10 Steps to Developing Your Strategy
STEP 1. Understand how you align to your organization
Once you’ve decided to spend time and energy on a communication project, it’s difficult to resist the urge to jump right in. But effective projects are built on thoughtful strategies; and we believe the first step in being thoughtful is listening. You need to be fully aware of how your project aligns with your organization’s mission and goals. That overarching direction should act as guideposts from which your activities should flow. This is especially important when measuring your activities. If the metrics for each of your activities can be mapped back to what the organization’s mission, you can more easily answer the question that everyone wants to know - “Is our communication effective?” Depending on the size of your project, you may also want to include a project mission statement. Below are some resources for developing one.
To assess your organization’s mission statement - or create a project mission statement - use this scoring chart. [link to: mission statement assessment table]
STEP 2. Listen to your audience’s needs
It is essential that your strategy is build around the needs and preferences of the people you’re trying to reach (also called your target audience). To do this, you must first clearly identify who your target audience (or audiences) is and what makes them unique from other groups. In communication, we call this segmentation. Each target audience group – or segment – you select will drive the development of your content, selection of dissemination channels, and forms of engagement.
Your communication strategy should include up to three target audiences. These are your primary audiences. If there are other groups who are also important (like internal stakeholders) you can also have up to two secondary audiences.
The most important thing to remember is: You are NOT your audience. By trying to serve everyone, you serve no one. [link to you are not your audience graphic]
For initial strategy development - and to maintain fidelity throughout your project - develop a persona for each of your primary audiences. Here is a sample persona I often use with clients. [link to persona]
User-centered design principles offer great lessons for designing projects based on your audience’s needs. Here’s a great book to learn more about this approach: The User is Always Right by Steve Mulder (2007)
STEP 3. Develop a written communication strategy with clear goals
Now it’s time to bring your business needs (described in your goals) and your audience’s preferences (described in the target audience research) together to build a strategy. Your strategy can be as formal or informal as you need it to be, but it should be a written document that you can refer to throughout the project.
The best place to start when developing a communications strategy is to know what you’re trying to accomplish. The goals you set will determine your activities and direct how and what you measure. While your vision may be broad, remember that an effective communication strategy should be based on goals that:
Can be achieved through communication activities;
Are focused on your highest-priority business needs;
Are realistic for the timeframe and resources; and
Now is the time to develop measures of success for each goal. Before you send a single piece of content out into the world, you should know how your will measure it and what success looks like (don’t worry, we talk about this more in step 8).
Digital communication goals fall into several categories. Here’s a list of the four types of goals. [link to communication goals]
Engagement is the heart of many digital communication activities. To build meaningful engagement, it’s helpful to understand what type of relationship you want to develop with your audience. This relationship chart can serve as an example for your project. [link to relationship chart]
STEP 4. Establish internal processes to support implementation
Before you begin implementing your strategy, you should establish internal processes to support the creation, approval, and dissemination of content, engagement with your target audience, and project assessment activities. Here are some important questions to ask:
What sources will we use to develop content? We will be repurposing content from other parts of the organization? How will we generate ideas for new content?
Who will review and approve content before it’s disseminated? How much time is needed and/or appropriate for review?
Who will disseminate the content, on what schedule, using which tools?
What level of engagement do we expect with the target audience? How will we manage those interactions? In what timeframe will be respond and/or engage?
Who will collect process metrics during implementation? How will we review those? What process will we use to incorporate insights into our ongoing communications?
Taking a thematic approach to content creation helps build internal momentum, maintain a consistent level of frequency over time, and allow for opportunities to think strategically about content partners. Many digital communicators use editorial calendars, here’s a sample calendar you can adapt for your program. Another approach is to develop brand pillars…
Style guides can be used internally to ensure all content being produced is consistent. They also make great training tools for new staff. Here’s a sample outline for what I think is most helpful in a style guide.
