AHA

dreamstime_xs_54104060I have recently had several conversations with colleagues and clients about the importance and value of a strategic approach. One former colleague, and now friend, who leads the communications efforts for a large multi-national organization was complaining about the lack of strategic thinking from her team, many of whom are mid-20s to late 30s. She was wondering what she could do about it and whether strategic thinking can be taught.

I said that I believed that it could. It takes effort and, wait for it – strategic leadership on her part – but I think that part of the challenge of today’s fast paced, 24/7 connected world is that we don’t provide enough time to develop strategic thinkers in the workplace.

My friend was saying that she sees an excellent work ethic, strong integrity and great intentions from her team, but that their solutions and approaches are tactical in nature – and are often reactive. The conversation was interesting because in the past several months, we have had clients come to us with exactly this type of challenge. We have been asked to review communications plans, campaigns and other initiatives because what they feel is missing at their organization is the team’s ability to see the big picture, recognize opportunities – and risk – and to frame solutions or their approach within the broader organizational strategy.

Supporting people to incorporate strategic thinking is a commitment to your team – and it’s one that should be taken seriously. To begin with, it is important to encourage individuals to think things through and not just react. But, let’s be honest, this is not an easy thing to do these days with fast and furious conversations happening on social media – which is why a social media content, distribution and issues strategy is crucial. Asking for several solutions to a challenge or for an opportunity and helping people to identify the one that offers the best long-term benefit for the organization is important. It’s easy to step in and do it yourself, if you are a strategic thinker… but if you want to help develop this skill with your team, your role should be to support and provide feedback as they work through this process themselves.

Creating a culture where your team is encouraged to ask “why” and “when” questions is also a key element. The “how” usually comes out in the tactics once you have answered “why” and “when.” And when showcasing a solution or idea, having the person presenting explain what underlying strategic goal it serves and what impact it will have on internal and external stakeholders also helps to shift the thinking to the bigger picture.

Strategic thinking is a crucial skill to have in any professional role – especially in communications and, of course, in leadership. Helping your team develop and increase their strategic thinking ability is an excellent investment in the people and in the organization. The benefits of helping your team develop this skill are well worth the time and resources it takes.

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dreamstime_xs_45994455At AHA, we’ve recently been working on quite a few stakeholder communications projects. We really like this kind of work because you get to work with great organizations that understand the value of regular, consistent and useful communication to their stakeholder groups, and it makes a positive impact when done well.

I think that it can be easy to forget or overlook some stakeholders, especially during a time of change, transition, strategic or other long-term planning, or during an issue. Depending on what you are dealing with, the focus might be media or government relations or reporting to the board of directors or governors – the seemingly “higher priority” groups. In reality, in our experience (and we have done a great deal of work in this area), one group can’t be seen as a higher priority than another – especially in this day and age of social media.

Messaging needs to be consistent throughout your communications, no matter what stakeholder you are engaging in dialogue or updating. What you tell journalists, board members, employees and members of the public must be uniform in the messaging. Don’t share more information with one group than you want the others to know. It will get leaked and it will create resentment and mistrust.

Communication with stakeholders has to be regular and it should be as often as resources will allow (even if you need to bring in help). It may seem clear to you or others who are more involved in the situation, but for those who are receiving the updates, details or other news – especially if it deals with change (even potential change) or an issue – it takes longer to absorb the information.

Providing regular communication might seem repetitious to you, but for the person who is getting the information, they need time to take it in, process it, and put it in context of what it means to them. It is better to have your stakeholder groups complain about getting too much information (and they will) than not enough. Even if you have people complaining that they are receiving too much info, you will always have those who will say they haven’t heard enough or anything at all. It’s just how it works when you are dealing with serious subject matter.

There is, of course, a great deal more to planning and implementing a successful stakeholder communications program. However, you have to start with a clear commitment to communicate with all stakeholders, consistently and on a regular basis.

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This is the first in our AHA Social Media 101 series.

While it might seem that everyone else in the world has a full grasp of social media and is using it to grow their business, to raise the profile of their organization, and to generate new customers or clients, the fact is – there are many, many smart, accomplished and successful people who are confused, overwhelmed or who just don’t quite understand social media.

We are often asked basic questions about the value of specific social media networks, tools or technologies and we want to share some information here to help busy professionals understand if and how social media might help their organization.

This blog series can’t possibly tell you everything you need to know, but it will give you a brief overview of some of the more popular and emerging social elements. Once you understand what each social network is or does, the key is to ask yourself a few questions to see if the network, technology or tool will be useful for what you need. There are plenty of organizations using social media that are not seeing any kind of return on investment and, in our experience, that is because they are using them because they can and not because it was a decision made as a part of their overall strategic plan.

Facebook is the first social networking site in this series. It is a social networking site that doesn’t cost anything to join or to set up a business page, but it does sell advertising in the form of sponsored posts or ads.

