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Adolescent Development E-Learning Module



Overview

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.

Purpose of This Course

By understanding adolescent development, we can better appreciate how and why young people behave the way they do, and we can help young people make better decisions about their sexual health.

This course will focus on four key areas:

  • Part 1: Biological and brain development
  • Part 2: Cognitive development
  • Part 3: Identity and social development
  • Part 4: Promoting healthy youth development

By the end of this course, participants will understand:

  • Basic biological and brain-related changes that occur during adolescence and how these changes influence adolescent thinking and behavior
  • Major cognitive changes that occur during adolescence and how adolescents’ thinking increases their likelihood of risk-taking and engaging in unsafe behavior
  • How adolescents develop identity and other key social developmental milestones of adolescence
  • Key factors that promote healthy youth development and how to implement these features in working with teens

“Typical” adolescent development

While each teenager is an individual with a unique personality and interests, there are also many developmental milestones—or issues—that everyone faces during adolescence. In this course, we’ll focus on typical adolescent development – that is, the growth, behaviors, and feelings that developmental scientists have found to be common and predictable for the majority of adolescents.

Part 1: Biological and Brain Development

Go to Section: Learning Objectives > Puberty > The Adolescent Brain > Learning Exercises

Learning Objectives

In this section, you will learn:

  • The effects of puberty on teens
  • The major brain-related changes that occur during adolescence
  • How biological changes influence adolescent thinking and behavior

Some basic facts about teenagers

Individual teens develop in different areas (physical, cognitive, social, etc.) at different rates, and advanced development in one area doesn’t mean that a teen is equally advanced in all areas. Development in any area is a gradual process with stops and starts and regressions.

Puberty

Basic Facts

Key Term: Puberty

Puberty describes the physical changes associated with adolescence.

There are big individual differences in the onset and progression of puberty, or the physical changes associated with adolescence.

There are also gender differences. Puberty typically begins:

  • For girls, around 8 to 13 years of age
  • For boys, around 9 to 14 years of age
The Effects of Puberty

Puberty happens because of the release of chemicals (hormones) in the brain. This fluctuation of hormones causes changes in not only physical development but also in emotional development.

Increases in hormone levels may be associated with a range of emotional changes, including irritability, impulsivity, and aggression or depression.

It is a myth that hormones are responsible for all erratic or impulsive teenage behavior. The effects of social and environmental factors, like family turmoil or interpersonal difficulties, are understood to affect adolescents’ mood and behavior, as well.

Timing of puberty

The timing of puberty can affect adolescents' social and emotional development in various ways. Because young people who physically mature earlier appear older, they’re often treated as if they’re more socially and emotionally mature, even though this isn’t necessarily true. Some research suggests that youth who experience faster physical development are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior than their peers and that teens who develop more slowly than their peers may be more likely to face bullying.

How Parents and Caring Adults Can Support Adolescents

To help young people with some of the negative effects of maturing early:

  • Provide connection to caring adults.
  • Provide clear messages about delaying sexual activity.
  • Treat them as the young teens they are, even when they look older.
  • Let adolescents know what they’re going through is normal.
  • Encourage adolescents to have a positive view of their bodies.
  • Teach adolescents to avoid drugs.
  • Help adolescents eat well.
  • Get active with adolescents.
  • Make sure adolescents get enough sleep.

The Adolescent Brain

Basic Facts

Key Term: Frontal Cortex

The Frontal Cortex, the area of the brain responsible for rational thinking, is still developing during adolescence.

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. Recent research shows that there is a biological explanation for this difference; the brain continues to develop during adolescence and even into early adulthood.

Brain Development: The Amygdala and the Frontal Cortex

The amygdala and the frontal cortex are two key regions of the brain that develop at different times.  The amygdala, which processes stress and other emotions, and is responsible for instinctual reactions like fear and aggressive behavior, matures early.

On the other hand, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, emotional regulation, rational thought, goal setting, morality,and understanding consequences, is not yet fully developed in teenagers. In fact, this area of the brain develops quite dramatically during adolescence and into the mid-20s.

What does this mean for adolescents?

