strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Archive for the tag “community”

How does Your Company Measure Up?

Strategic communication professionals must balance a large variety of tasks every day for their company or organization. Not only do internal communications need to be practiced through e-mail, staff meetings, and feedback options, they also must ensure their external communications are conveying the right message to their audience. This blog has talked about the use of social media, the importance of internal and external relationships, and advertising strategies to reach the most people. Now, after a communications professional has gone through the long checklist of disseminating messages, how does one know whether or not the communication plan is successful?

When thinking in terms of company success, there are many tangible and intangible factors with big roles. Success is partly the big numbers at the end of the year. Were product sale goals met/exceeded? Was a certain product acquisition a good investment in terms of revenue? Numbers and quantitative data are convenient measures of a company’s success. However, another important part of overall success is the audience’s perception of your company. Are your products being received positively or negatively? Does your company’s reputation fit well with the community? Does your company have a long, solid relationship with both the consumers and the community?

Intangible factors like feelings and perceptions can sometimes be most important, but are often not considered. As long as employees get their proper paycheck there is nothing to worry about. Think of what the media defines as successful companies: Apple, Microsoft, and Google. These big name brands are not just successful because their products are used every day—they also value internal and external relationships. These brands have had their share of struggles, but being able to withstand good internal and external relationships for so long has made them trusted names in the world. They prove their worth through their services.

When evaluating a campaign, it is important to go back to a company’s original objectives. Objectives can be those specific numbers in sales mentioned before, but they can also be intangible. Perhaps with the selling of a certain product, you company also wants to raise awareness on a topic. Every bottle of Dawn dish soap features a statement about how Dawn saves wildlife. Their website features the statement “Every time you use dishwashing liquid from Dawn, you help save wildlife.” Customers that frequently buy Dawn will expect a picture of an animal on the front of the bottle and understand that Dawn is used to clean wildlife in terms of environmental disasters. When evaluating Dawn, strategic communicators can look at how much Dawn sells, how many visits to their official webpage occurred as a result of inquiry on how it helps save animals, and how many new volunteers sign up.

dawn

Sometimes internal employees can determine the success of a project within a company. The old idea about learning from failure definitely applies in the professional world. I can think of times when I was working on a project with a team and we were so confident that we were close to finishing when suddenly something else was thrown in that required us to start all over. Had we taken the time to fully understand the task, we could have prevented having to start over. However, when the next project came along, we were sure to hold a meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page about what needed to be done. What was so important during these tasks was that our leaders never faltered. No one had a negative attitude or wanted to quit. No one blamed anyone for mistakes. We just opened the floor for more suggestions and knew that we would complete the project if we continued to work hard and communicate with one another. Success of a company can be measured in terms of relationship commitment. Openness and assurance in all internal communications as well as emphasizing the human condition will show company success in terms of employee satisfaction. No matter the level of employee, all humans want to be treated as though they are a valued asset of a company. Employees with positive outlooks who continue to work hard are another factor to observe when evaluating success.

While this may not seem the most official way to measure a company’s success, what the public opinion says about a company speaks volumes. I have mentioned the Glassdoor app in previous posts, and how you can view rankings of companies based on a number of factors. However, when I chose to write my own review of a company, I was prompted with questions that will fill those rankings that can be viewed by anyone online. Review sites such as this one or Yelp can assist in evaluating a company as whole.

The first question is to define if you are a current or former employee, which could be the most important question to answer. Is your company satisfying to current employees? Do employees leave your company with positive comments about it? The next question is to list some Pros about working there as if “you are talking to a friend.” Glassdoor understands the impact of Word-of-mouth marketing, and gives current/former employees a chance to praise a company in a way that is comfortable to most people. The next section is to describe cons, or challenges, of working at the company. Finally, the last question is “Advice to Management.” This is where users can express their opinions on how the company is managed. Does upper management encourage growth? Do they accept employee feedback and promote two-way communication?

All of the reviews are anonymous, because Glassdoor wants users to give the full picture of a company. This benefits those looking for a job, but it also gives leaders of companies an opportunity to view how people feel about their work environment and services. Obviously, there are always the setbacks of scorned employees or current employees being asked to give positive reviews, so it is important to understand these reviews may not be 100% accurate. However, these feedback sites usually come up when Googling a specific company, and it would be beneficial for users to see a high rating.

Measuring a company’s success ultimately serves as a summary of each week’s topic these past eight weeks. Companies will find success if leaders are encouraging, open, innovative, and informative. Leaders who get a company excited about a product or cause will see the excitement transfer in both sales and general employee wellness. Reviews, word-of-mouth, and numbers all contribute to measuring success and will be useful in the overall evaluation of a company’s work.

