I was recently reminded of how important it is to choose the right communications medium when I opened my office email after the July 4th holiday weekend. To my surprise, my in-box was chock full of emails—more than 200 of them. This seemed odd. Could there have been some massive event I wasn’t aware of? Then the culprit emerged. The university orchestra of my alma mater had sent out an email encouraging people to “chat” about their experiences in the group. Hmmm. A group chat through email? Not an invitation to join a list-serve or a fan group on Facebook?
I trolled through the first handful of emails and realized that not only had the organization chosen a poor format for this lovely outreach idea, but that almost everyone contacted had responded “reply all” when asking to be removed from the list. Voila! 200 increasingly nasty emails were created, and were still replicating as I watched. And one of the last ones I read reminded me of how badly your brand can be damaged by such a seemingly innocent mistake. An alumn said they couldn’t believe the university had sent such a missive and they wanted to be removed from all future lists and never hear from the place again. Ouch!
I quickly sent off an email to the VP of Public Affairs saying, essentially, “your brand is on fire.”
Brand wound self-infliction isn’t as uncommon as you would think. The Washington Post recently produced marketing fliers promoting a series of private, sponsored off-the-record dinners between policymakers and journalists that set off a firestorm of controversy about whether or not the Post could maintain its brand of journalistic impartiality.
So, how to choose the correct medium for your message?
1. Know Your Audience. It’s important to know how your audience prefers to be communicated with. I recently sat on a marketing panel at an independent schools conference and one audience member asked whether they should be sending out emails or Facebook invitations to their alumns. I responded with another question “have you ever asked them?” It’s really important to periodically query your target audience(s) about how they like to be reached. A quick email survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey can suffice.
2. Know Your Options. Trying to jump-start a conversation that goes on beyond your initial contact? A Facebook page or Linked In group might work best. Trying to get customers to respond to something new? Offer a clickable coupon link that also takes them to other content you want viewed. Want to reach potential donors? Send them a link to a You-Tube video that tells a short but compelling story about real people benefiting from your organization’s work. And be wary of e-newsletters. If you must send them, make sure they have easy navigation and clickable links to full articles (one group I support still sends a PDF–yuck!).
3. Know Your Limitations. Donors and customers don’t want to hear from you every day. Prospective donors and customers want to hear from you even less. So be thoughtful about your communications tool, and then the content you deliver with it. Offer information and connectivity that is truly useful to them.
4. Know Your Internal Content Generators. Yes you have standards and best practices. Surely my alma mater does. But clearly not everyone knows them. That’s because users/content generators are everywhere, not just in the PR office. Educate early and often. Rinse and repeat.
5. Know Your Power. Electronic and social media, when used correctly, can greatly magnify and support your brand. Use them well…or else.
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