Pictures of the brain in action show that adolescents’ brains function differently from those of adults when making decisions and solving problems. Adolescents’ actions are guided more by the amygdala and less by the frontal cortex. That means that teens’ responses to situations are rooted in emotion rather than rationality. In other words, the last part of the brain to fully develop is one of the most important—it’s the area that gives people the ability to make rational decisions.

Because the part of the brain that helps us think before we act isn’t fully developed until adulthood, in stressful situations or when faced with difficult decisions, teens are more likely to:

  • Think one thing and feel another
  • Act from impulses that differ from thoughts or feelings
  • Misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
  • Engage in risky or inappropriate behavior

How you can help

There are several ways you can help teens make healthy choices. Adolescents’ brains go through a “use-it-or-lose-it” pruning system: brain cells and neural connections that get used the least get pruned away and die off; whereas those that get used the most become stronger.

Best Practices:

Walk adolescents through the decision-making process BEFORE they encounter a risky situation.

To help teens make healthy choices, walk them through the decision making process before they encounter risky situations. This will help them to make life-impacting decisions with less stress. Teens who undergo learning and positive experiences help build complex, adaptive brains.

Strategies to support healthy adolescent brain development
  • Encourage teens to have healthy lifestyles and offer opportunities for positive experiences
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for teens to exercise logic and apply analytical and decision making skills to build up those brain functions.
  • Encourage teens to take healthy risks. Taking such risks will help to develop a stronger frontal cortex, effectively giving the teen more valuable life skills.
  • Allow teens to make mistakes so that they can learn from them.

Case Study

Meet Sarah and Justin, both 16. They’ve been dating about 6 months, and Justin wants to have sex. Sarah isn’t ready, but she feels like she’s the only one of her friends who hasn’t had sex yet, and she thinks Justin will end the relationship if they don't do it. Justin says he loves her, and they’ll be together forever, so why wait?

The adolescent brain: Application

The last part of the brain to fully develop is one of the most important—it’s the area that gives people the ability to make rational decisions. Because the part of the brain that helps us think before we act isn’t fully developed until adulthood, in stressful situations or when faced with difficult decisions, teens are more likely to:

  • Think one thing and feel another (Sarah knows she’s not ready to have sex, but she feels like she loves Justin and doesn’t want to lose him.)
  • Act from impulses that differ from thoughts or feelings
  • Misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
  • Engage in risky or inappropriate behavior

Exercise 1

Puberty means lots of physical, social, and emotional changes for adolescents. And going through puberty early can have positive and negative effects on teens. What are some ways to support early developers? Select all that apply:

Exercise 2

Research shows that the part of the brain that generates stress and emotions develops early, but the part responsible for judgment and self-control continues to develop into early adulthood. Therefore, which of the following are true? Select all that apply:

Part 2: Cognitive Development

Go to Section: Learning Objectives > Cognitive Changes During Adolescence > Adolescents Think Differently > Learning Exercises

In this section, you will learn:

  • The major cognitive changes that occur during adolescence
  • How adolescent thinking differs from that of children and adults
  • How adolescent thinking increases the likelihood of risk-taking and engaging in unsafe behavior

Cognitive Changes During Adolescence

As a result of cognitive changes that occur during adolescence, teens are more able to engage in:

Abstract thinking

Adolescents become better able to think about abstract concepts. Unlike young children, whose thinking is more bound to observable events, concrete objects, and their own (or their friends’) experiences, adolescents begin to recognize that certain concepts are intangible and can’t be quantified or measured.

Thinking about possibilities

Adolescents become better able to think about what’s possible, instead of limiting thought to what’s real. They can reason about chance and probability and can envision and evaluate alternatives.

Thinking about things in different ways

Adolescents develop the ability to think about things in multiple ways at the same time and can approach problems with more sophisticated lenses. They can imagine multiple perspectives, consider different dimensions, and weigh those dimensions before taking a course of action.

Thinking about thinking

Adolescents become more reflective and show signs of increased introspection and self-consciousness. They can understand complex relationships between ideas and people.

