Many public affairs practitioners who utilise digital and social media to enhance reach and impact, will at some point ask a variation of this question: “this isn’t working well enough – what should I do better?”

Three handy starting points:

  1. Audience first: I come across countless organisations that invest heavily in digital public affairs, but do not know how their audiences wish to consume information. Simple vs. complex? Offline vs. online? If online: social media vs. long-form? Text vs. audio-visual? Determining what is most useful to audiences, ideally by talking to them, and when considering online channels, examining how they currently use them, is the indisputable starting point.
  2. Don’t waste your time: “audience first” leads neatly onto “don’t waste your time”. I’m frequently asked what online channel someone should be on, what tactics work best, or how frequently they should be publishing. I don’t know. Maybe they shouldn’t be on any channels? Maybe they have an audience of 10 and have them all on speed-dial? Every single communications activity (every tweet, speech, press release, meeting) should fulfil a specific audience need, tied to a specific If it doesn’t tick both boxes – then don’t waste your time; focus purely on activities you know bring results.
  3. Understand best in class: within any given sector or issue, someone has probably sussed out what key audiences require, and is communicating effectively. You’ll usually know who. Analyse them in detail: what do they say, how they say it, who says it, where, how often, and in what tone. We don’t benchmark nearly enough. We should: online communications is largely public, meaning best practice is there for all to see.
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There are staple questions in corporate communications, such as:

  • What’s the broader business imperative?
  • What’s the communications goal that will support the business imperative?
  • What’s the audience (implicitly meaning, who should we be trying to ultimately reach, or influence in order to gain their support?)

All very well, but we too often fail to flesh out the audience questions; we should also be asking:

  • An audience is never entirely uniform: what are the audience segments?
  • What are the values, traits and habits of each audience segment?
  • Can each audience segment be influenced at all?
  • If so, based on their values, traits and habits, what is likely to influence each segment? 
  • How do they consume information?
  • How will our opponents target the same audiences?