How to Keep Your Communications “Citizen Centric”

Earlier this week, I was listening to a webinar on GDPR and what it means for internal comms. While the speaker outlined a number of tips for IC professionals (biggest takeaway – make friends with your Chief Data Officer, if you haven’t already – the GDPR specifically references employees and is relevant to internal comms!), what struck me most was how he spoke about the legislation itself.

He referred to the GDPR as being “citizen centric”, that is, it’s designed to prioritise the needs and rights of each of us as individuals. A nice and easy concept for us communicators to wrap our heads around, since the same thing is true for communications: they need to be designed around the audience in order to be effective. Every message we issue, every channel we issue it through, every campaign and project we run, must be “citizen centric” if we want it to succeed.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of communications that leave us scratching our heads, wondering why our time is being wasted by seemingly irrelevant messages, indecipherable jargon and impossible calls to action. And most of us have probably issued communications that, looking back, were less than 100% audience focused. The CEO bulletin that screams ‘box tick’. The ‘it’s never going to be interesting so why try harder’ regulatory update. Those minor pieces that slip through without sufficient challenge from a comms team that’s overloaded and trying to juggle umpteen other priorities.

Nobody likes issuing those, and not only because we know nobody likes to receive them. It’s because we know that every time we leave our audiences asking “so what?”, it gets that little bit harder to get them to open the next message. To respond to the next survey. To believe in what they’re hearing, or even that they should listen at all.

If your comms aren’t taking organisational objectives and making them relevant and compelling to your audience, those objectives won’t be met.

So here are a few questions to keep in mind to help us avoid “so what” and stay “citizen centric”:

  • Why does this audience need this communication? Ask from the audience’s perspective, not the organisation’s. The answer should inform your messaging. If you can’t come up with a reason, look again at your audience, message and timing – something about this piece of communication needs to be re-thought.
  • What are we asking people to do as a result of this communication, and have we made it as easy as possible to do it? Your call to action should be clear, and you should have all the necessary support in place before the communication goes live, whether that’s fully functioning systems, pre-briefed enquiry handlers, adequate stock etc.
  • What questions might people have about this communication, and how can they get answers? You can demonstrate audience focus not only by including as much clear, relevant and contextualised detail as possible up front, but also by ensuring space for further conversations. Centralised FAQ documents can be a great starting point for addressing common queries, and manager briefing packs can help support team level discussions, but always try to leave room for two-way conversations and organic questions where possible, especially on bigger issues.
  • How and when should this communication go live? Again, think about this from the audience’s perspective and relevant to the content. While it may require extra resource and planning, some communications are far better delivered in person. Selecting the right channel and timing for your communication by considering how it will land with the audience is key to ensuring your communications stay “citizen centric”.

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