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Strategic Communications Toolkit



Introduction

Go to Section: Introduction > Objectives > What Communications Can and Cannot Do > Creating a Strategic Communications Plan

Introduction

Please note: This course will take approximately 60 minutes to complete; do not refresh your browser window or you will have to begin again. Instead, use the next/previous buttons to work your way through the course. At the end of the course, you will be asked to complete an assessment of your knowledge of the course materials. If you receive a score of 90% or above, you’ll have the option of printing a certificate of completion. If you do not score above 90%, you can retake the assessment.

Communicating well is important for programs or projects to be effective, whether it is to better coordinate internally or to share successes with the public. This E-learning module on Strategic Communications teaches public health practitioners working with adolescents how to improve internal and external communications, specifically, how to:

  • Create a communications plan outlining activities intended to achieve specific goals.
  • Integrate effective messages throughout the program or project.
  • Improve outreach to partner or potential partner organizations.
  • Share successes with the community and potential funders.
  • Communicating strategically involves tying internal and external communication activities to a plan in which you identify concrete, measurable objectives and linking them to your ultimate desired outcomes. For example, you might be issuing a monthly newsletter. Do you know why you’re doing that? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you reaching who you want to reach? Does anyone open those email newsletters? What goes inside?

By thinking through questions like these, you can assess and adjust current activities to ensure they are worth the investment of time and resources, and identify new communication approaches for today’s networked world.

There are two types of communications you should care about:

  • Internal communications that occur either between leadership and staff or among staff.
  • External communications that occur between your organization and your target audiences, including stakeholders, funders, the media, and the public.

Internal communications might include an Intranet, weekly email from the President or Director, staff bulletin boards, or memos. External communication activities include disseminating messages via email, brochures, social media, your website, more traditional marketing through print and television, engaging stakeholders in public events, one-on-one outreach to supporters and would-be supporters, and the development of materials to support these activities.

By creating a strategic plan for communications, you will be able to move away from simply reacting to events toward a more proactive approach to your communication activities.

Objectives

After completing this E-Learning module on Strategic Communications, users should be able to:

  • Develop a strategic communication plan.
  • Create effective messages to describe the program or project.
  • Describe the connection between communication and sustainability.
  • Identify potential social media tools and how to use them effectively to reach specific audiences.
  • Design and execute effective outreach (to media, key leaders and/or potential funders).

What Communications Can and Cannot Do

Effective communication, by itself, can:1

  • Increase the intended audience’s knowledge and awareness of an issue, problem, or solution
  • Influence perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes that may change social norms
  • Prompt action
  • Demonstrate or illustrate skills
  • Reinforce knowledge, attitudes, or behavior
  • Show the benefit of behavior change
  • Advocate a position on an issue or policy
  • Increase (or decrease) demand or support for a program or policy
  • Refute myths and misconceptions
  • Strengthen organizational relationships

Communication, combined with other strategies, can:

  • Cause sustained change in which an individual adopts and maintains a new behavior or an organization adopts and maintains a new policy direction
  • Overcome barriers/systemic problems

Communication cannot:

  • Compensate for lack of services
  • Ensure people have access to services they need
  • Produce sustained change in complex behaviors without the support of a larger program for change (such as provision of services, creation of policies and procedures or mentoring/teaching support)
  • Be equally effective in addressing all issues or relaying all messages because the topic or suggested behavior change may be complex, because the intended audience may have preconceptions about the topic or message sender, or because the topic may be controversial

Footnotes

1 Adapted from the National Cancer Institute. Making Health Communication Programs Work (the "Pink Book"; 2001)

Creating a Strategic Communications Plan

Communicating strategically involves tying internal and external communication activities to a plan in which you identify concrete, measurable objectives and your ultimate desired outcomes. By tying your program’s communication activities to specific goals, you will strengthen your overall effectiveness.

The module will:

  • Outline the steps of a communications plan.
  • Detail how to implement and complete each step.
  • Provide a template for creating a plan.

