Top 5 Smart Communications Practices

Posted on September 29, 2010

Are You Doing What It Takes To Be A Winner?

Foreword to 4/4/4

Four Communications Issues.

Four Perspectives.

Four Weeks. Blog Series

This is the 4th and final edition of this series that I am writing with Todd Defren, Lou Hoffman, and Paul Roberts. Do we agree? Maybe, maybe not. You can read Todd’s Here, Lou’s Here, and Paul’s Here.

For some great additional perspectives on this topic I encourage you to visit Don Jennings, Hans de Groot, and Dan Holden.

Top 5 Smart Communications Practices

By Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology)

Best practices is a misnomer. It makes the assumption that everyone is in the same situation. You know what works best for you. You know what is smart for your situation. So, let’s just say smart practices, okay? I have picked the items for my top 5 list that I felt were universal to every communicator’s success, but weren’t universally adopted.

Kill Your Spokesperson

When it hits the fan for a client the first thing I recommended was that their rank and file employees not say a word to anyone, and refer everyone to the designated spokesperson. That’s what we did in the old days…about three plus years ago. With the proliferation of social channels you can no longer realistically expect to keep a tight lid on information.

The likelihood of intentional and unintentional information leakage is a fact of corporate life even among the best communications practitioners. You can fruitlessly fight the reality, or be Sun Tzu-esque and turn it to your advantage.

It makes more sense to take a holistic approach to you communications, and use social media to keep your staff well informed with what you are doing and what they can share. In these moments leaders can either build trust, or lose trust, with employees, vendors, customers, and the general public based on the choices those leaders make.

I’m not suggesting that you encourage employees to talk to the media, but what if your process was so transparent that it wouldn’t matter if they did? Employees are going to Facebook, tweet, blog, Flickr, YouTube, and talk to neighbors over the fence. The talking heads on TV have talked themselves to death. Who you gonna trust? Some old guy/gal in a tie, or the actual salt-of-the-earth people who make-up a company? Make them a solution, not another problem to “deal” with.

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Go Vertical

With social media there is a very powerful opportunity for us to find and talk directly to the people who make up our precise target markets: micro-communities of individuals who self-identify and self-organize. Wow! Pinch me I must be dreaming!

However, an unfortunate trend of companies “engaging” in social media is the tendency to bastardize their social portals in to corp. comm. spew-all content channels. Kind of a, “Hmmmm, what’s that? Never mind, just put it in with the rest of the sausage meat,” content repurposing approach.

Why do so many companies who spend truckloads of cash on traditional advertising or tradeshows, which have questionable returns on investment, but only have one generic blog, Twitter account, or Facebook page? I understand the constant difficulty of creating quality content, but you can always reallocate budgets to hire great writers or community managers who will produce compelling content all day long. News organizations do it everyday.

I know that between vested interests and lethargy change is difficult. However, if you want to start selling more of your company’s products why not nurture and actively contribute to a few micro-communities of your most influential target markets, too?

Be Truthful and Do Good

While many executives I know would say they are honest and good people, if pressed they will admit in confidence to obfuscation and lying by omission in business situations. We see this everyday in the news. Somehow even otherwise high-quality folks rationalize this kind of transgression in business as acceptable. In today’s connected world lies, or the appearance of lying, is spotted, highlighted, and broadcasted at a devastating pace. It has never been a healthy practice, but the general public’s limited communication options allowed this behavior to go more or less unchecked. Not any more.

Just because you don’t see your behavior doesn’t mean everyone else can’t see it. The only person you are truly deceiving is yourself. Good luck with that.

Being truthful and doing good are cultural qualities that are deeply influenced from management on down. No organizations is perfect, but if those qualities are not apart of your management’s core philosophy, you might want to find a new job elsewhere. If you are a business leader, what are you doing to tangibly foster this as a company value?

Measure Your Impact

Often communication goals are sacrificed to the god of expediency. Goals need to be framed in such a way that their measurement is intrinsic in their expression. There are several ways to slice a goal, but when you are done writing them down it should be obvious why you are doing the project and how you will measure success. If you can answer these three questions properly, your measurement should be self-evident:

Q: Why are we doing this?

