The Conversation is the Strategy

Conference photo
Creative Company Conference 2011

“Strategic communications” is a fabulous buzzword.  But what is communications strategy, anyway?  In sports, strategy is a means of overcoming competition.  In politics, it’s the way you get votes for your legislation or election. In business, strategy is the way you achieve certain defined objections (and thus, overcome competition).

In communications we are competing for attention – for “mindshare” – so we need a strategy too.  But ultimately, we are aiming for more: we want those minds involved, caring and believing.  We want them to act on what they hear, in a way that will advance our purpose.

We’ve begun to see that nothing gets attention like a good conversation.  This is what has driven social media, talk radio, reality TV and Internet video to the forefront of marketing and communications.  Corporations of all kinds are struggling to find ways to join or generate online conversations, because simply pushing messages out on traditional platforms like print and television won’t have the same impact.

Where the conversation happens is what counts

When conversation happened around the family dinner table, in the beauty parlor or shopping aisles, companies couldn’t effectively listen in.  The same goes for the old “water-cooler conversation” – company managers rarely heard what employees were really talking about.

That’s changed radically.  Online conversations about employers, brands, products and even salaries and policies are rampant.  For corporate communications professionals it often seems there’s only one choice:  join in, or be ignored.  But there is another:  create the conversation you want.

This is where great strategies kick in:  where will your conversation take place?  Does it start face-to-face, and spread from there?  Does it get traction in a close-knit community, or do you need to provoke viral dialog?

Authentic dialog makes the difference

Conversations can spin out of control, no question.  But a careful communication strategy avoids that by staking out higher ground.  Shutting down a conversation is a sure way to cut off support and limit your effectiveness, whereas a well-crafted response can prompt positive responses and build consensus around your goals.

Developing an authentic leadership voice isn’t easy.  A fair amount of self-examination, both on the part of organizations and their executives, is required.  One good way to begin is to work on a live presentation, and ask “How can we turn this into a conversation?”

Get the conversation going

Here’s one simple way:  let me know what you think of this!