There are many ways to create a strategic communications plan. The approach presented in this course is adapted from the National Cancer Institute’s Making Health Communication Programs Work. It includes 5 steps:

Step 1 – Develop goals and objectives

Step 2 – Determine your target audience

Step 3 – Develop message & identify messengers

Step 4 – Select communication methods or “channels”

Step 5 – Develop evaluation approach

Some communication plan models include an additional step to perform in the beginning of the process called a SWOT analysis to gauge the organization or project’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. While not included in this model, a SWOT analysis could strengthen the overall communications plan.

Step 1: Develop Goals and Objectives

Go to Section: What Do You Want to Accomplish? > SMART > Sustainability > Budget > Learning Exercises > Worksheets and Tools

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

The first step in developing a strategic communications plan is thinking through your communications activities and considering, first, what do you want or need your communications to accomplish? For example, you might need to:

  • Raise awareness about your program so that more of your target population enrolls.
  • Ensure staff are aware of organizational changes to improve service delivery.
  • Alert partners about your program plans to extend reach of your services.

Please note that each of the examples above has two components:

  • The communication goal is what you need the communication activity to accomplish. Examples from above: raise awareness, communicate to staff, alert partners.

  • The desired outcome is why you need to do the communication activity in the first place, and is tied to your overall program plans.

    Examples from above: so that more of your target population enrolls, to improve service delivery, or to extend the reach of your services.

A strategic communications plan considers both. First, think about what you want/need your program or services to accomplish. Then set communication goals that will help you achieve that (such as raise awareness), keeping in mind that communication goals can be broad and general.

SMART

The next part of Step 1 is establishing objectives that will help you reach your communication goals. Make sure your objectives are SMART:

  • Specific – What exactly will you be doing?
  • Measurable – How much, how long, how many, how often will you be doing the activity?
  • Attainable – Can you reach that measurable number you picked?
  • Relevant – Does this objective matter to the goal you identified?
  • Time-bound – Include when you plan to do this goal?

 

Make objective SMART, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (include a timeframe). Example: Increase awareness of our parenting classes (specific) among at least 50 new prospective clients (measurable) by the end of each month (timeframe)

Activity 1

Print out the attached worksheet. Identify and fill in 2-3 outcomes you want your program to accomplish this year. Then write down your communication goals that will help you achieve those outcomes. Finally, for each communication goal, come up with objectives that help you assess your progress on your communication goals and make them SMART!

Sustainability

The connection between communication and sustainability may not be immediately obvious, however, communicating well and strategically supports your project today and in the future. Not only is your target population more likely to know about you...but so are others who have the potential and influence to help.

Most organizations understand they need to think about sustainability to continue achieving the mission and goals of the organization, program or project after an initial pool of resources has been expended. Strategic communications can be an important part of an organization or project’s sustainability planning. Effective communications can help raise the visibility of the project, foster support for the work, and build partnerships that can sometimes carry on aspects of the work if funding comes to an end.

There are several key audiences for sustainability efforts that a strategic communications plan might target:

  1. Funders

  2. Policymakers
  3. Media/Public
  4. Community partners

The communications plan might include goals related to increasing funder awareness of the program or communicating program successes to policymakers and/or the media. The organization might host an event in which funders, the media and/or policymakers are invited to attend. Or key leadership and program recipients might schedule one-on-one meetings with policymakers to describe the program’s impact or meetings with reporters or an editorial board at a local newspaper to make the case for why this type of work is important. The organization might also attend or host meetings with community partners to look for opportunities to share resources. All of these are communication activities that could increase awareness about the programs and eventually contribute to sustainability.

Consider doing a brief scan of potential funders/media leaders/stakeholders in your community who might be able to contribute to sustainability. Learn who they are and what they support. Ask for meetings with funders to talk about your program or services. Host a meet and greet with reporters and establish yourself as a resource on your issues. Seek out and follow your potential partners on social media; it’s a wonderful way to learn what they’re doing and where their attention is.

What kinds of content support sustainability? Your communication materials might contain:

  • Scope of existing problem your program or project is working to address.
  • Outcome data showcasing your successes.
  • Stories about clients who have succeeded.
  • Information about what you provide, so that potential partners get to know you even better and the services you offer.

