Managing your communications well has never been more of a challenge than it is today.
Real-time reactions across an ever-growing number of platforms, a customer base that is always plugged in and an online world that moves at the speed of a click all make keeping up a unique challenge. It’s easy for the increasing number of touchpoints to lead your communications in directions that you never planned, often resulting in a lack of a coherent strategy for managing how, where, and with whom you get your message out.
It might be time to unplug, take a step back for a moment and reevaluate things. Having a clear vision of how you want to communicate starts with knowing where you are now. That means taking an honest inventory of your communications toolbox and checking to see how the way you currently operate aligns – or doesn’t – with your path forward. This is where a communications audit comes in.
What is a communication audit?
Communication audits involve assessing how well you maintain brand communications with all stakeholders. They clarify the way you interact with the world by determining how consistent your communications are with your brand image, values and business goals. They also help to bring focus to the often-overlooked importance of a clear, consistent and appropriate voice as it gets divided across different audiences, channels and contexts.
A communications audit is a chance to identify what’s working and what can be improved, to recognize that more resources should be directed here and fewer resources there.
The results of an audit can reveal how well you’ve been able to keep a unified brand impression as you communicate with various audiences over time. Just like financial or performance audits, communication audits are relevant to organizations of every size and need to be conducted regularly in order to keep everything in order and contribute to overall success.
If communications audits have never been on your radar before, it’s probably time to take a look at what you can do to make the small changes that can turn into big improvements in the way you connect with others. To get you started, we’ve put together a roadmap to help direct you toward a better understanding of the current state of your communications.
6 steps for conducting a proper communication audit
Taking a deep dive into your communications strategies, both past and present, isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s especially easy if you can break it down into the fundamental aspects of the ways you communicate and look at it from different perspectives. Here are six steps that will help to create your own communications audit.
1. Analyze the scope of your current internal and external communications
You’ll be amazed when you start to make a list of the number of places where you communicate with various contacts. Remember, everything associated with your brand counts. Did you count your email footer? How about the subject line of your emails? Your YouTube channel description?
Whatever makes your list, it goes far beyond easy things like website content, social media posts, newsletters and press releases. Every brochure, every sign or banner, every piece of media coverage and even your logo – they all help to contribute to the overall effectiveness of the way you communicate.
This step will help to open your eyes to just how many brand touchpoints there are and to recognize that establishing some kind of consistency requires a plan. Just as even small expenses count in a financial audit, there are lots of small components of your brand footprint that influence how you are perceived. When establishing the true scope of your current communications, be sure to include even the tiniest pieces.
2. Evaluate all past and existing communications
This might require a bit more investment in time but will pay off in terms of the insights it delivers. Going back through your communications history will make it easier to identify the audiences, platforms and issues that play a much bigger role than others.
Is that focus justified because it matches your business goals or did it maybe come at the expense of something else? Looking at the results of your communications, are they satisfactory or could you have done better by taking a different direction? Do any particular mistakes or victories stand out? The key here is looking for takeaways that indicate whether or not you’ve stayed on course with your communications strategy.
If you have enough material that spans a time period that’s long enough, you might be able to recognize a kind of growth or evolution in your communications. How has it changed and why? Was it a conscious decision or did it just kind of happen? Is it better now or was it better then? If you look back at some aspect of your communication strategy from the past and think “I can’t believe we did this” is that a sign that you’ve grown in the right direction or did you get away from something that worked well?
3. Collect insight from employees, customers, stakeholders, and your general audience
You’ll have to approach this step with some humility and an open mind. Getting feedback from key stakeholders is absolutely essential to any communications audit because one of the primary goals is to understand what they think about your communications.
The answers you get might sting a little, but this feedback is among the valuable guides available when it comes to highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Think of your communications strategy as a product on Amazon. This step is all about going straight to the customer reviews.
How the process of getting this feedback carried out will be determined to some degree by the size of your organization and extent of your communications activities. The logistics involved may even require the participation of a third party to organize things like focus groups, surveys, interviews with management and staff and more.
The point is to get input from as many voices as you can, perhaps even branching out to include valued customers and even your local community. Keep the door open to everyone, but give particular weight to staff who are in a position to evaluate your communications best, based on their experience of participating in the creative process. You might be surprised at the great ideas that were never shared by your own coworkers because, as they will say: you never asked!
