Creating a Communications Strategy

If you haven’t heard of the Sweet Dreams Cooperative, you should. It’s a group of young, innovative women who design and sew beautiful hand-made products in San Francisco. My friend Arezoo and I were introduced to this organization through Spark (another organization I highly recommend getting to know!). We were asked to host a social media workshop designed to help the women market their products to a wider audience. Eight months later, we’re still working with these women and couldn’t be having more fun!

Sweet Dreams Zip Cases.
Image Credit: Sweet Dreams.

Sweet Dreams has many similarities to other programs I’ve consulted with: highly interested in social media, yet missing a communications strategy. Social media is fun, engaging, and exciting. It’s only natural to want to go ahead and dive right in. However, without a communications strategy in place, messages are often misconstrued, leaving the audience questioning your credibility. A communications strategy will be the backbone to your organization and will guide you through every outreach adventure. Let’s begin!

1. Define your organization. Simply put: who are you and what do you do? Try to make this as clear and concise as possible. Remember that when marketing online, anyone can see your content. These are often individuals who do not have an understanding of your mission or what you sell. If you’re representing a non-profit or social enterprise, clearly describe how your organization impacts a given issue. Your audience will not invest in your organization unless they believe your work has meaning and value.

2. Define your target audience. Who are you trying to reach and why? Make a list, and keep in mind that having several target audiences is very common. At IIE, we have about ten including young adults, program alumni, and like-minded organizations. Why? We need active people who engage on social media to spread the word about our work. We need to reach out to alumni because they are already invested in our organization and will (hopefully) continue to support us. With like-minded organizations, we can establish a mutual partnership that will allow us to support their events and programs while they do the same for us. Like-minded organizations are an asset not the competition.

3. Define your outreach goals. Why are you marketing? Do you want to sell more products? Do you want more donations, more volunteers and/or more people at your events? Make a list, try to keep it broad and try to keep it to five main bullet points. Keep in mind that this will be an evolving list.

These are the first steps in developing or reconstructing your communications strategy. It’s a great way to create the “big picture” strategy by brainstorming with your colleagues. Have fun during this process and always feel free to ask me questions!


Social Media for Good

As IIE West Coast Center’s first social media officer, I have the exciting opportunity of using innovative social media tools to introduce our work to a greater audience. Social media is used primarily to expose our training and scholarship opportunities to a wider audience, encourage followers to become involved with our programs, and to provide participants with a platform for continued connection through our extensive networks. IIE West Coast Center is relatively new to social media and we are currently in a stage of experimentation. By utilizing social media tools that allow us to effectively covey our mission, we hope to shape our outreach strategy and move in Beth Kanter’s words “from crawling to walking” and eventually flying.

After considering various options, I decided to work on designing and implementing a social media experiment for the IIE West Coast Center’s Twitter handle. My goal was to expand the reach of our organization and deliver focused content to our audience. To begin with, I have launched a “focus on hashtag” experiment for the duration of one month. This experiment outlines a Twitter schedule, consisting of a designated topic for each day of the week:

  • Mondays, using #education, focuses on IIE’s scholarship opportunities, resources for studying abroad, and reports on higher education throughout the world.
  • Tuesdays, using #technology, focuses on our technology programs, such as E-Mediat and TechWomen, upcoming conferences, and resources for women in STEM fields.
  • Wednesday, using #women, highlights the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives by featuring our expertise in women’s empowerment throughout the world.
  • Thursdays are dedicated to #socialgood, promoting volunteer openings, upcoming events, and opportunities with other like-minded organizations.
  • The week concludes with Fun Fridays, using #FF. The tweets are held in a light atmosphere, displaying photos of staff around the office and announcing new team members.

Since the experiment’s launch on February, 6th 2012, we’ve seen an increase of 50 new followers and an increase in the overall Klout score from the 30’s to the 40’s. The raw Klout scores show that there was a significant increase in our re-tweets which went from 63 to 106; our mentions increased from 76 to 99; and our true reach went from 183 to 297. With regards to our Klout style, we’ve moved from the socializer to the networker: focused and consistent.

The results above show that the experiment had a positive effect on our social media strategy, resulting in an increase in focused communications and engagement with the IIE West Coast Center audience. Designating topics to each day of the week established a sense of credibility with the audience and allowed for unique followers to identify with our organization. This experiment will need to be built upon, adding components of further engagement to expand the overall reach of the IIE West Coast Center. I am excited to continue learning about social media and work with new tools that complement our outreach efforts. I welcome all feedback and look forward to the next chapter in our social media adventure!

*In February, I was asked by the E-Mediat: Tools, Technology, and Training program to write for their blog on my recent experiment with social media for an international nonprofit, originally featured here