Budget

While not every program or project has a flush communications budget, it is critical that you include a budget in your communications strategy. Unfortunately, communications activities are often simple add-ons to the rest of the work, or are an afterthought. By thinking through what resources are needed as you create your communications plan, you will be better able to direct scarce resources to the activities which will be most helpful to your work. Include a budget in your communications strategy.

This section describes typical items in a communications budget, possible staffing needs and options when communications resources may be scarce.

Budget items

When creating your communications budget, include the following:

  • Writing (reports, blog posts, press releases, etc.)
  • Website posting and management
  • Design (reports, factsheets, website)
  • Printing (reports, brochures, etc.)
  • Advertising (public, web, etc.)
  • Media relations (managing press outreach)
  • Partner Development (building and sustaining partner relationships)
  • Social Media
  • Analytics and measurement

Staffing

In an ideal world, your organization would have a communications manager who helps with:

  • Writing (newsletters to blogs to press releases)
  • Media outreach
  • Paid advertising as needed (Newspaper or trade publication ads, bus, and other community outlets.)
  • Design work
  • Maintaining website
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Unfortunately, we rarely live in an ideal world. Sometimes resources do not allow for a fulltime communications staff. As a result, one staff person may be responsible for multiple programmatic tasks -- such as data analysis or budgeting -- in addition to communications. Keep in mind that you don't need to do everything in house!

Scarce Resources

You have several options when communication resources are scarce:

  1. Leverage partnerships to get the word out about your project or services. Offer to share a partner’s news item in your electronic updates, and ask if they will do the same for you.
  2. Keep things on a smaller scale. Consider whether you really need to print 5,000 brochures, or if 1,000 might be enough.
  3. Volunteers are a great way to help staff your communications needs.
  4. Often, people in the community may have communications expertise they are willing to donate.
  5. Use social media; the only cost to your organization is staff time, which should be less than 2 hours a day.
The following exercises will help you to assess your knowledge about developing goals and objectives for a strategic communications plan.

Exercise 1

Communications can contribute to the sustainability of your program or services.

Exercise 2

What are the five things you need your communications goals to be?

Exercise 3

Strategic communications planning involves both program outcomes and setting communications goals.

Step 2: Selecting Target Audiences and Messages

Go to Section: Who Are Your Audiences? > Identify and Prepare Messengers > Learning Exercises > Worksheets and Tools

Who Are Your Audiences?

When thinking through your communication goals (see Step 1), you will also want to consider who your target audience is, as your goals and strategies will vary by audience. For example, one of your target program outcomes may be increasing enrollment in your program, and the goal to do that is to first increase awareness about your program among at-risk youth in your community. In this case, your target audience will likely be the youth themselves, but it might also be their parents, teachers or community leaders. The strategy for communicating with each of those target audiences will vary and the information needs may also vary.

Adolescents today are social media natives, and the best way to reach them is through those platforms, including texting, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, FourSquare and Facebook (though adolescents are spending less and less time on Facebook.) But traditional methods such as brochures and bus advertisements are also effective and should not be completely excluded from adolescent outreach strategies. The key for advertising to adolescents remains identifying where they spend time, and making information available in those settings. Peer to peer sharing of information remains one of the most powerful ways to reach adolescents, however, research shows that parents remain an important resource of information for adolescents.

Many parents do spend time on Facebook and Twitter, but they can also be reached through traditional forms such as brochures, flyers, newspaper stories, television and public advertising (billboards, bus, etc.) Another important information source for parents is peer-to-peer sharing and in-person venues such as community meetings, doctor’s offices, and schools. In addition, parents want tips and advice. What can you tell them that will help them help their children?

Another target audience might be the press. Reporters have very different information needs than parents or youth, such as needing to tell stories, lots of data, and often working under tight deadlines. Reporters are looking for credible resources for their stories. When possible, consider tailoring your messages and materials with those needs in mind.

Another important audience might be policymakers or funders. These individuals often have demanding schedules, and may not have the time or patience to read through a long report or stack of briefs describing your program. They might prefer to see your program in action, so consider inviting them to an event or for a walk-through meeting.

Although the types of settings and the mechanisms for reaching audiences will vary depending on the target audience, some efforts may reach multiple audiences at once. Strategies that can incorporate these “two-fers” may be more cost-effective than approaches reaching only one audience. However, it is unlikely that any single approach can reach all of your potential audiences.

