Three ways to avoid communications pitfalls in 2016

The new year offers the perfect time for organizations to think through their communications goals for the year ahead.

Each new year affords us the opportunity to renew our commitment to growth and change. The new year also offers the perfect time for organizations to think through their communications goals for the year ahead. Much like in our personal lives, though, these plans can often fall by the wayside (right about…now, according to the experts). Here are three ways we can overcome the challenges to our communications success in 2016.

Focus on strategy, not tactics

When it comes to organizational communications, it’s easy to get trapped in the tactical. The questions tend to look like this: Should we join Periscope or Snapchat? Can we have an event? Can we write an op-ed about this or that subject? Often, though, unless these tactics are connected to real strategy, they can fall flat and fail to make a resounding impact. How can we make sure that we spend our limited time and resources on action that can lead to real outcomes? The answer is strategy. When we adopt a strategic lens, the questions will look like this: What organizational, programmatic or fundraising goals can communications help advance this year? Who are the people that we need to reach in order to advance those goals? What do these audiences value and to whom do they listen? What stands in the way of these audiences doing what we would like them to do? What messages, messengers and channels can help us reach them? By focusing on strategy, rather than just tactics, we can be more efficient and effective.

Align plans with capacity

An organization can have the best communications plan in the world, with the most innovative strategies, but without sufficient capacity, the plan is better left on the shelf. In other words, a communications department that consists of one half-time staffer can’t conduct media outreach for each news opportunity, manage six social media channels, handle multiple eblasts and the annual report, organize three events per month—and still maintain sanity. So what’s the answer? Take stock of internal and external capacity, and align the plan with what’s really doable. If capacity is limited, be selective. Pick three to five activities that can make an impact in terms of outcomes. Then, use those wins to advocate for more capacity in 2017.

Be ready to respond

It’s an exciting time to be doing the work of social change communications. From #BlackLivesMatter and immigrant rights to economic justice and criminal justice reform, every day, we encounter numerous opportunities for engagement and action. In addition, the sheer amount of messages reaching us on an ever-growing number of channels can become overwhelming. These days, being ready to respond is not an option: it’s a necessity. By setting up systems--such as an editorial calendar and a rapid response protocol--we can be thoughtfully responsive, not just reactive. Through a rapid response protocol, organizations can determine just what type of scenarios are worth responding to, set up a response team, establish the response process and identify key messages, all ahead of time. An editorial calendar can help an organization establish key internal and external dates and the strategies and tactics it can use to capitalize on these dates, all mapped out across channels, from social media to email newsletters or live events. (For a great example of an editorial calendar with key dates, check out this tool from our friends at LightBox Collaborative).

Here’s to your communications success in 2016. For more tips and tools in your inbox, sign up to our email list.

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