Great communications is built on the basics..

I recently had the opportunity to review a ‘report’ by a social media guru analyzing the ‘social strategies’ of a number of household brands. The report had some lovely visuals, some interesting examples of tactical executions, but overall it was a great example of what is too often missing from discussions on social media and often PR.

The report had many opinions but was light – read non-existent – on how these programs were tied to clear business objectives and more importantly how well the campaigns actually performed against those objectives.

In other words, in the real world, where a marketing or communications professional is building programs to drive against business objectives, it was value-less.

This is often where I find the industry of social media punditry fails.

Of course, social media is important, but before you get to the interesting, execution, you have to stop, understand your business, your industry, your  objectives, your competitive challenges, your internal challenges, your audience, your resources, and when you have a clear understanding of those elements, then you start planning.

If this is obvious to you, that’s great. If you’re not taking this approach, then there’s a real opportunity for you to significantly increase the impact of your work.

Let’s extend Mr. Ogilivy’s thesis – 50% of advertising is useless but you never know which 50%- to the world of social media and Public Relations. If we’re looking for what’s useless, I’d be willing to start with programs that aren’t tied into a set of defined business objectives.

Measurement can be a thorny subject – though at least there’s beginning to be some consensus – but executing campaigns not tied to business outcomes is at best madness and at worst negligent. Communications requires a balanced scorecard that encompasses a range of measurements from the basic inputs, outputs and results, to qualitative measures over time. And this work all starts with the business objectives.

These processes don’t mean you can’t experiment or move quickly – or indulge in ‘real-time marketing’.  Actually it’s the complete opposite.  If you know your business, are clear on what you need to achieve and are actively measuring outcomes then you’re in a better position to experiment and in a better position to learn and evolve your execution.

We may live in a troll producing always-on, always-connected world, but engaging with people, building relationships and trust takes time.  There isn’t a shortcut. In fact, as people become more sophisticated in how they use media and struggle to manage the ever increasing volume of information they come across every day, the process takes longer and is indeed more difficult.

There isn’t a silver bullet, but there are some tried and tested things that help us frame communications campaigns and put us in the best possible position to not only have impact, but to demonstrate that impact.

On a related topic, I strongly recommend you read Alastair Campbell’s speech at the Center for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration in Melbourne. In my opinion he does a great job explaining why objectives, strategies, and a commitment to long term thinking are so essential in the changing world of communications:

But you do it (communication) within a clear strategic framework, you engage the public in a much more sustained way, and you run co-ordination systems that work, so that over time your messages get through, over time your changes are understood and they deliver, and over time people become much more reasonable in their analysis. What you do is more important than what you say, but how you say what you do will help you if you are doing the right thing. Every time you say or you do, you land a dot.

While social media may appear immediate and tactical, successful social media, like the rest of communications, requires planning, insight, strategy, measurement and commitment.

That’s the starting point for great communications.

When you’re communicating be true to yourself

Shakespeare wrote that when words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.

It’s not a problem we typically encounter these days. In fact verbal flatulence is everywhere.


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Back in olden times (early and mid 1990s) one of the favorite journalist tricks was the pregnant pause. Sit and look at your interviewee. Peer over your spectacles. Say nothing. Watch them squirm at the uncomfortable silence, until hopefully they break and in a vain attempt at appearing interesting and relevant they fill the silence with some nice juicy morsel of previously unreleased information. Having seen this trick work at first hand, I now think its time may have passed. Today the likelihood of a pregnant pause is unlikely.

Silence may indeed be a virtue, but it’s a seldom used virtue. Instead we try our very best to inject noise and volume into everything.

I speak in general terms here, no specifics, just an observation.

It appears the marketing response to the increasing noise of our always-on world is, ironically, more noise.

Shout louder.

Shout more often.

That’s not to say frequency isn’t important. It is. But the big question is the frequency of what. Not to over indulge my Shakespearian theme, but 400 years ago he wrote:

Where every something, being blent together turns to a wild of nothing.

That could be a motto for communications today.

Too often we just decide we need a blog post, with little thought about what we’re trying to achieve, what we’re trying to communicate and how we’ll make the information relevant, interesting, or memorable.

Too often we just write, proof, hit publish and move on.

It’s not just a social media phenomenon. Going back to olden times there were many proponents of getting a press release out regardless of whether there was any actual news. I imagine they’re still asking for press releases and now their poor downtrodden communicators will try and palm them off with a blog post or a tweet. Something that will be dispatched into the cloud -  more in hope than expectation – never to be seen, read or thought of again.

So, the alternative is to take a strategic approach to communications. Get an understanding of your audience, where they are, what they’re reading and sharing and invest the time and energy into creating something memorable. Not once a year for a special occasion or the one time you have some real news, but as part of your daily routine.

So next time you’re asked to ‘create’ a blog post about something no one cares about, remember:

This above all; to thine own self be true.