Posts Tagged ‘planning’

Six essential shifts in social media strategy

We’ve reached a critical point in the evolution of social media as a business tool. Gone are the days when the GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those) approach will get you anywhere – simply having a Twitter account, or a Facebook Page, isn’t enough. We’re at the point of social media saturation, and something’s got to give.

So began the session description for my recent presentation at BlogWorld New York. The crux: that the days of social media as an experiment are over – it’s time for a more mature approach to social media within companies in order for social media to be viewed as a sustainable communications and business function.

Unfortunately, we’re also at a point where pursuit of the shiny object has reached an extreme, and that this pursuit is conducted within an increasingly transparent fishbowl while armchair critics circle, waiting for the next “fail” from companies.

In this environment, where transparency and scrutiny are paired up with a shift in focus from experimentation to results, and yet where the allure of “the next big thing” persists, companies need to structure and approach social media differently.

My presentation focused on six essential shifts that I see in how many businesses approach social media strategy. Of course, not all companies are in the same situation. Some with mature programs have evolved beyond this stage; some face just a few of these shifts; others face them all:

  1. Moving away from shiny objects and towards social business
    1. Asking “why” to understand demands
    2. Building a social media infrastructure to support the social brand
    3. Taking baby steps in implementation – from crawl, to walk, to run, to fly
  2. Setting better objectives for social media
    1. Setting SMART objectives
    2. Tying back to broader business goals
    3. Staying clear of the “how” and “what” when setting objectives
  3. Measuring effectively against those objectives
    1. Focusing on the right numbers for the audience
    2. Understanding what numbers really mean
    3. Avoiding made-up numbers
    4. Measuring to drive insights alongside determining results
  4. Breaking down silos and integrating across functions
    1. Approaching social media as an integrated function
    2. Breaking-down silos through day-to-day tactics
    3. Integrating through reporting structures, governance and social media organizational models
  5. Planning and executing content more strategically
    1. Considering content objectives
    2. Identifying appropriate content sources
    3. Fine-tuning execution via appropriate content volume, mix and format
  6. Engaging effectively to build relationships and communities of interest
    1. Embracing negative and neutral conversations
    2. Establishing processes to minimize risk

How about you – have you seen companies needing to make these improvements to their social media strategy?

For more on the topic, check out this excellent write-up of my presentation over at SmartBlog for Social Media.

Thanks once again to Rick, Dave, Deb, Shane and the rest of the BlogWorld team for the invitation to speak. This was my fifth BlogWorld presentation, and I always enjoy it. 

Two Ways To Quickly Improve Your Communications Plans

I’ve worked in communications for a while now, and one thing I’ve noticed — consistently — is that the same two elements of communications plan get overlooked time and time again:

  • Objectives
  • Strategy

These almost always get sacrificed in favour of the bright, shiny part of the plan: tactics.

What’s more, your objectives and strategy are the most important part of the plan. They’re the part that frames the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve, and provides a focus for the tactics that should aim to achieve that goal.

That means that, sadly, most communications programs fail to live up to their true purpose.

I think this failure stems from two primary misunderstandings:

1. People don’t understand the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics.

Simply put, your objective should state what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to sell 30,000 units of something? Increase customer loyalty? Reduce employee turnover? Remember, too, that there are business objectives and communications objectives, and the latter should flow up to the former.

Your strategy defines how you will achieve the objective you just outlined. If you’re looking to sell product, for example, one strategy might look to raise awareness of the product among a key audience. Another option might be to improve its visibility among key purchase-driven search terms.

Your tactics provide the final level of detail in your plan – the granular activities that will drive towards your strategies, and which ultimately fuel the accomplishment of your objective.

Too few people understand the difference between these three areas. If they’re on the client side, they’re the ones who, despite the great program delivered, still ask “but how many media impressions did we get” even if the business results are there for all to see. On the agency side, well, they’re the ones who risk those same clients never having the business results to ignore in the first place.

It’s CRITICAL that people get their heads around this, as these parts of your plan ensure you’re driving at the right result.

2. People focus on shiny.

Lots of people, especially in the communications industry, are highly creative and really enjoy the creative side of things. Let’s face it, brainstorms are fun. Blue sky thinking, a “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” mindset and no consideration of limitations is a nice mindset to have. Unfortunately, I’ve found that that often comes at the expense of strategy – of putting boundaries around creativity to ensure it is pointed in the right direction.

