you better understand the Media Richness Theory:

  • Aim to have face-to-face conversations (this is considered the richest form of communication)
  • Video calls
  • Online seminars and courses
  • Group meetings
  • Long-form documentaries

Examples of Lean Media

Some examples of lean media:

  • The Morse code
  • E-mails
  • Reports (especially numeric reports)
  • Radio broadcasts
  • SMS and other short messages

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Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about the Media Richness Theory.

We explained what it consists of, what are the criteria that defines it and what are some good examples of rich and lean media.

Hopefully, now you know the importance of feedback, why the way to communicate your message matters; and the downsides of multitasking. 

Feel free to ask any questions or to leave a comment on the content in the comments section below.

FAQ about media richness theory

What is meant by media richness?

By media richness, it is meant that rich forms of communication are best for discussing messages with a complex, sometimes sensitive topic.

And lean forms of communication are most often used to convey a general type of information.

How does the media richness theory support effective communication?

The media richness theory supports effective communication by proving the criteria for rich communication. 

Media Richness Theory is a theory about the forms of media communication, which explores the purpose, advantages and disadvantages of each type of communication. 

What is the richest form of media?

The richest form of media is considered to be face-to-face communication. 

What three factors determine media richness?

The factors that determine media richness are the immediacy of the feedback, the symbol variety, parallelism, rehearsing and reprocessability. 

How can information richness be improved?

The information richness can be improved by providing immediate feedback, paying attention to non-verbal cues, having the possibility to edit the message both before its sent and explain it after it was released. 

What are the 4 channels of communication?

The 4 main channels of communication that we use daily are: Verbal, nonverbal, written and visual.

References

A.R. Dennis, J.S. Valacich (1999).  Rethinking media richness: Towards a theory of media synchronicity.

Lee, M. K., Cheung, C. M., & Chen, Z. (2007). Understanding user acceptance of multimedia messaging services: An empirical study. 

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