We’ve just finished the fourth in a series of digital communications reviews for different clients: 3 in the UK, 1 in the US (which covered affiliate teams in Mexico, France and Singapore).
I love these doing these. They’re a privilege because our team has a chance to really get to know an organisation, some of the people and the opportunities and pressures they face.
I thought it would be helpful to write down some of the things that we’ve learned about running effective reviews that aim to meet the needs of the client’s audience, as well as help an organisation get better at communicating online.
I’m referring here to social media reviews, but sometimes they’re called audits, diagnostics or strategies. The name just depends on what the client has asked for. Generally we won’t produce conventional strategies – long tomes written in remote offices and delivered to the client in a big reveal at the end of the process. So, we tend to avoid working on ‘strategies’. Reviews, blueprints, diagnostics all sound more action-oriented (I think) and better help explain our hands-on approach.
Understand why the review is really being requested
On one level we need to make sure that the expectations of the client are aligned with our values as a business: building in-house skills and confidence to help teams do digital for themselves. If a review is supposed to be a business case for outsourcing or doing less digital, then that isn’t for us.
More often, there’s an underlying problem that’s stifling how a client does digital communications: disparate teams, lack of funding or support from leadership, or a combination of all of these. Anyone can drive comms performance in the short term – only the most probing and rigorous reviews will help address the change that’s needed for the long run.
No organisation needs a review of their outputs alone
Anyone can Google the best practice, compare performance and generally adapt and learn. But our help is useful to both understand how digital comms is being driven internally (roles, responsibilities, skills and confidence) and how to prioritise what’s being done, in order to make the important work even better.
Don’t be intimidated by the creative, or associated awards
Often we’re commissioned by global organisations with massive marketing budgets and award-winning campaigns. My initial thought is always ‘how can we possibly help them?’. But, the biggest and brightest activity is usually down to one team or person, or an agency. And for every successful piece of work there are others that fell by the wayside or never got started. These are the areas for scrutiny and development.
Work in the open, no big reveals
It’s easier to get buy-in to data and ideas early on, and understand anything that clashes with organisational culture. Simple things like language are easier to explain or change before the end of a project.
More importantly these reviews – if done well – should tread on lots of toes and probe lots of internal mini-industries. It’s easier to give everyone access to the work in progress. This helps defeat any assumptions or misplaced concerns, and forewarns people about what we’re thinking.
Pilot ideas and test assumptions
Linked with the point above. A Helpful review is one where we can encourage teams to try doing things differently during the process rather than hope things will change after some written recommendations. Pilots also give us an opportunity to test our assumptions and keep the review grounded in practical actions that stand a chance of working.
Use the Doteveryone guide
I like the way this guide to the Definition of Done [PDF] cleanly separates insight from observations, and limits recommendations rather than encouraging huge lists of tactical ideas.
Stay focussed on the things that will have the greatest impact
There’s endless things an organisation could do to improve its digital comms, including different tools, copying successful examples from elsewhere or repeating successful activity. But sometimes there’s huge value to be released from stopping activity. From being brave and changing something, like closing a channel or only promoting certain types of information.
Be prepared to compromise, just a little
I’m not one for hierarchies or silos, but sometimes – sometimes – it helps to play the game a little, if it allows us to enable better cross-team working or build capacity where it’s really needed.