Thursday 12 September 2013

"Was it something we said? (Or something we didn't?)"

The second day of the ALPSP 2013 conference began with a panel session on communication. Linda Dylla, Communications Consultant at the American Institute of Physics, and the owner of White Horse Communications, kicked off proceedings. Reminding the audience that publishers sometimes struggle to communicate the value of what they do to external audiences, she suggested that this could because they speak their own private language which others couldn't easily understand.

Grace Baynes, Head of Corporate Communication at the Nature Publishing Group, started her talk by explaining her that her team at Nature comprised four people within a marketing team of sixty. To communicate effectively with such a small team, she told us, it was vital to work closely with colleagues outside the marketing department. By empowering other staff to act as spokespeople, you could achieve far more. The enthusiasm that experts have for a subject can make them compelling advocates; give them some guidelines so that they know what's appropriate, and then trust them to represent you. Within their own networks, they may also have more influence than your brand, particularly if their connections are themselves influential - when Tim Berners-Lee shared a piece from Nature, it reached a much wider audience than it would otherwise have done.

Baynes also emphasised the importance of listening to your audience. Discovering what they want is obviously vital, but learning the language they speak can be equally important if you want to be able to engage with them. And once you've learnt the language, she suggested, you need to keep your message simple: not everyone has the time or attention to listen to a five minute presentation on why what you do matters.

She finished with a few more pieces of advice: know when to engage, and when it's wiser to walk away; and when you've made a mistake, don't be afraid to admit it!

Helen Bray of Wiley followed Baynes, describing how Wiley had used communication to bring change into their business, making sure that the rate of change within the business wasn't outstripped by the rate of change outside. The company began by consulting their stakeholders, asking societies, academics, and libraries which trends they expected to revolutionise academic research. Though the responses differed in the detail, each group was in agreement that digital tools for collaboration were most important.

Wiley's customer research also revealed that their assumptions about what qualities mattered in a publisher weren't necessarily shared by their audiences, vital information if customer relationships are to be sustained for the future.

The session ended with questions from the audience. Asked how long she spent on social media, and whether the time was useful, Baynes explained that social media took up about an hour of her time each day, and that though it could be difficult to measure the value of communication, benchmarking how your company's reputation changed could give a good sense of whether it was working.

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