Recently we have had the opportunity to assist several large organizations create, expand or improve their conversation with a diverse stakeholder base. These days, social/online media is always considered when it comes to this type of initiative. Enabled by technology, organizations that have a diverse audience and/or one that is geographically distanced or separated have an excellent opportunity to open up a two-way conversation that fulfills the needs of everyone involved. There are more cost-effective and engaging ways to communicate now than ever before.
While technology has provided us with the ability to reach out and connect, it’s always important to realize that just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should.” When we take on a project with the objective of connecting or re-connecting with stakeholders, whether internal or external, it is important to get back to the basics of strategic communication and understand the audience. There has to be research and analysis done before we can strategically choose how to reach out. I think that one of the keys to using online media successfully is that you need to fully understand how the community you want to open the conversation with receives and puts out information. More and more, we are finding that people are online—on Facebook, reading blogs, on Twitter—but you do need to understand their comfort with technology and their habits.
PR Newswire recently put out an interesting questionnaire called Social Computing Online Readiness Evaluation. It is focused on enterprise social software, but some of the questions easily translate to understanding whether your audience is ready—even anxious—to begin the conversation online. You have to provide your email address and phone number, but in my experience, PR Newswire doesn’t drive you crazy with spam-like emails or unwanted phone calls, so it is worth logging in to read.
Some of the questions that it asks would be logical to ask when thinking about adding a social media component to your communications plan. This questionnaire happens to use the word “employees” – substitute that with member, stakeholder, or student and you can see the potential for context about whether social media might work for you. Some questions include:
- What percentage of your employees are millennials (under 33)? This is a demographic that is quite savvy online. However, don’t think that those of us older than 33 aren’t. You would be surprised at how many people in your organization are connected and are moving further and further into online communication.
- How difficult is it for your employees to cross divisional, hierarchical, and/or geographic boundaries? We find that even in organizations where people are all under the same roof, there are challenges – scatter them across the city, the province, the country or the world and the challenge grows.
- How difficult is it to deliver crisis communications and/or other important organizational information to the right employees at the right time? This is a huge issue for many organizations and one of the biggest challenges is that many don’t plan ahead. This is something that needs to be in place BEFORE something happens.
- How easy is it for your employees to discover internal subject matter experts? This is a very interesting question. How do you share knowledge and expertise in your organization? How much time is spent researching information that is easily available through a colleague or re-inventing the wheel? An organization can become more cost-effective and efficient when colleagues and other stakeholders become a part of a community and share information about who has expertise in certain areas, what your resources are, where they are, and other collaborative opportunities.
Our role is to provide strategic advice, planning and implementation to clients in both traditional communication and social media. It is questions such as these (and many, many others) at the beginning that help us to define the right roadmap for each client. It’s definitely worth thinking about. If you are considering using social media, what questions should you be asking yourself about how, when and why you communicate with your stakeholders and what would the value be if you added social media to the mix?