Communications strategies: What’s right for your organization?

Photo: Gisela Giardino, Flickr

It goes without saying that strategic communications is essential to organizational and professional effectiveness and impact.

Without strategy, your communications will lack focus and direction and may be perceived as inconsistent and unreliable. Non-strategic communications may even end up undermining or contradicting an organization’s overall mission and vision.

Communications strategies are fundamental for every organization, entity and brand – large or small, for- or non-profit.

However, I contend that not all types of communications strategies are essential for every organization and brand. For example, larger organizations working across the globe will have more communications needs than smaller organizations, and may therefore require not only an overall communications strategy, but strategies for internal communications, social media, content, etc. The communications strategies your organization needs will depend on its size, budget and overall mission, vision and objectives.

The must-have strategy for all organizations

An overall communications strategy is an absolute requirement for all organizations, entities and brands aiming for success and impact. Your overall communications strategy lays out exactly how your communications will be used to accomplish organizational and professional goals. It sets out your communications mission and vision and clarifies your audiences and niche, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the communications resources you need, governance mechanisms, the communications channels you will use, and other important aspects. This strategy should also address all of the important communications functions and needs in your organizations, such as promotion, stakeholder engagement and fundraising, public and press relations, internal and crisis communications, digital and social media, and content strategy. Non-profits: Click here for an excellent resource for developing a communications strategy and workplan.

Additional strategies: Must-haves for medium-sized and large organizations

In my view, organizations that are defined as ‘medium-sized’ or above should be those with dozens or more employees, substantial budgets and investments that are five figures or more, and large stakeholder bases spanning sectors, nations and/or continents.

In this context, the stakes are higher than for smaller organizations. Working at this scale means that media and public scrutiny is likely higher. And if your organization is working at this level, ensuring your stakeholders and partners deliver your message in a unified and consistent way is a bigger challenge. As such, medium-sized and large organizations need to go beyond the overall communications strategy and develop more detailed strategies on specific communications focus areas. The overall communications strategy should be the foundation and reference point, and any new strategy should always link back to the overall communications strategy. With that said, I recommend developing additional strategies for:

It’s worth noting that smaller organizations can also reap substantial benefits from public relations and social media strategies.

Supplemental strategies to boost effectiveness

Lastly, all organizations can benefit from more focused and specialized strategies covering:

  • Press/media relations
  • Content
  • Digital communications
  • Marketing communications
  • Stakeholder communications
  • Fundraising communications 
  • Departmental communications

I don’t consider these strategies essential, but if you want to take your communications game up a notch and really deliver impact, I’d recommend developing them. But do keep this in mind that most of these strategies are interlinked. Some objectives will overlap, so be careful not to duplicate efforts.

Bringing it all together

Developing most or all of these strategies might seem daunting, and getting caught up in developing ill-informed strategies for months on end is just procrastination and not at all effective. Your strategy development process should be systematic and efficient, and the final product should not be a long-winded dissertation. Simple one-pagers or short PowerPoint presentations can suffice for specialized strategies, as long as the work to develop a clear strategy has been done, and the strategy document itself is clear, tangible and actionable.

I would recommend having one master document linking all the strategies, with the overall communications strategy as the foundation and main reference point. In fact, specialized/specific communications strategies can be sections within a 10-page communications strategy document.

Look out for future blog posts where I’ll be exploring each of the additional communications strategies mentioned above.

What’s your wish for refugee and migrant children?

Top illustrators from across the globe — including Christoph Niemann, Jean Jullien and Mrzyk & Moriceau — are answering this question via the #illustrators4children campaign (Twitter).

The campaign was launched by UNICEF ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where world leaders are currently gathered.

UNICEF aims to raise awareness of the refugee and migrant issue, which it says is “first and foremost a children’s crisis.”