I had a great discussion with a colleague last week after a brainstorm. I commented that we had some great ideas coming out of the session, but that at that point most of them totally diverged from our strategy for the program. Her response (paraphrasing) was: “Agreed. It’s our job to take those ideas, filter them and tweak them so they fit.”

The perfect team combines people with creative strength alongside those with a strategic mindset, so you get the best of both worlds.

Want to improve your planning? Educate your team and your client about the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics, and make sure they’re taken into account when developing your plan.

Six Ways To Silo-Bust Your Communications

We’re into “2010 prediction season, and there are plenty of social media buzzwords being thrown around.” “Real-time,” “location-based,” “convergence” and “augmented reality” are a few that stand out for me.

No silos

I’m going to throw a new one into the mix; one that has been my mantra for a while, and which (I think) should frame your communications strategies for 2010 – if it doesn’t already:


Silos suck

If I’ve learned anything from the social media work we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this year, it’s that siloed communications strategies rarely work. What good is a Twitter account if no-one knows it’s there? What good are user-generated videos if no-one can share them? If a news release falls in the forest, does anyone hear?

As communicators, we know that message repetition is key to message retention. When it comes to social media – a long-term, relationship-based channel – you have a great opportunity to reach people repeatedly with whatever messages you’re sharing. That goes whether you’re trying to offer a new customer service channel, develop long-term loyalty, gain product feedback, promote new services or whatever your goal is.

Your life as a communicator becomes a lot easier when the public-facing elements of your organization – the public relations, marketing, advertising, IT (where IT handles the website), customer service and (perhaps) social media functions – are pointing in the same direction.

Reality kicks in

It makes intuitive sense, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Almost daily, you can see important campaigns launched without support from other functions and all sorts of similar fragmentation of strategies and tactics which undermine the success of the sizable investment made in them.

It’s not always as easy as it sounds to break out of communications silos. Regardless of the size of your organization (or the nature of the agency relationship) there are likely politics and turf involved. Organizational silos layer on top of the communication silos. In an agency, it can be particularly hard to coordinate with other agencies who, frankly, may wish they were executing some of the work you’re doing. Still, you can be the player that takes the high road and makes the first move to reach out. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Here are six simple things you can do to begin to integrate your communications and bust out of your silos:

  • Where possible, invite people from other communications functions to be in the room when planning your year’s activities. At a minimum, ensure the different functions’ plans are shared.
  • Plan to coordinate your activities with those of other functions. If there’s a big ad push in Q1, for example, consider whether other functions should push hard then, too. If not, consider how you’ll try to compensate for the lower advertising activity at other times in the year.
  • Ensure you integrate your messaging with other functions. If there’s an ad campaign focused on a new product feature, it makes sense to use other channels too, rather than focusing on something else, right? Remember – repetition begets retention, and retention leads to results.
  • Schedule regular update meetings with your colleagues in other departments. If you’re on the agency side, try to meet or talk regularly with other agencies working with your clients. You’ll probably need client buy-in (or even pressure) to make this happen, but it’s worth it.
  • Next time you launch a contest, product feature or web property, consider well ahead of time whether it could be featured in email blasts, direct mail pieces, advertising creative, news release, speeches etc. Lobby the appropriate people to update your company’s website with links to all of your web properties, and ensure your websites and social media properties link back.
  • Do what you can to integrate measurement with other functions. If you’re driving traffic to your website, don’t measure click-throughs; measure conversions. If you’re trying to drive foot traffic to stores, see if you can measure that. Don’t limit your measurement to the first level of proxies on the way to your goal.

These are just six simple ways to begin to break out of silos in your communications. There are plenty more out there – what would you add to the list?

Think Media, Not Medium

HeadphonesI just downloaded the audiobook version of Mitch Joel‘s book “Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.

I bought the hard copy of the book two months ago when it was first released. So why get the audio version too?

Books just don’t work for me any more.

I love books. I have a stack of books in my office and a full bookcase in my home office. I love being able to hold, see, wave-around and annotate the hard copy of something as I consume it. However, I’ve had this book for two months now and am only half-way through.

On the flip side, as I make a concerted effort to live up to my commitment to myself to get back into running I’m finding myself consuming more and more audio content via my iPod Nano.

