4 Simple Strategies Excerpt | Communication | Internet

very simple (but effective) communications strategies...

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1. Listen
Listening, and paying attention to what you hear, is the essential first step in your approach to Horizontal Influence. If you’re not already doing this, any activity that you currently plan and implement to help you adapt to the changing landscape exists in a vacuum. You haven’t established the benchmarks you need to assess the impact and longevity of your activities in this space. And above all, you don’t know how, when, and where to respond. Before you start planning any activity, you must map the landscape of Horizontal Influence as it applies to you, and your marketplace. You must listen to what’s being said and you must create or access comprehensive historical archives of digital content that will inform benchmarking and research. Be sure that you understand the key issues that define the conversations around your category. Know who your high-priority stakeholder communities are, what roles they play, and what they currently think, feel, and say to other people about your organisation. Listen to and value anecdotal evidence from your staff: they bring you news from the front line. Make information from customer touchpoints (retail centres, call centres, websites etc.) immediately available across your entire organisation, and encourage everyone to use it. Invest in technologies that scour blogs, forums, wikis, newsgroups, email lists and websites, for mentions of your brands, your competitive set, and the key issues that affect your market. Develop a list of key words and phrases that should alert you to opportunities and threats, and use them to trigger activity when they turn up in consumer communications. Cross-reference online activity and customer-relations information with mainstream media coverage, and other marketing activity. You should be able to identify the mainstream media stories that create the most online buzz, and the online stories that eventually surface in the mainstream media. Track these stories as they ebb and flow over time, and learn to identify the trigger points that affect the Horizontal Influence news cycle. These will differ from market to market, from brand to brand. This is some of the most important competitive knowledge that you will ever gather because: your customers are saying about you, and about your competitors. potential trouble spots. effectiveness of marketing campaigns, events, and media-relations activity.

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2. Respond
If you know something, and don’t act on it, you might as well have never known. Listening isn’t enough. Once you have put in place the tools and processes, you need to know what the Horizontal Influencers are saying about you. You must quickly establish a response strategy. We recommend that you build this around four key ideas: i. Be Fast Timeliness of response is essential: news spreads much faster on the web than it does in traditional media. The global Internet audience is “always on”, and doesn’t adhere to predictable news cycles. Stories can blow up quickly as audiences in different time zones and countries come online. Plus the Internet doesn’t stop working at weekends. However, a good monitoring system should always give you enough advance warning to respond speedily to both good news and bad. So you need to be prepared: establish clear policies and crisis management procedures that describe who should respond, under what circumstances, and the nature of the response. Above all, establish clear responsibilities. ii. Be Honest Honesty is essential when trying to encourage, or respond to Horizontal Influencers. Spokespeople must make their position clear, and not pretend to be anything, or anyone other than they are. Painful experience shows that the public are much better at uncovering commercial activity masquerading as grassroots communications than organisations or agencies think. Do not underestimate them. Furthermore, spokespeople must be honest in what they say and the way they say it: their response will be picked over by many readers and commentators. Bear in mind, too, that each and every employee of the company will be perceived as a spokesperson. In most cases, they will be your best ambassadors to the Horizontal Influence because they are real people, and real people are what drive Horizontal Influence. Blogging policies and social media policies should make it clear to them that they must always identify themselves as employees, even when the views are clearly their own. iii. Be Relevant The world of Horizontal Influence is a global conversation, where you should follow the usual rules of polite society: don’t interrupt or try to change the topic. You should be sure that what people are saying is relevant and adds value to what has already been said, not simply cut-and-paste a pre-agreed company line. Above all, you must take their time to familiarise yourself with the opinions, attitudes, and conventions of the community or blog in which you are responding. iv. Be Personal Understand and adhere to the basic principal of netiquette, “remember the human.” Be personal. Just as you should try to get to know the person, or community before they begin to respond, you should work to make yourself known, and establish yourself as a real person. People respond better to people than they do to anonymous positions or roles, and that’s part of the attraction of Horizontal Influence. Phone conversations, or even physical meetings with key Horizontal Influence stakeholders will help develop personal relationships that will afford your responses better reception.

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3. Influence
A passive listen-and-respond strategy still won’t meet your needs: you should expect to exert your own influence in the debates and conversations that cover key issues in your market. How you do this will depend on your audiences, but – at the very least – you should invest in both a Content Development Programme and a Blogger Relationship Programme. Content Development Programme Horizontal Influencers have an insatiable appetite for all kinds of content: news, photographs, research, opinions, statistics, anything. It’s up to you to feed this appetite as best you can. Carry out research to understand what your various interest communities are looking for, and how you can help them. What do you have that they want that no one else can offer? Think about what they want to hear and do, not what you want to say. Review the information that you already publish against these needs, and adapt it for an online audience. Make content available in as many formats as you can: supply PDF files, text files, spreadsheets, photographs, audio files, and video. Have documents “chunked” into short, easily re-purposed files. Publish clear and friendly re-use licenses. Ensure that your answers are as easy to find as possible, by optimising carefully for search engines, and investing in link-building programmes. Publish your content widely, and not just on your own site, instead seeking out content repositories where users are likely to be looking – you might, for example, consider publishing photographs and images on Flickr. Don’t be precious about bringing audiences to your website. One of the paradoxes of Horizontal Influence, after all, is that audiences are more likely to believe your information when someone else presents it to them. Put systems in place to monitor content re-use, so that you can learn what content best attracts the Horizontal Influencers, what is most likely to be picked up and used, and what attracts positive word-of-mouth. Use this knowledge to implement a content development programme to create a steady stream of attractive, reusable material for the Horizontal Influencers. Blogger Relationship Programme From your online stakeholder analysis, you should be able to identify the key horizontal influencers and opinion formers in your field. Seek their opinions, and ask for advice. Treat them as though they were journalists, get to know them, invite them to events, and send them news updates. Consider running blog “roadshows”, offering exclusive interview opportunities to key bloggers and communities.

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4. Enlist
Recall that the insight in dealing with Horizontal Influence is that people need to define and promote themselves. Bearing this in mind, the final step in addressing the challenge of Horizontal Influence is simply to accentuate the positive. Do what you can to make your promoters louder than your detractors. Ensuring that your customer advocates have a visible platform from which to promote themselves will help them promote your products and messages. You should develop ways of identifying those who regularly pass on positive word-of-mouth. There are many ways you could perform this research, from straightforward desk research and customer satisfaction surveys, to the more technically complex sentiment analysis. Involve them as much as you can. Seek their advice, speak to them, send them free trial products, backstage passes, and ask their opinion. Let them try out new products before anyone else. Invite them to try out new web services, create special areas for them. Making it special means making it exclusive – you can’t let everyone in. Maybe let them invite a few friends – by making them the arbiter of who’s in, and who isn’t, you’ll give them a reason to tell their friends. When Google set up Gmail, their free webmail service in 2004, the scarcity value of the invitations meant they could be traded on eBay for up to two hundred dollars.40

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