The Biggest Challenge Digital Communicators Face

Let’s chat about the biggest challenge I think digital communicators on the agency side face nowadays.

  • It’s not measurement
  • It’s not integrating channels in their programs
  • It’s not thinking strategically while selecting tactics

Don’t get me wrong – all of these are significant and important challenges. However, there’s a bigger one that over-arches all of them:

When we go into organizations and explain the way communications is shifting, we’re often telling people that the way they’ve communicated their whole career, and the way they see things working, is changing.

We’re telling people that their comfort zone is no longer in the right place.

Take the video interview I posted the other day, for example. When Sylvain Perron asked me what trends I see growing over the next while, I replied with two broad trends:

  1. Increased integration and decreased silos
  2. A shift from campaigns to long-term engagement

Each of these runs counter to the way that many people think.

Silo-busting

Senior marketing decision makers have often spent their whole careers thinking in terms of public relations (sometimes corporate and marcom), advertising, internal communications and, more recently, digital communications. They’re seen as discrete channels, often with their own AORs.

Nowadays, we’re moving to a place where the various channels overlap significantly, as shown in the graphic above (hat tip to David Armano).

This means both additional work to coordinate multiple agency partners, but also a need for much tighter integration between tactics, and as that happens the roles of different media are shifting (Forrester’s Sean Corcoran wrote about this late last year).

Shifting from campaigns to engagement

Many marketers have spent many years operating using a campaign model. These are characterized by large spikes in activity which drive spikes in attention from target audiences.

This model is a recipe for wasted resources in today’s communications environment.

In a system where we’re able to foster, curate and engage communities of interest around common goals, the approach of making a big splash then disappearing is highly inefficient. Not only do you drop back from that initial level of engagement, you also risk creating social media scorched earth as you do so.

Take campaign-based Facebook pages, for example.

Creating a one-shot Facebook page then deleting it is like spending thousands of dollars on a campaign that builds your email list, only to then take that email list and burn it when the campaign is done.

Instead, ongoing community engagement paired with regular spikes in activity can provide ongoing awareness and a platform from which to build with more major initiatives, while fostering brand advocates within that community.

Again, a shift.

This can be a hard shift to accept for people who are used to operating differently.

Tips to face the challenge

So how can we deal with this sensitively? Here are four tips:

  1. Be clear that this is an evolution. People aren’t doing things wrong; they just need to adjust to operate within this evolving media environment
  2. Educate your clients. Provide basic training, but also regular ongoing insights into trends, tools and useful pointers that can help busy clients to stay on-top of rapidly evolving trends.
  3. Recognize that things won’t change overnight. Many clients will continue to operate with discrete channels for campaigns. That means you may need to work closely with other agencies to develop plans.
  4. Help clients to coordinate. Agencies are all competing for a slice of the digital pie. That’s fine from a broader sense, but once you’re working on a campaign it’s important that that all ends and that agencies collaborate to ensure campaigns integrate. Work with your clients to help to structure roles and responsibilities within their agency team.
  5. Remember – while we may understand and be on-board with these changes, not everyone is as excited. Change can be scary until you have a handle on what’s going on. As consultants, it’s our job to give the best advice we can and to help our clients work through this transition.

So, what do you think? What other tips would you offer? Share them in the comments.