(originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/communicate-wisely-three-tips-mission-driven-sandhya-c-rao)
Over the last year, our company has heard from a number of mission-driven organizations looking to increase their brand visibility with funders and clients. Many of these organizations were significantly cash-strapped when they contacted us, making it difficult for them to prioritize anything other than payroll. For some organizations, the realization that they needed a better communications strategy came a little too late, and a few of them are now dangerously close to shutting down their operations.
As a result of these conversations, as well as our own experience as a social business, we’ve learned a few things that we’d like to share so others can take steps to proactively prevent these types of funding crunches.
The three tips below are primarily targeted towards smaller mission-driven organizations (e.g., consulting firms, social enterprises, NGOs and non-profits). We hope you will share your own thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
1. Don’t wait until you are cash-poor to begin investing in communications
It may sound elementary but we find this rule is neglected over and over: be sure to incorporate a communications plan and budget into your overall business plan (assuming you already have a strategic or business plan with a corresponding annual operating budget — if not, that would be the first step). There are some rules of thumb regarding how much your organization should spend, and plenty of free resources on the web to help you construct a marketing and/or communications budget that’s right for you. Inevitably there will be moments when your cash will be more than a trickle than a flow. Prepare for these contingencies by setting aside rainy day funds you can tap to amp up your marketing efforts during financial dips.
Some organizations are desperate to justify their communications budgets and want us to tell them the ROI of every marketing line item. This is difficult to do for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is almost impossible to measure the singular impact of specific channels in an environment of cross-channel promotion, as most organizations have multiple ways of marketing their services and programs. That having been said, there are surveys you can conduct with your clients and industry colleagues periodically to monitor your reputation and visibility and there are many ways to identify what types of content are reaching specific audiences. And speaking of audiences…
2. Understand your audiences
Start by mapping out your stakeholders, influencers and networks. Identify and segment your target audiences and describe your client personas: Who needs to hear what you have to say? Why? How will these groups and individuals impact your business (positively or negatively)?
Once you’ve identified your audiences, gather intelligence. Pick up the phone and call them, send out a brief survey, read their social media feeds and websites. Try to understand what (and who) influences them and tailor your communications to appeal to their interests. Create content they would find compelling and share that free-of-cost. Pick unique quotes, infographics, statistics or insights from existing reports and publications and push those out through blogs, tweets and other types of posts that direct audiences back to your website. With digital-first publishing and a plethora of online publishing platforms, creating reports that allow users to quickly tweet and share sentences, paragraphs and pull-out quotes will allow your community of followers do your marketing work for you!
3. Maintain a consistent and credible digital drumbeat
In an era of instantly accessible mass communication, your reputation can be boosted or torn to shreds in a matter of seconds. What will you do to proactively manage this and avoid mishaps? It’s a good idea for your organization to create a digital strategy and a corresponding social media policy so everyone is working off the same song sheet. Create an editorial and events calendar to maintain momentum and buzz around your brand. Hold a series of online and offline promotional events leading up to conferences, workshops or industry-wide advocacy days (e.g., World AIDS Day, Mothers’ Day, Earth Day, etc.)
Some organizations throw a page up on Facebook or LinkedIn and create a profile on Twitter or Instagram simply because it’s what everyone else is doing. They fail to understand their own communications objectives, the unique value of each of these platforms, and how to maximize results through active and consistent engagement. These are not static platforms and shouldn’t be treated like infrequently updated websites to periodically push content. They are channels you use to engage a community of people, to position your organization as a thought leader, and to share ideas with your ‘tribe’. Unless you’re selling a low-margin physical product, social media platforms are generally not the place you go to attract clients, but your presence on these channels will enhance your visibility, credibility and brand recognition with a large community that ultimately influence your reputation and would inevitably have an impact on your clients/funders. Use it wisely and it will bring you wealth, albeit indirectly.
If you’re new to digital strategies, there are a number of free resources on the web. A good place to start on topics such as search engine optimization (SEO) is Moz’s free guide. If you would like to learn about our services and how we can help, please visit our website and drop us a line.
Do you have other ideas for mission-driven organizations? Please share your thoughts on our Medium blog.