Sunday, May 31, 2009

Travelling To The Communications Pointy End

This past week I have been "Susan Boyled".

Being "Susan Boyled" is the term I'm now using to describe how a person's initial expectations and assumptions can be seriously challenged as they learn more about a situation or a person. It refers to British singer Susan Boyle's first appearance on a UK talent show when she became an overnight sensation.

This past week I have been doing market research for a national PR campaign. I've been observing how staff in two cities deal with customers. I sat in on a number of customer interactions and saw at first hand the level of pre-existing knowledge customers had, and how staff went about explaining what are often complex, sometimes emotional transactions. In all cases I was impressed by the approach taken by the customers and staff I saw.

So this week's experience has reminded me about two valuable communications lessons:
  • Sure, you can read market research studies and speak to management but nothing provides better insights than actually watching "stuff happening on the ground". This is blatantly obvious but how many of us routinely "travel to the communications pointy end" to ensure what we are doing is actually helping our staff and customers.
  • Before this week I made certain assumptions about the websites, brochures and other communications products that support customer interactions. What I saw has now given me the opportunity to pause and review how we communicate complex issues.
As communicators we sometimes lock ourselves into past practice because that's how we have always done something. Or because something has been successful in the past we automatically assume it will work again. Or we may simply lack the energy to tackle management biases and preconceptions. In seeking out convenience we can easily overlook how things have changed ... particularly our customers.

It's always good communications practice, no matter how senior you are, to regularly challenge your own assumptions and the advice you give others. And when challenged by a new approach, refrain from saying "we've tried that before and it didn't work" without reflecting on why an idea may have previously failed and why it might just succeed as circumstances change.

If you often travel to the communications pointy end you'll rarely be "Susan Boyled".

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where Australians Go Online

Last week I attended a presentation by Hitwise Asia Pacific on where Australians go online for information, particularly which government sites they visit.

March 2009 data shows the most popular online destinations for Australians are search engines and social networks. Australia has around 6500 government websites and these account for 2.4% of all Australian online visits - higher than the US (1.7%) and the UK (0.9%).

Federal Government websites account for 60% of all visits, State Government websites accounted for 29.7% visits while
6.2% of visits went to Local Government sites.

In March 2009 the most popular Federal Government websites were:
  • Bureau of Meteorology
  • Centrelink
  • Australian Taxation Office
  • Australian Job Search
  • Australian Taxation Office - Tax Agent Portal
The most popular State Government websites were:
  • Victoria Country Fire Authority
  • CityRail
  • Roads and Traffic Authority NSW
  • Better Health Channel
  • Transport Infoline
With the top Local Government sites being:
  • Brisbane City Council
  • Gold Coast City Council
  • City of Sydney.
  • City of Melbourne
As well as their own online efforts, social networks could provide a key opportunity for Governments to share information with Australians. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia all ranked in the top 15 websites that Australians visited this past March .

Referrals from social networks sites to government information are up 16.1% in the last 12 months.

Get the full report from Hitwise

The Power of Community Relations

Smart organisations instinctively know their survival is linked to their community. And that long term success depends on their relations with other organisations and individuals in the areas and environments in which they operate.

Those same organisations invest time, money and effort in community relations programs and continually look for ways to link to their communities. Effective community relations can increase their visibility and influence and help their bottom line by fending off unwarranted restrictions or criticisms.

Effective community relations gives them a "license to operate".

The University of Canberra apparently understands the power and importance of community. In the past 12 months it has embarked on a program aimed at drawing it closer to those living in Australia's national capital and the surrounding region.

What's attractive about the University's approach is it is simple and seems to be effective. For example this year the University:

  • Entered a team in the Mothers Day Breast Cancer Walk joining around 4000 locals to raise awareness of this critical women's health issue. The team's brilliant orange T shirts announced their presence and the University won the award for the education institution making the biggest contribution on Mothers Day to the cause in Canberra.
  • Is sponsoring (for the second year running) a competition to encourage the development of young Canberra film makers in their final year of school. Run in conjunction with the Tuggeranong Arts Centre the sponsorship connects the University to local schools and, importantly to influential personalities in Canberra's arts community.
  • Has established a Canberra Award to acknowledge students who undertake an active program of personal development over the course of their university studies. Through the award students develop their skills by a combination of academic work, paid work experience or voluntary participation in community activities. At graduation they get a certificate of achievement which in today's tough employment market could be just the thing to make them stand out from other job seekers.
The community relations program seems to be cutting through. Along with vigorous marketing efforts, this year both the University's domestic and international students enrolments are well up.

(Disclosure: My partner works at the University of Canberra)
Publish Post

Monday, May 4, 2009

Marketing Starts Inside the Organization

Recently we came across this marketing presentation which provides a clear overview of the fundamentals of marketing.