How you can help

To tailor messages about health and sexuality in developmentally appropriate ways:

  • Talk to teens about what they know, believe, and feel, and build from there. For example, ask teens, “What are your biggest concerns right now?” This can help you assess teens’ developmental level, and you can begin to address issues from there.
  • Offer information and activities in a variety of ways to make sure messages are understood by concrete and abstract thinkers. For example, you can make pregnancy more concrete by describing fetal development and pregnancy using visual aids.

Adolescents Think Differently

Abstract vs. Concrete Thinking

There’s often a difference between what young people are capable of thinking and how thought influences behavior. These cognitive capacities progressively become part of the young person’s repertoire. But adolescents don’t use these new abilities consistently over time or over a variety of situations.Teens may have mature thought processes sometimes but not all the time. As teens mature, their decision making skills increase. Try to understand each adolescent’s level of cognitive development.

When dealing with concrete thinkers:
  • Understand that, to them, pregnancy is an abstract concept.
  • Walk them through the process of complex decision making.
  • Use concrete, realistic examples that they can “see” themselves in when talking about the future.
  • Abstract thinking skills may still be inconsistent.
  • Being more aware of alternatives and consequences may make it difficult for them to make decisions.
  • Allow them the time they need to process their thoughts.
When dealing with abstract thinkers:
  • Abstract thinking skills may still be inconsistent.
  • Being more aware of alternatives and consequences may make it difficult for them to make decisions.
  • Allow them the time they need to process their thoughts.

Risk-Taking Behaviors

Some characteristics of adolescent thinking can interfere with teens’ ability to use “adult-like” thinking and planning on a consistent basis, increasing the likelihood of taking risks and engaging in unsafe behavior:

Focused on the present

Teens sitting together and looking at their phones

Adolescents focus more on the present and are less able to think about the future. Many adolescents either seem unable to think about the future—that is, they can’t think beyond the present—or they discount the future and weigh more heavily the short-term risks and benefits when making decisions.

Feelings of invulnerability

Adolescents are more likely to see themselves as invulnerable. Many teenagers think that they’re invincible and that they can’t get hurt. These beliefs contribute to adolescents weighing risks differently than adults do.

Seeking novel and varied experiences

Adolescents are more likely to seek out novel and varied experiences for the sake of trying “something different.” Because adolescents value new experiences more than adults do, they may undertake risky behaviors even though they may recognize possible harmful consequences, including physical and social risks.

How you can help

Some risk-taking is not only normal, it’s a healthy part of adolescent development, helping teens learn more about themselves and test out their abilities.

Encourage teens to take healthy risks. Adrenaline-charged sports like rock climbing, martial arts, or mountain biking can provide plenty of thrills. Attention-seekers might find they love the rush of performing on stage.

Exercise 1

"My friends are all pretty responsible. We all want to finish high school and go to college. I understand some girls feel pressured to have sex ... but to me, a serious relationship doesn't have to involve sex. And I think if someone really loves you, they wouldn't push you to do something you don’t want to do."

The above quote from a teen demonstrates what cognitive changes that occur during adolescence? Select all that apply:

Exercise 2

Teens are more likely than adults to take risks, like having unprotected sex, because:

Part 3: Identity and Social Development

Go to Section: Learning Objectives > Identity Development > Social Development Milestones > Learning Exercises

Learning Objectives

In this section, you will learn:

  • How adolescents develop an identity
  • The social developmental milestones of adolescence

A lot of important psychological and social development occurs during adolescence, which affects teenagers’:

  • Identity, or how teens view themselves
  • Independence, or their ability to function responsibly on their own
  • Intimacy, or their personal relationships
  • Sexuality and their sexual feelings

Identity Development

Peers and Identity Development

During adolescence, teenagers try to establish a coherent, stable identity. As part of this identity formation, teens explore and “try on" different roles, personalities, ways of behaving, beliefs, interests, and values.

The role of peers

Young people want to belong. Teens often hang out with different groups to find a place where they belong. Peers provide recognition, advice, and encouragement. These relationships are extremely important.

Peer pressure

In early adolescence, young people are particularly susceptible to peer pressure. In general, boys are more vulnerable to peer pressure than girls.

