The grape vine gives it’s name to the informal communication process. Image credit

ZIMSEC O Level Business Studies Notes:The Grape Vine: Informal vs Formal Communication

  • Communication can also be classified as either informal or formal
  • Formal communication is official, arranged and approved of by the relevant authorities in the organisation
  • Formal communication takes place within the organisation’s communication channels
  • Informal communication is unplanned, unofficial and outside of the organisation’s official channels
  • Informal communication can be verbal, or written e.g. email blasts between friends or even graphical e.g. internet memes
  • Examples of informal communication include small talk during breaks between workers who may or may not be on the same level on the organisation’s chart
  • It is often known as the grape vine
  • This is because if the flow messages through this channel of communication were to be traced it would create a jumbled mess not unlike trying to trace the branches of a vine (e.g. grape tree)
Informal Communication (Grapevine)Formal Communication
Is not usually arranged, happens spontaneouslyIs arranged
Is unofficial and takes place outside the official structure of the organisationTakes place within the official structures of the organisation
Is not approved and is unplannedIs approved by the organisation's superiors beforehand
Does not follow the organisation's structure (hence the name grapevine)Normally follows the organisation's chain of command
Is mostly verbal but could be written e.g. Whatsapp groups of work friendsCan be verbal, written or graphical

Advantages of informal communication

  • Can be used as an extra channel of communication to aid the formal channel
  • To satisfy the personal needs of employees
  • To counter boredom at work
  • Act as an additional source of information
  • Can be used by management to test new ideas
  • It is efficient in quickly disseminating (spreading) information
  • Creates unity among the members of the group
  • Is flexible, it does not have to follow a set path
  • Increases efficiency by allowing superiors to communicate freely with subordinates
  • Helps members to interpret messages sent via the formal channels


  • They can contribute to conflict within the organisation
  • Can lead to distortion of information as it passes from person to person
  • It is difficult to verify some of the information disseminated via informal channels
  • Can be exploited to disseminate lies as there is no accountability
  • Can hamper the productivity of employees as they spend most of their time and energy on informal communication
  • The grape vine cannot be controlled

To access more topics go to the O Level Business Notes page