This quote from Rick Moyers at Meyer Foundation captures the key question that many nonprofit leaders are asking in today’s multi-platformed world. Media and communications opportunities seem to change almost daily. Is your organization’s staff keeping up?

Many organizations hire communications specialists, expecting them to do whatever it takes to publicize the organization and its issues. Back in the olden days, that meant producing newsletters and collateral, and getting stories into print and electronic media. With far more limited media and other ways to talk to members and other key audiences, it was a reasonable expectation.

Effective communications have always been integral to achieving program goals, but the job was largely left to the “experts.” Program staff mostly provided ideas, background information and fact-checking. Today, however, with media as diversified and interactive as it is, this model is not only unrealistic but unwise. Instead of leaving the job to the communications staff, your organization must build a staff that communicates.

Old media activities were more like lectures—pretty one-sided. But the new communications ecosystem is about sparking and participating in conversations—across multiple platforms—to build relationships with your audiences. A meaningful presence requires all hands on deck to monitor, participate in and respond to relevant dialogs. It’s what builds your organization’s credibility and influence.

Your program staff is probably already reading blogs, tweets and other content ripe for sharing. But do they take the next step and post it to the organization’s Facebook page or retweet it? The trick to effective communications today is ensuring that the entire staff feels responsible for its success.

Here are a few tips to get your team to contribute to the conversation:

  • Support and align empowered voices. While it’s important for all communications to promote an organization’s desired reputation, staff members will be more motivated to participate in social media if their own personalities can shine through. Make sure your social media guidelines are clear and easy to follow, but let people be themselves, too.
  • Coach your team to communicate for success. Today’s communications director should encourage the team to get in the habit of content creation. Now more a coordinator and cheerleader, it is up to her to infuse best practices in social media and storytelling throughout the organization’s work, and to encourage the entire team to come up with stories and ideas to post to the blog, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and wherever else your audiences live.
  • Build relationships. Whether it’s old media or new, all staff should build the personal relationships with key reporters and bloggers that will improve coverage of your organization.
  • Make it easy. While you want your staff to play an active role in the online conversation, including writing blog posts, you don’t want it to be all-consuming. This is where the editorial calendar comes in. It’s the best way to coordinate all communication activities online and off.
  • Keep it on the agenda. Discuss communications opportunities at every staff and board meeting to keep communications front and center. In addition to surfacing upcoming conferences, events, and decision points ripe for media attention, it will help create a fertile environment to grow new ideas to work into the editorial calendar.

Communications: it’s not just for the professionals anymore.

(Image courtesy Flickr user KEXINO, Creative Commons)

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Holly
Holly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s chief engineer and founder and hopes that 2012 is the year of the empowered communicator.