Best Practices:

Ask a recent graduate of your program to serve as a mentor to new participants. Teens are more likely to pay attention to advice coming from something they identify with.

However, there’s sometimes an overemphasis on the influence of peers on adolescent behavior. While peers really influence day-to-day identity choices (like dress or music choices), the family has a powerful effect on adolescents’ basic values and choices.

Positive “Peer Pressure”

“Peer pressure” often implies a negative influence, but peer pressure can be positive, too.

To harness the power of positive peer pressure:

  • Encourage teens to talk to each other about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They might be surprised to learn that not everyone is having sex.
  • Ask a recent “graduate” of your program to serve as a peer educator or mentor to new participants. Teens are more likely to pay attention to messages about healthy behavior when they come from someone the teen identifies with.

Social Development Milestones

Throughout adolescence, young people must undertake major social development tasks:

Become more independent

Adolescence is a gradual transition to being an independent person. Physical changes and appearances both enable adolescents to become more self-sufficient and cause adults to treat them as if they were more self-sufficient.

The development of independence can be a difficult experience for adolescents and their families. Even under the best circumstances, with a strong foundation of love and support, the process of separation may cause emotional and social distress. For adolescents whose families are less stable, the process can be more dramatic and difficult.

Develop close relationships with people outside of their families

These close, peer relationships are key to healthy social development:

  • Teens naturally start to distance themselves from their families.
  • Teens’ peer relationships change in important ways:
  • Spending more time with peers than children do
  • Becoming  less monitored by adults
  • Having greater contact with opposite-sex friends
  • Interacting in increasingly larger groups of friends (which helps form a social identity)
  • Teens start dating and having romantic relationships.

Develop an increased need for and capacity for intimacy

During adolescence, young people develop an increase in the need for intimacy, the capacity to have intimate relationships, and the desire to express this increased capacity.

At the same time, adolescents are learning to think of themselves as sexual beings, to deal with sexual feelings, and to enjoy physical contact with others.

Learn about their own sexuality and learn to integrate gender identity and sexual orientation into their self concepts

Emerging sexuality presents adolescents with a lot of questions:

  • What are the sources of their new feelings?
  • What role should sex play in their lives?
  • How should they control their new body functions?
  • Which partners should they choose, and how should they relate to them?
  • How much experimentation are they comfortable with?

Gender and Sexual Identity

Key Terms: Gender and sexual identity

'Gender identity' describes the gender a person identifies with.

'Sexual identity' refers to a person’s patter of attraction (physical, emotion, sexual and romantic) to others.

Along with their emerging sexuality, adolescents are also learning to integrate gender identity and sexual orientation into their self-concept. Gender identity and sexual orientation are often confused.

  • Gender identity describes the gender(s) people consider themselves to be (masculine, feminine, or transgendered).
  • Sexual orientation refers to a person's pattern of attraction to other people including physical, emotional, sexual, and romantic attraction.
Questioning gender and sexual identity

During adolescence, most youth begin to question what it means to be a man or a woman, and youth wonder how their gender identity fits into their overall identity. It’s common, too, for youth to be uncertain about their sexual orientation during adolescence.

How you can help

Key social developmental milestones

Teens have lots of questions, and they’re looking for answers.

  • Help teens develop a strong sense of self by talking with them about how to choose healthy behaviors.
  • Talk about what makes a healthy relationship, what it feels like to be in one, and what to do if they feel like they’re in an unhealthy relationship.
Gender and sexual identity

Sorting out gender identity and sexual orientation questions can be confusing for adolescents, especially because lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) youth are so often bullied  and stigmatized. This mistreatment harms these young people’s self-esteem and also increases their risk for developing other more serious problems, like depression or drug abuse, or engaging in risky behaviors. Because of the negative experiences, LGBT teens may feel particularly alone, cut off, or even defective.

All adolescents may experience a period of confusion and exploration before accepting and committing to their gender identity or sexual orientation. An understanding and caring adult can be an invaluable resource for all young people, and especially LGBT teens.

Exercise 1

Is the following statement true or false? Friends play a much larger role than families in helping teens establish an identity.

