The Organizer #20 | Communications

How do I know if my message is working? It's not enough to be right. You need to spend time promoting your message to make sure it reaches people. Make sure you give yourself time for outreach on every single project.

Your message has to be received to be heard

You haven’t delivered a message until it’s been received. People haven’t been reached people until they feel reached. You don’t really “know” your audience until they know you back.

Think of a tree falling in the forest

If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The answer is no.

“Sound” is created when vibrations in the air hit an ear. In the absence of ears (or some kind of receiver) those vibrations just keep ripple outward, like an ocean that never reaches shore. Sound isn’t sound until it’s heard.

The same is true for messages.

Sometimes it feels like a lot of people doing good work are like trees falling in empty forests or like ocean waves that never reach a shore.

Too many people with incredible ideas, knowledge, and vision take the time to pour it into words or sounds or images that never get heard.

These basic communications habits and routines will help you and your nonprofit get your message heard.

How to get your message out

1. Show your work

This isn’t about bragging or trying to impress people. This is about making sure the people who share your goals and values know what you know. Folks have a lot going on in their lives, and your work can make their work easier. It can validate their efforts and contribute to a body of knowledge.

Show your work to people who might want to see it. You call them, email them, tag them on social, or mail them, just do something to get your work in front of them instead of relying on chance.

They might find your article online or hear about it from a friend, but they will definitely hear about it if you send it to them. Definitely is always better than might.

After all the work you put into the actual work, spending time promoting can be annoying. But it has to be you (or your organization). There is no section of the newspaper or nightly newscast dedicated to the social impact sector. Unlike professional sports, there are no pundits being paid to comment on the work you do, the strategies you adopt, or your win record last week.

If you don’t tell the world, the world won’t know. If you don’t start the conversation, the conversation won’t happen.

2. Allocate time for outreach to every project

This might mean creating a blog post to describe a project. It might mean writing a personal update to a peer or creating a case study. It could also mean creating an ad campaign to ensure your report reaches its audience or all of those event tickets get sold. The most important thing is to do something.

When you are planning a project, make sure the work is only “done” once other people know about it.

You’ll have to add time to make it happen. There is no shortcut for outreach. It takes time to build trusting relationships. Delivering messages to mass audiences takes time. You may also need pauses to rest and reset, because you are a human and not a machine.

3. Let technology do some of the work

In the old-timey days, you wouldn’t mail a letter without a stamp. Today, you can’t reach an audience online without optimizing and sharing.

If you’re on the web, do the basics. Search-engine-optimize those darned blog posts, so that people actually find your incredible information. Share what you’ve created on social media (ideally more than once).

If you’ve taken time to put something online, at least make sure people can find it. Optimization and promotion can be finicky, detail work, but it’s essential. It’s the stamp on your online letter.

4. Be persistent

Have you ever shared an incredibly important thought or idea once, then raced off to another topic or idea or message? And then another? And then another? You’re not alone.

The best communicators repeat the same message over and over and over again. They’ll do it for years, sometimes for their entire careers. Why? Because it works.

An idea may be familiar to you, but it’s not yet familiar to the world. The world needs to repetition — a lot a lot a lot a lot of repetition.

Don’t change your message when you get tired of it or when it starts to sound familiar. Familiarity is power.

How to know when it’s working

If you’re trying to figure out if you’re being heard online, Google Analytics can answer some of the most basic questions for you. If you have access to Analytics (or something similar) and don’t know what to look for, look at these two things.

Look at the number of people you are reaching

First, look at the number of people who came to your website. You can look at a day, a week, a month, or years. Are you happy with that number? Is it enough people to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish?

If the answer is “yes, this number is great” then you know you can focus on what information you post to your site and how you present it.

On the other hand, if you are disappointed with the number, then it’s time to thing about marketing, advertising, and spreading the word — what do you need to do to build a community large enough to achieve your goals?

Look at the content they are reading

Second, look at the most-viewed pages. What information is attracting the most attention? Is it what you want people looking at? Does the public’s interest reflect the importance of the information you are trying to communicate? Are you connecting with people in the way you intend?

If your most important content is also the most-viewed content, then you are probably communicating your priorities well. If people aren’t looking at the important stuff, then it’s time to do some outreach.

You can apply these to different communications channels: a building, if you operate a public space or community centre; a social media account if that’s more important than a website; a call centre if you focus on phone interactions; an event or events, if getting people to turn up to things is most important.

The two most important questions to ask

The two questions are always the same: Are we happy with the number of people who are showing up? Are they receiving the information we hope they receive?

The answers tell you where to focus, if you want to be heard.

Good luck!

How to track your online reach

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