Yesterday I saw this quote in a post about search engine optimization:
It’s not about getting as many people as possible to quickly visit your page. It’s about getting the page in front of the people who are likely to be interested in what’s there.
This was in the context of page rank and other SEO, but it got me to thinking about our role as communications professionals. Often, we view our job to be the person who gets the message(s) of our organization out to as many people as possible. However, this is a misguided approach that creates unnecessary noise and stress in people’s lives. Our goal should not be to get our organization’s message out to as many people as possible; it should, rather, be to get it out to as many of the right people as possible.
An Example From the Church World
As Communications Director, there was a constant reliance on the weekly service handout (most churches call this their bulletin) to provide all the information for all the ministries to all the people of the church. Most of the time, however, the individual pieces in the handout only applied to a handfull of people that were receiving the document. For example, if we were promoting a women’s ministry event in that publication, roughly half of the people who received it (the men) were not the target audience. Asking the men to sift through the women’s ministry content is asking them to ignore all the content. And 50% is a best case scenario…the number drastically drops when you start promoting smaller ministries, support groups, niche groups, etc.
A much more effective use of the weekly handout would be to cast vision and point larger groups of people toward larger next steps and toward larger church-wide initiatives. Then, use targeted and specific methods to reach the smaller groups with their own interest-content. Examples of these targeted methods might include Facebook groups, direct mailers, email newsletters, etc. This approach gets the right information in front of the right people. It’s a value-added, relationship-driven model (more on that later).
The Buffet Is The Blanket
In my experience, the push-back was always, “well, what if there’s someone out there who is not on our mailing list or that we don’t already know about who might be interested in this information? Shouldn’t we throw a blanket out over the entire large group to make sure those people get the information about the small ministry?”
I would emphatically say, “NO!” Blasting everyone with messages that they might or might not be interested in is lazy and irresponsible. As the quote above implies, we should only put messages in front of people that those people are interested in hearing. And it’s you’re responsibility, not theirs, to figure out those messages.
One thing that is important to do is provide a highly-organized, user-friendly, buffet for people to access when they do want more. For most organizations, the website is the best place for this hub of information. In fact, the best approach is to build a massive wealth of information on your website and use your blanket messages to encourage people to go find info about their interest topic there.
All of this is part of a larger approach to communications philosophy that I’m calling “relationship-driven.” In essence, today’s world is hyper-connected and the currency for ministries, non-profits, and even commercial entities is relationships. In actuality relationships have always been the most important part of our transactions (I think about how my grandfather went to the same pharmacy because the pharmacist knew his name and his drug history off the top of his head), but now more than ever we have the tools to connect with people of like-minds. Church staffers (and non-profit staffers and corporate leaders and everyone) need to figure out how to use these tools to leverage their personal networks for the purposes of communication. The need for the church bulletin, the ad in the Sunday paper, and even commercials on TV is becoming more and more scarce as people look to personal connections and recommendations as the primary informer in decision-making.
A relationship-driven approach to communications is harder. It’s harder to develop a network and work through a web of people connections than it is to take out an ad. But, the return-on-investment is much greater. It’s time to change our thinking, get out of our offices, and be amongst the people (literally and virtually/digitally).
One last thought…if you agree that the buffet is the blanket, start thinking about a progressive dinner!