Communication Channel Quick Reference

To support the assessment and selection of available channels, the reference section that follows describe the five main categories of communication channels, including examples of each type of material and format, the advantages and disadvantages of each channel and when best to use them.

Mass Media

Mass media refers to communication channels that can reach a wide audience at once. Examples of materials and formats include:

  • Advertisements, serial radio dramas, public service announcements or talk shows on TV and radio
  • Newspapers or magazine articles or newsletters
  • Transit advertisements on busses or taxis
  • Billboards or murals in strategic locations that can be seen by wide audiences


  • Can reach large audiences at once
  • Radio and television can be appropriate for audiences with low literacy
  • Can be an effective means for delivering brief, key messages relating to the emergency
  • Television and radio offer the possibility of developing serial dramas which engage audiences with plot lines to support long-term changes in social norms
  • Can be an effective means for reaching audiences in emergencies caused by a contagious disease where isolation is recommended
  • In some settings, newspapers can be effective in reaching decision-makers


  • Tends to be a one-way communication channel with little or no interaction with the intended audience
  • Television tends to be expensive and may only be accessible to people living in urban settings and having access to electricity
  • Newspapers are not appropriate for audiences with low literacy
  • Reaching large audiences makes it harder to meet specific needs of smaller audience segments.

When to Use Mass Media

  • Mass media is an effective means for raising awareness and increasing knowledge of a particular issue. In an emergency it is a useful channel in the initial stages to alert communities to the emergency, promote key protective behaviors, encourage service utilization and dispel rumors.
  • Mass media can also be used as the emergency evolves to reinforce positive behaviors and encourage the public to continue engaging in protective practices.

Tips for Using Mass Media

  • Consider combining mass media with other communication channels to increase effectiveness. An example would be organizing listening groups at broadcast times of relevant radio programs to allow for more in-depth discussion about the issues being addressed and maximize the benefit of the radio program.
  • Contact the media channel for follow-up analysis to ensure that the product placement has occurred as planned.
  • Ensure billboards and transit ads contain simple, visual messages as people will need to notice them quickly as they pass by.
  • Where possible, involve community members or other beneficiaries in the production and dissemination of mass media.
  • Ensure that messages and images are contextually appropriate and in the relevant local language.
  • Review local norms, customs and practices to localize mass media. National radio programs may need to be reinforced by broadcasting locally adapted programs through community radio.
  • News articles and billboards also need to be adapted according to local needs.

Mid Media

Mid media, sometimes also referred to as folk or traditional media, involves activities that gather large groups of people and that frequently have an entertainment component. Examples of materials and formats include:

  • Community drama/participatory theater performances
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Music or sports events where specific messages are promoted before, after and during the games
  • Community shows or fairs
  • Traditional dance and music performances
  • Announcements in places of workshops, rallies, processions or community celebrations
  • Public meetings and public debates to exchange ideas about particular resistant behaviors
  • Announcements via megaphone in the community


  • Can be helpful in raising awareness about a particular issue among community members
  • Some types of mid media activities, such as participatory theater or debates, can facilitate interaction and sharing of ideas
  • Can be an effective strategy to address rumors and misconceptions
  • Involves entertaining activities and can therefore attract large audiences
  • Less expensive than mass media
  • Can allow for the use of influential channels for certain audiences (for example, when using places of worship as a vehicle)


  • Does not allow responses to personal queries and concerns
  • Some mid media activities, such as theater, require adequate skills and proper preparation and rehearsal time
  • Little control over who will attend activities, making it harder to target specific audiences
  • May be challenging to monitor the audience’s understanding of messages and any effects of the activity as crowds tend to leave immediately after

When to Use Mid Media

  • Mid media can be an effective way to raise awareness in the initial stages of an emergency as it gathers large audiences in non-threatening settings.
  • Mid media can be helpful in dispelling rumors by using activities and channels that are understood by the community and culturally appropriate.
  • Public debates between leaders and community members can be effective in addressing particularly resistant behaviors and developing solutions.

