November 16, 2015
/ by Jim Dougherty
You may not know Max Martin, but you probably have heard many of the songs that he has produced: Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Jesse J’s “Bang Bang,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” or Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” just to give a few examples. In fact, Max Martin is one of the most successful producers in the history of music. His signature is simplicity, and his results are undeniable:
In the words of one of his colleagues, Martin creates music to scale by simplifying his melodies so that “it sounds like anyone could create it.” In other words, Martin spends a considerable amount of time on the process of simplification.
I thought of this process in the context of communication professionals. Are there opportunities to simplify that will allow you to communicate more effectively at a larger scale?
What I want to do in this post is take a look at 10 ways that PR professionals can streamline or simplify their work in order to communicate more clearly and effectively to a larger audience.
Segmentation is an important aspect of any communication or marketing plan, but it is equally important that segmentation is measured and refined. Metrics may determine that certain segmentation variables are more easily reached or more receptive to messaging than others. The process of refining segments requires looking at the platforms that you use to reach your audience and determining whether the platform is inappropriate for the audience, or the audience segment is inappropriate for the messaging.
Jim Meyer, VP of lead generation software platform eTrigue says that campaigns with granular segmentation oftentimes perform as well as broader campaigns. Heidi Bullock, VP of Demand Generation at Marketo elaborates Meyer’s point by recommending frequent testing to insure that customer segments are accomplishing your desired endstates.
Michael Lynn of Cornell University proposes that the maturity of a market may play an important role in segmentation as well. While an emerging market may offer unique opportunities for a business, a mature market may require benchmarking your competitor’s segments and directly competing for that audience.
In case you missed it, technology changes at a pretty rapid pace — particularly communication platforms such as social media channels. Facebook, for example, has vacillating organic reach, and constantly tweaks their advertising options. Twitter is is another example where the advertising product and the user product will most likely change in the next few months.
Ignoring the way that these different types of technology change could make your marketing or communication plans far less effective. Additionally, new technology tools are available constantly. As an example, social media scheduling app Buffer recently released a drag-and-drop calendar tool for its users to easily schedule social media posts. There are a host of data visualization tools for non-programmers that communication professionals might use to pitch journalists, highlight information for internal stakeholders, or direct to consumers.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the Cision tools as a part of your technology assessment. The journalist database is constantly being updated, the marketing and communication tools are widely improved and you may find that you can streamline some of the social media work that you are doing by leveraging newer features of the Cision software.
There are more examples of new technology than I could possibly list in a post. Part of simplifying communication is adopting new technologies that allow you to communicate with fewer resources.
An important aspect of implementing technology into your marketing or communication is automation. The argument against automation is that it is less personal and prone to error, but from the perspective of resource management, automation is an important way to address repetitive tasks and to preserve resources. Or in the spirit of this piece, to simplify.
There are plenty of examples of communication automation:
It is not essential to automate your communication, but if there is an opportunity, automation can free time and resources to do more in other areas.
Many people complain that they work in silos, compartmentalized from the rest of the company with an agenda incongruent to the greater team. Whether this is explicitly evident or not, we tend to make decisions and to work at a local level.
More than just empathizing and thinking in terms of the whole from our small perspective, reassessing the “big picture” may require a lot of work. For example, when establishing PR metrics, Vice President at BurrellesLuce Johna Burke recommends mapping out the roles, responsibilities and expectations for everybody in the company. This exercise allows you to vet who is responsible for what, where there is opportunity to measure (an example that she gives is that a customer service representative may be able to help measure the effectiveness of the PR department with a call question) and helps you to align your localized activity to the larger goals of the organization.
If this sounds silly or superfluous, it isn’t. One of the largest causes for unease in the PR and marketing professions is misalignment between the goals and objectives of the department and the goals and objectives of the company.
There is probably a case that from a social care perspective businesses should monitor business pages on Facebook and Twitter. But aside from that, how effective is your communication on other platforms?
