Thursday, March 1, 2012


In today’s world, communications has simultaneously become both more accessible and less manageable. With the explosion of social media came the democratization of communications – one Tweet can reach more people than any press release, and a Facebook post can receive just as much attention as coverage in traditional media.

This change in how news gets out can benefit, small businesses and non-profits, especially those that may not be budgeted for large communications blitzes. But just because social media is accessible to all of us does not mean it should be approached without an airtight strategy?

It is true that people and organizations now have many more opportunities to get the story out than they did in a pre-digital age. If your local newspaper or NPR affiliate doesn’t want to cover your latest press release, then you can simply post it on your company’s website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter. You can even make a video about it to post on YouTube. There are countless opportunities to bypass the traditional media outreach.

Just because something is on the web, doesn’t mean that the right people will necessarily see it. The same planning that went into promoting a news story in the pre-digital age needs to be applied today. In fact, with so much news out there and so much communicating going on non-stop, the need to carefully target your audience is even more critical.

In addition to thinking about whom you are trying to reach, you also need to think about who is doing the communicating and how they are doing it. When news outreach was somewhat less democratic, and there were fewer options about how news was reported, it was typical that your communications staff would be the ones to speak for you.  They would be the people who spoke to the media and responsible for the public face of your business or organization. But that isn’t always the case anymore.

In the social media era, even a simple – and seemingly innocent – Facebook post can tell a story about your business, and not necessarily the one that your leadership intended. Though not part of any communications’ strategy, staff, interns, board members or even customers’ opinions and/or ideas about a company can end up being expressed in public in a manner that creates an unintended narrative about it. At worst, internal disputes get played out online; at best, the company gets some unplanned branding that probably won’t add to enhancing its mission in any major way. Many CEOs or directors of nonprofits can and do find themselves playing catch up, trying to tell a counter story to the one that gets out there – unplanned and even unwittingly – by staff members who emote online.

Again, communicating in the digital age requires strategic planning regarding what to say, who to say it to, and who should say it. That’s why it is so important to think ahead and have a developed policy about how your business or organization engages online.  In an era when talk is visible, it’s crucial that all internal decisions are made with communications in mind. Before staff changes are made or before internal decisions are made, consider how to message these to your staff and leadership. Doing so will help you control the message that inevitably gets out.   And, if someone does publicly say something contrary, your response will be ready.

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