Great Content But Can Your Audience Find You?

Stone ArrowRecently I received an exhaustive URL to a great web page about a city’s new project. Then I looked for menu prompts to direct external visitors there but found none. Short of keying in a series of cryptic characters (which would look horrid in print), there was no way to find the page. Likewise, have you ever searched a website for an organization’s specific office or product and given up in frustration?

As communicators, we develop quality content and share it with our audiences, often using it to ignite conversations and engagement. But these efforts are in vain if a large segment of your audience doesn’t find you because the “path” is broken or desperately needs a renovation.

Sure you can fix website menus/links within your organization and use key words effectively but what about sites that others control?  Check how relevant third parties are representing your brand, if at all. You may find some surprises. I don’t mean media/blogger stories where editorial integrity has the last word and your organization’s core messages may never be conveyed verbatim. I’m thinking of websites/other digital properties owned by organizations affiliated with yours − so your brand has a legitimate reason to be there and properly represented.

For example, what if…

  • You manage communications for a public sector organization and your parent Ministry lists you on its website but with an outdated value proposition.
  • You work for a retailer that runs a customer loyalty program with a trusted vendor − but the vendor lists only a few of your participating stores on its promo web page, if at all.
  • Your socially responsible employer is actively dedicated to a cause; the recipient not-for-profit features all its corporate supporters on its web page, with links to their sites, but leaves yours off the roster.

Having lived each of these scenarios, I think it’s worth the time to occasionally retrace your audience’s steps to see how aligned stakeholders cite your brand on their sites.

To do a digital audit, run a:

  1. Manual check of all the relevant affiliate and stakeholder organization websites that should or could mention your brand.
  2. Google search and dig beyond the first couple of pages to find any gaps.
  3. Search on Bing/Yahoo or use other online tools to uncover missed opportunities.

If mentions or messages are amiss, you can outreach directly or use your contacts/networks to tactfully request changes.

More importantly, maybe it’s time to take a page from the social media best practice of “listening” to conversations and using what we hear to inform strategy.  We can do so by using this audit to find out why a mistake or omission occurred. Maybe your contact list is outdated, there is a major disconnect or a relationship gone amok?  With this insight, we can take steps to course correct or adjust our strategy for engaging that stakeholder as we move forward.

Do you do these checks? What works for you and what “surprises” have you uncovered?

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eNewsletters: Constant Contact vs. Mail Chimp

ConstantContactSome time ago, I researched the merits of eNewsletter tools for a client, narrowing the choice down to: Constant Contact versus Mail Chimp.  I also discovered a few other tools in the process, such as iContact, which looks good but it forces its logo on your newsletter with no removal option.

In the end, we selected Mail Chimp, which
has a learning curve but proved effective.MailChimp

For the benefit of others seeking a cost-effective and professional solution for external or internal communications, I’m sharing my findings here.  (Click on the table to enlarge and then save the file, if desired.) I’ve also included links to various sources I consulted.  (Caveat: As this initial research was done in early 2012, some things may have changed. So if you discover any needed updates, please let me know.)

CCMC Comparison

Sources:

TransitCamp for Social Change Fuelled by Communications & Web 2.0

Burdened by frustrated riders, cash shortages, a dysfunctional website and a declining reputation, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), heeded an innovative idea from the city’s local bloggers in early 2007: leverage the community’s network of transit and IT geeks as a vehicle for innovative ideas.

The result was TransitCamp, a day long out-of-the-tunnel thinking “think tank-like initiative” on how to improve the TTC – or more specifically its website, shelters, subway cars and the way it communicates with its riders.

The event was modeled on the California-born “BarCamp” format, which is an open-ended gathering where participants think creatively, across disciplines and about a specific theme or area of concern. In this forum, which can become a sleepover of several days duration, leadership emerges from the group but all participants are equal and all sessions are meant to be complaint-free crucibles of ideas that belong to the collective, not individuals. It sounds like a throwback to a 60 commune but appears to have merit in addressing today’s issues.

TransitCamp was held on February 4, 2007 and attended by 120 ‘campers’ comprised of IT geeks, communicators, artists/designers, web developers and university students – all united by a passion for transit. They used a range of Web 2.0 collaboration tools to engage with each other live and in person. Some of the ideas to emerge from the session included: setting up designated quiet cars and an ESL car; a design competition for metro passes; and distinct maps for each street car line showing its intersection points.

A more telling result was following the session, a previously issued RFP for a new website was canceled and a new one developed based on the needs and principles identified by the community of interest that collaborated at TransitCamp.

Buoyed by technology and social media tools, this communication initiative fostered cooperative problem solving between two potentially antagonist groups, and comes close to the ideal of 2-way symmetrical communication.

Was it 100% successful in terms of achieving flawless-transit? No, but it initiated constructive dialogue with riders about which trade-offs are most feasible – and set the stage for positive social and community change.

Interestingly enough, the TTC is currently in tense contract negotiations – but word is they are open to less disruptive alternatives if resolution can’t be reached by a strike deadline. And the second TransitCamp is set for this Saturday, April 5. The only sad note for communicators is searches of the TTC website could not uncover any mention of past or future Transit Camps – while blogs are full of them.