STEP 5: Produce valuable content
The content you create must bring value to your target audience. It must also consistently reflect your brand and drive your audience to take action. Great content often:
Is something your target audience will find valuable
Matches your target audience's language in tone, formality, length, and format
Uses plain language best practices, including being first-person, direct and concise
Includes a specific call-to-action that tells your audience want you want them to do next
One of today’s popular content trends are listicles. Here’s an article I wrote on the top reasons I love listicles [link to: http://www.digitaledgecommunications.us/blog/2015/1/30/why-i-love-listicles]
STEP 6. Implement your strategy
Finally...it’s time to put your strategy into action! Your strategy should specify the steps for implementation; but here are some tips:
Set aside dedicated time for content creation
Disseminate based on engagement data and update posting schedule over time
Use data and analyses to refine content creation and tailor content for your followers
Site and browser integration simplifies content creation easy
Between developing a frequent stream of new content and managing engagement with your audience (which we discuss below), you should take advantage of efficiencies whenever you can. These are the two tools we’re using the most these days:
Buffer (scheduling and analytics tool) - we love this tool because of the built-in integration with the platforms and web browsers.
Followerwonk (Twitter analytics tool) - we love the data this tool provides on your Twitter followers and their “social authority,” which you can use to identify influencers.
But there are many others. Take a look at the resources below to explore all of your options.
No one wants to end up as a social media #fail, but it happens to good organizations all the time. Check out this presentation on lessons learned from social media fails with tips on how to avoid some of the most common mistakes. [link to fails presentation)
STEP 7. Engage with your audience
Today, it’s unlikely you’re using any communication channels are only designed to push-out information. So, if the tools works for two-way engagement, you should ask yourself if you’re using it to its fullest potential. Most audiences expect that ability to engage with your organization or project, although their expectations vary across industry so you don’t have to keep up with the big brands to be effective. It’s important to set expectations early about how often and in what format you plan to engage with them.
STEP 8: Measure what matters
There are many tools - some free and some very expensive - that will help you measure your digital media communications. However, we find that most people have only two questions they really care about:
Are we making progress?
Are our numbers good?
To answer the “are we making progress?” - Track the specific goals you identified for each goals. You don’t need all the data; you only need the data that matters. Organize your metrics report by goal so that you can determine if you’re making progress over time.
To answer “are our numbers good?” - Compare yourself to yourself, over time. There is no other organization out there that has your specific focus, type and frequency of content, and length on any particular platform. So don’t compare yourself to anyone else (including industry averages). If your metrics are improving over time, your numbers are good.
To allow yourself to improve, its’ helpful to determine metrics that are not critical for success and can serve as benchmarks for testing new processes, content, formats, calls-to-action, etc. Here’s a sample chart for email marketing campaigns that show the distinction between the two types of metrics. e.g. click-throughs per email, emails sent per week and unsubscribes per week). Agree that it’s ok to “fail” with some of these new approaches. Every test case provides new data for improvement.
STEP 9: Continuously improve in tiny increments
Unless you’re conducting a formal research study, you should be continually evolving and refining your approach. Your data isn’t just a marker of whether or not you reached your goals, they should be a continuous source of insight for how you can make your content more effective. Each time you review a metrics report, ask yourself these questions:
Why are our numbers going up/going down/remaining the same?
How would our target audience rate our performance over this period of time? (this is a revist the personas you developed in step 2 and answer this from their perspectives)
What insights do I have from these data? How can I turn that insight into a change in our content development or internal processes?
What am I hoping to see next month?
STEP 10: Assess emerging technologies
I doubt there’s anyone out there that feels like they’re fully prepared for what’s coming next in digital media (If so, please send us note. We’d love to meet you!). While you may not feel prepared, you can plan for changes. Using a systematic approach to identifying, assessing, and incorporating new technologies into your project is most cost-efficient and effective way to stay current with today’s changing digital media landscape. [link to: graphic of the digital media landscape]
Here’s our process for implementing a systematic approach for assessing emerging technologies [link to: emerging technologies]
View overview presentations and deep dives on related topics.
Key takeaways presented in digital graphics for use in presentations and on social media.