Today, we are focusing on Facebook for business, not a personal page. Facebook has an estimated 1.5 billion (yep – billion, with a “b”) monthly and 1.03 billion daily active users. Canada has the most active users of anywhere in the world and according to a 2015 survey, 59% of Canadians have a Facebook account (I expect that number is higher today). You can see the breakdown of age and gender here too.

If you think about the purpose that Facebook serves, it provides an opportunity for organizations with consumer products or services (manufacturers, producers, retailers, etc.) to connect with your target market and stakeholder groups. Your target market has to come and “like” your Facebook page, which means that they are showing an interest in your organization and what you do.

Facebook provides the opportunity for you to share information, news and updates with a group of people who have taken an action – liked your page. You can share how you are an active, contributing member of your community, you can share product or service news and updates, you can showcase behind the scenes – spotlighting the people who work with you, you can ask questions and get feedback from your community, and so much more. You can share photos and video, you can choose to advertise (which is quite reasonable), and you can link this community to your website blog posts.

What you don’t want to do on Facebook is spend all of your time trying to sell your products or services. Think of Facebook as a coffee shop, where people who have an interest in what you do have come to check in and see what’s going on. Facebook is about sharing, responding and engaging. It’s about creating discussion and having conversations. The more you engage your Facebook community, the better.

Is Facebook right for you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Who is your target market? Is that demographic active on Facebook?
  • What will your purpose be in engaging with your target market here – to inform and build relationships or to sell?
  • What are your resources? Do you have someone identified to build editorial schedules, to create content (including images and video), someone who understands messaging and positioning, who can write in your brand voice and who is capable of responding to both positive and negative responses from your stakeholder groups?
  • How will you engage your target market to like your page?
  • How will you define and measure your success on Facebook?
  • If you are not getting engagement – likes, shares or comments on your Facebook page – are you able to clearly do an audit and revise your approach?

Facebook is a great social networking site. It is popular, with active users. To effectively make use of Facebook, you need to fully understand what your target market or stakeholder group would like to hear from you and how they would like to connect.

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dreamstime_xs_49756552I am a student of human behavior. I people watch wherever I am – in meetings, at coffee shops, in airports, on the ferry, in waiting rooms and in reception areas. I am always interested in how people act in public, when they think no one is watching. It is always interesting to see who is considerate and who isn’t. And I’m not talking about being a doormat here. Polite, considerate and courteous people can – and do – communicate when they are unhappy with something or are upset with someone’s actions. We just do it in a way that helps to manage the process in a more positive manner.

Being polite, considerate and courteous is second nature to me. I was taught to say please and thank you and to take other peoples’ feelings into consideration. My parents were sticklers for this. And it has served me well in both my personal and professional lives. It helps to build positive relationships with clients, partners, journalists and, of course, my fabulous AHA colleagues. I know that I have been given opportunities, had introductions made for me, and had doors opened because of these interpersonal skills.

I recently had two very different experiences that highlight the power of this. The first one was with a former client who asked for a proposal for a proactive marketing communications campaign from us. We sent over the proposal and he e-mailed back thanking me for it and saying he had a couple of urgent matters on his plate and would get back to me in a few days. A few days went by and he e-mailed again saying: “I haven’t forgotten about you; it’s just a bit hairy here right now. I promise I will get back to you by the end of the week about your proposal.” He was considerate and made the effort to reach out and acknowledge that we had a proposal in with him and that he hadn’t had a chance to review it yet. This is the type of client we want to work for – someone who sees us as partners and treats us with respect.

The other experience was completely the opposite. I was asked to sit on the board of a high-profile, national organization as co-communications director. This is a volunteer board and the organization wants to completely rebrand itself in 2016. That meant a huge amount of work on my part. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to manage the amount of time and effort that it would take and asked a few questions about it. I had to follow up several times and, eventually, a phone call was set up with three other board members. We spoke for about an hour. I thanked them for their time and told them I would get back to them within 48 hours about whether I felt I could fulfil the demands of this role. Within 24 hours, I knew that, as much as it would have been an interesting experience, it was too much to take on with everything that we have going on here at AHA. I sent out an e-mail thanking the chair and the board members for considering me, but that I had to decline because I didn’t feel that I could make the type of time commitment that was necessary. I wished them well but heard nothing back from anyone – no response at all. Thinking that perhaps my e-mail had gone into their junk folders, I resent. That was three months ago and I still haven’t received a response.

Interestingly enough, I had a colleague ask me if I could recommend someone for a pretty lucrative contract that was right up the alley of one of the board members I had e-mailed. Given that client service and communication was a key element of this project and I had seen firsthand that he wasn’t great at that – he couldn’t even be bothered to respond to my e-mail – I didn’t feel comfortable recommending him for the job. It’s funny how that works.

Please, thank you, if you have time, I really appreciate this… There are so many phrases that make life easier. It sounds so small, but basic courtesy is a valuable skill. I know that being polite, considerate and courteous has positively affected my career and my personal life. And it’s really not hard to do. Take the time today to be considerate and courteous to the people you work with and to the people you share your life with. I promise you, it’s worth the effort.

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