Five Trends in Communications

Abraham Lincoln

"In this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed." ~ Abraham Lincoln


5 Trends in Strategic Communications

This post is part of our inaugural Trendspotting Series profiling important ideas that will be shaping some major fields of interest in 2017. Each piece represents the views of its author(s) and not the views of the Council.

1. THE SOCIAL SECTOR WILL BE MORE OPEN, INCLUSIVE, AND AUTHENTIC

The best way to be compelling is to be yourself. While you need emotion and logic to win over an audience, the science of communications has made clear that emotion is more effective. Connecting emotionally is how we build trust and relationships. More conversations and fewer press releases will help you engage a more enthusiastic and committed audience that is invested in your work and can spread your message.

No institution can keep people at arm’s length in a digital world, where your website, email, Twitter, and Facebook are publically available. As more organizations look to connect with the public, they will adopt a more personal approach, characterized by the same actions that people bring to their relationships every day:

  • Use simple language to explain what you do.
  • Engage in two-way conversations with your followers.
  • Cut out jargon.
  • Let your personality show through.
2. COMMUNICATIONS WILL BE DATA-DRIVEN AND INFORMED BY RESEARCH

More and more organizations are investing in communications data and research to further their missions. A big part of communications research is listening.

Quantitative research failed to predict the 2016 election, but this should not serve as an indictment of data-driven communications. We learned that qualitative research like focus groups and message testing are more valuable in understanding how your communications are being heard.

Ford Foundation’s American Aspirations research represents a significant effort to understand how to increase the organization’s impact and influence. By studying people’s hopes for their lives, Ford is seeking to connect its work with people in a precise way.

There are easy ways to get started understanding the narratives and messages that will have an impact. Try SurveyMonkey or hold an informal focus group of your stakeholders. Just ask, then listen…even when it isn’t comfortable.

3. DIGITAL STRATEGY WILL BE ENGAGING, TARGETED, & CONSISTENT

Facebook logged 1.5 billion users in one month this year. That’s over one-fifth of the world seeking to connect to people and information, and this participation is accelerating.

An interconnected world opens opportunities for idea sharing that span oceans. Facebook Live and Periscope give you the ability to bring people into your world and let them see you unfiltered. They also give you an opportunity to share exciting news “as it happens,” and get immediate reactions. With more tools being created every day, organizations will have to set clear objectives for who they want to reach and be intentional about how they should be mobilized.

4. EVERY PERSON IN AN ORGANIZATION WILL BE PUSHED TO KNOW THE STORY OF THEIR WORK

Many organizations struggle to explain who they are, what they do, and why it matters. In the Information Age, this deficit is critical. Everybody in social sector organizations must be engaged in telling the same story.

Brain science tells us that storytelling will have much greater impact than any presentation can. Consequently, more and more organizations are practicing innovative storytelling.

Science-informed tools have emerged to help organizations develop their own stories. Hatch for Good is an interactive tool designed to walk you through the entire process of creating an impactful story. And Stories Worth Telling curates the best examples of what’s working.

5. INFLUENCE RECOGNIZED AS A STRATEGIC ASSET

Americans are looking to the social sector for leadership, because they’ve lost trust in traditional institutions and government. This growing influence presents an opportunity to fill the trust gap.

As Neill Coleman, VP of Global Communications at The Rockefeller Foundation, puts it: “Deployed strategically, influence can be one of the most important tools for impact…[It] is a force multiplier that foundations and nonprofits can no longer afford to regard as optional.”

We are long past the time when “strategic communications” is interchangeable with PR. Smart communications is two-way, allowing an organization to listen and learn while it educates. It cultivates and understands important audiences and narratives. It shares compelling stories. It builds relationships and deploys influence. It convenes. It designs. It creates conversations.

Sean Gibbons is Executive Director of the Communications Network, which supports foundations and nonprofits to improve lives through the power of smart communications. Tristan Mohabir is Editorial and Operations Officer at the Communications Network.

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