Knowing where y0u stand is the first step to take when you’re developing a public relations strategy for an organization (or yourself). Ideally, an audit is a detailed and expensive process involving a lot of primary research (with formal community sentiment surveys adhering to good research methodology standards) – but it doesn’t have to be. In nearly all cases, any insight you can get is better than no insight.
There are simple things you can do at little or no cost to understand the state of your brand so you know the following (the good ‘ol SWOT acronym):
- Strengths (What you’re doing well)
- Weaknesses (What you need to improve)
- Opportunities (What you need to spend your time on)
- Threats (What you need to worry about)
Step 1: Audit the Digital
- Google Yourself: Google has the vast majority of the search engine market share so it’s vitally-important that your organization’s web content is the first (and hopefully 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th…) page that turns up in the results. Make sure you search your organization’s full name as well as common variants/abbreviations.
- Get Analytics: Contact whomever is managing your website (and all your other web presences) and get any and all analytical data you can. If you’re not currently collecting any – get on it. There are no shortage of free or low-cost analytical tools. If possible, see if you can implement a search tool on your website that collects the queries people type in which can provide you with a wealth of qualitative data about your organization.
- Scan Social Media: Search the social media biggies (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to see what sort of content is published about your organization. Facebook Fan Pages created by constituents or customers can give you a great deal of insight into potential problems, but also strengths and aspects of your brand that people have affinity for. After the audit, this should become a regular part of your work.
- Google Organizational Leaders: Look for information on how your organizations’ leaders are perceived. It’s up to you how far down in the organizational chart you want to go, but the CEO/President is a good place to start. In addition to Google, you may also find Pipl.com (a search tool that focuses specifically on details about people) very helpful.
- Check Interest-Specific Sites: Depending on the field your company is in, there may be a variety of interest-oriented websites or social media platforms that cater specifically to your industry. Finding them will prove valuable in the long run not only for the information about your organization they may contain, but also for the updates on the state of the industry will help grow your expertise in that area (which is essential for any PR pro to be successful). In my case, that means higher education and I’ve identified a number of sites I regularly monitor for insight such as RateMyProfessors.com (I’m updated every single time a student leaves a review of a professor), Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, etc.
- Get Copied on Digital Stakeholder Communications: Most organizations send out bulk email or text messages to their customers. If you can, access the archives of these messages and familiarize yourself with them. If you’re high-tech, access the reporting tools built into the platforms used to send them. If you’re low-tech, check the “Sent Items” folder of the email account used to send them. If you’re unable to get access to either of those things – sign up as a customer using a personal email address or phone so that you can be copied on what goes out. If your organization is large enough, you may need to connect with several different departments that reach different publics.
- Get in on the Intake: If at all possible, see if you can see what messages are coming to your organization from your publics. The criticism and questions people ask of your company are a valuable window into the public’s perception. No matter how your organization intercepts digital messages, there should be some way for you to be copied on those messages (either through setting up a forwarding rule or logging into a content system that processes those messages).
Step 2: Audit the Analog
- Take a Trip Outside: Just as a website provides information about an organization, the signage around an organization’s physical location is a way of communicating with publics that is important to be familiar with. Given how much of our work lives have moved online, the analog world can easily be forgotten but it’s no less significant.
- Be Aware of Analog Stakeholder Communications: Though many organizations are scaling back direct mail campaigns due to the increasing cost of postage, doubtless your organization is sending messages to its publics printed on old-fashioned dead trees. Does it speak with your organization’s voice? Is it consistent with your visual brand identity? – You better find out. Check with whomever does your printing and get copies of what has gone out over the past couple of years, and sign up as a customer with your home address to receive what goes out from this point forward.
- Get in With Customer Service: Your customer service operations are the front lines of your organization’s interaction with its’ publics by phone and in person. Connect with the staff and pick their brains. Work with them on a reporting process so that you can be notified of significant messages received.
Step 3: Audit the Employees
- Interview Employees: Employees, particularly the ones who have spent more time with the organization, can be a valuable source of information – particularly with the sort of “gossip” that no one dares to publish formally. Note: depending on your organizational culture, it may take time to build relationships to the point where your colleagues trust that they can be candid with you – so tread carefully.
- Catalog Employee Social Media Activity: Doubtless many of your employees are publishing content via social media, and knowing who and where is vital. While this can be a good way to collect negative information, far more often it’s a source of positive information that you’ll want to help amplify (as many of your co-workers may be respected professionals in their fields whose published work enhances your organization’s brand).
- Deploy Yourself to the Front Lines: Customer service is a critical part of public relations given the power ordinary people have through social media to air grievances or compliments. Building a close working relationship with all of the departments at your organization that interact directly with clients/customers will pay dividends as they’ll often be the first to hear of crises and they have a strong impact on how public perception.
- Conduct an Internal Survey: Check first to see if your organization has previously surveyed its employees (or if it has a Research department). If not, online surveying tools are so inexpensive that there’s no reason not to use them regularly to measure the perceptions of your internal audience. What do they perceive your mission to be? How do they see themselves within the organization? What are their hopes for the company’s future? Just make sure that your questions aren’t worded in a leading fashion and that you use good research methodology basics and you can produce some very valuable insights all by yourself.
Step 4: To the Community!
- Join Interest-Specific Professional Organizations: Hopefully your company values professional development and subsidizes your membership in professional groups in your industry.
- Find Your Partners: Any organization of a significant size has relationships with other related groups. Find out what those groups are and make sure you have a relationship with their leadership; odds are it will come in handy in the event of a joint press release or some other shared project.
- Meet the Neighbors: Having a working relationship to those geographically-proximate to you can be a valuable asset depending on what your organization does. They may be an important constituency, but they may also be a great resource for information and assistance.
- Become a Member of the Online Communities: Depending on your organization’s focus, joining the various online communities related to the work it does is another important way of gaining insight (and also establishing a presence for yourself that will allow you to speak credibly on behalf of your organization if the need ever arises). If you’re geographically-tied to one or more specific areas, look for local news comment boards or region-specific social networks. If you’re in a particular interest group, use the research you’ve already done on those interest-specific communities to network.
Have more questions, concerns or comments? – please share them. I’d love for this to become a regularly-updated free resource for organizations (particularly nonprofits) to use.