Strong, clear and impactful external comms are crucial for organisations to be recognised and effective within the world today. And, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, being understood by your external audience has never been more critical, especially within the public sphere.
We were lucky enough to chat with Chris Kealey, Head of Strategic Communications and Engagement at Leicestershire Police, to gain insights into potential barriers to effective external communication and how to overcome them.
Chris identified that “the main barrier to effective external comms is managing what's important against what's new”. In a constantly evolving world, the new becomes increasingly tempting in the face of what is consistently important to your audience on a daily basis. Content that is always relevant, accessible and simple is central to bolstering engagement and building trust.
Below are 6 additional barriers that may be getting in the way of your external communications without you realising:
Oh boy, accessibility or lack of it within informational content and external comms really deserves a whole post of its own. Many external comms teams are often guilty of creating content that excludes a large portion of their readership by ignoring web content accessibility guidelines, using unclear language and dismissing descriptive headings. Troublingly, many of the third-party web analytics tools that you may be using to garner audience insights are not compliant with web content accessibility guidelines, therefore contributing to an all too common accessibility blind spot.
At React and Share, we are committed to complying with web content accessibility guidelines, therefore ensuring that our clients are able to gain a diverse range of feedback from a diverse range of audiences. We’re also on hand to help comms teams identify where language may be unclear, through our instant reactive feedback tool. Ultimately, feedback needs to be garnered from across all segments, including those who may previously have been excluded from your content.
So, how can you know if your content is perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (or, in other words, accessible)? By collating, analysing and implementing reader feedback. Through integrating feedback into your communications and content strategy, you can ensure that your external comms and content is useful, informative and exactly what your reader is searching for.
Your reader knows best, so let them talk to you. Ignoring, or even worse not collecting, reader feedback is a common barrier to external communications success. Manually gathering feedback via feedback forms and social media is a great start. After installing React and Share, one of our clients found that 95% of their audience were unable to find the information that they were looking for. Through actioning user feedback, our clients have been able to improve their content and enhance their external comms across the board.
Misunderstanding Your Audience
Who are my readers? What’s the question that my reader wants answered? How can I inform Gen Zs and Millennials at the same time? By granting access to immediate direct feedback, React and Share removes the guesswork for external comms teams, letting you know if your content has hit all the right notes for a diverse range of readers who may be landing on your page.
Misunderstanding your audience is the number one contributor to not meeting their complex needs and communicating your crucial messaging. To avoid this, it is important to know your audience. And, especially if you have a range of groups of audiences, data-driven insights are the key to helping you to get under your readers’ skin, align your external communications to their needs and nail your content sentiment.
Using the Wrong Platforms
Ploughing efforts and resources into social media is a hopeless endeavour if your audience doesn’t consume information that way. Listening to feedback and taking the time to understand your readers only makes a difference if you don’t waste time posting on the wrong platform for your organisation. And spreading your external comms team thinly across 12 different platforms is way less valuable than carefully curating content for 3 platforms effectively.
Try narrowing your platforms down to simultaneously serve a wide range of readers in the most appropriate form. Then, start to measure content across your organisation to work out which topics and platforms are working, who they are working for, and how you can improve your information to create content that matters. We’re not saying don’t jump on the latest social platform wagon – we’re just advising that you think carefully about it first.
Misaligning Internal and External Comms Teams
Internal and External comms teams are central to the success of an organisation. Although Internal Comms and External Comms perform distinct functions, deliver different messages and inform different audiences. Nonetheless, these functions, messages and audiences should be aligned, with brand consistency topping the priority lists of each seemingly disparate team to cultivate collaborative organisational cultures.
Through unifying separate teams behind shared organisational goals and tone of voice, it’s easier to engage audiences and team members alike, with everyone driving the mission to achieve effective comms.
Lack of Trust
If your audience doesn't trust you, why would they trust the information that you share? In 2021 and beyond, the sharing of accurate, reliable and ultimately truthful information has never been more critical. In these turbulent times, reliable content has become a lifeline to millions across the globe.
Poor communication can fracture audience trust. Simultaneously, without trust, there can be no effective communication. By navigating the hurdles that we’ve explored – ensuring accessibility, garnering feedback, understanding your audience, employing appropriate platforms and aligning internal and external comms teams – you will not only radically enhance the effectiveness of your external comms, but build trust with your readership.
Chris’s advice to overcome common barriers?
“Setting a target between proactive and reactive comms at 70/30. It pushes us to set our own agenda, strengthen our own channels to do that and manage resources, even during crisis comms”
Balancing proactive and reactive comms, setting your agenda and strengthening your channels may just be the key to lighting the way for your organisation through the murky depths of the new normal. Thank you Chris for your contributions to this piece.