It could be argued that ‘digital strategy’ is a misnomer in communications. Why? Because digital strategy should stem from an overall strategy. And strategy – defined simply as HOW to deliver against an objective – is inherently bigger than just one channel.
Common strategies in communications for public affairs ends (and beyond) might be: positioning your organisation based on a certain trait; focusing very narrowly on a specific locale or audience segment; distinguishing yourself from the competition based on something you do differently; or leveraging a certain person (e.g. a leader) or group of people (e.g. employees or an influential 3rd party constituency).
None of these strategies can succeed if delivered on a single channel.
There are of course considerations that relate to digital when developing strategy. One’s choice of strategy may involve a heavier dose of digital if a programme goal is more likely to be achieved through online means e.g. think many grassroots or public rebuttal programmes.
There are also specific decisions that need to be made around digital delivery, which can be deemed strategic considerations, such as: channel selection; tone of voice; who communicates on behalf of the organisation; or the extent to which to engage publicly.
But the bottom line is: actual communications strategy, and the steps that lead to it (especially audience and environment analysis, and alignment of business/organisational goals and communications goals) should ALWAYS be channel agnostic.
“Digital strategy” leads to communication strategy
Having said all that, we should not scoff entirely at the notion of digital communications strategy, for a few reasons.
- As alluded to above, digital can affect one’s choice of strategy, so communications strategy needs to be developed by individuals with a decent understating of the medium.
- As also alluded to above, there are numerous strategic considerations to ponder in relation to how a communications strategy should be delivered online.
- Most interestingly perhaps, digital strategy development often drives better overall communications strategy. Why? Because ‘traditional’ communications programmes often get away with ignoring essential initial planning phases (audience and environment analyses etc.) Digital is often (but not always) scrutinised more, meaning it requires more pre-planning and ‘proof’ that it reflects real-world needs. And in my experience, this planning often makes up for the lack of it in developing many ‘traditional’ programmes.