There are a lot of different ways to communicate in the public field. I have worked for several public institutions, first as a consultant then as communication manager, and for the last a couple of years I’ve supervised communications at a research foundation specialising in agrifood and environmental issues, which combines education, research and practical assistance.
I have taken a careful approach with this 142-year-old institution, which had decided to modernise its approach with the hope of providing both innovative external and internal communication. I immediately realised that the challenge was to build one communication strategy inside a structure that offered differentiated products and services to multiple, diverse targets.
What do a farmer, a student’s parent and an Australian professor have in common? Very little, and it is from this point that the renovation process began, a process in which social tools and web 2.0 had a strong influence.
These are the nine key concepts upon which we based our communication strategy:
1) Tradition is not a ball and chain
2) Closed institution verus open environment
3) Control versus engagement
4) Nothing is written in stone
5) Integration versus coordination
6) Keep it simple
7) Getting used to interactions
8) Look forward
9) Think lateral
We tried to increase the sense of belonging, identity and engagement towards the institution, especially, by working on internal communication as a whole system and not the sum of different identities which tended to radicalise themselves: “I'm a teacher, I'm a student, I'm a researcher, I’m general staff” and so on…
We focused on five activities to trigger change, and all of them are linked to the web, new media and social networks:
1. We worked on a key symbol of change and sense of belonging - the logo. We removed the elements that made it appear dated and limited its usability on new devices, but the kept the fundamental elements of the institute’s centuries-old identity intact. Now we can use it everywhere without the fear of losing visibility. In addition, we have introduced some new elements which remind us of our main activities and the colours of the earth, our true and authentic “raw material”.
2. The online communication has been centralised into just one content management system, with which we manage the organisational, logistical and regulatory aspects. Last but not least, we use the web portal for corporate communication and as support for press office activities. The web has become an access point for the value-added services provided by the institution and is based on the user’s authentication. The platform also allows us to manage the specific web content of every single event, from seminars to our international scientific conference.
3. One of the key factors of the communication innovation process was the transition of the main computer services to the cloud. Email, docs, projects, pictures, forms and much more have become accessible and sharable between all internal users (about 1000 people). A lot of users have created websites supporting their specific activity (a seminar, a course, their own personal website, etc.). Groups of hard-skilled users have developed specific apps such as for parents’ consultation management, shared resources booking, etc.
4. A quality leap in our external communication was achieved thanks to social media. Facebook and Twitter most of all, but also YouTube and LinkedIn. Social channels have been fundamental in addressing institutional communication towards the target audiences as best they could, in order to understand what the different targets were requesting and holding dear. They were excellent in the relational part too, by building a system with other urban institutions at both national and international levels.
5. We have worked on three key factors in order to involve our internal and external users: intranet, LinkedIn and CRM. With the first we made communication and internal systems smart; with the second one we built a community of the school’s former students and right now we are working on an advanced service of supply and demand, where LinkedIn endorsement mechanism plays an important role. With the third factor, we put on the net the 8000 farms that make a daily use of our consultancy services.
I have outlined some ideas for communication management in the public field, with multiple activities oriented towards different targets. By taking a look at the private sector we can compare ourselves to a divisional structure, with highly-diversified businesses which, must be conveyed and imagined as a distinct element! That’s a great challenge, don’t you think?