Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Find your tapestry

Most non-profit marketing and communications operations are all about threads.

There’s the website. There’s likely some social media – Facebook, Twitter, maybe a few others. There maybe an email newsletter or, if they are really backwards, a print newsletter. There’s events of various kinds, large and small. And there’s media releases on everything from the latest annual report to the big honking donation they just received. All pretty standard stuff. Each of them is a thread.

But a thread, no matter how ambitious it wants to be, cannot be a tapestry. We all know this. Here in Canada, we understand that a dozen superstar hockey players don’t necessarily make a team. In the US, the metaphor is more likely about baseball, and in the UK it could very well be about football (soccer). These marketing threads on their own are nothing compared to the beauty and power of the larger tapestry that they make up.

And yet, too many non-profits don’t understand this. The threads simply don’t work together. The ads don’t relate to the website which doesn’t relate to the Facebook page which doesn’t relate to the Twitter feed which doesn’t relate to the print newsletter and so on. In fact, the only real connection they have is that one acts a direction-finder for the other. So, the website has the Facebook link, but not any real meaningful connection to it – their content is either blissfully separate or just a repeat of the other. There is no give or take, no playing off each other, no pushing and pulling to get the most value out of visiting one or the other.

So, while the threads might appear to be a tapestry because they are physically woven together the picture they create is confused and fractured.

There’s a number of problems with this. The first is obvious. They could be more, perhaps much more, but they aren’t. The second is all about return on investment. Maintaining all these threads is expensive in terms of cost and other resources. Bringing them together into one whole tapestry will make each one more effective and that will likely save money and time.

The likely culprit for all of this is poor communications planning. So many non-profits don’t have a master communications or marketing plan. Many who do just have what amounts to a “menu” of threads and no more. No one has sat down and done the hard thinking required to make all the pieces work with each other. And for some of them, no one ever will.

What I tell my clients is that the biggest challenge they face is coordinating the overall effort. They have to do whatever they can to create the tapestry out of the raw threads with clever ideas and smart planning. Some get it, others don’t.

If you look at your non-profit marketing and see just threads then stop what you are doing and take a step back. If the threads are the how, then content is the what. Assemble you content and chart a course for it to flow across each thread that unites them all into one larger storytelling machine. Give each thread its due, but make sure they reinforce each other. When visitors go to your website they should see something that motivates them to go to see your Facebook page. Your Facebook page should have content that will interest them in your newsletter. And so on. Part of what you are doing is cross-promotion, but part of it is that you are trying to deepen your engagement with visitors.

Threads are nice, but tapestries are better. Take the time to see the big picture and your non-profit marketing will be more than the sum of its parts.

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