The title of this may seem to be an oxymoron. It’s not. We’ll look at that shortly… But to start, let’s look at some of the definitions of communications:
1. the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.
2. means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers.
Now, to consider some definitions of communicate:
1. share or exchange information, news, or ideas.
2. pass on (an infectious disease) to another person or animal.
So briefly then, the first deals with the means, the second deals with what should happen once the information is imparted. And we'll stick with the passing of ideas and messages here, not the infectious disease part!
We may live in an era of Big Data, and multiple tools and platforms to get our ideas and thoughts out there – sometimes it may seem too many tools.
But the bottom line questions that bind it all together are: what can and should we use to communicate, when do we do communicate, how do we interact, how effective are we at getting our ideas and thoughts across, and how can we be more effective – what can we do to continually improve this on an upward trajectory?
What can and should we use to communicate?
In the modern era, with the plethora of options available to us, we can basically recast this question as "What platform, on what platform?"
Meaning, for example, "Should I use Facebook over Twitter?", and "Do I target my users more over mobile or desktop?" Other things you might find yourself asking is "How much does my website need to communicate and what does it communicate over and above – or instead of – mobile content?" and so on.
There's a range more questions of course, but the general answer is … you can use almost every tool out there. But you should use the tools that your audience interacts with best. Let them help decide this one. Get to know them. As in, really get to know them.
Work out whether they use mobile more than desktop for example, regardless of "the trend" – after all, what use is the trend for mobile use you read about in magazines if your audience don't actually use it as the most effective means of hearing or reading about your product?)
We all know it's the trend to jump onto the latest tech craze. But the fact is: your audience ought to decide your means to communicate best. Listen to that in the first instance. And then engage in a strategic fashion with the most appropriate mediums.
When do we communicate?
Highly individual – again, know your audience.
Facebook like a lot of tools for example has a dashboard, which will show you what the typical days of the week people are seeing your posts the most, what time of day sees the most interaction, how much a particular post reached, right down to allowing you to target groups of people by showing you what posts are most favourable to an audience segment. In addition, other tools can show you how other platforms perform.
Use it all. This is strategic information at your fingertips, not pictures of cats and dinners! Unless you're a pet shop, in which case, pictures of cats having dinner may very well get the positive feedback you're looking for and be quite a strategic post!
In the world outside of these online channels we typically reach out with, the bottom line is still the same: learn about people. Learn and observe their habits, where they congregate, when they're typically walking and looking at things, or rushing on by...
Do people show up at a certain café at a certain time? When is foot traffic the most? No doubt then that there might be a best time to distribute those flyers right? Not all communications takes place online, "social" is about you and other people!
How do we interact?
How we interact is actually a two-fold question:
How best to present our message or idea in order to elicit a specific interaction, then the exchange that goes on once we present it in the way we do.
Our message can present itself in a certain way to elicit feelings of happiness ("Coke adds life where there isn’t any!" being an example of "Take this product, and you’ll experience a life you never knew you were missing out on – until you try Coke!"), thoughtfulness (an angle a charity campaign might come up with to get you thinking about donating to a cause), and so forth.
How we interact is also about our levels of engagement with the chosen audience. Online, there are typically three key ways we interact (but it's still applicable elsewhere) which are: passive, active, engaged.
Passive communication is about observing and listening to what people say about you or your product. Active is where there is some communication back – but in someone else's space. It might be a Forum you are monitoring and you post a link to something that answers a question on it. Engaged is where you actively put up your own Twitter Profile or similar, and directly interact with users. It is where you take a very direct, active hand in driving and guiding the communications to and from your audience.
There’s a time and a place for all the engagement levels depending on the situation.
How effective are we at getting our ideas and thoughts across?
We looked at those definitions of our words "communicate" and "communications" right at the beginning. They outlined that these are a means of exchange, plus the idea that we are passing on something to another person.
The Business Dictionary online gives the definition of communications as "the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings"
So now we must consider what defines successful communication?
Well, what do you want people to respond to, what levels of interaction will you be satisfied with once you have communicated with them, and by what standards will you measure this goal?
This one is again highly dependent on your goals, your benchmarks and your particular audience.
Does effectiveness to you mean a total count of downloads of your latest promo? Work out how you’re going to measure that specific criterion for "success", and add it to the data mix. Do you want people to share your posts? Add "shared posts" as well then. Is it reaching a new territory you’ve got an eye on, perhaps, perhaps by a certain month? Add that. And so it goes on.
How can we be more effective?
In short, by continuing to accurately track and measure the interactions over your chosen channels, relative to your goals for effectiveness we’ve just been over, and increasing your ability to recognise what’s working, and what’s not.
There’s a lot of tools out there to monitor social media posts, but you’ve still got to set these up, monitor and react: yet sometimes even that investment is not made. Too often, it is a case of setting the Facebook page up and “hoping for the best”. That’s not going to get anywhere.
Effectiveness in a medium, and increasing that, is also dependent on the rules of engagement, or the parameters within which you can operate within a given medium. Others could possibly be set by you, depending on what options you might allow your wider team for example (typically these could be "administrator", with total control, or "contributor" allowing only partial contributions or editing powers, and so forth).
Some parameters may be the constrictions that might have been set by developers for example (say for particular online applications), and you might have to creatively work around these (only being able to use certain formatting for example). Some that are set by you are a consistent tone, for example the standard of language you use (casual, semi-formal, formal), across marketing materials, in person, online, and as above, controls over editing for your team members. Are you getting certain results by adopting particular approaches, and are they contributing or not to your desired goals? Analyse these, and then rationalise against the goals you've set, and then adapt accordingly.
Stick to the rules you’ve made clear for yourself and others as well – if you’ve said you are going to update people on a weekly basis – do so. If you’re not going to do what you say you’re going to do, people lose interest. Why would they come back if you can’t show them that simple courtesy, especially if the reason they came in the first place was that they want to hear weekly on a specific subject?
One last but equally important thing!
Communications encompasses everything you do that communicates you, your brand, your identity. From your email address right up to the bigger things like the events you put on, the Sponsors you align with that will in turn give a certain impression to your audience... the lot.
So, a “communications strategy” is a strategy in the most holistic sense possible: it’s something that encompasses how it all works together to strengthen your message.
It is something that involves the person picking up the phone, to the billboard proclaiming your brand to people in rush hour, the exciting radio advertisement with the appropriate jingle, to the online interaction to look at, discuss, and distribute your words, thoughts, ideas or product.
When we think of communications and what we’ve talked about in this post regarding the ins and outs of how and when we communicate, and what we'd like to see for our efforts, expand the view, always. It doesn’t just apply to online communications, even if that is the "preference" for most people. It's not for all people. You need to continue reaching those who use it only sporadically or sparingly (yes, they exist, and they're still very important!)
A comprehensive solution and communications strategy means taking into account anything that gets you and your message out there, online or offline - and through this, depending on how you craft that message to your chosen medium, just what results you can reasonably expect back for your efforts.
The key above all else and which ties everything together, regardless of message and the platform, is that you’re still communicating with people.
And if these people aren’t responding to you, it doesn’t matter how slick the look, or how expensive the tools used … if you aren’t tapping into the requirements of stakeholders, sponsors, the attendees to your events whoever they are, merely talking at them and not to them, or with them – even the most trend-driven look and so-called smartest tools to convey your message, brand or Event will still fail.
Just be human, be authentic and be totally honest in intent and you can't go wrong!
Photograph by ÖNB / K.u.k. Kriegspressequartier.