Featured image: Screenshot from the #illustrators4children campaign on Instagram. Illustration by Ayumi Takahashi

Navigating the attention economy

Researchers and strategists including Herbert SimonThomas Davenport  and Michael Goldhaber have deduced that we are living in an attention economy. Why is this? It stems from the fact that in this day and age there is an overabundance of information due to the rapid growth of web/digital media and technology. As early as 1971, Simon effectively articulated how an overabundance of information impacts attention:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

In our information-rich world, attention is a scare and valuable commodity. So, how do we navigate this attention economy?

Surviving and thriving in the attention economy

Writing for The Media OnlineDavid Smythe notes that never before have brands had to work so hard for an audience’s attention.  “We’re moving away from a supply based media system influenced by marketers, to a demand-based media world driven by consumers … Before a brand can entertain or inform, its communication needs to be noticed,” he says. 

Smythe highlights various trends that can help marketers survive and thrive in this world:

  • Harnessing the power of Storytelling, storymaking and storybuilding. “Information that has been humanised and enriched through storytelling is persuasive and has greater memorability,” Smythe says. My previous post touched on the power of storytelling.
  • Ephemeral/momentary marketing. It can be reasonably assumed that attention starved and time deprived consumers will probably respond well to branded content that is fleeting, yet relevant. The rise of Snapchat is a good example. “By devising temporary marketing schemes, brands are appealing to a desire amongst people to consume smaller forms of content in a way that is both easy and efficient,” Smythe says.
  • Me marketing. Smythe notes that a prevailing trend suggests that every individual is now a marketer, and we all want to be marketed to individually. “There can be no more powerful way for a brand to capture attention by speaking to the consumer as if they were an individual with their own unique wants and needs … It speaks to the use of personalisation to guarantee sustained attention.”
  • Easing the consumer decision journey. Consumers are faced with too much information and are time-deprived. This leaves them feeling that they are not always making the right choices. Smythe notes that brands that become known for making the decision making process a little simpler will secure disproportionate attention ahead of the average.
  • Brand sacrifice. Smythe notes that in the 21st century, brands that sacrifice, or display some form of altruism, enjoy disproportionate attention ahead of the average. “More millennials than non-millennials integrate their beliefs and causes into their choice of companies to support, their purchases and their day-to-day interactions,” he says. “Sacrifices can be large or small; they can change the world or just the consumer’s world.”

Who are ‘attention workers’? 

In a paper for the Innovation Journalism journal, Vilma Luoma-aho and Saara Halonen describe the role of ‘attention workers’, or professional brokers of attention. They emphasize that as attention becomes increasingly scarce, the influence of attention workers rises. In this context, attention workers can include journalists, public relations practitioners, marketers, advertisers, lobbyists and other actors. They are professionals who aim to distribute information and knowledge effectively, increasing social capital in the process. Identifying and cultivating these attention workers could go a long way for organizations.

Look out for my next post, where I’ll touch on some challenges associated with the attention economy.


Photo: Copyright woodleywonderworks, Flickr

Social media for development: Q&A with a United Nations specialist

Interested in social media for development? Then you need to read a recently published, very informative interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). LeiLei covers a range of topics in the context of UNDP’s work, including effective public relations, transparency, capacity building, strategy and corporate leadership.

UNDP has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and over 1 million likes on Facebook.

Read the full interview on the Social Media for Development Blog or read the highlights below.

On public relations:

“Social media gave organizations like UNDP a means to directly connect to the public rather than wait to be noticed. It’s an opportunity to be more approachable and rewrite our own narrative, break down mis-information, and show that for every negative story about those in the UN system, there are 100 undiscovered stories of positive action, and that behind these results, are amazingly talented and committed human beings who work very hard to improve conditions for the world’s most vulnerable. By not responding, by not engaging, because of a culture of risk-aversion, we run the risk of letting the myth or stereotypes and public perceptions of us become bigger and bigger monsters. The best way to address mis-information and chase the monsters away is turn the light on and reveal ourselves, who we are, what we do and how it makes an impact, what the steps look like at different phases of a project, and why you should care.”

