4 Steps to an Effective Communications Strategy

A primary goal for nearly every state and local government organization is connecting with citizens ­– engaging with constituents across multiple platforms to ensure they get the information and services they need, in the way they want them. But in a recent presentation by Lyndsay Booth, Senior Digital Engagement Strategist at communications platform provider Granicus, we learned that this goal is not always fully realized in the public sector.

According to Booth, many agencies face a scenario similar to this one: You have a large audience, regulation communication and some basic reporting mechanisms. However, you don’t know exactly who comprises your audience, your messaging is broad and you aren’t confident if your efforts are truly effective.

The problem isn’t that these agencies aren’t communicating with their constituents. The problem is that they don’t have an effective and informed communications strategy to guide those efforts.

A communications strategy includes defined audience, targeted messaging and clear outcomes that help agencies move from what Booth called “Newsletterville” or “Adhocville” to the “Communications Summit.” But getting to the top ofthat summit is not a one-and-done climb.

Instead, Booth outlined a four-step path to creating an effective communications strategy. Those fours steps include:

  1. Define your organization’s outcomes
  2. Understand your audience
  3. Map your customer journey
  4. Design communications to fit your audience’s needs

The first step is to define organizational outcomes. After all, “You can’t create outcomes if you don’t have them defined,” Booth said.

Booth also said she often hears agency communicators say they clearly understand their mission goals already. However, she emphasized that there is a significant difference between understanding broad goals and understanding tangible, incremental and achievable outcomes that your communications team can support.

“This is an opportunity for you, your organization and your team to take a step back and more clearly define your goal,” Booth encouraged.

Map broad objectives to achievable and incremental goals. Then, use communication channels to target a specific audience with a specific message that supports a single outcome.

For example, the LA County Homeless Initiative has an overall goal of reducing homeless in the county. The communications department broke down that goal into one outcome: involving more contractors in programs to impact homeless rates and increase resources. Then, they sent targeted communications to potential contractors with a specific call to action: getting involved in the program.

Once you’ve identified your specific outcomes, the next step is to understand your audience – not just who they are or what demographic groups define them, but what they want from your services and what engages them to take action.

To complete this step involves critically diving into your database of users and potential users, and then taking time to understand their needs and motivations. This understanding can help inform the content, frequency and medium for targeted messages that achieve higher engagement rates.

With an understanding of your audience and outcomes, you can move to step three of creating a journey map. This map documents the various touchpoints you have with your agency and service, allowing you to identify critical touchpoints and where they are or are not working to engage users.

Booth noted that this is an intensive process, because you’ll want to consider each and every way that a user might interact with your agency and communications. However, “This is not something that you will sit down and finish in a day. It’s something that will evolve over time, and you can do this one initiative at a time,” she said.

With these three steps completed, the final task is to put all these new ideas into action by designing communications that meet your audience needs. This involves identifying and deploying specific tactics – such as bulletin redesigns or leveraging a new platform like text messaging – that consider your users, their interactions with your agency, and your desired outcomes.

These tactics will often be pilots, requiring you to monitor their efficacy and possibly revamping real-time to ensure you’re really impacting your audience and outcomes. You’ll also want to walk through these four stages again, as your audience changes, outcomes are achieved and the customer journey map evolves.

“This is not just a one-time process, even if you don’t feel your agency goals have shifted,” Booth encouraged. Nevertheless, you can immediately see results from your first iteration if you thoughtfully navigate each step toward the Communications Summit.

Check out all of Lyndsay’s slides, with more tips and questions to ask, by clicking here. This recap is just one of our articles from the 2018 State and Local Summit. Be sure to read all our coverage here and sign up for our next virtual summit!

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