Navigating the Communications Landscape

Whether you’re an association, a non-profit organization, a university, a bank, or just an occasional blogger with delusions of grandeur, the communications landscape today is fascinating, challenging, fast-paced and, above all, complicated. The standalone monthly magazine is becoming a thing of the past. Email newsletters have long since ceased to be the answer to our prayers. Thanks to search engine results, your website’s home page may or may not be the entry point for new users of your site.

As communicators, we must now face the sometimes overwhelming reality that our readers may be connected to our words and images anywhere, any time, and in any format. So how are we to meet all of their needs?

Here are a few things I try to remember when I’m puzzling it out.

First, who am I talking to? Knowing your readers, anticipating their needs and their interests, and accurately offering the information that they’ll want is critical. Writing to your reader has always been step one. No technology — no app, no fancy phone, no flashy interface — is going to change that. There will be decisions to make about what to say and how to say it, but we can’t make those decisions until we know who’s at the other end of the outgoing message.

Second, where are my readers? I’m not the New York Times or (on the other end of the spectrum) Perez Hilton. People aren’t going to come looking for me, and chances are, they’re not going to come looking for you either. There are dozens of channels to choose from, but we’re not doing the choosing – our readers are. As communicators, it’s our job to find our audiences and get in front of them to present messages compelling enough to turn heads and change minds.

Third, what’s the right medium for my message? Twenty years ago I had Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is the message” drilled into my head as a journalism major. It’s more true every day. Whether you choose to communicate via Facebook, or YouTube, or a mobile app, or a skywriter, your choice becomes part of your message. Your message needs to be perfectly aligned with the channel. Choose wisely, and plan appropriately.

Finally, what’s my big picture? As a writer, I need to consider the fact that anything I write today will be considered not on its own, but in the context of everything that’s come before. And what I write today will have an impact on how tomorrow’s message is perceived. A website, a blog post, a facebook status update — all should be mutually reinforcing. If possible, I also want to boost traffic by encouraging one channel to lead readers to the next.

There’s no simple answer here, and the communications world is getting more complicated all the time. We’ve mastered Facebook, we’ve shaken hands with LinkedIn, we’ve found ourselves on FourSquare, and we’re getting to know Pinterest, but what’s next? I trust my smarty pants colleagues at Elliance to figure that out. But I think these basic tenets in communications will always go a long way toward making sure that we stay on track, regardless of how the landscape evolves.