Action items:

  • Identify who the target audiences are by assessing potential audiences and evaluating how important they might be in terms of reaching your program outcomes (download worksheet)
  • Create a sample profile for your target audiences (download worksheet)

Identify and Prepare Messengers

In addition to selecting the right method or channel (which we'll cover in step 4), consider who the right messengers might be. Parents might be more receptive to one another or to authority figures such as doctors. Youth may be more receptive to peers. Funders will like to see organizational leadership as well as hear stories firsthand. Reporters will be looking for people they can interview and about whom they can write.

Oftentimes, the people who use your program or services will be the most powerful and persuasive messengers. Think of your current or previous program enrollees and you can probably name two or three young people with interesting and inspiring stories to tell.

Encouraging someone to share their personal story requires support both before and after from your organization. Check out the tools to assist you in guiding strategic sharing.

Some tips for supporting individuals sharing their stories for your organization or program include:

  1. Be upfront about why you are asking them to tell their story. What do you hope to accomplish?
  2. Provide time to prepare and practice with you.
  3. Respect their story AS IT IS, don’t tell them what to say. Instead, tell them what you hope to accomplish, listen to their story and together identify the pieces that will help make the case.
  4. Don’t speak for the person. For example, it might be tempting to say, “What he’s saying is…” Let the individual speak for himself or herself. Tell the person all the ways you hope or plan to use the story (media, website, with policymakers, reports, etc.) so that they know where it will be used. When possible, before using a story in your communication efforts, give the individual a courtesy heads-up.
  5. Don’t forget to thank the individual.
  6. After an individual has shared a story with you, be available to help process the information. If a youth has shared a challenging situation from their past, talking about it could bring up strong emotions and they may need someone to talk with afterwards.
The following exercises will help you assess your knowledge about selecting target audiences and messages.

Exercise 1

Facebook is the only social media platform adolescents use, and is the best and only way to reach teens.

Exercise 2

Adolescents view parents as a trusted information resource.

Exercise 3

Organizations need to alert individuals who have shared their story before it is used.

Exercise 4

After a person has shared their story, your work with them is finished.

Step 3: Creating Clear & Effective Messages

Go to Section: Intro > Creating > Elements of Effective Messages > Testing > Message Box > Learning Exercises > Resources

Introduction

An important step in creating your communications plan is allowing time to develop and test your messages. When we’re caught up in the moment of an event or activity, such as putting a brochure together, it’s easy to become so focused on whether all the content is there and if the design is attractive, that we ignore whether the words and messages are achieving what we want them to.

Unfortunately, the words we choose may mean different things to different people. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

This section describes how to develop clear and effective messages, detailing message components, and how to test messages before you use them.

Creating

There are several steps you can follow to create effective messages, and the worksheet in this section will help you work through them.

1. Think about audience values

Everyone has core values and beliefs, and those values and beliefs will affect how they react to your words and ideas. Sometimes the position they hold or role they play shapes their values or beliefs, and sometimes it comes from their overall development as a human being. Either way, your audience's values should be considered when shaping your messages.

2. Provide a frame that resonates with those values

What is a message frame? Think of a picture frame and what it does for a picture. It puts a boundary around the images and gets you to focus on what’s inside. Different frames may set different tones for how you view the information inside. A fancy, ornate gold frame may signal something different than a simple, black frame. The message frame concept is similar. It sets the stage, the tone of what you are talking about. How you frame your concept may influence how people react.

3. Outline benefits to the audience

In addition to reflecting the values of the audience and selecting a frame to resonate with those values, your message should explicitly outline the benefits to your audience. Include a phrase or statement that shows how your work or services will help.

4. Help audience overcome resistance to your message

Presumably you are crafting messages because you want your target audiences to behave in a certain way. They come with preconceived attitudes and beliefs, and may not be initially receptive to your message. Communication studies have identified approaches for improving the ability of your messages to counter resistance. One thing you can do is present two-sided messages which have been found to be more effective than one-sided messages in producing sustained opinion change.

In other words, think about why your target audience might NOT believe your message, and make sure you explicitly address that doubt in your message.

