Communication Planning

Many a project has gone down in flames because they failed to take the time to really think through a communication plan that educated their stakeholders of the organizational value of their project.  Communication is one of the most important factors to the success of your community. Without communicating your project or program’s benefits and successes, users and stakeholders alike won’t be aware of new offerings, program progress, or the goals and direction of your project.

“The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them.”

–Sam Walton

The first step in any Communication Plan is identifying your stakeholders.  This is a key step that is often overlooked.  Many projects and programs focus only on keeping users informed about community news, however its important to look outside your active community members and find the stakeholders that are most important to your continued success.  This may include management, partners, or even other projects and programs only tangentially related to yours.  Putting together this list comes first and will help you not only identify key players but also will help you discover the correct communication channel to reach them.

Next up, you guessed it, identify all your potential communication channels.  Don’t just rely on email or Twitter to get your message out.  Make sure you talk to others within your organization or your partner’s organizations to understand what options are available to you.  For instance does your organization have building monitors that display company news?  Can you schedule webinars?  Does your partner’s have community newsletters that you can contribute articles to?  There are lots of ways that you can communicate to a larger audience usually you just have to look around and ask lots of questions.

The next step is to think through a communication plan that makes sense. Community communications can broadly be grouped into two types, event driven and regularly scheduled.  Your community planning needs to have plans established for each type.

Event driven communication is, as the name aptly implies, usually driven by some event within your project.  This could be the election of new officers, platform upgrades, scheduled downtime, new releases, etc.

Regularly scheduled communications are necessary in projects to keep the general audience and key stakeholders informed about the progress your project or program is making.  This form of communication is where you have a great opportunity to keep your most important stakeholders up to date on progress you’ve made in achieving organizational goals.

The plan below is a basic skeleton plan that identifies which channel will be used to articulate messaging for each communication channel and provides an estimated frequency for communication. Each plan will be different but this should give you some ideas.

Regularly Scheduled Communications

Communication Purpose Audience Channel Frequency
Stakeholder Status Report Communicate project progress to key stakeholders Key Stakeholders Management Distribution Lists, Senior Management Meeting, email Quarterly
Newsletter Communicate project news, recognition awards, procedural changes User community Website, email Quarterly
Community of Practice News Communicate community related news to interest groups Community of interest groups email Monthly

Event Driven Communication

Communication Purpose Audience Channel Event
Platform upgrades Communicate upcoming platform upgrades of your website or supporting infrastructure User Community email, website As Needed
Project related news Communicate support opportunities, project releases, etc User Community email As Needed
Training News New training opportunities such as webinars, new tutorials, FAQ updates, etc User Community email, website Ad Needed

Of course you’ll want to actually go through the Event plan and fill in your own specific information and dates. You may even want to be very specific and include the Communication Channel owner and prep dates that include coordinating with each channel, but using this model you can plan several months ahead and never be caught “reacting” rather than “communicating”.