4. Conduct a SWOT analysis
First, a quick reminder for anyone who needs it. A SWOT analysis is a visual representation of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats involved in any strategy. In this context, it’s about helping to establish if your communications strategy is pushing you towards business goals or pulling you away.
The SWOT simple matrix can help to highlight assets to use and build on, vulnerabilities to address and repair, put the focus on opportunities for quick progress and alert you to dangers to be avoided.
Again, just like a financial audit, the status of a company’s communications performance can be partially based on the same strategic evaluation of big-picture factors and the larger business environment. The honest answers to a few simple questions can contribute to a realistic assessment of the quality of your performance.
What are you good at? How can you get better? Where should your focus be? Do you need to improve what you’re doing or change directions completely? Putting everything in the form of a SWOT analysis can help to organize your thoughts and clarify your approach to the way you think about current strategies.
You’ll know this step has been useful if you can complete it with a better idea of what works for you, what you need to change, what opportunities you have right in front of you and what has the potential to hurt you if you don’t fix it now.
5. Create a mockup of a communication strategy going forward
By this point, you should start to have a better vision of how things should look as you turn towards the future. You can make decisions based on a full understanding of the pairings between channels and audiences. You understand the reach of your communications, from the smallest media mention to the largest branded platform.
You’ve taken an inventory of your work from the past and present and mined it for insights into the evolution of how you operate. Extensive feedback from a range of contacts has provided an even deeper understanding on how your work is perceived and you’ve even used strategic diagrams to formulate an action plan going forward.
Creating a mockup of your future communications strategy serves as an action plan and template for your new course. Your actual future plan may not correspond to it exactly – all plans change, but it can serve as a list of lessons learned from your work so far.
This is also the point where you need to share what you’ve learned so far and get other stakeholders on board for necessary changes. Sharing your plan with key staff might also be necessary for budgetary or other organizational purposes.
6. Implement your new strategy based on your findings
It’s finally time to flip the switch on your new communications strategy. Your mockup from the previous step provides the direction, all you need to do is make it happen. It might be a good idea to start with quick wins and the low-hanging fruit that can get you started quickly and sustain the momentum that you need to keep things moving forward.
Not everything can be done overnight, so divide the plan into short, medium and long-term steps as needed. Keep in mind that a degree of flexibility always has to be present, and delays, roadblocks, and a changing landscape are inevitable.
Once your plan is securely in place and in the process of implementation, you’ll find yourself more carefully monitoring your communications activities, making future audits easier. And speaking of the future, your next audit won’t be too far away after you implement your first action plan; twice a year should be sufficient for most operations.
Communication audit question template
Financial results get audited, expense accounts get audited, employee performance gets audited, and even office supplies get inventoried! Although it might be a new idea to many, a communications audit should also be a standard part of the evaluation of any organization. Given the crucial role of communications in today’s plugged-in, always-connected, notification-bell world, it’s never been more important to optimize the way you manage how others perceive you.
As part of starting your own communications audit, think about getting some simple feedback from your customers. Going straight to the source is often the best way to find out what’s on their minds.
Try questions like:
How would you rate our current communication strategy? (1-5, with 5 being best)
How do you prefer to receive information from us?
How often do you wish to receive communication from us?
How easy is it to find the information you’re looking for?
How can we better improve our communication strategy going forward?
There will always be outliers, but the average number here will definitely tell you if you’re starting from a good place or not.
It might be easy to predict many of the answers, but you may be surprised to learn about trends you might not be aware of or mediums that are underserved. A very overlooked issue is if their answer is different from what you have in mind, remember that they’re right and you’re wrong.
What seems easy and obvious to you may not be for a first-time visitor, a great chance to get some fresh perspectives on something you deal with every day. You never know what you’re going to learn from open-ended questions and plenty of customers will be happy to accept this invitation.
Communications strategies and practices, like other aspects of businesses and organizations, can become outdated, inefficient and in need of a makeover. A communications audit is a chance to hold up a mirror to the way you manage your public relations and see which parts work well and which could use a rethink.
By taking an inventory of your communications activities, aligning them with business objectives, and working with stakeholders you can formulate a plan to leverage what you’re right and fix what you’re doing wrong. Once reconfigured to fit your brand goals and values, your communications strategy can become a valuable asset while supporting the overall performance of the organization.