All of us are charged with developing communication plans for our organizations or clients. And guess what? We usually fall back on the familiar, tried-and-true format: goals, objectives, strategies, tactics.
Of course, like any old pair of shoes, these processes are comfortable—until your environment changes and all of a sudden the tennis shoes you packed for vacation now must handle hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing and whatever else is thrown at you on the trip.
The social media era is characterized by what many have called the “connected consumer.” Not really defined by an age group, the connected consumer is defined as people who are always plugged in, who demand transparency from our organizations–who will become very vocal if they think we’re not being transparent–and who have different news consumption habits than they did even 15 years ago.
With today’s connected consumer, there are some elements we should all consider in our planning practices. Here are some tips for how to plan for engaging and influencing these connected audiences.
1. Define audience personas as part of your communication planning. When niche marketing is key, charting all of the factors that define your audience’s persona —their personal situation, work life characteristics, their daily challenges and concerns—is more important than ever. Kansas City’s Morningstar Communications, for example, has a process for walking organizations through how to define and get into the heads of those they call “the people who matter most.” The Morningstar process asks you to define what your audience’s top three thoughts and concerns are when the alarm clock goes off every morning. Answering these types of questions leads to a more finely targeted communication plan.
For more on Morningstar Communications’ process for building audience personas, check out this presentation from the author and Morningstar vice president of marketing and communciation Tricia McKim.
2. “Connected” means different things to people from different generations. Communicators should not assume that just because tablet and mobile platform adoption is skyrocketing, we can design one-size-fits-all digital vehicles. Sure, mobile apps and mobile-optimized communications are great for millennials and younger demographics, but Baby Boomers are also online in huge numbers. They’re just much more likely to engage and make purchasing decisions from a desktop or a laptop.
3. Make your communication vehicles shareable. If you don’t make sure that your communication vehicles (and all your marketing efforts for that matter) are easily shared (online or off-line) by the people who use your product or service, you’ll lose the connected generation. A desire to share is in the DNA of today’s connected consumer and communicators need to make it easy.
4. Communicate with not at consumers. This one sounds so easy, yet we fall back on the old, monolithic, “top down” communication model too often. Again, the new consumer demands that we not only be transparent with them, but that they have the opportunity to instantly offer their input on our business. We have to show them that we’re willing to listen. Today’s connected consumers have zero patience for one-way communications. The good news for communication planners is that tools to make two-way interaction easier are abundant. Seeking feedback has always been a part of good communication plans—but now we can enable product reviews in real time, we can help customers organize user groups to gain even deeper insights, and more.
5. Real-time reaction is critical. This isn’t just about playing to the short attention spans that dominate today’s audiences. It’s so important to build environmental scanning tools into your plan so that you can take advantage of opportunities quickly. I recommend author David Meerman Scott’s discussion on “news jacking” as a tool to use timely news to help target your organizational communications.
As a journalism student, basic training involved knowing how to “localize” a story for your readers so that they can connect global or national news with their own community or environment. As corporate communicators (especially on the B2C side), we can adapt the same thinking and leverage global news and events to show how our products or services relate.
The traditional strategic communication planning model isn’t necessarily outdated, it just needs a makeover. The social media environment requires all of us to think a bit differently before we take out that legal pad and start penciling in our communication plan. With the right questions answered, your planning process can be optimized to engage with today’s consumer in the voice they want to hear.