Every business needs a strong communication plan. This defines how the company reaches all the key players in its sphere, including stakeholders, investors, employees and customers. The plan will specify not only how the business reaches key individuals but also the message that it conveys at each touch point. Planning company communications means addressing brand voice, identifying core messages, scheduling marketing campaigns, defining internal communications pathways and more.
Company communication plans are straightforward, in-depth and comprehensive. For students pursuing a master’s in communication degree, preparation for building such plans comes from curricula that covers everything from cultural communication and global leadership to digital media and public interest. A strong knowledge base in communications can provide the core essentials for building an ever-evolving strategy that maintains effective lines of communication both internally and externally. Some key points to address moving forward with a communications plan this year include how to:
- Properly analyze data from past communications efforts
- Maintain an effective social strategy
- Utilize the latest technologies
- Efficiently handle crisis communications
Importance of a Strong Communication Plan
Brian Sullivan, principal and CEO of Sullivan Branding, states that, “Internal communications deserve the same level of thought and creativity as external communications.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of branding and marketing that’s equally engaging for those within the company and without. A strong communications plan should infiltrate every part of the business, reaching out to employees and customers alike and aligning them with the brand’s values and goals.
Less than half of respondents in a Ragan survey indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with internal communications in their companies. This is clearly an area where many businesses can seek to improve. In businesses with fewer than 500 employees, dissatisfaction with internal communications is 15 percentage points higher than larger businesses, so small businesses may have a particularly challenging task ahead of them.
Eighty-nine percent of companies indicate that their most important goal is increasing employee engagement, and 69% aim to reduce information overload. Coincidentally, one may help achieve the other. Employees who receive only properly targeted information won’t be stretched as thin, making it easier to engage with the information they do receive. A strong internal communications plan can help streamline essential activities within any company.
The value of external communications is more obvious. Sharing information with current and prospective customers through marketing campaigns and strategies is at the very heart of any plan for business growth and success. In an age of ever-changing communication channels, there is no tried-and-true way to reach one’s audience. Constant evaluations and updates are needed to ensure that a company’s communications are successful.
How to Develop a 2021 Communication Plan
As we move through 2020, businesses need to make sure they’re working with current communication plans. Outdated strategies and overdone approaches won’t connect well with modern audiences who are savvy to the tricks of the trade. Take a mindful approach to communications based on a careful evaluation of past successes and a close examination of the latest algorithms and updates that are in place across social sites and other touchpoints on the internet.
Assess Success from Previous Years
Evaluate key marketing and communications data from from previous to see where the company is coming from. Did it have a stellar year where the business maintained peak customer engagement, built its client base and landed a significant number of sales? If the company is coming off a strong year, it can approach 2020 strong, with the goal of maintaining momentum and doing more of the same. However, if it had a lackluster year, it’s important to assess the information available and find out why.
When addressing an external communications plan, the most important metrics to measure are:
- Sales and revenue, particularly by campaign
- Social media engagement
- Conversion rate
- Cost per customer acquisition
- Lead generation
Specific campaigns may call professionals to assess other numbers as well. For example, with an email campaign, one wants to know the click-to-open rate. Ultimately, the measure of success for any type of external communication is if and how it changed customer behavior. Sarah Hanel of VASCO Data Security notes that, “Marketing campaigns measure seemingly endless metrics, but the only one that matters is whether the campaign changed the target audience’s behavior.”
Solidify Social Presence
The world of social media is continuously evolving, forcing companies to constantly evaluate and adapt. Several changes took place in 2018 that should reshape the way businesses approach social sites. Early in 2018, Facebook updated its algorithm to prioritize content from family and friends over business posts. Posts must generate conversions to continue enjoying a spot in customers’ news feeds. Facebook Groups offer one valuable way to drive engagement, giving businesses the perfect place to build a community around their brands. Treating clients more like friends may prove the most effective way to continue ranking on social sites.
Videos and stories are another popular way to connect with customers. In 2018, Instagram launched shoppable media, which allows companies to link directly to their products and services from photos posted in their feeds. According to a study by Facebook, a third of Instagrammers reported that they became more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Instagram Stories.
Looking to the future, businesses should keep a close eye on social algorithms and tailor their communications strategies to boost engagement on these sites. Currently, this means interacting regularly with customers via social media and participating in active discussions that help them see the business as a friendly entity they can interact with.
Target Top Technologies
To make the best possible use of new technologies, companies need to think several steps ahead. Data collection is critical to utilizing newly evolving AI-powered devices to their full potential. Yaagneshwaran Ganesh of Fiind Inc. notes that, “In the next two years, the resistance to AI might come down once we begin to see the synergy and begin regulating it to ensure it doesn’t pose any major threat.”
Artificial intelligence can both automate and humanize communications. However, consumer data is essential to improving and streamlining AI functionality. Gathering this data puts companies face-to-face with the challenges of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law applies to any business with users or customers in the European Union, whether that business is based in the EU or not.
The GDPR went into effect on May 25, 2018. Moving forward, it’s important for businesses to craft a communications plan that allows them to collect and utilize important data without violating the terms of this ruling. This primarily means that companies need to gain explicit consent to collect and utilize user information.
Evaluate the Crisis Communication Plan
A well-rounded communications plan addresses more than just marketing campaigns. Companies need to make sure they’re prepared to handle more critical issues as well — namely, crisis communications. A company crisis can take many forms, from an unsubstantiated scandal to a clear case of misconduct. While no business wants to face the fallout of a corporate crisis, it’s crucial to implement a plan for effectively dealing with this type of situation. One untimely press release or thoughtless comment to the media can cripple a company.
A well-rounded crisis communication plan includes:
- Clear delegation of the individuals who will handle the company’s response
- Strict guidelines for other employees regarding the proper way to handle the media
- A step-by-step plan for gathering facts and crafting a statement
- Outline of corporate values to emphasize in response to a crisis
- Suggested timeline for releasing crisis information internally and externally
Crisis statements issued in response to the event should contain essential details, including an outline of what happened and why. The company should communicate compassion for anyone impacted by the crisis and emphasize the importance of respect, privacy and confidentiality for those affected. Finally, these statements must include details on the reparations, remedy and response to the issue.
Companies that have a crisis communication plan in place should revisit it to make sure it’s properly updated for 2020. Those that have not addressed this part of their communications plan yet should do so immediately.
Maintaining an effective communications plan is a task that requires constant evaluation and refinement. Communications professionals must continually check in with their current strategies and make sure they’re in line with the latest algorithms from social media giants and search engine behemoths. In an increasingly crowded media space, it takes tech-savvy professionals who are focused on the future to break through the barriers to communication and successfully engage audiences.
For professionals interested in pursuing advanced communications positions, the USC online Master of Communication Management degree through the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is designed for those navigating modern communications channels. It may also help to equip students with the skills and insights necessary to keep up with emerging technologies and developments as they happen in the future. Ongoing education and research are critical for any business that wants to stay relevant in a world where changes happen as quickly as the click of a mouse.