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Working from the Inside Out

When thinking of a company organizational chart, it is similar to this:

organization-chart

All positions ultimately lead up to an executive member. The executive is considered the leader of the company because that role is in charge of most of the important decisions that affect the good of the company. However, a leader is not simply someone who is in charge of making decisions. A leader cannot lead without a team, and to maintain a team, a leader must know how to communicate with every individual. A leader must work well with colleagues, subordinates, and those outside of the organization. Leaders in all organizations, whether it be business, nonprofit, or a government agency, need to know how to communicate internally in order to communicate their messages externally. Employees who have experience with efficient communication in the office will be able to use these strategies when working with outside clients to ensure satisfactory customer service. Outside relations are a reflection of inside environments.

When managing a company or organization, it is crucial that associates are satisfied with their work. Obviously there will always be some sort of issue or complaint depending on the day, but employees should be content with coming to work each day. If there is an ongoing issue that prohibits work, and no one feels they can turn to anyone for help, the problem only increases in its burden. Leaders need to be attainable and willing to step in when necessary. Dr. John Klein discusses types of work cultures in his essay. A “dehumanizing culture” is one where employees are considered lazy and ineffective in the workplace. Their feedback to their superiors is either ignored or never brought up for fear of punishment. How productive can that culture actually be?

Possible solutions of fixing a dehumanizing cultures include opening the door to any and all employee feedback. No leader is so great that he or she does not need advice every once in a while, and good leaders will understand that. It is the leader’s responsibility that the office runs smoothly, and part of that responsibility is to take in account all employee viewpoints. Department meetings should be more than just “any questions or concerns?” Instead, a department could try out new methods of conducting meetings each week. Perhaps one member of the team will lead the meetings each week. This would give each associate a chance to discuss any feedback in a supportive setting. This method would give each employee more experience with leading, and would allow everyone to see what works well and what could be improved.

messagefeedback

Leanne Glenny observes that in terms of government communications, “communication is no longer recognized as an act performed by one entity upon another. Participants are not considered as passive bystanders as their interpretations lead to the creation of meaning.” The idea of two-way communication is applied to all groups and is especially key in internal communications. A constant dialogue should be active in all workplaces to ensure all employees are on the same page.

Consider the following scenario:

A team in a company conducts an audit to see if each hired employee has all important paperwork completed and on file. The audit shows that there are key documents missing from a number of employees in both the main office and offices in the field, including some executives. These employees must be notified they have to complete these documents in a timely manner, but it is important for identities to be discreet in terms of privacy. The resolution is to send out an e-mail explaining the procedure to complete the paperwork, but to blind copy (Bcc) each employee on it so no one can see who else has received it. The e-mail is proofed, approved, and sent to the select employees. It only takes a minute for people to respond. Responses include “Was this meant to be sent to me?” “Was I supposed to be bcc’d on this?” “What was wrong with my paperwork in the first place?” “Can you explain further?”

email-

What seemed like a simple solution actually created a whirlwind of confusion. There were good intentions behind the method of the e-mail, but the message was not correctly conveyed. The team must get together to work out how to better explain not only the content of the e-mail, but why they chose to blind copy everyone on it. A brief meeting results in a to-the-point explanation that is e-mailed to the employees, using bcc again to protect identity. The reason that new paperwork was required was explained as well as how the blind copy e-mail was the most efficient and discreet way to reach everyone. Again, people respond, but this time with varying forms of “Thank you for the clarification.” The team had to work through two solutions in order to solve the initial problem, but the result showed that everyone had a mutual understanding on what needed to be done. This process will also require a number of follow-up e-mails until each employee has completed the paperwork. Communication takes work!

During my internship there were times when e-mails or phone calls were sufficient for certain tasks, and other times when it was best to physically go to another employee’s office. Interpersonal communication is a great strategy to connect with employees, if done correctly. Advantages of interpersonal communications include being able to fully explain instructions and providing immediate clarification if needed. Many times e-mails may unintentionally convey the wrong message or tone. It is important to remember that when communicating face-to-face with others, vulnerabilities such as facial expressions or body language may hinder the meaning. The best way to have effective interpersonal communication is for both parties to share a mutual respect for each other and the organization. A relaxed environment in which employees are listening with intent to understand by maintaining eye contact and having a pleasant attitude will promote effective communication. Offices are busy, but when working with people it is important to create opportunities to treat them like people.

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Communication makes all the difference in completing tasks, and the more communication that takes place, the more a company will improve as a whole.

A quote to leave you with that was sent to me from an expert communicator and leader:

“Make a careful list of the things done to you that you absolutely hated, that demotivated you. never do those to others…ever. Now, make a careful list of the things that motivated and inspired you. Do those with others…always…without fail.”  -Dee Hock.

