Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 communications changes: 8 tests

We've started a new year, following a 2008 in which social media exploded and mainstream news media contracted -- but communications and marketing operations at many companies and organizations made only tentative steps to change their approach to reaching public audiences. The problem? Some of the "new" changes have been resisted so strongly that organizations' public communications efforts risk irrelevance or, at best, inefficiency and higher-than-needed costs in a time of recession. I'm recommending 8 tests--a communications checkup, if you will--for you to use when scanning your communications operation to look for areas to address in the coming year:

  1. Is your skill base media-relations centered? Always labor-intensive, media relations represents a core skill area that's fast losing its target audience, as news organizations downsize output and staffing. In 2009, media relations teams will need to diversify their targets and skills to include direct work with public audiences, non-journalist bloggers, and interest groups. You may need to rename as well as refocus your energies on content creation, as this post from a university media shop notes: "...we are looking to change the name of our office to something more fitting....we are increasingly producing content designed to reach our audiences directly. And the content we produce is being re-purposed for a variety of outlets, from the web to our campus newspaper to our research annual report."
  2. Is your own publishing print-centered? Actual newspapers are now referred to as the "dead-tree edition," out of date from hours before they hit your doorstep, and online news has surpassed print sources. But are your key reports, stories and source materials still commanding large printing budgets? If so, you may be deploying your resources -- lots of them -- on a medium that's less likely to reach its audience than ever before. In 2009, look for ways to reduce your print runs and redirect those funds to the staffing and services that will better meet your particular targets.
  3. Do you and your team know enough about social media? If you spent 2008 debating whether social media works as a communications tool, but didn't learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites, 2009 is the year that skills-building becomes a must. (Or, if you've only used them for personal reasons, but haven't explored their use in your communications work, ditto.) You may not choose social media for every communications foray, but this is the year you'll need a good explanation for why you chose another method instead.
  4. Are you asking your audience to supply you with content? One of the most cost-efficient and audience-attracting ways to communicate these days is with "crowdsourced" content. The appeal's intrinsic: What audience doesn't want to see itself or have a platform or share perspective? So, if you're still writing advance news releases about your upcoming research conference, but not issuing a hashtag so participants can "live-tweet" from sessions on Twitter, you're missing a cheap, easy, and exciting way to generate content. And that's just one example. In 2009, run a contest, choose a member or employee blogger, or find your own way to encourage content created by your special audience.
  5. Are you only talking to gatekeepers? Whether your traditional targets are news media, legislators, or others who stand between you and your audience, 2009 needs to be a year in which you examine whether they still represent your best bet to achieve your goals. In many cases, you may find a direct-to-audience approach works best--particularly if you build your communications resources to let the audience decide what it wants.
  6. Are you making age assumptions about your audience and its preferred media? If, during 2008, you found yourself saying or thinking any of the following lines, you need to spend time in 2009 researching the realities about various age groups and their preferences: LinkedIn is Facebook for adults...I only use Facebook to check on what my kids are doing...Twitter is for children...Bloggers aren't journalists, they don't have enough years of training...No one who's middle-aged uses Facebook...Adults still prefer print newspapers...I keep getting invited to join these groups and don't know how to respond...Check those assumptions at the door this year.
  7. Are you "monitoring" more than you're listening? Following a time-honored model based on newspaper clipping counts of yore, lots of communicators feel they only need to check blogs, Twitter and Facebook to monitor what's been said and quickly correct misstatements about their brand or organization. Others are horrified to learn that opinions expressed aren't in agreement with their branding strategy. In 2009, both those reactions suggest you're not in tune with your audience--nor with current modes of expression. Start using your online time to explore, not expunge, what audiences are saying about your organization or brand, and use that information to really hear what you need to do next.
  8. Are you talking more than you're engaging? If your primary communications mode is stuck in "announcement only," you're missing the chance to use social media and other tools to build audience loyalty, improve customer service and satisfaction, and learn more than any poll can tell you. Be sure you're asking more than telling and listening more than talking in 2009--and stop using numbers of news releases issued as a metric while you're at it.
I've already started 2009 helping clients address some of these issues in training retreats, with orientation/strategy sessions for their teams or by creating strategies to get them started using new tools that will advance their communications--and, in many cases, save on time and money. How can I help you get strategic in 2009? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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