Exercise 2

Adolescents must navigate many social developmental tasks. What are some ways to help teens to become more independent, develop relationship skills, and figure out their sexuality?

Part 4: Promoting Healthy Youth Development

Go to Section: Learning Objectives > Healthy Youth Development > Questions for Adolescents > Learning Exercises

Learning Objectives

In this section, you will learn:

  • Key factors that promote healthy youth development
  • How to implement these features in working with teens

Healthy Youth Development

Program components that promote healthy youth development

Successful youth programs can really vary in both their focus and strategies, but most have key factors in common. They see young people as inherently capable and emphasize cultivating their talents and skills.

Best Practices

Programs should provide teens with:

  • Emotional and moral support
  • Developmentally appropriate structure
  • Supportive adult relationships
  • Connection between families, schools and the community

Specifically, these programs give teens:

  • Emotional and moral support
  • Structure that is developmentally appropriate, with clear messages about positive social values and behaviors
  • Supportive adult relationships
  • Strong ties between families, schools, and broader community resources

Successful programs also provide opportunities for youth to:

  • Form close peer relationships that reinforce healthy behaviors
  • Feel a sense of belonging and being valued
  • Build skills
  • Develop confidence in their abilities, whether in school, sports, arts, or socially
  • Make decisions and take on leadership roles as they mature and gain expertise
  • Contribute in meaningful ways and develop a sense of mattering to their school or community

You don’t have to do every one of these things to put young people on the right path. It all boils down to helping young people develop skills and competencies and providing positive experiences with caring adults who have high expectations and a positive attitude toward young people. The more you’re able to incorporate these kinds of activities into your work with young people, the better you’ll be able to help them make good decisions about their lives and their futures.

Questions for Adolescents

Case Study

Sarah walks in to 5th period health class. “Today,” the teacher says, “We’re talking about waiting to have sex.”

“Just what I need,” Sarah thinks. “Another adult telling me what to do.” But Sarah soon realizes the teacher isn’t telling the class what to do or not to do. She’s helping them make their own decisions.

The teacher says, “You always hear, ‘Don’t have sex until you’re ready!’ But how do you know when you’re ready?"

Have adolescents ask themselves...

Have adolescent ask themselves the following questions to help them make healthy decisions about their lives:

1. Are you doing this because you want to?

Or are you thinking about having sex because someone else wants you to? Maybe you’re not sure you’re ready, but your partner wants to, or maybe all your friends seem to be having sex, so you feel you should be too. You need to do what is right for you and not anyone else.

Anyone who tries to pressure you into having sex by saying, ‘If you truly cared, you wouldn't say no,’ or ‘If you loved me, you'd show it by having sex’ isn't really looking out for you and what matters most to you. They're looking to satisfy their own feelings and urges about sex. If you’re thinking of having sex because you're afraid of losing a boyfriend or girlfriend, it may be a good time to end the relationship.

2. Do I know my partner well enough?

If you’ve only just met your partner or haven’t been going out with them very long, then you probably haven’t had time to build a lot of trust between you. Sex can leave you feeling very vulnerable afterwards in a way you might not be prepared for, so it’s better to be with someone you know you can communicate with and trust.

3. Do I feel comfortable enough with my partner?

It’s natural to feel a little embarrassed and awkward the first time you have sex with someone because it’s not something you’ve ever done before. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will probably feel the same. But if you don’t trust your partner enough not to laugh at you, or you don’t feel you can tell them you’ve never had sex before, then it’s much better to wait until you can.

4. Do I know how to have sex safely?

It’s really important that you know how to protect against pregnancy, STDs, and HIV. Again, this is something you need to talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend about, so you agree on what kind of contraception to use. Especially with things like condoms, it’s good to have some practice putting them on, and to feel okay about doing it. It’s not enough just to have a condom if you don’t know how to use it.

5. Can I talk to my partner about this easily?

If you can’t talk about sex, then you’re not ready to have sex. It’s that simple.

6. Will I be glad when I’m older that I lost my virginity at the age I am now?

Imagine that you’re looking back at yourself in ten years. What do you think you’ll think then about how and when you lost your virginity? Is there any way in which you might regret it? When you’re with someone and they’re pressuring you to have sex, it’s hard to think about ten years from now. But try it one day when you have some time to yourself, and think about what you want your first time to be like.

