I recently wrapped up a communication audit for a client. Through the audit, we shared an analysis of the organization’s current communications situation along with recommendations as it moves forward. While this was a long process, involving nearly 15 interviews, hours of locking myself away (a special thank you to the Sabo PR team) and reviewing and re-reviewing notes prior to providing counsel, it was a great opportunity to really go back to the communication basics.
The interviews, which involved speaking with a series of stakeholders from various facets of the organization, highlighted the importance of a key component to good communication: listening. It was a privilege to be able to speak with all the stakeholders, ask them questions, hear their feedback and then take those insights back to the client so they can be put to good use.
I’ve shared before that I fundamentally believe our role as communicators is to be a bridge between an organization and the stakeholders it serves. It’s nearly impossible to be that bridge unless you know – and understand – what your audience is thinking, wanting and needing. While we’re not always going to have the opportunity to speak so directly to your stakeholders as I did through this process, there are a number of ways you can listen to what they are saying.
- Social Media: This is a great – and easy way – to get a pulse on your audience. Of course, there are the direct comments and messages to glean nuggets of information. A note of caution – take comments with a grain of salt. That said, if you’re seeing similar buckets of comments, those should be insights you pay attention to. You should also consult your analytics to see what what types of content are getting the most engagement. This can help you understand exactly what your audience is looking for.
- Website: Similar to social media, using Google Analytics or other tracking tools, you can see what most interests those who visit your website. Especially for dynamic content, such as blogs, it’s a no-brainer to see which ones perform the best – and try to repeat that success moving forward. You can also directly have feedback forms on your website to offer your stakeholders an opportunity to share their thoughts.
- Surveys: If you are able, periodic surveys are one of the best ways to solicit feedback. While these can be sophisticated outreach efforts, they don’t have to break the bank. Even if you’re a small shop, using an online tool, like SurveyMonkey can provide an opportunity for your stakeholders to share their thoughts – and deliver insights you might not have had before.
- Embrace negative reviews: Negative reviews can be hard pills to swallow. You’ve worked hard at creating your brand and you want everyone to have the best experience possible. However, think of negative reviews as a gift to help you improve. They not only point out flaws in your organization, but help you avoid similar situations in the future.
- Your (non-communications) team: I love talking with various people within an organization, especially those working directly with stakeholders every single day. I want to hear what stakeholders are telling them because it can help bring to light issues you never knew about. Your team also feels valued – and can appreciate the role of communications more – if they are offered an opportunity to contribute.
Finally, while this isn’t exactly a hard-and-fast tactic, I would encourage you to always be listening. You never know when you might get some good feedback. I always get excited when I’m with a group of acquaintances, particularly ones who aren’t familiar with my clients, and a client is brought up. I immediately perk up to hear what they have to say and then try to sneak in a question or two before revealing my affiliation with the organization. It’s been helpful over the years to get anecdotal evidence that the work we’re doing is good – or what perhaps there is a point we need to hit on that wasn’t on our radar.
Your stakeholders can often tell you exactly what you should be doing – making your job much easier. While I think most of us know this, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work. While you’re planning out that next campaign or developing a new program, be sure to listen through all the various channels at your disposal so you can give your audience what it wants.