strategy

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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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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Integrating social media into your communication efforts doesn’t stop when you write a strategic plan. It is an ongoing and evolving effort. We have recently had some interesting conversations with a client that we work with on a project basis. This client is someone that we have a huge amount of respect for and we want to see him succeed. His company is young and growing and he has a strong philanthropic focus. He came to us to help him build a strategic plan that included social media.

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In my role at AHA, I attend conferences, I take online courses, I read blogs and online media, and follow social media and PR visionaries on Twitter and on other social networking sites. I am always learning.

A few years ago, I went through a stage where I felt I had to know all of the social media, social networking, and online tools and technologies to do my job. It became overwhelming and I realized that I started to view each new things as “it.” The old adage that if your only tool is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail is accurate. I think it is important to first understand what the objectives and goals of a plan, initiative, project or campaign are before you decide what tools or tactics you will use.

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