5. Spell out the action you want your target audience to take

This is the one message component that few people forget, but it’s worth noting. Be sure to explicitly state what you want the target audience to do: stop by our next meeting, support our efforts, write a story, etc.

6. Break it down - simplify & identify fundamental points

Write your message and then shorten and simplify. Eliminate extra information. Move the most important pieces to the top. Then shorten it by two-thirds. Make sure you’ve included all the information you need and that you incorporated the steps above.

7. Test your messages (and variations on them) and fine tune

A step we often skip, but shouldn’t, is testing your messages to fine tune them. First, check them yourself using the 5 C's of Communication (credible, clear, concise, connecting with people and communicating value). You'll learn more about the 5 C's in the next section.

Then, test your message with others. You can employ a highly sophisticated method where a pollster gathers focus groups, and tests how people respond. Or, you can do something more informal by sharing with a few key stakeholders from your target audiences to get their reaction. Some organizations might ask a group of stakeholders to take a short survey. Whichever approach you can take, be sure to incorporate your findings into the final message.

Elements of Effective Messages

Effective messages have the following components:

  1. The problem
  2. The solution
  3. Inspiration
  4. Storytelling
  5. Numbers
  6. Stakeholders

Of these components, the problem and solution are fairly straightforward concepts. You should outline what the issue is you are trying to address, and then how you are doing it. Then, include some aspirational concept that will help your audience feel inspired to participate. In other words, think of a way to engage your target audience in your vision. Effective messages usually tell a story. Try to find a success story about a real person or family you’ve helped that you can showcase. Next, use statistics to show the need and also numbers that show how successful you’ve been. (Total # helped, enrolled, etc.)

Testing

This section will introduce criteria for checking and testing messages before they are used widely.

Step 1 - Check against the 5 C’s

The first step in testing your messages is to review them with these five criteria in mind, known as the Five C’s of effective messages. Be sure your messages are:

  1. Credible
  2. Clear
  3. Concise
  4. Connecting with people
  5. Communicating value.

Credible – Make your messages believable. Don’t over promise.

Clear – Check to see if your messages are simple and easy to understand.

Concise – Eliminate words and extra thoughts that distract from your key points.

Connecting – Be sure your messages have something that is inspirational and engaging for your target audience.

Communicating value – Check to see whether your messages have information in them that can help.

Step 2 - Test with audiences

This is the step that people often skip, but it’s important to do. Otherwise, you might be circulating messages that don’t work, which is a waste of time and resources. You have a couple options for testing messages, both informally and formally. Informal message testing can be as simple as sending your materials to three to five colleagues or stakeholders, asking for their feedback. You can ask them to react, what items make sense, what might be missing, and in general ask for their feedback and suggestions. You can also collect this information with a larger group using a free online tool like SurveyMonkey.

If resources allow, you might want to hire a public opinion firm to test your messages. Advertising, public relations firms, and political campaigns use this method before launching national campaigns. This can be expensive and typically involves hosting focus groups, developing a script for testing the messages, and then a summary report with the findings.

Message Box

The previous sections outlined the various components needed to create effective messages and criteria for checking your work. In addition, there are a couple tools you can use to finetune your messages for presentations and when talking to the public. This section introduces the message box.

The Message Box (template provided) is a device you can use to summarize your key messages and get all of your staff and partners using the same language. Often used by political campaigns and in issue campaigns, the message box has four sections that help you distill key messages. In the message box, you write one to two sentences for each of these sections:

  1. What you do.
  2. What the problem is, you are trying to address.
  3. How you are succeeding (examples, stories, statistics)
  4. Your vision for what you want to accomplish.

It’s best to fill this out in a small group. Consider including the president or director as well as communication and program staff. Once the messages have been refined, the message box can be shared and taught to all staff, so that everyone is describing and understanding the work of the organization or project in the same way.

The following exercises will help you to assess your knowledge about creating clear and effective messages.

Exercise 1

What is a message frame?

Exercise 2

Which of these is not one of the five C’s of Effective Messages?

Exercise 3

You should include numbers or statistics in your messages.

