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Is Anyone Reading This?

About five years ago at a program staff meeting I said to my colleagues, “You know, we really need to start a blog on MeHAF’s website.  It would be a great way to talk about our work and connect with more people.”  To my surprise, everyone was on board with this idea.  I got the blog up and running, but didn’t think much about what we’d need to do to get people to actually read the blog.

Now, five years later, I admit I have no idea whether or not this blog is even remotely effective in getting out messages about our work.  Who reads this?  No idea.  How many people read it?  Not a clue.  Is this the best way to share what we learn?  Ummm…

Google Analytics can tell us some of this information, but I think it’s probably more important to think about the blog’s effectiveness in the context of a broader communications strategy, which is something I know a lot of us at small non-profits (including MeHAF) struggle with.  

In November, I attended the Grantmakers in Health (GIH) Fall Forum on Crafting Media Strategies that Accelerate Policy Change where I heard from several communications experts who probably could tell me that a blog alone does not a communications strategy make.  So in case anyone is reading this post, here are a few things I learned:

Weird Catches People’s Attention
Want people to learn about your new economic analysis of blah blah blah (insert policy initiative here)?  Find some creative, weird, counter intuitive way to message about your analysis.  Handing out the executive summary on its own won’t cut it anymore.  

Build In-house Digital Media Capacity
Do you have a young new hire in your office who probably uses social media as their primary communication tool with friends and family?  Ask that staff member to help build your organization’s digital media capacity.  Take advantage of their expertise and use it!  Train others in your organization to use different social media and digital platforms.  Digital is the way most people communicate these days, so if you’re not on the bus then neither is your mission.  Turns out a blog probably isn’t enough – you need to promote promote promote through lots of other channels as well.

Facebook is the Most Non-Partisan Platform
I’m including this one just because it was an “ah-ha” moment for me.  Facebook, as it turns out, is a great way to connect with people across ideological lines.  Have you noticed that one uncle of yours who constantly posts about how great Bernie Sanders is?  Or the friend from high school who reposts everything from Fox News?  Or how about your college roommate’s friend from work you met that one time but don’t know at all?  Which side of your issue might she fall on?  You get my point.  There’s a diverse Facebook universe out there just waiting for you to tap into it.   

Admittedly, these three takeaways are only small pieces of the communications puzzle, but all combined, they add up to a larger takeaway:  If I’m not thinking about communications as a critical part of my work, then my work will never be as effective as I want it to be.  

It’s not enough to just populate a blog, or send out a newsletter, or email your latest research to your usual collaborators.  Communications needs to be a critical piece of our overall strategy.  We need to talk to our Boards about the importance of a strong communications plan, and more importantly, we need to dedicate enough resources to do this work.  

Don’t think of communications as that extra thing you’ll get to someday.  Think of communications as an embedded piece of the work you do every day.  Before you write that next policy brief, make sure you’ve already developed the strategy you’ll use to get your analysis out into the world (in a way that someone without a Masters in Public Policy can understand…or even a Bachelors, for that matter!).  That way you won’t have to ask yourself, “Is anyone reading this?”

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