As everyone enters 2014 with fresh perspective and, hopefully, a rejuvenated sense of enthusiasm for "what could be" with their profession, New Year’s resolution lists are flying. Often, though, these lists are centered on what would make our own personal and work lives easier, more productive, or more satisfying.
Anyone working in communications should also ask themselves how they can better serve their audiences in 2014. Here are seven key goals I’ve set out for myself and our firm, which I hope might be of use to you as well:
Marketing and communications professionals spend a lot of time monitoring for mentions of their names and products/services (or perhaps our competitors). We determine who we think the few "influencers" are and devote energy toward getting to know them…but, too often, primarily so that we can persuade them of the narrow thing we want to convince them of. True listening has to focus on paying attention to what the networks of people we are trying to reach care about and talk about, on their agenda rather than ours. We should start by devoting time on a regular basis to listening to what real people we are trying to reach care about and talk about.
If we devote serious time to getting to know our audiences as real networks of human beings, we should push ourselves to try to see the world from their eyes, on an everyday basis. Empathy is much easier said than done, so it has remained at the top of my resolution list each year, because it is a goal that must be primary and ongoing.
We should push ourselves to take that ability to empathize with our audiences down to the level of approaching our everyday work from the audience’s perspective. The best way to make sure our communications strategies—and every individual message we send—will resonate and serve the audiences we seek to reach is to make thinking through everything we do from the audience’s point of view part of the process. If communications content isn’t designed to serve the audience, it’s a waste of their time and ours.
If we expect people to give us their time and active attention, we need to acknowledge that such engagement constitutes unpaid labor. What does the audience seek in return for such labor? What are we providing them, especially as we profit—directly and indirectly—from that labor? Are we setting reasonable expectations for what we expect an audience to devote to engaging with us? These are questions we should take seriously as communicators.
In an era where more can be tracked than ever before, we have to take every precaution to respect the audience’s privacy. Often, in marketing, we put measurability and efficacy above reason—and, in the process, we don’t push ourselves to think critically about how we, and our technology and research partners, are monitoring audiences. Further, as we turn audiences into quantitative data, we too often dehumanize them in the process. That means we find ourselves risking having more information about the audience than ever before yet knowing them even less. We have to balance what data can tell us, and how we gather it, with that ability to listen to, and empathize with, the audience we seek to reach.
Measurement is most important in helping define what it is we think success looks like. If we make serving our audiences a strategic focus, yet measure success solely by the number of followers we get in social media or the number of impressions our communications get…it will be impossible to focus on that audience-centered imperative.
Instead of worrying about what is legally required, we should all strive to err on the side of disclosing a connection. If I share something by a colleague or talk about an initiative a client is doing, I want to push myself each day to make that connection transparent in my communications. And, as we find new "paid media" opportunities to create and publicize content, we need to push the publishers we work with and the advertising services we employ to make sure they are putting transparent disclosure at the top of their priority list as well.
These seven resolutions will challenge my colleagues and me to, each day, better align ourselves with the wants and needs of the audiences we are tasked with reaching. We can only act as true strategic communications professionals for the organizations who pay us if we consider our primary "client" to be those organizations’ audiences.