The first question before posing your evaluation questions is: what stage is your communications effort in? The authors make a distinction between early, mid and advanced stages.
The early stage means the development or early implementation of a communications plan, where there is a degree of trial and error. The evaluation at this point helps determine the larger strategic direction.
Questions include: have I tested my messages with a sample group that is representative? Where have my messages first appeared? Are my messages right for the channels I selected? How is the audience responding to my tactics?
This is where a lot of orchestras and classical music organizations are now, whether they have implemented a communications plan or not. A lot of trial and error and determining whether the messages or working. Many organizations have gone about this without a communications plan and have found that the usual marketing and public relations messages don’t translate well in social media. They might get some responses from the audience, but nothing more than a comment or a “like” of their Facebook status. With a clear communications plan, this should get better, and those are the questions to ask.
The mid course stage means you have a well-established communications plan, identified key influencers and players and have chosen to invest in certain strategies and tactics. The evaluation at this points helps determine whether you are on track toward your objectives.
Questions include: is my audience more engaged with the issue? Are bloggers and creators engaging with the organization? Do I need to change my message or messengers? Are there any environmental changes that require adjustments to objectives and tactics?
Not many organizations will be in this stage. Fewer have gotten to this stage with a clear communications plan, and even fewer will ask these evaluation questions. This should be the point where you can see some early signs of impact, if you are doing it right. Perhaps you find that you need to change your messages or messenger? Perhaps you need to shift away from Friendster because the environment has changed?
The advanced stage means you have made several measurable steps toward reaching your goal, but the environment might have seen some changes since starting your communications efforts. The evaluation at this point helps to determine what lessons you have learned from earlier steps and provides an opportunity to sharpen the goal and direction of your plan.
Questions include: are there signs of change in intention or behavior? What have I learned from achieved objectives and what is the organization’s role in the future? Does the data indicate a need to change my strategy or tactics?
Have your supporters started to organize? Are they putting the network in action? You should now be able to have some definite signs that your communications plan is doing its job. On the way, you will have learned some valuable lessons that you can apply to your future efforts and direction. Has your organization’s role changed on your road to achieve your goal? If so, what has changed and why?
And of course, can you claim to have aided and contributed toward reaching your goal? How much of it was due to your communications effort as opposed to other factors? And lastly, you will want to share your findings with colleagues, the board of directors, and even others in the industry.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at step seven: drafting your measurements.