Step into a Leader’s Shoes

Building on last week’s topic of the diffusion of innovations, this week’s topic is on interpersonal communication and opinion leaders.There are certain steps each new idea goes through before it reaches a wide audience. These steps involve interactions not only within an organization, but with outside consumers as well. Why do some products trend more than others? How do companies keep their customers interested? Communication is an extremely large factor in elevating public interest, and there is much behind the scenes work in getting the right information out there.

Word of mouth (WOM) communication is a powerful tool for in sales. In fact, Okazaki states in his study using the social influence model that as much as “67% of sales of consumer goods are based on personal information sources.” WOM was increased with the Internet sensation, but has now reached a new level through mobile devices. Consumers can take these mobile devices anywhere, so what better strategy than to have mobile advertisements and information readily available to anyone, anywhere?

Ford embraced mobile WOM by rewarded active social media users with a free Ford Fiesta. It is safe to say that receiving a free car will get a customer to talk about a company’s product. However, it is important for a company to do more than a one social media campaign. A company cannot just have one big social media event and think it will stay relevant in this fast-paced world. Starbucks has succeeded in the art of social media posts that continually impact the in-store experience. They have revamped their pages to invite customers to share their ideas, as well as to announce in-store promotions on each of these sites. The pages are thriving on the idea of a social culture and influence: friends will go to the coffee shop together; an individual will go to see live music or attend a special event knowing people will be there.

Today was my last day as an intern at the Shoe Carnival corporate office. To say the past five months have been a learning experience would be an understatement. Working in the corporate office allowed me to see how everything in each department comes together to ensure success in the stores. Shoe Carnival has mastered the art of interpersonal influence by supporting the community and participating in nationwide charities. The company is also run by opinion leaders, those who aren’t afraid to try out the next big thing, or those who have a strong influence on others.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk discusses the attributes that make a great leader. Throughout the talk he repeats the idea that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Shoe Carnival’s leaders are more than willing to try something new to improve their stores and give families more opportunities for affordable merchandise. Their stores are expanding to states they have never inhibited before, and their advertisements have recently reached a national level. Their Instagram account is updated weekly along with fresh Facebook posts. They have also adopted better shipping techniques to ensure customers will get their products in a timely matter. The biggest change seen in the stores is the increased amount of higher quality brands over the past year. Many were concerned introducing higher-priced brands would take away from the affordable, family values, but they found a way to bring higher end brands to more affordable prices. The company is truly thinking from the inside out by focusing on the purpose of their shoe sales, and not just the fact that they have products.

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like best. 

Shoe Carnival is known to be a family-friendly store, and the company takes pride in its family values. How do customers know about these values? When you enter a Shoe Carnival store you will see a basketball shooting game for children/teens to play. Each store features a person on a microphone that announces deals and a wheel for customers to spin to receive additional savings. This fun atmosphere is directed towards families and makes their shopping experience more enjoyable. I have friends who have never set foot in a store, and when I told them about the Mic Person and the spinning wheel, they said they had to see it. Even something as small as describing an atmosphere of a place allows interpersonal communication to influence someone’s decision to enter a store.

wheel

The company also engages in a variety of community events. Shoe Carnival supports charities that are centered on families and children. For example, in Evansville, IN, where the corporate office is located, there is an organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which provides guardian ad litems for foster children. Each year Shoe Carnival hosts a Walk the Runway event where they have school aged children modeling the latest fashion trends in shoes. Shoe Carnival employees volunteer to run the show and handle the silent auction and donation tables. Their logo is posted on the volunteers’ t-shirts and on banners throughout the event.

This year an incredible thing happened. Once the show was over, an auctioneer came onto the runway to offer a testimony and ask for donations starting at $1,000 and counting down. A man in the crowd suddenly raised his hand to speak, so the auctioneer handed him the microphone. This man began to talk about how he’s been shopping at Shoe Carnival for years and felt they always had the best prices and deals. His story ended with the following sentence: “Over the years I’ve probably saved up $10,000 by shopping the deals at Shoe Carnival. If Shoe Carnival supports this organization, it must be good, so tonight I would like to donate $10,000 to CASA.”

You can imagine the chills that ran throughout the building and the jaws that dropped! This man felt grateful to Shoe Carnival and passed his gratefulness onto a valued, non-for-profit organization. This also inspired even more people to donate, and CASA is proud to report they shot past their donation goals. CASA took time to post on their Facebook page to thank Shoe Carnival for being the title sponsor. All of this attention and WOM posting has made Shoe Carnival’s reputation stronger. Once again, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

walk1

Shoe Carnival shows leadership in the world of family-friendly retail through the store environment, merchandise, marketing, and by WOM from community events. Businesses that aren’t afraid to try new strategies and participate in the community will consistently attract valuable customers.

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