Tips for Using Mid Media

  • Ensure that local protocol is respected (for example, obtaining approval from local leaders) when delivering mid media activities in the community.
  • Include an element of interaction with the audience whenever possible.
  • Ensure that key messages are clear and summarized at the end of an activity to remind audiences of important information.
  • Where possible, hold a discussion with the audience after an activity to assess understanding and identify further information needs.
  • Consider supplementing mid media activities with print materials to reinforce messages and to allow audiences to take key information home and analyze it further.

Print Media

Print media refers to primarily paper-based materials that are used to reach intended audiences through written words and/or images. Examples of materials and formats include:

  • Leaflets, pamphlets and flyers containing key information such as preventive actions, identification of symptoms or where and how to access support.
  • Posters placed in key locations, such as health centers.
  • Informational factsheets and cards to supplement information obtained from other channels.
  • Advocacy letters to solicit support from authorities, decision makers or donors.


  • Contain helpful reminders for key messages.
  • Are effective in supplementing information provided by other communication channels.
  • As print materials can be taken away, they can have wider reach.
  • Can be placed strategically in identified locations, such as health centers, pharmacies or relevant gathering
  • Allows users to review and think about messages in private.
  • Allow for providing detail about particular facts with literate audiences.
  • Can be less expensive than mass media.


  • Can be easily lost or destroyed.
  • Special consideration is required for low literacy audiences, such as including more visual content.
  • It is a one-way communication channel that does not allow the audience to ask questions or dig deeper into particular issues.

When to Use Print Media

  • Simple, highly visual print materials can be effective in reinforcing key messages.
  • Print materials are helpful channels for health providers, social mobilizers and peer educators to explain important information such as transmission, symptoms and prevention to community members. 
  • Can prove useful with mobile populations who can keep the material and access the information at a later date.

Tips for Using Print Media

  • Ensure that print materials are clear, culturally appropriate and in the appropriate languages.
  • Resist the temptation to overload print materials with information. Only include key messages that will keep the materials clear and focused.
  • With low literacy audiences, include visuals and limit text.
  • Ensure you have distribution plan in mind when developing print materials, which will increase their likelihood of being used.
  • Consider distributing print materials during activities such as sensitization session, community meetings or entertainment education events. This can help reinforce messages and remind audiences of key information that was shared during the activity.

Digital and Social Media

This is a relatively new channel that is growing rapidly, particularly in urban areas. It includes the use of mobile phones, smart phone applications and the Internet to disseminate messages and information. Examples of materials and formats include:

  • SMS platforms to disseminate key messages to all mobile network users
  • Websites and Facebook pages
  • Virtual chat rooms where users can post questions and concerns
  • Blogs to share information and experiences


  • Some forms of digital and social media, such as SMS, are private and confidential and can be used to share delicate information.
  • An exchange can be created with the users by including quizzes, a question and answer platform or a user forum.
  • If users of the chosen channel are asked to register, this can provide a system for collecting data about users and monitoring how the channel is being used.
  • Many forms of digital and social media are relatively cheap.
  • Information can be changed and updated regularly, at any time of day or night.


  • In some areas, reach of digital and social media is still limited. Generally this communication channel is only accessible is some parts of urban settlements where good internet connectivity is available.
  • Access to mobile phones may be limited.
  • Websites, blogs and virtual chat rooms require dedicated personnel to control content of what is being posted and to manage and update information.
  • Literacy is required for use of most digital and social media.

When to Use Digital and Social Media

  • SMS messaging with mobile phones can be effective in reminding the audience of key information, for example signs and symptoms, protective actions and where to access support services.
  • Mobile phone platforms can be used as a communication tool for alert mechanisms and community based surveillance (refer to Unit 3: Community Mobilization).
  • In emergencies where youth are one of the intended audiences, social media can be effective in reaching them as they tend to feel comfortable with this type of communication channel.