Exercise 4

Message boxes can be used to (select all that apply)

Resources

The views expressed in written training materials, publications, or presentations do not reflect the official policies of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Any statements expressed are those of the parties responsible for developing this training content, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Step 4: Communication Approaches (Including Social Media Tools)

Go to Section: Intro > Approaches > Methods > Using Social Media > Conducting Meetings > Learning Exercises > Resources

Introduction

Now that you’ve done much of the critical thinking needed to make your communications plan successful, it’s time to turn to selecting the appropriate communications approach (or channel) to reach your audiences. This section describes various channels for communicating, including traditional and newer options such as social media tools. It describes challenges and opportunities from social media, potential platforms and how they can be used to reach various audiences.

Approaches

In the last 150 to 200 years, human communications mechanisms have expanded rapidly. Our networked society is seeking and using information in multiple platforms, sometimes concurrently with each one (using the computer while watching television, etc.) On the one hand, planning effective communication strategies in this climate can be daunting. On the other, the possibilities are nearly endless!

A few standard methods you might consider using to communicate to your target audiences include:

  1. E-Newsletters
  2. Brochures
  3. Ads
  4. Website
  5. Op-Eds/Letters to the Editor
  6. Events to garner news media attention
  7. Stakeholder events to engage key policymakers or funders
  8. Podcasts
  9. Social Media (including video)
  10. Internal channels
  11. Consortiums, councils, convening groups

Read about these and additional channels here. After you’ve reviewed these channels, please return to this browser tab to continue with the module.

Also, if you are trying to reach adolescents, video should really be a part of your overall plan.

Methods

A few methods have emerged as most commonly used by nonprofits and government agencies to communicate with target audiences. These include:

  1. Websites
  2. Reports
  3. Factsheets and/or Infographics
  4. E-newsletters
  5. Blogs
  6. Social Media
  7. In-person meetings

Most projects or agencies use websites as their virtual “homebase” to provide information on their programs to target audiences. Keep in mind that writing for a website is different than writing for a report. Use lots of bullets and numbered lists. Keep sentences short. Link to other resources as needed. Get a book about best practices for web writing to help you refine your content. Websites have largely replaced lengthy brochures.

Reports still remain an important tool for nonprofits and other organizations, and can be an effective way of summarizing major issues and highlighting recommendations. In today’s information age, however, it’s important to remember to keep reports short and well-cited.

Factsheets and infographics are increasingly being used to share information with busy audiences. If you haven’t used this approach yet, it might be worth considering how to include your information in one of these formats.

Many organizations are using E-Newsletters effectively to share their resources, though open rates are often less than 15 percent. Several mail programs can be used to help you register subscribers and send out your E-newsletters.

Blogs are also rising in popularity and are being used as the press release function for many organizations (in combination with Twitter/Facebook, etc.) The key to blogs is uploading short content on a regular basis—two to three times a week if possible.

Social media is one of the best ways to circulate your information to reach a variety of audiences, with Twitter and Facebook topping the charts for programs and services. If you don’t have a social media mechanism at this time, it is worth exploring how to implement one as part of your strategic communication plan.

You may be surprised to see in-person meetings on a list of popular communication methods for nonprofits and government organizations, but person-to-person communication remains one of the most popular and effective methods for sharing information. Communications plans should include the other components, but should also make time and space for convenings and social gatherings in which informal communication can occur.

Using Social Media

Social media. Many of us fear it. Many of us embrace it! Some of us just think it’s annoying and wish it would go away. Others recognize its value but have no idea what to do with it. Whatever our personal feelings are about social media, it’s clearly here to stay and whole generations of young people are growing up with it. This section describe some of the more popular and effective platforms for non-profits and government organizations, and discusses how and when to use them.

Facebook was one of the first social media platforms to take off. In early years, it was effective for reaching young people, but more recently, it seems to be most effective for reaching older adults. If you use Facebook, post judiciously, two to three times a week, and be sure to include photos with your posts as it increases the likelihood of likes and shares. Facebook can also be a low cost way to advertise to target populations. So say you want to show a given ad to a certain demographic in a certain geographic region (state, city, etc.), you can target the Facebook ads to do that.

Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms around. Think of Twitter as a big river of information streaming from multiple sources non-stop 24-7. You can post anytime, but may be most effective from 10 am to 2 pm in the afternoon when much of the US continent is posting and watching content. Use hashtags to link your tweets to ongoing conversations. And keep your tweets under 120 characters to make it easier for people to retweet your content. Follow people with similar interests to stay on top of the latest breaking news. Some see Twitter as serving an important press release function in the 21st century.

Adolescents have flocked to Twitter in recent years, and it can be an effective platform for reaching them.

You can use tools such as HootSuite to manage your Twitter feed and streams, Bit.Ly to shorten your urls to include in your tweets, Paper.Li to produce daily summaries on topics of interest, and storify if you have a special event and want to capture all the key tweets on a given hashtag. Twitter chats are also an effective way to bring focus to your topic and issues.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site much like Facebook but emphasizing professional interests and connections. Some nonprofit and government entities have established “groups” on LinkedIn to connect professionals to their areas of topical interest and work. Visit the Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Teens group for an example.

YouTube has emerged as a popular site for adolescents and adults alike. If you want to reach adolescents, consider developing a YouTube channel and investing in short 1.5 min videos. Teens watch videos for nearly 8 hours a month on mobile phones, 5 hours a month on television and 98 hours a month on television.1 Be funny, as witty content is more likely to be viewed. Use other social media platforms to point back to your YouTube content. You can also host your YouTube videos on your home website.


Footnotes

Conducting Meetings

As noted earlier, in person meetings remain an important and powerful way to share information and build support for your work. In-person meetings could include one-on-ones with policymakers, community leaders, or funders, or with reporters or editorial board members, in which you share key facts about your work, and ask them for their support or to write a story. In addition, in-person meetings can involve events that you host in which target audiences are invited, such as graduation parties for your participants in which the evidence of your success and impact are physically apparent. Policymakers can be invited to such events as a way of engaging them in your work and building their support.

In addition, stakeholder meetings among partners can be an important component of an effective communications strategy. Consider hosting quarterly meetings with stakeholders in the community and staff from other organizations providing similar or complementary services or programs. Creating such opportunities for networking and information sharing can strengthen your reach and influence as well.

The following exercises will help you assess your knowledge about communication approaches.

Exercise 1

In person meetings are an important component of an effective communications plan.

Exercise 2

Social media is generally not worth your time and resources.

Exercise 3

If I want to reach an adolescent or young adult audience I should:

Resources

The views expressed in written training materials, publications, or presentations do not reflect the official policies of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Any statements expressed are those of the parties responsible for developing this training content, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Step 5: Evaluating Communications Plans and Activities

Go to Section: Intro > Learning Exercises > Resources

Intro

The final step in developing your strategic communications plan is identifying how you will evaluate your activities and measure success. This often a step that is forgotten, however by monitoring your activities and their reach and impact, it can help you make decisions about the types of communications activities you want to pursue in the future.

Frequency

How often you assess your communications activities is up to you. Some lend themselves to more frequent monitoring, such as monthly website, social media hits. Others might be more effectively assessed on an annual basis. As you are developing your overall communications plan, outline how frequently you will be monitoring each activity.

You do not need to wait until the end of your project or the end of the year to assess your communications activities. By monitoring more regularly throughout the year, you can then incorporate what you’re learning about what’s working and do more or less of that activity accordingly.

Benchmarks

Your evaluation plan should contain benchmarks for judging your overall effectiveness. Identify key benchmarks such as:

  • Number of key audience members reached
  • How many took action in some way (clicked on link, shared, etc.),
  • Number of tweets.
  • Number of people who attended
  • Number of people who signed up for programs or services
  • Number of news articles
  • Etc.

Monitoring Tools

There are many mechanisms for assessing communications activities, from Google Alerts to track media hits to analytical tools for social media. Ask your web development vendor or IT staff how to develop a analytics report, and have a staff member prepare a summary across activities at the frequency you identify as needed.

The following exercises will help you assess your knowledge about evaluating communications plans and activities.

Exercise 1

Monitoring hits to your website is useful for planning your communications activities.

Exercise 2

Your evaluation plan should contain benchmarks for assessing your accomplishments.

Exercise 3

You only need to assess your communications activities at the end of a project.