On the way home from work yesterday, I got through more of the audiobook than I’d consumed in the last two weeks via the hard copy, despite being on vacation.

Communicators: Think beyond one medium

It’s all too easy for us to think in terms of individual communications channels. PR folks do their thing; advertising folks do their thing; maybe the social media folks do theirs too.

That kind of thinking isn’t as effective nowadays, where people are used to consuming information in the way that they want. A ‘book’ doesn’t work for me, but the same content in a different medium is perfect.

As communicators, I think we need to move towards what I think of as a medium-agnostic approach to communications. Part of that is reaching your target audience wherever they inhabit, so each person can consume information in the way in which they choose. So think – are you re-purposing your content wherever you can?

It’s all about making your customers’ lives easier. How are you achieving that?

Image source:, via d-s-n

In Defense of the Devil’s Advocate

One of my favourite parts of agency life is getting the chance to collaborate with a bunch of really smart people on a daily basis. Whether it’s my colleagues (who I learn from every single day) or clients, every day sees at least a couple of discussions from which I learn something completely new.

In the face of this constant flow of ideas coming from these people send me, I tend to play another role: that of devil’s advocate.

Reading Kyle Flaherty‘s excellent (and now ex-)blog, he listed several reasons why he often plays the contrarian:

“I do it for one of three other reasons:

  1. To determine if you REALLY believe what you just said;
  2. To introduce another line of thinking that ultimately will shape your thinking;
  3. To determine if I REALLY believe what you just said”

Wikipedia defines a devil’s advocate as:

“In common parlance, a devil’s advocate is someone who takes a position he or she disagrees with for the sake of argument. This process can be used to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure.”

Asking tough questions won’t always make you popular, but nonetheless I think it’s an important role for every team to fill, whether one person or the team as a whole fulfils it. It’s not a role to play for the sake of it – it’s a vital part of team dynamics. Here are six reasons why:

  • Sound strategic development: It’s all too easy to let tactics drive a strategy. That’s like letting the cart lead the horse. I think it’s important to ensure that a strategy doesn’t get formed around a bunch of tactics – that tactical ideas are filtered through a mesh made-up of carefully considered objectives, audiences and considerations.
  • Staying on that strategy: Good public relations programs are strategic. They link with the company’s business objectives, sync with it’s target audiences, consider the organization’s external influences… all of the things I discussed in my eBook on communications planning. Sometimes we have good ideas which don’t fit the strategy. It’s important to identify those cases.
  • Ensuring measurement is considered: I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that clients are more and more interested in measurement recently, likely due to a scarcity in resources in this economy (we could debate the measurement of a TV spot, or a magazine/newspaper ad, but that’s for another post). That means we need to build measurement into our programs from the ground-up, and a simple MRP report may not suffice.
  • Avoiding groupthink: It’s all too easy, in any group, to avoid conflict and agree with everything to make life easier. This rarely has a happy ending, as ideas end up poorly considered and half-baked. Asking the right questions can help to avoid this.
  • Convincing others: Some ideas are well thought-through. Others are off the top of someone’s head. Both have an important place in brainstorming sessions (which is not the time or place for playing the devil’s advocate), but only one has a place in a communications strategy. Getting people to think their ideas through helps, at the same time, to narrow ideas down to the good ones.
  • Convincing myself: I often take convincing before I “see the light” of a new idea. I need to look at things from multiple angles; to see how they fit in with other approaches; to consider how multiple stakeholders will view them. In order to reach that comfort level, I ask the questions that I can’t answer myself.

The role of devil’s advocate isn’t an easy (or necessarily popular) one. You’re asking tough questions, and you can sometimes find yourself saying “yes, but” when others are all gung-ho. A few tips for reducing the pain:

  • Be constructive – don’t be “that guy” – don’t just shoot ideas down. Ask questions constructively.
  • Don’t do it just for the sake of it – if you’re convinced and an idea is well thought-out, your job is already done.
  • Explain yourself – explain what you’re getting at with questions, so people understand why you’re asking.

What do you think? Do you play this role? What tips would you offer on playing it more effectively?

"We Should Do Something In Social Media"

Every so often a client (or potential client) will come to us and say something like,

"We think we should be doing something in social media."

Whether it’s social media monitoring, a podcast series, blogger relations, community building or a fully-integrated campaign, they’ve heard that social media is the thing to do and they want to be seen to do it.