Tips for Using Digital and Social Media

  • If using SMS platforms and mobile phone networks, consider partnering with a mobile network provider and/or a mobile application developer to create a channel that is appropriate and affordable.
  • Ensure you understand your audience and how they use mobile phones and social media.
  • Attempt to create some level of two-way communication between the application/channel and the user by introducing quizzes, asking questions or allowing the user to post ideas, concerns or questions.
  • Where appropriate, ask users who join the application or forum to provide demographic data so as to obtain a picture of who is using the service and how. If you do this, reassure users of the confidential way in which data will be used.
  • Consider using existing platforms such as RapidSMS or mHealth, if they are available. For more information about these platforms you can go to the following links:

Interpersonal Communication

IPC involves a personal interaction with the intended audience. This interaction can be one-on-one, in small groups, in large groups or in a forum. IPC can be facilitated by a range of individuals, including health providers, CHWs, social mobilizers, peer educators or teachers. Examples of materials and formats include:

  • Door-to-door visits to assess household practices, reassure household members and deliver key messages
  • Small group discussions using visual aids to discuss specific issues.
  • Public debates discussing a particular topic


  • Allows to dig deeper into particular resistant behaviors so as to promote reflection and challenge dominant norms.
  • Small groups, one-on-one and phone lines provide a private setting for individuals to raise personal concerns.
  • The two-way communication allows to monitor how communities are responding to the emergency and to SBCC messages, and it facilitates the detection of potential barriers to
  • Small group discussions can prompt social interactions that can lead to the creation of a support network to face the emotional challenges linked to the
  • Allows for targeted activities that only include the intended audience.
  • IPC facilitators can also act as focal points in the community for information on the issue causing the emergency.
  • Door-to-door visits may be an effective way to reach vulnerable populations.
  • Can be effective in dispelling rumors.


  • The situation may not allow for proper training and supervision, which are necessary for the delivery of quality activities.
  • Repeated sessions and meetings are necessary to challenge norms and to start promoting changes in behavior and this may not always be possible.
  • Regular attendance may be a challenge for some individuals.
  • Phone lines require significant resources to ensure proper staffing and organization.
  • Cannot be delivered effectively with mobile populations as they would be unable to reap the benefits of repeated meetings.
  • Group sessions may inadvertently exclude the more vulnerable individuals.
  • Does not reach large audiences.

When to Use Interpersonal Communication

  • IPC is particularly useful to challenge dominant concerns relating to an It provides a forum to share key information, address fears linked to the emergency, dispel rumors, generate coping strategies, and identify potential barriers to change.
  • As IPC allows selection of the intended audience, it can be used to address behaviors that affect specific groups of individuals.
  • IPC allows for in-depth learning, and can be used in situations where large amounts of information needs to be shared with the audience.

Tips for Using Interpersonal Communication

  • For IPC to be effective it requires community buy-in. Assess what type of support is needed from community members and how to obtain it before initiating activities.
  • Consider involving communities through IPC in the development of action plans or roadmaps that lead to optimal health behaviors relating to the emergency.
  • Leverage existing community groups such as women’s groups, youth groups and religious groups and use these as a forum for IPC, rather than creating new systems.
  • Consider using community leaders in IPC and message dissemination as they are often influential personalities in the community
  • Where possible, support facilitation using visual or audio aids.
  • Ensure that facilitators are adequately trained, supervised and supported throughout to deliver high quality activities. It is recommended that a training and supervision plan be already in place prior to recruiting facilitators.
  • Plan for regular meetings with facilitators in which to share challenges and successes, be supported in improving their activities and provide feedback on how communities are responding to the emergency and to SBCC activities.
  • Facilitators, especially those doing one-to-one work or manning phone lines, may have to deal with emotionally challenging situations. Consider therefore providing extra psychosocial support.