Defining an online communications strategy
Step 3: The practical planning
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In the first part, we refined our generic communications strategy, identifying our key messages, target groups and the communications tools we have at our disposal. We also adapted our messages and tools for each target audience.
Based on this overall communications strategy, we zoomed into our online communications. In the second part of our case study, we looked at our core online content: What content do we have, what do we need? How can we ensure visitors actually find this content?
Step 3: The practical planning
Now it is time to get into the practical work: plan who will do what, how do we measure our progress both in “reach” and “impact”. How can we mitigate potential risks and ensure a good quality control over our online communications?
Step 3.1: Define your workplans
In Step 2 of this case study, we identified those content pieces we have and those still needed in order to reach each of our target groups with our key messages.
Now, we have to define who will make this content: List the content needed, and put names in the to-do list. Keep in mind that some content might be auto-generated from other sources, e.g. by importing RSS feeds from your data repositories or blogs.
Identify also the update frequency: how many items for each content type do you need per week, per month?
|Example: CPWF’s Content Action plan
Note: In the actual action plan, against each item, we put names and how many items we wanted per month
(*) = Non-existent content, still to be generated
Work is needed, not only to generate core content, but we will also need to allocate time and efforts for the online media tools, as identified in Step 1. These tools will help us either to “generate” or to “spread” our core content:
|Example: Workplan for CPWF’s online tools
Step 3.2: Measure progress, reach and impact
By now, it must be clear: your online communications will be quite a bit of work. It will also involve many people in your organisation: staff will generate content, others will actually publish it, and spread the content. There is also significant work in curating the content: tagging and categorizing it, putting proper titles and descriptions, link weeding and adding SEO meta-data.
Because of the amount of work, and the number of people involved, tt is important to keep track of your progress. The performance and output of your online communications will be a good benchmark, AND a good encouragement for yourself, your communications team, your management, and all staff involved in the content-generation process staff.
We can write multiple blogposts about how to set targets and track progress. At this point, though, I encourage you not to concentrate too much on “statistics” for “the sake of statistics”. Make a clear distinction between “reach” and “impact”: “Reach” is the amount of people who read (or potentially read) your content. Pure “Impact” can be defined as “the direct relation between single communications efforts and the fundamental changes it instigates”. This is difficult (if not, even nearly impossible) to measure for online communications tools.
At this point, the closest and easiest to measure is “how many people from your target audience, actually read your core content, which carries your key messages”. And then we hope “the reading” would somehow translate into “action” by your target audience.
For CPWF, our partners in the workshop on which we base this case study, we defined a set of simple, easy to track, metrics, both for reach and impact. We’d track those figures on a weekly basis, making it easy to follow progress with simple graphs.
|Example: Metrics for CPWF’s reach and impact
Step 3.3: Define quality control and risk mitigation
Our online communications strategy will involve a vast amount of staff, many of which are not professional communications staff. “Crowdsourcing” communications automatically includes a number of risks. Is all content bringing out the messages clear enough? Do we bring out the right message? Are the message coherent?…
At this point, it is well advised to assess the potential risks, and mitigate them.
There is also a “quality” versus “quantity” issue to address: When one professional communications officer produces one article per week, we can easily ensure a good quality. When, however, 20 project staff, each with a different technical expertise, different mother tongues and a limited knowledge of communications and web-stuff, start generating online content, we have to monitor the quality.
|Example: Quality control and risk mitigation for CPWF
Possible areas of quality concern:
If you reached this part of our case study in one piece, well then: congratulations! We have now defined our online communications plan.
We started from our overall communications strategy: defining our key messages, our target audience, and the tools at our disposal. We looked which tools we could use for which audience, and adapted our key messages for each of our target audiences (Step 1)
We then zoomed into our online media strategy. We looked at our core content, identifying what content we have, and what we need. We also made sure that our core content could be found on our websites, improving its usability. (Step 2)
In the last part, we made a communications workplan, involving everyone in the process: from content generators, publishers to those staff helping to spread the messages using social media tools. We defined the metrics to track progress both in reach and impact, and mitigated risks to ensure the highest possible quality for our online process. (Step 3 – as described in this post)
Once again my usual disclaimer: I am not rewriting the Bible here, nor do I pretend to hold the one and only Holy Truth: this case study is only one example of a process in defining an online communications strategy. I do believe however that these simple steps will help to put structure in your communications efforts. It will help rationalizing and targeting your messages, aiming at a wider reach and a higher impact.
After all, in the nonprofit sector as in the commercial sector, the same rule applies: you can do the best possible job, but if no-one knows about it, your efforts are in vain. Our colleagues do their best to deliver a quality product or service, and as communications people, it is our task to spread the message about their work.
The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) kindly allowed me to use examples and extracts from our communications strategy workshop.
All examples attributed to CPWF in this case study, should be read as draft ideas. I published them in their raw format which doesn’t necessarily reflect the final and approved versions.
With a sincere thanks to the CPWF staff in the workshop: Alain Vidal, Amanda Harding, Tonya Schultz, Michael Victor and Ilse Pukinskis.
Michael and Ilse also contributed large parts to this post and were crucial in the success of the workshop.