Monday, December 29, 2008

Do You Have a Communications Plan for 2009? 10 Tips on Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

In today's communications world, there is a growing proliferation of "bells and whistles" in the new media arena. In the past week or so, I must have read at least a dozen articles on Twitter alone, a powerful social networking tool that I and many of the writers I subscribe to have been discussing for a while as the next big thing.

It's not hard to see why Twitter would stand out among users. It only takes about 5 minutes to set up a profile, another 5 to start searching for those you want to follow, and maybe another 5 to start reading other people's tweeps and see what kind of information they offer-- as well as posting oneself. Being that one is limited to 140 characters, Twitter is the ideal microblogging tool and is very quick communication, which is probably why the last time I looked at those in my twitter group, half the posts were written between flights at airports! (I noted detailed descriptions of the new Jet Blue terminal at JFK by several twitterers...)

In any case, with social networking and any of the new media formats out there, namely e-newsletters, blogs, webinars, etc., we have to ask ourselves, just because we can do it, does that mean we should do it? A good analogy is cooking. We can whip up a lot of great dishes in the kitchen, but if they don't have a common theme, or something substantial linking them all together, (think Iron Chef's "secret ingredient,") they are just a bunch of great dishes, but in the end, not too memorable and more than likely, not duplicated.

So since we all have limited time and resources, the best thing your business or organization can do is think about the big picture first, and then come up with a plan that helps meet your needs and solve some of the challenges you face. Here are 10 big picture thoughts/questions to jot down that will help provide a framework for you and your marketing team to discuss. Then, fill in the communications tools, vehicles, and projects that best fill this framework. If a project or idea does not move your message or your organization forward, keep it on the backburner for the future, or replace it with a more urgent project. And remember, the point of any communication is to inform, to move the audience in some way, and in the end, inspire them to a call for action. If your audience has been moved by your message, even in a small way, you have done your job.

1. What is my main message and what is the best way to express it?
2. Is my message changing from the past, and what is the best way to illustrate this change?
3. Who are my organization's stakeholders (ie. members, sponsors, etc.) and what do they most need to know this year?
4. What, if any, are the common misconceptions about my company that have been prevalent, and what can be done to dispel them?
5. Have I surveyed my members in the last 6 months, and how are the results of the survey being implemented?
6. When I look at my organization's web site, events, publications, and programs, do they have a coherent look and feel, and is there any aspect to them that could be confusing, to any audience?
7. Have I looked at the communications of other similar associations to get a feel for how they are communicating and whether it is effective or not?
8. If I could implement one project, money being no object, what would it be? Is there a cost-efficient version of this project that might yield the same results?
9. In reviewing the communications of the last year or two, what projects have been particularly effective and why, and what projects were less effective?
10. What would I consider a communications "crisis," and am I prepared for such an event?

Hopefully these 10 "talking points" will help get you thinking about your past, present, and future communications, and how you can be most effective. The next step is to highlight about 5 key areas you want to target in your communications this year, and next to them list all the tools available and which might work best for each goal. And remember anytime you make a change, it's best to make it gradually. For example, if you are switching to an e-news format, you might want to continue your print newsletter for an issue or two until everyone is on board. If you're going to embark on a video project for your home page, make sure your audience is online to see it.

Can you think of other important communications challenges and how to creatively meet them?

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