Learning To Fish In A Sea Of Digital Media

A few years ago, I tried to help a friend with her digital marketing. She’s a sole-proprietor with a steady stream of clients, mostly through word of mouth and some Yelp referrals. She knew she needed a website, which I wanted to help her with, but I also wanted to let her know about all the great things she could do with digital media to expand her client base and re-engage past clients.

Since we had a casual relationship, I skipped the “backwards planning” (more on this later), such as addressing her goals and available resources, and launched into all the cool things she could and should do with digital media for her business. (I’m not alone here “A quick Google search returns 140 million results for “social media marketing tips,” but no matter how many headlines promise it, there really is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy”). To my surprise, rather than get excited about the possibilities my friend quickly became annoyed. I was incredulous. Why didn’t she want some free advice from an experienced communications professional?

Fast forward, a few years later and I’ve been consulting for mission-based organizations, developing a deeper understanding of client needs and concerns. Notably, I have a better appreciation for a major pain-point that relates to the story above regarding my friend, which essentially boils down to a common issue, which is…

Digital Media Can Be Overwhelming.

Sure, we have more avenues for communicating with customers, clients and audiences than ever before. It’s amazing. It’s also daunting.

If you’ve ever searched the Internet for some variation of “social media” you’ll be overloaded with information advising what should/shouldn’t be done and how to do it. Delve deeper and there are countless books about digital media marketing. So — here’s the rub — with all this available information why are so many people confused about how to harness digital media for their business? Moreover, why are so many unsure how to measure the value of digital media communication against scarce resources, mainly: time, energy and money?

It’s the same reason my friend became annoyed with my well-intentioned (albeit naive) advice: people need effective ways to connect digital media with goals and outcomes in a way that works efficiently with day-to-day responsibilities and resources. But it’s not always clear how to do that. That’s why backwards planning is critical — looking at your mission, goals, and customers for a start — to design communication strategy. So I’ve figured out ways to do just that. Perfect! Problem solved.

Or maybe not.

Turns out I might have gone too far in the opposite direction, so confident about strategy that I lost sight of another common concern. Basically, the challenge is convincing people that…

More is NOT More.

Recently, I met with a potential client (years after recommending media tools without auditing mission, goals and audience first). Gushing with raw enthusiasm, focused on linking organizational development with communication strategy, I tried to dazzle her with my systems thinking and community engagement methods, assuring her that it would elevate her brand and strengthen all PR, social and marketing collateral.

I was so certain of this line of thinking that I didn’t listen carefully enough to respond to her main concern. Looking skeptical she said “Strategy and brand aside, how will we handle all the messages that need to go out daily or weekly?” I could see the anxiety in her face as she tried to make her point: “How do we get everything out in time?”

Here I was talking about digital media as a metaphorical ocean, akin to a marine biologist, and meanwhile my client’s worried about whether I have a boat and fishing pole to catch her a few fish for dinner every night. But in keeping with that metaphor, we need to address an entire system so that we can get plenty of fish (i.e., customers/clients/audience). We need to understand the type, size and number of fish in our waters so that we can choose the best tools (i.e., types of digital media) to catch what we need. We should even be able to address sustainability (or feasibility), to not over-fish (or overwork ourselves) so that we have resources for years to come.

To handle incremental pieces effectively you must connect to a larger strategy. For example, letting go of any media that isn’t serving its purpose, plus streamlining time, energy and resources are crucial, but first you have to be very clear about the purpose. Given the complexity of linking business goals and strategy to tactics and individual tasks, it’s a good idea to have help facilitating this process. But ultimately this idea is that the client is in control — making informed decisions about how much or how little to invest in digital media rather than feel at the mercy of the great 24/7 media cycle.

You can always do more, but when it comes to communication strategy you can also choose to do less! Carly Mask boils this idea down in her smart and concise social media management article for Elite Daily. As a Head of Social Media she’s focused on social platforms, but I think this message can be applied to all digital media content. “Even if you could keep up [with all social networks], would that kind of fragmentation create a material impact on your business? … Find your voice, your users, your sweet spot and put more wood behind fewer arrows. That’s unless you have unlimited wood.” Wood, fish, it doesn’t matter. Point is, you don’t have to do it all.

The common sentiment in digital media marketing that “more is more” is simply not true. Don’t believe me? Technology Journalist, Joshua Topolsky, insists that the focus needs to be on the quality over quantity of media “Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media.” So true but so often ignored.

I will add that having a framework for prioritizing media, using authentic storytelling to build a brand and inform communication pathways with creative content are key. Making smart decisions about how to use digital media to support your goals isn’t about running away from or throwing yourself into the sea of digital media. Ideally, you survey the area strategically and become skilled at…

Navigating the Ocean of Digital Media.

It’s two sides of the same, er, flounder. Both my friend and my potential client were completely justified in their thinking: one was feeling overwhelmed because she didn’t know where to begin, and the other was overwhelmed by the idea of how to keep going. Either way it’s understandable but completely avoidable. Though I failed to make that clear to either of them in the moment, let me do it here.

My job is to help people develop a media strategy that supports very tangible needs and conquer these types of common concerns. Linking organizational and business development with communication strategy, it all starts with what is most important to YOU — guided by mission, values, goals, communities and resources — to support your work and your needs.

Whether the deluge of possibilities keeps you from even knowing how to get started or makes it hard to keep your head above the swell of digital media you’ve already jumped into — let me help. Tell me what you need.

I’m getting better and better at listening.

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