LinkedIn, for example, has a lot of members, but unless members enjoy the platform or are using it to look for a job, odds are that it would be a difficult proposition to communicate regularly with many LinkedIn members. For many tertiary social networks that businesses get involved with, it is always helpful to review whether the resource expended on those networks is generating the desired outcomes.
Sometimes the circumstances of a social network can change and it impacts the effective reach that can be had on the network. A recent example of this is Tsu, a social network that leveraged Facebook’s reach as part of their operational plan. Facebook effectively eliminated all posts linking back to Tsu, and significantly diminished the effective audience of that network.
Using a multitude of platforms is resource intensive. You may find that reducing your social footprint (or at least reevaluating it) frees resources for other ends.
By nearly every measure, email is superior to social media when it comes to delivering messages at scale.
The reason for this is primarily the profit motive of social media. Social media monetizes by showing users ads, but ads would be unnecessary for businesses if they could reach everybody that was connected to them. Cloud email services like Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft monetize with ads, but cannot withhold your messages in order to make more money.
For this reason, email lists, email segmentation and email blasts should be treated with at least as much importance as social media, if not more. Delivery rate of emails hovers around 90 percent, open rate for email hovers at around 20 percent and click-through rate for emails stands about three percent. If you are doing better than that with social media, you are either lying or are an extreme outlier.
Point being, email is a digital platform that allows you to do a lot more with less resources.
You may be measuring a lot of things, but are you measuring the right things? Using outdated metrics, outdated collection mechanisms, or not measuring at all can be pretty wasteful.
For example, if you have a monthly reporting requirement that does not have any relevance to your overarching goals – you’re just wasting resources on measurement. Likewise, not having measurement in place to determine the effectiveness of resources that you are spending is potentially wasteful…but you would never know.
When re-evaluating your measurement, it may be helpful to remember PR measurement expert Shonali Burke’s three tips:
1. Begin at the end (what you’re trying to achieve).
2. Measure what’s important (not everything is).
3. Don’t get stuck in measuring tools; make the tools work for you, not vice versa.
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An offshoot of reassessing your measurement, A/B testing is an important aspect of simplification. While metrics can give you a snapshot of how effective things are, you might be tempted to switch things around based upon these. A/B testing is a powerful tool to help guide you towards the most effective end.
A/B testing involves comparing two things that are exactly alike except for one variable. This is important because it can determine a causal relationship between the effectiveness of one tactic compared to another. For example, if email click-through is lower this month than it was last month, and you decide that you need to do something different with email, A/B testing can help you to optimize specific areas of the email relative to the alternative. If you change everything scattershot and it is worse or better than it was the month before, you really do not know why. Except magic. There is always magic.
Point being, as it is with Max Martin’s music, simplification is a difficult process. If you fail to use the right processes in pursuit of simplification, it can make things more complicated.
Odds are that you have not made it this far in this article. That is because we’re about 1,600 words in. The extent that people consume content diminishes throughout the route of the piece. For example, more people will read the headline of this article than those who will read the first paragraph. More people will read the first paragraph of this article than those who will read the second. And so on and so forth.
How about this for a “do as I say not as I do” piece of advice: write less. The more sustained your content is, the more widely consumed it will be. An Instagram photo with text is going to be consumed more than a Facebook post, audience notwithstanding. A three-hundred word post will be read more completely than this one. That said, congratulations for making it this far. I appreciate you.
As it is with most things, simplification is a series of small cascading victories and nothing too all-encompassing. If there was something that was going to save you a ton of time or resources, you would probably already know about it and have done it by now (to see an example of how small actions can lead to a big improvement, see this post on time management tools).
At Toyota, for example, their processes are so efficient that they look for improvements in seconds, rather than minutes or hours…and they celebrate them. And you should, too.
What I wanted to do in this post is evangelize simplicity. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of variables in the communication profession (changing technology, moving targets, increasing demand, exponentially growing noise) and to overlook that the process of effective communication has not fundamentally changed.
Hopefully this article demonstrates that you can simplify some aspects of your communication.
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