7. Do we both want to do this?

You may decide that you’re ready to have sex, but your partner isn’t, even if they’ve had sexual partners before. Don’t ever pressure anyone to have sex.

8. Does sex fit in with my partner’s and my personal beliefs?

You, your partner, or your family may have beliefs that say sex before marriage (or at a young age) is wrong. Do you feel comfortable going against those views? Will it cause you unnecessary worry and guilt if you do? Dealing with the consequences of sex—and all the emotions that go with it—can be hard, so make sure you have someone to talk to that you can trust. But remember, the decision to have sex should be an agreement between you and your partner, and while other people may help or influence your decision, they shouldn’t make it for you.

9. So, are you ready for sex?

These questions help you think through some of the important issues you need to consider before making this important decision.

When it comes to sex, there are two important things to remember:

  1. You are ultimately the person in charge of your own happiness and your own body; and
  2. You have plenty of time to wait until you're totally sure about it.

Sarah listened to the teacher. She had a lot to think about. She said “yes” to some of the questions but not all. She still wasn’t sure.

How you can help

Implement these features in your work with teens

Throughout this module, we mentioned some ways you can help promote healthy youth development in your work. Here are some others:

  • Listen to teens’ concerns
  • Post written standards of behavior for participation in your program or create a rule handbook
  • Provide time for meaningful discussions with good role models
  • Model close, trusting relationships
  • Identify and build on a teen’s existing talent or interests
  • Provide opportunities to build skills
  • Help teens break down goals into small steps
  • Recognize small achievements
  • Encourage teens to make decisions about ways to improve their community and provide opportunities for them to volunteer
  • Include parents in program activities or decisions

Exercise 1

What are some good strategies for promoting healthy youth development?

Summary

Go to Section: Course Summary > References

Course Summary

Let's quickly review some main facts about Adolescent Development:

  • Because some areas of the brain continue to develop quite dramatically during adolescence and even into the mid-20s, teens are more likely to act on impulse and engage in risky behavior.
  • During adolescence, teens’ cognitive capacity and decision making skills increase, but teens don’t use these new abilities consistently. They’re more likely to focus on the present and to think of themselves as invulnerable.
  • Teens look to both family and friends to help them figure out who they are and what they believe. At the same time, young people are becoming more independent; developing close, intimate relationships; and learning about their sexuality.
  • Programs that promote healthy youth development view young people as inherently capable, help them develop skills and competencies, and provide positive experiences with caring adults.

References

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, The Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making.

Gale K. Gorke, PhD, Kids Kan, Inc., personal conversation on December 2, 2010.

Judith W. Herrman, “The Teen Brain as a Work in Progress: Implications forPediatric Nurses,” Pediatric Nursing, March-April 2005. Vol. 31, No. 2.

Erica Monasterio, “Stages of Development—Adolescents and Their Children,” in Fundamental Skills for Case Managers: A Self-Study Guide, Center for Health Training, 2003.

David Walsh, Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, Free Press: New York, 2004.

Final Exam

Go to Section: Final Exam Intro > Exam

Final Exam

You have nearly completed the Adolescent Development E-Learning Module!

To finish the module, you must correctly answer the 8 of the following 10 questions.

Question 1

Puberty typically begins between:

Question 2

The effect of hormones on mood in adolescents appears to be:

Question 3

The frontal cortex develops throughout adolescence and well into the mid-20s, so teens may not mature in certain areas until development is completed. These areas include (select all that apply):

Question 4

Because the part of the brain that helps us think before we act is not fully developed in teens, they are likely to (select all that apply):

Question 5

Adolescents think differently than adults. These differences include (select all that apply):

Question 6

Which statement is most true about teen identity formation?

Question 7

Which of the following answers is not a social development task for adolescents? Select one.

Question 8

True or False: Adolescents may experience a period of confusion and exploration before accepting and committing to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Question 9

How can parents and other adults help adolescents find answers to their questions about their identity?

Question 10

Which of these statements are true? Select all that apply.

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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