Elements of a good online communications plan

In the past week or so I’ve read through a few “website plans” and “online communications plans” that have been put together for Northwest environmental groups and all in all, I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with them. None of them seem to deliver all of the elements that you’d need in order to go all the way from idea to execution. I’ve talked this over quite a bit with my colleagues [Gideon](http://blogs.onenw.org/gideon) and Drew over the past couple of days, and I’m going to try to get some of my thoughts down here.

* Organizing goals — the purpose of advocacy communication is to inspire people to take specific actions that lead towards organizing goals. Therefore, a communications plan has to identify these goals at the outset — they will serve as a “north star” for the rest of the plan.

* Audiences — a communications plan has to identify the target audiences for the communications. “The general public” is not a valid answer. Niether is “moms.” This is an area where we’re still really weak. Doing useful audience segmentation seems to be kind of a black art, and it doesn’t seem to come very intuitively to our organizations — we are much more comfortable describing people in geographic, occupational and demographic terms than we are at positioning them psychologically. We need to get much better at describing our audiences in terms of their attitudes towards our issues.

* Desired outcomes — what are the attitude and behavior changes we’re trying to create?

* Influences — our communications plans need to identify the “forces and sources” that influence the attitudes and behaviors of our target audiences. For example, who do key legislators listen to when deciding how to vote on conservation issues? How do suburban moms decide whether to buy organic vegetables or not? Our communications strategies need to focus on getting our messages into the channels that actually influence our target audiences.

* Messages and framing — a good communications plan will talk about the good and bad language to use when talking about our issues to our target audiences. How do we create the linguistic structures that position our arguments as winners? Despite some recent good work on this by [George Lakoff](http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org) and crew at the Rockridge Institute, there still remains a great deal of work to be done on this important topic.

* Content — what content do our target audiences need? What services do they desire? What will engage them in fighting for our issues? We need to learn to see our issues from our audiences’ points of view, and structure our information in ways that make sense to them, not according to our organizational chart.

* Tactics — a good communications plan will contain specific ideas about effective communications tactics. Websites with features x, y. z. Press releases with specific elements. Specific advertising strategies, etc.

* Projects — tactics will be bundled into discrete, managable projects that are sequenced in a logical order.

* Resources — projects will have estimates of the time and money needed to execute them — and to sustain them on an ongoing basis.

What else is missing here?

9 thoughts on “Elements of a good online communications plan”

  1. Jon, great list, indeed well thought out.

    What I would add to the list in addition to desired outcomes, are measurable outcomes or metrics. I think this is vastly underrated and almost entirely overlooked by most NW environmental nonprofits. I am struggling with this now at our organization.


  2. Jon – uncanny that every time I need something you have already thought about it seconds before. This is great and ‘just in time.’ Thank you, as always.

  3. Audience segmentation can be very effectively based around a combination of basic demographics (income, education, age, children, etc), and values (whatever strongly motivates people, or elicits a feeling response). In Australia data has been collected from tens of thousands of people and turned into a segmentation system by Roy Morgan International. You can view their classification at: http://www.roymorgan.com/products/values-segments/
    Possibly there’s a similar system in the US and other countries?

    Each segment has a pretty concise set of values and beliefs (world view or mental model) associated with it, and targeting your messages around these has a huge impact on response. For example, the “Traditional Family Life” segment is largely focused on children, and providing a safe and secure environment and future for them. So messages framed in terms that elicit “vulnerable”, “precious”, “security”, “safety”, “protection”, “future” and “stability” would all work very well.

    A message about protecting an endangered species, which is targeted at a “Traditional Family Life” audience, might run: “This species is precious and vulnerable. It deserves a safe and secure future just as we do. In protecting this animal and the environment it lives in, we can help give our children a positive future – a world that’s beautiful, sustainable and filled with life.”

  4. Although the list is great, it is missing the fact that communication planning requires a great idea or strategy – and by this I mean the big picture plan, what is the journey we want to create and how will channels engage audiences and work together to achieve this. Another key point is envisioning what will happen beyond today’s communication activity. Although you may argue this is inferred through the rest of the steps and strategy most of the time is naval gazing – but big picture thinking is essential, even on a channel and messaging level.

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