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From Newsletterville to Communications Summit: Developing an Effective Communications Strategy

So you think you’ve got the basics of communicating with the public down pat. Your organization has a large audience, regularly communicates with those people and you’re doing some basic reporting functions. But ask yourself: Do you know who those people are? Is your messaging quite broad rather than targeted to specific audiences? And are you sure that what you’re sending out is effective?

Answering these questions are the subject of “Develop an Effective Communications Strategy,” a webinar this week modeled after the incredibly successful breakout session at the 2018 Granicus National Summit. Digital Engagement Strategist Lyndsay Booth and Implementation Consultant Amy Pinder, both of Granicus, were speakers.

During the session, Booth talked about how many organizations are in what she called “Newsletterville.” But the ultimate goal should be to reach the Communications Summit, where you’re sending the right content to the right people through the right channels at the right time…and measuring it along the way.

So how do you get from Newsletterville to Communications Summit. Booth said it can be done in just four, relatively easy steps:

First: Define organizational outcomes

What does your organization do? And what are the goals you hope to accomplish with a revved up communication strategy? This might seem obvious at first glance, but many agencies gloss over this or stay too generic.

You have to ask yourself: What does success mean for our team? Do you want to increase awareness of a program? Improve sign ups for a service? Get more downloads of a guide? Improve compliance of specific policies? Each of these will require a slightly different comms strategy, so getting specific is very important.

For example: The LA County Homeless Initiative has a mission to reduce homelessness throughout the sprawling county. One specific goal they had was to increase the number of contractors involved in their program, so they focused on driving downloads of a new contractor toolkit they created. This involved a targeted comms campaign sent to just a subset of their subscription list identified as contractors. They were able to get 700 downloads of the toolkit through the targeted message—a number unlikely to have been reached if they had sent a generic message out to their entire email list.

Questions to consider during this step:

  • What do you know about your organization’s strategic priorities?
  • What does success look like?
  • How can comms support these outcomes?

Second: Understand Your Audience

Who is your audience? And why did they sign up to get communications from you anyway? In this step, it’s important to really define who these people are. It’s important to check out the demographics, their preferred method of communications and any specific challenges you might face when presenting information to them.

For example: The USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers a variety of services and programs to farmers across the United States. Nearly each county has its own office, and programs can vary county by county. Because of that, the USDA needed to find a way to send targeted program reminders to these farmers and producers. Farming almost always takes place in rural areas, and internet access remains spotty. Even where a robust connection is easy, farmers don’t spend most of their day in front of their computer, so getting email alerts and Outlook reminders just wouldn’t cut it. But almost everywhere has a cell phone. Knowing this, the USDA set up a program to get farmers signed up for text message alerts. Once signed up, farmers could be alerted to county-specific program information, which included a phone number to call to set up an appointment on the spot. The USDA reports that whenever they send these out, they’re very quickly flooded with calls. The program is a resounding success.

Questions to consider during this step:

  • Who is your audience? Who are the core groups of that audience? And how are those groups defined? (In the USDA’s case, they’re defined by county).
  • What do each of these groups want from you?
  • What do you want from your audience?
  • How are they trying to connect with you?
  • What content are they interested in?
  • What actions do you want your audience to take?
  • What information do you need to know about your audience to allow for better targeting?

Third: Map your customer journey

Once you know what your goals are and have defined your audience, it’s time to start mapping the journey these citizen-customers will take. Think of this as the equivalent of turn-by-turn directions in Google Maps: From the moment they first interact with you (starting point), throughout (the path/journey), and to the point of action (the final destination), everything should be detailed.

For example: The U.S. Department of Transportation wanted to increase attendance at a virtual summit it was hosting. In previous years, they’d seen significant drop off in the number of people who attended, especially on the second day. They crafted an email campaign that included a save the date, information leading up to the event, day-of-the-event reminders and follow up. As a result, they saw nobody not attend the second day—the comms was well-crafted and everyone knew what to expect because they information had been presented to them.

Questions to consider during this step:

  • How does your audience interact with you?
  • How did they find you? What channels did they use?
  • What information do they need from you in each point of the journey?

Fourth: Design communications to meet audience needs

The information is gathered – goals and audience are defined, and you have completed a customer journey map sure to keep them engaged and produce results. So now it’s time to put it all into action. This step is the operationalization of the process.

There are many types of messages you might send depending on what you found in the steps above. During the webinar, four general types of messaging were outlined as a starting point:

  • Welcome messages: Think of this as a first date with your audience. You wouldn’t show up to a first date in flip flops, cargo shorts and not having anything interesting to say. To do so wouldn’t be putting your best foot forward. This is where a lot of organizations get off on the wrong foot. Immediately after citizens sign up to get information from you is when they’re most engaged (and welcome messages are typically the high point for engagement). Make sure you’re what you’re sending is relevant. For instance, the Census Bureau wasn’t getting the engagement it wanted from subscribers, so they updated their welcome email. Instead of a boring, plain-text message, they created a three-part series that introduced the subscribers to some of the most-interesting parts of the Census’ website.
  • Special interest messaging: Did an audience member indicate interest in a particular topic when they signed up to get messages from you? This is a great way to send the most relevant information to an audience that has already said they want to receive it. Take advantage of this to increase engagement.
  • Awareness messaging: Every month is “National [Insert Campaign Here] Month.” That’s sometimes tricky for a government agency to properly create strategy around. But don’t be afraid to find the angle you want and use it as a way to reinforce your agency’s expertise on the topic and drive your audience to your website.
  • Behavior-triggered messaging: If someone has previously performed an action on your website (or in another newsletter), they might be interested in something similar in future messages. A good example of this is when someone signs up for a webinar – a subscriber has said they are interested in the topic, so a reminder of when that webinar is about to start might be important. If the webinar topic was about business licensing requirements in the city, perhaps they’d also be interested in changes to how those licenses are issued. Tracking this behavior ensures you’re sending the right message to the right people.

You've reached Communications Summit! Effective communications ahead!

These four steps provide the necessary framework for effectively moving from Newsletterville (sending out basic messaging to a wide audience) to the Communications Summit (targeted messaging to the right people at the right time and properly tracked and analyzed). If you’ve got any additional questions about how Granicus and its solutions can help you reach the Communications Summit, we’d love for you to reach out to us today!