6 must-haves for an effective communication plan

Even in the age of new media, your communications plan requires forethought and diligent execution to succeed. Follow this guide.

I want to start blogging.

We must have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

I want to advertise on Google, on the radio, in newspapers, in direct mail.

Let’s hold an event.

As a communications and marketing consultant, I hear requests like these every week from my clients. When I ask why, they seem confused. They wonder whether I really understand new media and communications. In this age of instant information they ask why they should bother to take the time to set communication goals and write annual plans.

1. Set goals that set the strategy.

Goals are the overall thing you want to change or affect, not the activity itself. They must tie in to the overall company strategy and the specific objectives of your organization. Make them clear, concise, and concrete.

Not: “Increase participation of the employee annual survey,” but, “Increase the annual employee survey participation by 50 percent and create and execute action plans by all organizations to address any issues that rank at two or below by May 30, with the overall goal of reducing turnover by 7 percent in 2014.”

Goals have to be shared, refined, and communicated, to all interested parties. If your stakeholders’ ideas have been respectfully considered, they’ll be much more likely to support your progress and help when roadblocks crop up. Collaboration at the initial planning stage means more creativity and ultimately more success.

2. Be proactive, not reactive.

Sure, from time to time you’ll want to second good ideas or topics by retweeting or “liking” them, but to stand out from the noise you’ll want to be the one with the original ideas and stories. “Leading from behind” can be a great concept for management but not for communications. A proactive approach is necessary.

Do the research, find captivating stories, understand the data, create compelling and targeted messages, and then successfully execute the plan. Announcing an event date is fine, but explaining what you’ll learn and why it’s a “must attend” for your audience is considerably better. Having a plan in place for crisis communications can save your reputation and your bottom line.

3. Choose metrics that matter.

The number of tweets or retweets or dissecting Google Analytics is not a measurement in itself (although it can be useful to see activity and monitor trends). What’s important is to have your marketing or social media efforts move the needle in relation to your overall goals. Increasing the number of followers is nice, but selling more products or services, growing membership, or increasing donations for your nonprofit shows tangible results. Think conversions, not conversation.

4. Turn ideas into action.

A six-slide PowerPoint deck is not a communications plan. A detailed plan addresses every aspect of the communications strategy to discover opportunities as well as barriers. An implementation plan explores audience needs and interests, understands the competitive landscape, creates targeted messaging, establishes timelines, determines communication vehicles and activities, works within financial guidelines, establishes benchmarks and metrics, and outlines the staffing plan with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

As Mark Twain said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one.”

5. Consider an annual theme.

Just as companies create memorable slogans that endure and resonate with their audiences, communication plans should do the same. When I worked at WebEx, the theme for that year was “Radical Collaborator” not “Web Conferencing Solutions.” We created quarterly internal and external presentations surrounded by social media that introduced, and then enhanced, the theme using compelling, real-life stories supported by proven data.

This approach resulted in numerous impressions and increased the awareness of the company’s products, as well as the personal brand of the top executive. Every event was tweeted (pre-event, during the event, and post-event), blogged about, re-presented on YouTube, and re-messaged for new audiences.

For a nonprofit client, we focused on telling how they were making a positive difference for women in highly disadvantaged situations. Each week a short “good news” story was told on various social media channels. People knew Friday was the day they could look forward to being inspired. People were engaged, stories were shared, followers greatly enhanced, and, most important, and donations doubled.

6. Don’t file and forget.

An effective communications plan is reviewed and refined weekly. Use it to start every weekly department meeting. Have only one version, and make it accessible—by way of a shared drive or in the cloud—to everyone responsible for implementation. As new events, products or services occur, add to the plan and determine new approaches and strategies.

A flexible plan with a strong annual theme can absorb these additions and remain effective. Measure what works and what doesn’t, and next year’s plan will be half written already. Planning now means you’ll be in a much better position to be part of the news instead of part of the noise.

Mimi Garrity Denman manages Denman Communications. A version of this article first appeared on Denman Communications.

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