"It would be good for people to see us using social media."

That’s quite possibly true, but by itself it’s not a reason to invest in social media. As I said recently, social media outreach won’t work for everyone.

These companies may have the budget and the will, but likely not the knowledge of how to approach their public relations (and any associated social media tactics). That’s fine – that’s what agencies like ours (and others) are there for – we’re paid to have that knowledge, and we can help companies to plot the right course through social media.

Here are a few questions companies might want to consider before deciding that the time is right:

  • What are their business objectives?
  • What are their communications objectives?
  • Which social media tactics will help them to meet those objectives?
  • Are they ready for an ongoing commitment to social media tools?
  • Are they ready to speak with the voice of people, rather than that of a faceless company?
  • Might social media fit better into a corporate plan rather than an initiative-specific plan?

The answers to any one of these questions could completely re-shape any pre-defined ideas for that company’s social media plans. They could even scupper them completely.

I know this list of questions is far from complete. What would you add to it?

How Often Do You Question Assumptions?

We began a brainstorming session at work yesterday by going over a list of a potential client’s strengths – community presence, relationships with suppliers, and so on. Part-way into the discussion, I stopped and asked, "are these really their strengths?"

The potential client gave us that list of strengths; people had assumed that they were correct. Once we’d started to question that assumption, we were able to consider: were they really strengths, or just how the client wanted people to perceive them?

Last month I structured a proposal around a challenge to one of the potential client’s assumptions. We walked into the room and suggested that the situation wasn’t as they saw it.

We progressed to the next stage of the bid.

Not questioning assumptions… not asking the tough questions… can be dangerous. It allows falsehoods to go unchallenged and allows ineffective approaches to continue.

Is that really…?

Frequently ask yourself:

  • Is that really the situation?
  • Is that really the only approach we could take?
  • Is that really a good tactic?
  • Is that really worth their money?

Challenge your assumptions and challenge those of others. Often the assumptions will be right, but it’s worth doing it for the times when they aren’t.

Strategic Communications Planning – A Free eBook

Between May and August 2008 I published a series of posts on strategic communications planning based on my experience over the past few years. Due to popular demand (and prodding from the likes of Ed Lee, Ryan Anderson, Robert French and Karen Russell) I’ve compiled the thirteen posts into an eBook for your downloading pleasure.

The Strategic Communications Planning eBook is an introduction to effective strategic corporate communications planning. It features all of the posts from the original communications planning series of posts, edited to reflect feedback I’ve received and with some additional content added throughout.

The eBook is embedded below and you can download itas a PDF file via the embed, or from Scribd or docstoc SlideShare (the other sites began charging for downloads).

I hope you find this useful. If you do or if you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know.

How To Write A Good Communications Plan – Part 13 – Evaluation

Measuring This is it – the last stage of preparing your communications plan – evaluation.

As with several parts of this communications planning series, the stage at which you write this part of your plan is fairly arbitrary. I recommend you turn your mind to it after, not before, you finish considering your analysis, objectives, strategy and tactics (you do need to know what you’re measuring, after all), but beyond that point it’s largely up to you.

Evaluation is a tough area to tackle, and one that’s often neglected in public relations. There are plenty reasons for this:

  • The challenge of trying to find a measurement system that accounts for the wide variety of tactics possible in a public relations campaign
  • The reluctance of clients, be they internal or external, to dedicate budget to evaluation
  • The lack of well-established criteria for measuring social media success
  • The fast-moving pace of communications that moves us on to the next announcement as soon as the last one is finished.

Your goal for this section

Your goal in your evaluation section is to lay out how you will measure your communications success. In a high-profile initiative this may be through the various stages of your announcement (we identified three – pre-announcement, announcement and post-announcement, when we looked at tactics earlier); in others, it may have a smaller scope.

Staged Measurement

If you’re planning a staged rollout of your communications program, try to measure your results over time. Alongside providing more credible results, this has the added benefit of allowing you to take corrective action if you sense your activities aren’t getting the desired results. Take a look at the different milestones you’ve identified for the project and consider which are suitable points to measure at.

Of course, you should also measure at the end of the initiative to see whether you’ve accomplished your objectives. Ideally, you’ll be able to compare that to the results showing whether the business objectives were accomplished too.

