Communicate sustainably

With a title like that you could be forgiven for thinking this post is about using recycled paper for your flyers and offsetting the emissions generated by your events. In fact, I’m encouraging you to think about sustainability in communications from an entirely different angle.

How often have you seen an organization launch a new communications output or product, full of good intentions and high hopes, only for it to quietly disappear or splutter to a halt as soon as other priorities get in the way? I’m talking here about newsletters, blogs, series of magazine articles, webinars – anything that should, ideally, appear at a certain frequency or for the duration of a particular project.

It is important to think about the sustainability of any new communications initiative. How can you ensure that the output, whatever it is, will be produced on time and without putting undue strain on the responsible person? This is particularly important in small organizations where comms are often handled by a one-man band.

Where will the content come from? Will it need to be created specifically for this output each time? And is the frequency realistic? Does the newsletter need to be monthly or would bi-monthly or quarterly be more manageable? Does this new initiative really add value for its intended audience? Or are you just doing it for the sake of being seen to do it?

Director: “I should have a blog to share my wisdom and insights with our members.”

That long-suffering comms guy: Who’s going to write the posts?

Director: “You are!”

When you think about the sustainability of your communications, you should be thinking about the sustainability of the resources needed for the initiative in question: content, time and enthusiasm. If the person responsible for actually putting the output together doesn’t retain a sufficient level of enthusiasm for the task, then there’s a high chance that it’ll fall off the table at some point.

A few tips

  • Focus on outputs that are replicable and scalable. With the International School of Geneva’s Alumni Office I launched a series of content initiatives that were based on community members answering a set of questions. In some cases they would send in contributions in response to a general invitation while in others I approached potential contributors directly. The amount of work involved was minimal. It was a case of giving it a little push every now and then to keep things moving at the right pace. And it helped that each post (for example, to the 90-9-90 Project or the Ecolint Entrepreneurs blog) followed a standard template.
  • Reuse content and combine tools where possible. E-newsletters should direct people to content that already exists on your website; magazine articles can be repurposed as blog posts. New projects don’t necessarily require their own newsletter, nor does each department of your organization. If the audiences are broadly overlapping, try to bundle messages into a single output that arrives reliably and predictably.
  • Keep it short! There are few communications outputs that wouldn’t benefit from being shorter.

That last point applies equally to this blog post, so I’d better leave it there.

As a postscript, however, I’ll just mention that my search for the image above turned up this unnecessarily angry rant that I nevertheless sympathize with just a little bit.

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