People often ask me: What is one thing we can do better to use communications more strategically?
Easy answer: Never miss opportunities to use the communications you’re already doing to your greatest advantage. As you go into 2019, put this on your to-do list. You won’t regret it.
Here’s a good example of a missed opportunity:
I spotted this on a walk with my dogs. Government organizations tell me every chance they get that people underestimate all the good government does for them. Well, no wonder. This is a large sign that is completely devoid of any value-based messaging. And this is valuable real estate. Literally. Imagine if this sign said, “In two years, this street will be safer because of sidewalks and a road to drive on without potholes. Your government is making life better for YOU.”
Here’s the thing: Everyone reading this post has this “sign problem.” You are giving information when you need to be giving inspiration. You are offering facts instead of motivation. You are suppressing action rather than spurring it with the communications you are doing RIGHT NOW.
Take a quick perusal of recent communications. Did you send an all-staff email and miss the opportunity to reinforce what you work so hard for? You could have motivated your team for the week ahead. Did you retweet something without connecting the tweet to a priority message for the organization, even though Twitter asked you to add a comment? Then all you did was a tweet. Did you just finish a board meeting without taking the opportunity to offer every member a quick cheat sheet on the organization’s achievements for the year? This makes it less likely that they will be stellar emissaries for the organization.
It happens to everyone. But it should happen less frequently. Rather than thinking about doing more communications in 2019, consider how to do higher-impact communications.
Ask this simple question: How could this [fill in the blank] have a higher impact when it comes to engaging audiences? When you swap in all-staff email, tweet to followers, board meeting…you’ll find yourself doing things differently.
To increase your communications impact, here are three ways to rethink your approach in the New Year:
Am I using this communication opportunity to advance a strategy?
Do I have a strategic purpose that includes priority audiences, a narrative that needs to be reinforced and messaging to engage with and motivate them? Am I missing any opportunities to put this all into play?
The Barr Foundation worked with its grantees to develop a narrative that will make the people of Massachusetts and the policymakers that represent them get behind a more ambitious transportation system. They want to move from transportation being a pain point to one that makes daily life better. They take every opportunity to communicate this message, as you can see from their updated website.
Are we tracking the naturally occurring conversation windows and using them to shape and advance the conversations that are happening?
Are we signaling to our organizations that we want to be nimble and do the communication prep in advance so we are ready to go? All the Type-A personalities out there (myself included) need to acknowledge that we don’t control everything. We know what we want to talk about, but we can’t always break through. Yet life happens and these conversation windows open — sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for tragic ones. Those are the moments when we need to move.
For decades, The California Wellness Foundation has recognized gun violence prevention as a public health issue, and they remain committed to lifting up community solutions that have the power to reduce gun violence. Tragic instances of U.S. gun violence are important times for Cal Wellness, and its partners such as Hope and Heal, to clearly describe this public health challenge, remind us of the violence we must treat beyond mass shootings — including domestic violence, suicide and community violence — and connect us to approaches that are making a real difference.
Do the people doing the communications have the capacity to do it well?
Consider your strategy and what skills and knowledge it will take to execute on it. If you have a great strategy, but staff who lack the skills and capacity, this will lead to missed opportunities. Consider what trainings you want to conduct or participate in to set up your organization for success.
Every year, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invites 30 to 40 grantees to participate in a year-long strategic communication training program so they can learn about and apply best practices in the ever-changing field of communications. Need to tell more ethical stories? There are courses to help you. Want to know how to analyze audiences psycho-graphically, not just demographically? All that info is at your fingertips once you know where and how to look.
Missed opportunities are easy to fix when you focus on them. In the New Year, commit to looking for those opportunities and you’ll see an immediate impact. You can’t always have instant gratification, but this is one strategy that actually delivers it. And that’s definitely an opportunity you don’t want to miss.