Potential Metrics

I’m certainly not an expert in measurement tactics, but here are a few measurements you may want to consider, depending on your objectives:

  • Media coverage
    • How much coverage did you receive?
    • What was the tone of that coverage (positive/negative)?
    • Which media outlets was the coverage in? Where in those outlets? What’s the audience of those placements?
    • Did you achieve the desired visuals?
    • Did they pick up your key messages?
    • Were your spokespeople quoted?
    • Were the mentions of your initiative the focus of the coverage, or a side note?
    • Methods for achieving these metrics vary. While I haven’t used it personally, the Media Relations Rating Points system has achieved some traction (see Ben Boudreau’s One Degree post for a case study).
  • Interactive
    • How many visitors saw your content?
    • How long did they spend on the site?
    • What pages did they visit?
    • Did they hit specific landing pages?
    • What was their bounce rate?
    • What was their conversion rate (identify a goal for visitors – purchase/registration/download, etc.)?
    • Social media measurement is even more debatable than regular PR. Comments, inbound links, etc are lovely, but at best they’re just proxies for more meaningful measurements.
  • Stakeholders
    • How did your stakeholders react?
  • Public inquiries
    • How many letters/emails/calls did you receive on this topic? Is that higher or lower than usual?
    • What was the tone of the incoming correspondence?
    • What did the correspondents say/ask?
  • Benchmarking
    • Conduct market research/polling before and after (perhaps also during) your communications to show improvement in metrics over time, for example in public attitudes
    • Focus groups

These are just a few metrics. What others can you suggest?

The “Communications Plan” Series

This is the final post in my series of 13 posts on exploring how to create a good strategic communications plan. To read the rest of the series, check out the other posts here.

(Photo credit: verzerk)

Ready, Aim, Fire – 2 Ways That Poor Planning Can Hurt You

Ready, Aim, FireWhen someone asks you to help communicate an initiative, what do you do?

Do you immediately find yourself coming up with cool ideas about how to gain attention and generate coverage? It feels good to do that, right? It certainly impresses non-communicators – “oh, we could do a media event for the launch, podcast this and that, and approach this reporter I know at the Globe & Mail.”

If you do that, you’re doing your clients a disservice. You’re guilty of failing to plan – of putting tactics before strategy.

Plenty of people have written about the importance of proper strategic planning, whether in social media, in communications or in marketing.

Here are two strategic planning approaches that can hurt your company.

Ready, Fire, Aim

I recently left the public sector after several years in government communications. That experience gave me a few insights into the way communications is conducted in that environment.

One thing I noticed is the possibility of this kind of planning discussion:

“We’re announcing this on Friday… so we’ll need a news release and backgrounder, ok?”

This ‘ready, fire, aim’ planning process leaves the strategic thinking to hindsight. There’s little opportunity for consideration of alternative strategies, of the wider context or of stakeholder needs. That results in sub-optimal approaches and a resulting lack of awareness and understanding of how the public sector is serving the public.

As any communicator will tell you, unfortunately this problem isn’t just limited to government. Fortunately, the people I worked with are aware of this potential and are working diligently to address it.

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire

Another tendency I’ve experienced falls on the other extreme – a tendency to over-plan, to think of every single possible scenario, to eliminate every single risk. This is especially prevalent when dealing directly with the public – for example, through social media. The fear of the unknown can lead to an ultra-risk averse approach, to constant checking and re-checking and a failure to act.

This ‘ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, fire’ approach can be as risky as the ‘ready, fire, aim’ mistake I mention above. By taking way too long in the planning process you can:

  • Miss a time-sensitive opportunity, for example an ideal time for an announcement or a gap in the market before competitors appear
  • Stifle an initiative with overly bureaucratic rules and procedures
  • Kill any enthusiasm that your people have for the initiative.

Ironically, by planning too much you can increase the risks within your communications.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Good communicators, in an ideal environment, will research, analyze and plan before executing their communications. However, they also let go when the time is right. Once you’re at that point, you can only achieve ever-decreasing returns on the time you spend fine-tuning your plan.

It’s obvious, right? Time to set your plan free.

How have you addressed these tendencies when you’ve noticed them?

(The guys over at the Manager Tools podcast have some great terms that they use to describe personality traits in the DISC model, which I’ve appropriated to describe these situations. I highly recommend you check out their show – it’s the only podcast that I pay for to get their premium content.)

(Photo credit: .:: LINUZ ::.)