Resources

The views expressed in written training materials, publications, or presentations do not reflect the official policies of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Any statements expressed are those of the parties responsible for developing this training content, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Adolescent Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Conclusion

Course Summary

In this course, you’ve learned:

5 Steps for Creating a Communications Plan

  • Step 1 – Develop goals and objectives
  • Step 2 – Determine your target audience
  • Step 3 – Develop message & identify messengers
  • Step 4 – Select communication methods or “channels”
  • Step 5 – Develop evaluation approach

How to make your objectives SMART

  • Specific – What exactly will you be doing?
  • Measurable – How much, how long, how many, how often will you be doing the activity?
  • Attainable – Can you reach that measurable number you picked?
  • Relevant – Does this objective matter to the goal you identified?
  • Time-bound – Include when you plan to do this goal?

Components of effective messages:

  1. The problem
  2. The solution
  3. Inspiration
  4. Storytelling
  5. Numbers
  6. Stakeholders

Five C’s of effective messages:

  1. Credible
  2. Clear
  3. Concise
  4. Connecting with people
  5. Communicating value.

Tips for using Social Media

  • Facebook - post judiciously, 2-3 times a week, and be sure to include photos with your posts as it increases the likelihood of likes and shares.
  • Twitter – Studies show it is most effective to tweet from 10 am to 2 pm in the afternoon when much of the US continent is posting and watching content. Use hashtags to link your tweets to ongoing conversations. And keep your tweets under 120 characters to make it easier for people to retweet your content.
  • YouTube – Teens watch videos for nearly 8 hours a month on mobile phones, 5 hours a month online and 98 hours a month on television.

Final Exam

Go to Section: Intro > Final Exam

You have nearly completed the Strategic Communications Toolkit E-Learning Module!

To finish the module, you must correctly answer the 13 of the following 15 questions.

Question 1

What is a strategic communications plan?

Question 2

Which of these is NOT one of the five critical steps involved in creating a communications plan?

Question 3

When creating a strategic communications plan, you should begin by identifying your communication goals.

Question 4

Which of these is not part of a SMART objective?

Question 5

Strategic communications can contribute to sustainability by:

Question 6

Using social media is an effective communication approach for tight budget years.

Question 7

Some communication approaches can reach more than one target audience.

Question 8

Audiences typically have the same information needs.

Question 9

Which of these is not one of the five C’s of Effective Messages?

Question 10

In person meetings are an important component of an effective communication plan.

Question 11

Social media is generally not worth your time and resources.

Question 12

If I want to reach an adolescent or young adult audience I should:

Question 13

Monitoring website analytics is useful.

Question 14

Your evaluation plan should contain benchmarks for assessing your accomplishments.

Question 15

You only need to assess your communications activities at the end of a project.

Raising Healthy Kids: An Asset-Based Check-in For Parents

Introduction

The everyday challenges parents face can leave little time for reflecting on the things that actually matter most. The tool presented here gives you a chance to think about how you are already helping your adolescents succeed in life through the ways you build their developmental assets. Developmental assets are building blocks of healthy growth that help adolescents make positive choices and avoid risky ones.

This check-in tool focuses on 12 of the assets that parents can most influence. The tool is intended to assist you in identifying specific topic areas to focus on for discussion with your adolescent. You also will learn about other ways you can build strengths in your family and in your adolescent's life.

This tool is most appropriate for parents with adolescents ages 10 to 19 years. If your adolescents are older or younger, some of the questions will be less relevant for you.

Background on the Development Assets

This check-in is based on the 40 developmental assets identified by Search Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization that focuses on young people's healthy development. The 40 assets are rooted in extensive research, including surveys of more than 3 million students in grades 6 through 12 in the United States. In general, for young people from all backgrounds, the more assets they experience, the less likely they are to engage in high-risk behaviors (such as sexual intercourse or drug use) and the more likely they are to thrive (do well in school and care for their health).

OAH Highlights

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What OAH Funds

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Featured Resources and Training

See new resources and training materials for improving adolescent health outcomes.

Adolescent Development Highlights

Each teen is unique but they all face similar milestones. Understand the common aspects of adolescence.

TAG Highlights

Stay up-to-date on activites from the TAG call to action.

TPP and PAF Highlights

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