Creating a Digital Communications Strategy

A digital communications strategy formalises your communications across all digital platforms. By examining what your goals are with your communications, you can best determine who your audience is, and what the best way of communicating with them is. It documents which channels will be used and who is responsible for maintaining those channels.

Clubs and districts generally consider each digital medium, be it email, their website, social media, electronic newsletter and the like, in isolation, with information spread on a variety of these platforms without stepping back and considering what they want to communicate, and more importantly, why they want to communicate with others, and what is the best way to engage others in conversations around their key messages.

We only have 1 or 2 people managing our communications. Do we really need a communications strategy?

A strategy helps you communicate as effectively as possible. If you haven’t thought about what the purpose of each of your communications is, you won’t be communicating as well as you could be.

Many people set up a Facebook page because they’ve been told it’s the right thing to do, but then have no idea what to actually put on it. Active twitter accounts become dormant in the new Rotary year when responsibility for PR is handed over to someone new who doesn’t understand how to use that medium. Others blast out emails that are simply trashed without being read. If you are perceived as spamming your message, on any medium at all, people will screen you out. I’ve also seen several instances, at both club and district level, of there being 2 Facebook pages for the same entity. Which is the “official” one? None of this would happen if an effective communications strategy was in place.

Part of having a strategy is having specific people, and ideally, at least 2 people, responsible for any particular medium, so that if one is no longer willing or able to continue maintaining communications there, you don’t end up with an abandoned platform and have to build up your audience again somewhere else. It also avoids 2 people with very different ideas about how it should be done setting up competing channels, and diluting the message or possibly even spreading misinformation.

Having a digital communications strategy in place makes sure that your efforts are co-ordinated, that the correct channels are used and that your audience can be assured that they are dealing with an official channel rather than a rogue member who has decided to simply start something up without consulting the board.

How do you create a communications strategy?

Step 1. Set goals

First of all, determine what you hope to achieve through your communications. What is the tangible outcome that you are aiming for?

Are you trying to:

  • source new members?
  • increase attendance at events?
  • attract donations?
  • find potential applicants for a program?
  • source more volunteers to help with a local project?
  • find partners for an international project?

Be clear about what the specific action is that you ultimately want to happen. “Raising awareness” is not an action to aim for – raising awareness to what end? Raising awareness is part of the strategy, not the end goal.

Step 2. Define your target audience

Once you know what your goals are, then you can determine who exactly are the people that you want to reach to achieve them.

These days communication is not about blasting your message out, but building relationships and actively engaging in conversations with people. It’s not about you – it is about them.

You should consider:

  • How does your target audience like to communicate?
  • What is the best way of reaching them?
  • What motivates them?
  • What’s in it for them?

Step 3. Determine which tools to use

When you know who you want to communicate with and where to find them, then you can determine which is the best tool, or set of tools, to use to reach them.

It is in this step that you can determine whether your strategy should include a Facebook page, a Facebook group, Facebook ads, a LinkedIn group, Twitter, an e-newsletter (which itself can come in various formats), blog, website, Google+ page, and so on. You may use a combination of these, keeping in mind that different platforms serve different purposes, so it is not simply a matter of cutting and pasting the same thing over and over – your message needs to be tailored appropriately.

For example, if your goal is to increase attendance an an event, your tools may include:

  • your website (which has detailed information about the event)
  • a Facebook event (to keep in touch with attendees, which links to your web page for full details; this is also something that club members can promote on their own profiles and invite people to)
  • your club Facebook page (for periodic reminders about why the event will be worth attending, linking back to the Facebook event)
  • Twitter, for brief reminders in the lead up, with regular updates during the event
  • your club bulletin, to remind and motivate members about the event
  • sporadic opt-in email updates for those that don’t use Facebook or Twitter, which refer to the web page for full details
  • Other sites which are relevant to your audience (such as local community sites / newspapers, or those relating to specific interest groups)

Don’t waste resources on media that won’t help you achieve your goals. Focus on what will give you the best return for your time, and be careful not to spam!

Step 4. Assign responsibility

After you have selected the platforms you will use, then you can determine who is responsible for the communications on each of those platforms.

Ideally, each platform needs at least 2 admins so that there is always at least one person able to carry out the work if another is no longer willing or able to help. Each admin should understand how to use that particular platform effectively, which may require training.

The members responsible for sending out communications and participating in discussions with your audience need to be clear on what is appropriate to post. What voice should they use? Should they be signing their name, or are they acting anonymously on behalf of the club? What accounts are appropriate to “follow” or “like”? How and where should they handle negative posts?

It should also be determined how each of these coordinators will communicate with the others involved in maintaining the website, engaging in social media, blogging, and sending emails, and how they will in turn communicate with the rest of the club, district or committee. None of these should be done in isolation; communication needs to happen internally as well as externally.

Need help?

Other useful resources include my guidelines for using social media for Rotary at a personal, club and district level and best practices for developing a social media policy.

I originally published this article on on 11 October 2012.

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