When it comes to building an effective communications plan and enhancing relationships with key stakeholders, there is one word that should resound with companies when building their strategy: continuity.
I’ve always thought that corporate communications within the media has similarities to developing human relationships. I may be talking to someone and share an insight of real importance. However, if I don’t speak to them again for another eight months, and then approach them with something equally interesting and profound, but ultimately unconnected, the chances are that they will have absolutely no idea about the values that I stand for.
So how do you build continuity? With numerous channels now available, the challenge now lies more with what to say, rather than where to say it. To adapt an old (and rather overused) expression in the field of communications - ‘[continuous] content is king.’
In this era of hyper-transparency, traditional media is no longer the only channel. Now, companies have the opportunity to consolidate more refined, consistent messages through social media and owned channels.
The messages must be built and distributed from the ground up:
Messages that resonate
Digitalisation has brought about the dialogue age; where two-way conversations with stakeholders are more important.
A recent McKinsey report showed that many B2B companies are simply talking past their customers, rather than addressing the areas that they truly care about. Interestingly, ‘honest and open dialogue’ which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasised at all by the 90 companies in the McKinsey research.
A company can longer lecture stakeholders with self-serving, marketing led messages – they will become lost in what is an increasingly cluttered space. Instead, all communication should be based upon carefully crafted key messages; covering themes and societal issues that are relevant today. That is the way to build communications with continuity.
Continuity in the media
From a media perspective, many companies struggle to maintain their presence because of a perceived lack of content. They run specific campaigns (or develop research) throughout the year, where they receive reasonable spikes of attention. But aside from these sporadic projects, they are almost invisible.
No matter how interesting or innovative a company’s point of view is, if it’s received in isolation, the impact it will have in bolstering the brand or building trust will be minimal.
Organisations may feel that they don’t have enough content ‘stored away’ to communicate so regularly. One way they can tackle this, without spending huge sums of money on research, is being prepared to engage around expected issues.
A company should define the key areas in which it would like to communicate, and be prepared to react once relevant events have occurred around which their view will be appreciated. For instance, a key area of focus for an insurance company might be around tackling the emerging threat of cyber risk. It may languish at the bottom of the national news agenda for most of the year but, in the event of a major corporate data breach, the advice of the client will be highly relevant.
This ‘rapid response’ approach needs structure and proactivity, and requires the company in question to be both clear and firm in the areas that it would like to communicate, as well as for the communications team to closely follow the news agenda. If done well, it can lead to a sustained presence in the media on a relatively limited budget.
Continuity on social media
It’s already common knowledge that social media is a fantastic (and cost-effective) way for companies to maintain regular conversations with all key stakeholders, but the way to actually go about this is often less clear. Organisations should create an annual calendar of activity on social media that encourage two-way conversations with its audiences. This can include surveys, feedback requests, Q&As or discussions around themes that the company has a voice in.
The opportunities for both B2B and B2C communications are endless, but simply existing on social media is not enough. Companies must help define the conversation.
Continuity through owned platforms
Employees should be given the opportunity to contribute content (in the form of blogs, comments or opinion pieces) that convey some of the values of the brand. After all, a companies’ brand comes from within, and employers are the ambassador of a company. This works as an employee engagement exercise, as well as a way of building continuity to communications that can be resonated across the company’s social media channels, as well being hosted on its earned channels.
A business must maintain a cycle of content on its corporate site(s) that is fresh, insightful and complimentary to the brand itself. This will result in a higher level of stakeholder engagement, and will be reflected by traffic.
This content can be recycled across social media, but can also be generated by employees too – the business’ core ambassadors. Encouraging them to have a voice that is aligned with the business’ values will result in increased employee engagement – and also manage populate the content pipeline.
Furthermore, much of this content can be recycled and communicated through other channels, such as social media. In a way, by putting process like this in place, ‘continuity’ will occur naturally.
Building continuity within communications activity isn’t as daunting as it looks. There are several tools and techniques that can help a company’s communications appear almost seamless. Despite this, there is no doubt that it takes effort and dedication and there is no ‘one stop shop’ to getting it right. However, those that do this well will build competitive advantage in what is becoming an increasingly competitive business world.