December 3, 2012
Expert corner

Communications planning in the real-time media world

Jessica Lyon

Planning remains an essential part of effective organizational communications; however, planning in the real-time media world requires a far more nimble approach.

Communications plans can no longer chart each initiative for the next five years. In the world of more than 100,000 tweets per minute, it is essential to find the balance between high-level strategic planning and the flexibility to seize current, unanticipated opportunities.

Pre-Internet era, there were limited options — traditional advertising, sponsorships and public relations for the most part. In addition to limited options, there were also limited means of measurement. Is what we are doing really working?

With the explosion of social media and creation of many affordable, sometimes free, tools for surveying audiences and campaign measurement, the guessing game is largely over. And this is why we can no longer create locked-in, long-term communications plans… because communications — more than ever — is here and now. Real-time.

I am not advocating to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Communications goals that align with the organization's strategic plan remain critical and should be documented. However, planning must evolve to keep pace with the new ways people are communicating.

Communications strategies for 2013 and beyond should address these four areas: * Understanding audiences;

• Engagement;

• Adaptability;

• And measurement.

There is good reason that Who are your target audiences? is inevitably one of the first questions a communications professional will ask. We need to know who we are talking to in order to understand how to engage them.

"Engage" is the operative word. The more you listen to your audiences, the more effective your communications will be, and the more successful your business will be.

Luckily, now there is no shortage of information to lead to a better understanding of your target audiences. Gain real-time insights into what makes them tick by reading blogs, article commentary, Twitter feeds, Pinterest Boards, etc. Doing so gives you an authentic look at who they really are with access for direct communication to engage and build relationships.

Engagement is not limited to consumer brands. Engaging audiences in a personal and meaningful way transcends the type of business.

Here are two examples of effective engagement for achieving different goals:

Corporate Recruitment: Inspired by the surge in social online gaming, Marriott International, Inc. developed a hotel-themed online game to use as a recruiting tool. They launched the first game at My Marriott Hotel™ on Facebook in 2011 to recruit more chefs and are expanding this model to include other hospitality careers.

Prospect Engagement: The Approva Corp. sells enterprise software dealing with auditing and Sarbanes-Oxley Act financial reporting compliance. Most would scratch their heads on how to make that a topic of conversation. Instead of developing jargon-laden product messaging, Approva launched its "I Love a Good Audit" campaign — a playful and irreverent strategy that allowed people to interact on the campaign microsite sending e-cards to friends and colleagues and delivering unexpected love messages to fellow auditors in a virtual-refrigerator-magnet format. The campaign garnered huge "word-of-mouse" buzz, resulting in a 50 percent increase in annual inquiries and contributing to Approva's 35 percent revenue growth.

If Approva had an inflexible communications plan, it never would have seized the opportunity to create this fun, viral communications campaign at such an opportune time when the industry was buzzing about news concerning the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Therefore, adaptability is essential in the real-time media world. When news happens that affects your industry and thus, your clients, you need flexibility in your communications plan to seize opportunities to connect with customers, prospects, and be the go-to source for reporters.

Marketing guru David Meerman Scott calls this technique "newsjacking." Newsjacking is inserting yourself into the news cycle by being aware of trends and breaking news as it happens and offering compelling content that enhances the story.

A critical component of a nimble strategy is a clear way to quickly ascertain what is working and what isn't. While a communications plan should be well-researched and data-driven, it must be a fluid document that allows a business to quickly shift gears and re-allocate eggs from one basket to another when there is compelling evidence to do so.

With businesses expecting a direct return from their marketing efforts, it is imperative to identify what is making an impact. From email open rates to blog reads to downloads of various offers to sales, there is more information available than ever before to chart a detour when opportunity knocks.

While this approach does require businesses to think differently and change some well-established processes, a flexible communications plan is key to achieving the maximum return.

Jessica Lyon is the senior vice president of Co-Communications, a marketing and public relations firm with offices in Farmington as well as in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and New York City. Reach her at Jessica@cocommunications.com or 860-676-4400.

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