The answer has to align with a clear goal of the larger organization, and that should align cleanly with a company goal or two. Ideally it suggests a business result, or other clear strategic advantage in support of a business result. So, a goal of increased awareness is weak tea. If your answer encompasses a unique benefit of your product that generates more demos when prospects hear about it, or better yet, increases closed sales by 5%, then you’re going in the right direction.

Q: Who are we talking to and why?

As communicators you must be intimately familiar with your organization’s sales process. Who reviews, recommends, and approves your product’s purchase? Is it the same person? Multiple people? What are their titles? What information needs do they have at each phase of the sales cycle? Too many communicators arrogantly feel that sales process knowledge is beneath them. Why? Our job is to persuade, right? So, who are you going to talk to and why? Maybe something like: Design engineers at the top 50 Ubiquitous-Centric Network manufactures who review and request our product demos.

Q: What will be different and when?

This is the part that can be scary because this is where you say what you are going to measure and in what timeframe. The reason people often find it difficult to do is because their head trash. If they put a number down and then miss it they think that’s a failure. That’s like saying if a runner tracks his time he will never be a fast runner. You measure your progress to know what works and what doesn’t. You do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. It’s not rocket science.

If the data says that increasing the number of demos by X increases the companies close rate by Y, then your answer might be to increase the number of demo requests from prospects by 5% in six months. Now you can measure your organization’s impact on the bottom line.

Yes, finding the right metrics to measure takes time and work, but it can be done. If you succeed at documenting your effectiveness, then that demonstrates to management the value of communications. Instead of being the first group on the budget chopping block in tough times, now you can show why increasing your budget makes dollars and sense.


Why so many companies squander the gift that is social media monitoring is a mystery to me. In the past we had to pay boatloads of cash for focus groups and surveys. While social media chatter has pluses and minuses, just like every other form of feedback, it can be a boon to strategic insight.

Like social media itself, investing in a social media monitoring program is a waste of staff, resources, management focus, and budget if you approach it as an action item to check off and move on. Making it merely a de facto social media clip book is just stupid. However, if you smartly integrate it into the organization you can make it a strategic decision making platform that gives you an unfair advantage over the competition.

By including the right team members from your organization and setting the right goals, you can generate actionable data from a social media monitoring program. The team should include managers and executives who supervise or implement lead generation, corporate communications, public relations, branding, sales, product marketing, and customer service. Your organizations size and dynamics will be the best guide to the teams best configuration. If you start with a smaller core team, just make sure that growing the program’s benefits to other departments is part of your roadmap.

You may need to show these groups what value a listening program can bring, but it’s there if you look. Each group may have unique needs, but here are the data outcomes that seem like a good place to begin:

  • Sales: competitor intelligence, dissatisfaction by customers with competitors’ or your own products, and new sales opportunities.

  • Branding: mindshare, context of the product in relation to specific conversation topics, and the company and its competitor’s attribute ownership, e.g., luxury, quality, etc.

  • Product marketing and development: product issues, trends, customer product requirements, and competitor weaknesses.

  • Public Relations: early warning of communication crisis, identification of influencers, and influencer mapping to understand interrelationships and subgroups.

  • Corporate Communications: message resonances and effectiveness, thought leadership trends, and share of conversation by topic.

  • Customer Service: Un-happy campers. Duh.

The End Of #444PR Blog Series

Seeing the diversity of perspectives, and shared ideas, has been much more rewarding than I could have imagined. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye, for now, to my blog brothers. I deeply appreciate Lou Hoffman, Todd Defren, and Paul Roberts for making this project a reality with their generosity of time and spirit. Thank you!

Also, to those who joined in for some or all of the topics, I want to thank Hans de Groot, Dan Holden, Don Jennings, Larry Jones, Steve Lamb,  and Benjamin Ellis.


For some great additional perspectives on this topic I encourage you to visit Hans de Groot, Dan Holden, and Don Jennings.