No company exists in a vacuum. Businesses live and die on the strength of their external stakeholder relationships, and the strength of these relationships depends heavily on how effectively your company communicates and engages with them. Indeed, recent research conducted by Forbes, PwC, and Towers Watson has quantified the importance of communication: for every US$1 billion spent on a project, they found that a company risks US$135 million, with over half of that risk stemming from communication issues.
- Understanding Who You Are Working With
- Developing a Communications Plan (7 Essential Steps)Part 2
- 4 Methods of Engagement You Should Be UsingPart 3
So how do you strategically manage your external stakeholder relations and communications? Here’s a detailed roadmap to get you started.
Understand your Stakeholders
A good first step is to understand the different types of stakeholders, as well as how they relate to your company and each other:
- Governors: These stakeholders have a regulatory interest in the company, for example external regulators and bodies that issue required licenses or permits.
- Influencers: These stakeholders may not have a direct relationship with the organization, but they have the power or the ability to dramatically affect the organization itself. Influencers include peak industry bodies and media contacts.
- Providers: These stakeholders provide resources to the organization. Providers include vendors and suppliers, as well as investors, shareholders, and business partners.
It’s important to note that even within a category, stakeholders will come from different backgrounds and have their own interests, priorities, and relationships. This means you will need to customize your communications to suit each stakeholder’s preferences.
Tailoring your Communications
Stakeholders are interested in your company for a reason. Identify that reason and keep them engaged by tailoring your communications to them on two levels. Firstly, content: it’s important to choose relevant news and messages for that particular stakeholder. For example, most Influencers may not be that interested by a weekly update on equipment maintenance. Conversely, some of your Providers may eagerly await such information so that they can better serve your company.
Secondly, how you say the message is almost as important as the message itself.
Some stakeholders may stop reading if there’s too much technical jargon, while others would feel lost without it. This even includes tailoring the specific method of delivery to the stakeholder.
Different stakeholder groups will also want different levels of involvement. For stakeholders who are eager to participate, Status allows you to give them access to selected internal company topics by adding them as observers:
And for those who prefer a different level of involvement:
Of course, tailoring your communications is easier said than done, especially when you consider that your stakeholders will talk to each other. This means that your carefully targeted messages ultimately need to be consistent. On top of this, your communications must also skillfully navigate the politics within and between each group of stakeholders. For these reasons, it’s important to develop a formal communications plan.
Developing a formal communications plan
Tailoring your message is just part of your broader communications plan. If you want to be strategic, you’ll need to take a few steps back.
Understand the communication challenge:
First, start by looking at your company’s mission. Here are some quick questions to ask yourself:
– What is the main goal of our company?
– Which problems does our company solve?
– What value do we provide?
This is also a good time to make sure that everyone in the company is on the same wavelength and shares the same vision.
Define the objective:
Set out what you want your communications plan to focus on. Quick questions:
– Are we hoping to promote our company’s work to get more business?
– Are we looking to encourage involvement from the community?
– Who exactly are we targeting?
Try not to focus on too many different messages or stakeholder groups at any one time, otherwise, your communications may become too diffused to be effective.
Audit your current communications:
Evaluate how your business currently reaches out to its stakeholders. Quick questions:
– What communication tools are we using?
– What messages are we sharing?
– How effective are these communications?
Back your plan with research:
Use the audit as an opportunity to engage your stakeholders directly. Ask them how they feel about your company’s messages, and what goals are the most important to them. You can also conduct more general research into your industry sector and use these insights to design your plan.
Tailor the message:
Now you can use what you’ve learned to improve and tailor your communications. Document the audience you are targeting, the wording you want to use, and choose your official corporate communication tools. It’s also important here to make sure your pitch, voice, and branding are consistent.
Determine how to measure success:
To track how effective your communications are, you need to be able to measure your plan’s success. Figure out what qualitative and quantitative data you need and implement a tracking process.
Roll out the plan, then rinse and repeat:
After all that hard work, roll out your plan and start measuring its success. If you reach your goals, great! Figure out what worked and keep doing it. If you didn’t reach your goals, then take it as an opportunity to learn. Either way, it’s a good idea to revisit each of these steps from time to time to adjust and improve your plan.
Keep Your Stakeholders Engaged
By this point, you should have a fantastic communications plan that has helped you build strong relationships with your external stakeholders. Now comes the most challenging step: how do you keep them interested and actively involved in your company over the long term? Here are a few tips:
Listen when they speak:
Communication is a two-way street. This is easy on Status, where every update has a separate section for real-time comments that makes communication smooth and fast. As a bonus, if you’re not on the app when a stakeholder posts a comment, you’ll receive an email notification, helping you to promptly address any questions or comments.
Give credit where it’s due:
Acknowledge your stakeholders when they comment and provide feedback. And if you decide to act on any of their suggestions, make sure you let them know about it. Whether they’ve offered a comment, a suggestion, or rolled up their sleeves and worked with you, recognize their support and help. Everyone loves to feel like they’ve contributed, and a little bit of gratitude can go a long way.
Set realistic expectations:
Over-promising and under-delivering will only hurt you and your company’s reputation. It can be tempting to keep stakeholders engaged with exciting news all the time, but exaggerating when you’re discussing projects can only lead to disillusionment. Instead, under-promise and over-deliver. When the success rolls in, you’ll have some really exciting news.
Provide regular updates:
The best way to bridge the gap between your company and external stakeholders is to provide them with regular news and updates. Don’t just wait for something big like your Annual Report to share what your company is doing. Identify the type of news relevant to each stakeholder group and send them regular updates to keep your company front of mind.
Tip: You can set updates to be recurrent. If the update is set to be recurrent (for example, quarterly reports), then when it’s time to post an update, Status will remind contributors when to add an update.
An example of external communication feed with a group of mentors, investors, and advisors:
An example of external communication feed with a group of shareholders:
An example of external communication feed with clients:
Tip: You can set different communication feeds within Status.net to target a specific group of stakeholders. After you identify a stakeholder group, targeting them with relevant communication is as easy as choosing “who can read”, which sets up the delivery of automatic email and status.net notifications to your group. Then choose “who can write” to assign contributors from your organization who will provide the updates on that topic.
For more details about how to communicate exceptionally with clients, read our article about communication with clients.
Identify and nurture your stakeholder relationships ‘champions’
If you’ve followed all this advice so far, then you understand your stakeholders and what’s important to them, you’re communicating with them strategically, and you’re keeping them engaged. They love you. Now is the time to harness their energy by using them to spread the word.
The best way to do this is to identify a highly engaged stakeholder, whose values and interests align with your company’s, and support them in championing your brand. Of course, the more influential your champions are, the better, but what’s more important is that they truly believe in your company’s message. If so, they will naturally become a fantastic champion and ambassador.
Managing external communications for multiple stakeholder groups, with their varying and sometimes conflicting interests, is not a simple task. It’s easy to get bogged down in trying to please everyone or the minutiae of target stakeholder research and communications planning. At the end of the day, remember that your goal is to build and maintain lasting strategic relationships with your stakeholders. And if you’ve focused on understanding where they’re coming from, tailoring your message, implementing your communications plan and keeping them engaged, then you’ll be well on your way.
Read more: Stakeholders can also be internal, such as employees. Check out our articles on improving internal communication and effective interdepartmental communication.