On transparency:

“Social media is transforming the culture of communications and transparency in the organization where often, no news comes out of projects until the project reporting cycle comes to term, a very technical status and budget report is sent to donors, and depending on the communications capacity (whether they have a dedicated communications staff in their office or not), we may or may not get a report or story about the project that may or may not sound more or less like a budget report. So social has challenged different parts of the organization to change specific processes so that we’re more accountable and transparent at every step of the process.”

On capacity:

“We are part of a tree and the tree has to be healthy for everything to work right—I cannot tweet without getting quality stories that show impact and has a strong human narrative from fellow communications colleagues. They in turn need capacity, training, dedicated time and the full support and cooperation of their office to communicate, as well as a strong linkage with the project and technical staff who have the expertise, data and access to the communities who participate in our projects.”

On approaches/strategy:

“For global accounts, we try to find that middle ground to tackle the diversity of our social community. Advocacy, education, ensuring accountability and transparency through data and thought leadership are priorities for messaging… We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.

“Our amazing regional teams across five continents manage separate regional accounts. Our 170+ country offices maintain their own social accounts. They all have different sets of audience who are interested in regional issues or only about particular countries.

“Be social. Be genuine. Engage. Have empathy in your storytelling. Be human. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience. Continue to improve upon what’s working so far but don’t get comfortable. Innovation is vital to social media –just staying relevant doesn’t cut it.”

On the best platform to use:

“I love Twitter for the real-time interaction, behind the scenes feel, the challenge of getting up breaking news as it happens and for rapid information consumption. Twitter also challenges me to write better and think more strategically about key messages I want the audience to walk away with into a single tweet—only 20% of our audience actually clicks on our links for more information so the tweets have to be super tight and informative so they walk away with knowledge.

“My favorite is still Facebook because I can really establish a relationship with our community. Those who engage with us on Twitter may change from day to day. But on Facebook, there’s a very dedicated community who engages daily, takes the time to read and give feedback.”

On engagement with audiences in developing countries:

“The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt… We aren’t seeing a rise in interaction with recipients of our programming but there has always been an organic growth in audience from programme countries—many are members of the general public who want to know if we’re being effective in their countries, want project updates and want to see impact, or want us to do more (sometimes on issues that go beyond our scope and mandate)-others want to learn about job opportunities and NGOs want to explore ways to become implementing partners or receive aid.”

On leadership:

[UNDP Administrator] Helen Clark being an amazing advocate of social media has made all the difference with our strategy. She not only champions social media—she’s an avid champion of strategic and effective communications. This opens up the space for “converting” the skeptics when she leads by example, rather than when a younger, more junior staff like me attempt to go against the “this is how it is” approach to the system and lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape.”

Read the full interview

Powerful UNICEF music videos raise awareness of humanitarian issues

In my previous post I looked at how music can be used to boost social causes. The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) recent music video campaign is a prime example. UNICEF’s series of music videos aimed at raising awareness of children’s rights have been viewed by over 300,000 people, according to David Girling’s Social Media for Development blog.

Girling interviewed Nicholas Ledner, Digital Knowledge Coordinator at UNICEF, to find out more about the creative process behind the videos. Featuring the music of critically-acclaimed artists such as Banks and SOJA, the videos cover a range of themes from access to education to ending violence against children and child marriage.

Ledner had this to say about selecting the right artists: “[You need] to ensure you identify an artist that has a significant fan base, that’s critically praised, that is smart, intelligent, passionate and understands your work. This is essential for success and for a mutually beneficial relationship. The team the artist works with is also very important. You need to know they’re willing to help you seed the content with different outlets.”

He added: “Music resonates globally and has helped us provoke conversations around key issues UNICEF advocates for. Music can often touch people in ways other media cannot. It makes them think about their own lives and helps them relate to others because they feel something in the music which is sometimes harder to convey to a general audience.”

Read the full article here and watch the music videos below.

Access the UNICEF YouTube channel here