When devising a communication strategy, the SWOT phase of will look at the communication elements of relevant organisations, thus helping to build the best possible stakeholder communication, engagement and advocacy strategy. One very important element of the SWOT process is social media, which when implemented should provide social proof and enhanced stakeholder engagement, especially if dialogue leads to change and not simply social chatter.

What is the hub of your digital PR strategy

[This is the fifth of a six-part ‘case study’ series on devising communication strategy for an infrastructure project, but can also be applied to non-infrastructure-related initiatives.].

With infrastructure projects such as the one under discussion it is almost certain that a corporate/project blog and a Facebook business/fan page will be utilised to complement the corporate website. The first question to answer is what is the role of each platform? What is the hub and what are the spokes? Some probable answers include:

  • Website to contain basic information about the project, including detailed updates about progress and other major corporate issues
  • Blog for ongoing thought leadership; insights into the project progress; primarily project-centred value for stakeholders; secondary stakeholder dialogic platform
  • Facebook for small updates, links to blog and website, as well as other updates not about the project but of potential use to stakeholders; primary platform for stakeholder dialogue; issues management mechanism; contests, polls and other engagement activity
  • Twitter definitely as an issues management early warning mechanism; depending on stakeholder needs could evolve into conversational medium and website/blog promotional medium, as long as content other than project-specific is shared
  • YouTube and Flickr used for video and photo repositories that are linked to other platforms but conversation is limited and ‘pushed’ to Facebook and blog.

Video and images are incredibly important. These should be used liberally through social media platforms. It has been proven time and gain how much visuals engage and enthuse people.

Methods to engage stakeholders through social media

Interviews with engineers, sponsored groups and school students on the project are one way of engaging stakeholders.

One engagement approach could be having a contest among high schools in the relevant geographical area to identify six student ‘journalists’ each year who interview engineers and other project employees, members of the community, perhaps even politicians, etc that provide reports/insight into the project. The students might need to have engineering aspirations but, just as importantly, they provide a continual narrative through the life of the project and also explain what they have learnt and what resonates with them.

It could be a Facebook-driven competition and, of course, the content generated would be promoted through social media platforms with the intent that it goes viral within relevant stakeholder demographics. If possible, the content would be driven so it is relevant to school curriculum. This initiative will also be picked up by the media.

A key part of the strategy will be to build up a large database of social media followers to assist with unmediated communication occurring.

This can be used to help promote local businesses and community groups (using their thought leadership rather than sales pitches) and their own initiatives. A policy/approach needs to be decided upon for consistency, with it being preferable that these external organisations in some way provide information on the infrastructure project or direct their own stakeholders/customers/members to the project’s communication mediums.

Taking this approach is one way of embedding the project into the local communities and underlining what a vital part the infrastructure will play in it. It is yet another way of generating 3rd party credibility for the project (whilst at the same time increasing the communication ‘footprint’ of the project).

Social proof is a variation on 3rd party credibility; to optimise social proof benefits, steps need to be taken:

  • Having counters on the social media share buttons that should be a part of relevant social media platforms (a blog in particular). This shows viewers how many shares have occurred through platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg and Twitter
  • Of course, having the buttons themselves is a first step as it provides an easy way for ramping up the viral dimension of the content through viewers’ personal social networks
  • Comments on blogs and on Facebook are another variation of social proof as they provide evidence of engagement to others, piquing interest and hopefully leading to acclaim and advocacy.

The challenges of content marketing and social media interaction

Just as media outreach requires content, so does social and digital media, but the insatiable demand that having these additional platforms to ‘talk’ on means the demand for content has increased in recent years. This means additional planning, creativity and vigour is needed by the communication professional. It also means hard decisions need to be taken on just what it is possible to achieve and what communication platforms or tactics, as a whole, are utilised: cue returning to the market research (i.e. what suits stakeholders’ best?).

In content marketing, clearly original content is required, but so can a content curation approach be applied to assist in generating the volume of material needed. Promoting the content of others (where possible, adding value) has the benefit of potentially getting others to promote the organisation’s content (i.e. 3rd party credibility and increasing the organisation’s communication footprint). It’s a manifestation of a ‘returning the favour’ mindset.

A balance of ‘low risk’ and easy to generate (though still high quality) useful content should be delivered, as well as edgier content that has the potential to galvanise stakeholders. The latter will take more time to create but has the potential to achieve a better viral and positioning outcome.

Organisations that utilise social media each need to find a balance between how much dialogue they can cope with and how much they wish to use it for broadcasting their own content. Whilst there should be an intended outcome, or goal, before beginning the communication, such is the unpredictable nature of how people respond and interact on different issues that the approach will evolve and needs, in fact, to be pliable.

An elementary factor to consider with social media, as with any business activity, is how much time will be allocated to the activity and what employees have a role to play in it. As anyone who has engaged in social media at all knows, it is easy for it to become a ‘time-suck’.

Because of the transactional nature of best practice communication and the characteristics of social media, the content provision approach needs to be a blend of what the organisation wants its stakeholders to know, what will influence them and, ultimately, what stakeholders want to hear. It works both ways.

The primacy of ‘smartphone communication’, social media guidelines and crisis communication

Smartphone-customised technology is now a fundamental element of any digital communication. The smartphone optimisation of websites and blogs is more important than apps in my opinion, but both can be useful and, obviously, can complement each other. People are moving away from desktops and laptop computing and are increasingly relying more on the mobile web-access devices, so it is imperative to get some skin in this game.

Social media guidelines for employees – both for those using it in a professional communication basis and for those using it purely on a social basis – need to be created.

Additionally, social media is critical for crisis communication and needs to be integrated into the organisation’s crisis management plan. Twitter is an incredibly valuable tool for crisis communication, enabling monitoring at the very least but valuable, speedy reaction and firestorm-dampening impact too

What is your experience, or what are your thoughts, on getting the balance right between broadcast, dialogue and organisational change coming through on social media? Have you updated all relevant comms so it is smartphone-friendly – why or why not? How have you segmented, or what are your thoughts on segmentation, of communication activity on an organisational website, blog, Facebook and other social media?

The next and final post in this six-part series talks about sponsorship, school education and community communication programs. Previous posts talked about approaches to public relations, market research and target audiences; the listening, conversational and adaptive characteristics of excellent communication strategy; the Holy Trinity of PR; and media relations and strategic alliances.