What Skills Do You Need as a Communicator for the Future?


 The roles that communications professionals play within an organization are constantly evolving, yet some government agencies have been slow to adapt. Take for instance, the title of Public Information Officer or PIO. It’s shorthand lingo often used by government to describe the person responsible for communications who speaks on behalf of the organization. Wikipedia defines a PIO as somebody who provides information to the media and public as required by law and according to the standards of their profession. PIOs, it says, are often identified during natural disasters or during a crisis by wearing helmets or vests with the letters “PIO” on them.

Let’s save that title for just this purpose and retire it as the catch-all phrase it has become to describe government communicators. We are much more than PIOs. We are strategists, creators, marketers, innovators, engagers, connectors, facilitators, and yes, communicators.  To be successful, we need to have a seat at the table, understand the big picture (and the small details) and translate all of it into understandable language.

How will communications leaders be defined in the future? What skills will you need to be successful as roles evolve? Here are a few ideas:

Content creator: With a shrinking media landscape, we are becoming our own content creators. We create content for websites, social media, press releases, newsletters, blogs and other platforms. Think of your content creation as writing once, but adapting stylistically and visually for multiple uses. Start with a comprehensive format first, perhaps a message document or press release that contains most of the ideas and concepts you are trying to communicate.  Take a few of the key points and develop your social posts. Shorten and adapt for your website, repurpose and include in your latest e-newsletter or change the voice and send the news to employees. The rules for creating content remain the same in terms of good writing.  But, think about creative ways to write once, rework, repurpose, deploy and cross promote across all of your platforms.

Engagement engineer: The days of simply putting out information are long gone. Communicators are increasingly called upon to be engagement engineers, reaching out to create followers/fans/click throughs, connecting with stakeholders, building audiences, both in person and virtually, all while doing so authentically and transparently. The good news is that are lots of tools that can help you connect, at least in the online space. Find out which ones work best for your organization. Pay attention to your social sites to see what posts/stories receive the most engagement, retweets, comments, likes or whatever measurement is relevant. Where I work, we also use Nextdoor, which is a private online social network for cities that provides a direct connection to individual neighborhoods. It’s free, and about 30 percent of our community has registered with the site, making it hard to beat in terms of reach. One key to engagement that’s sometimes overlooked is the feedback loop. Are you responding to every tweet, post, comment? Is that necessary/possible/routine?  And, if you ask a question, what are you doing with the answers? Do they go back to policymakers or is it simply a way for constituents to be heard? Let your audiences know.

Data driver: In the communications world, we have a slew of analytic tools at our disposal that can provide data about how things are going. Use the data to inform your communications decisions. Know how to look at metrics and what you want to measure. Is it reach, engagement, site traffic, new followers/fans, different demographics or something else? Pay attention to the open rates on your e-newsletters, click through rates on links or referral traffic from social to your website. Develop your own dashboard for what makes sense for your organization to measure. In addition to free analytic tools, there are also lots of subscription services that can provide this information, some that are modestly priced. While most of us don’t need to become data scientists, communicators do need to understand how metrics and measurement fit into your communications strategy.

Visual visionary: As the power of visual storytelling grows, so does the demand for visual content in the way individuals consume information. Data, charts and graphs are turned into digestible infographics. Videos tell a story better than text (a picture really is worth a thousand words), and there is a ton of research that tells us people remember your story infinitely better with visual cues. Become a visual visionary by finding ways to infuse and enhance your content for better retention, attention and understanding.

Claudia Keith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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