7 Skills of an Effective Communicator

This past summer, Emily Lonigro-Boylan and I participated in the 2013 Nonprofit Academic Centers Council conference at DePaul University.

I was a panelist with Emily Blum of Heartland Alliance and Jill Stewart, a longtime Communications Consultant and Educator. Dr. Peter Lemish of Southern Illinois University moderated our panel for an audience of academics and institutional directors to address the question, How do we prepare the next generation of nonprofit communicators in the new digital age?

Ive worked with Dr. Peter Lemish throughout the years as he prepared a study to inform the design of their new graduate program Civil Society Communication & Media Practices.

As an assistant professor at Columbia College Chicago, I prioritize my curriculum to prepare students for their professional career in marketing and communications after graduation. Many assume that millennial digital natives are inherently capable of navigating spaces in the information age, and they are. But what I found is that they are challenged by the lack of skills and experience to manage, analyze, plan and lead digital communications effectively in the professional realm.

And they are not alone. Many seasoned and very smart communicators, development & marketing staff are also challenged by this. Today, information and technology moves faster than most professionals can keep up with.

Here at LimeRed Studio, we also incorporate education and knowledge building with our clients to help Communication Managers, Directors and others obtain more control over their communications. Weve found that the most effective communicators posses a number of key skills to not only help them navigate the digital world but to also analyze, plan, manage and lead in the digital world.

Here are 7 key skills effective communicators should posses:

1. Writing for the Web

People consume information on the web differently than on other platforms and channels. Weve learned to scan information quickly and make snap judgements based on impressions before we take the time to collect information and content that we see is valuable. We expect things to be relevant and immediate or well just move to the next search term. A key skill to have as a communicator these days is the ability to understand this and write content within this context. Writing for the web requires brevity and the ability to engage readers in a meaningful and creative way.

Two good books to get you started:
Writing for the Web by Lynda Felder & Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

2. Listening & Monitoring

Many nonprofits focus a lot on broadcasting, publishing and getting their messages out. Effective communicators find time to invest in listening and monitoring what other people are saying. Why? Because the online world is dominated by conversations with people you are trying to reach. Its important to understand what they are talking about and find out what they are concerned with. By listening and monitoring these conversations, what you and your organization has to say should connect with the pulse on the ground to get their attention. There are a number of simple habits and effective tools out there to do this but start first with identifying what it is you should be monitoring. Effective communicators will understand how to identify which people, topics and conversations to follow as well as identify how to frame their own messages and build relationships through listening.

Recommended Reading:
Groundswell, Expanded and Revised Edition: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

3.??Community Management

If youve been successful getting peoples attention and have found the right platform to create a community, youll realize that you will need to invest in nurturing this community. Effective communicators find the right balance between listening and engaging effectively with their community but ultimately understand how to respond to their needs. These communicators now take a leadership role in building the community, knowing whos a part of it, and making the right connections to establish stronger relationships.

Recommended Reading:
Salesforce, 40 Ideas for your 2013 Social Media Plan

4.??Web Analytics and Reporting

Other than nurturing your community, youll need to know how to nurture the web platforms that represent your organization online. Using web analytics allows you to understand how your audiences are responding, what they are looking for and what they prioritize. Being able to analyze this data and create reports help communicate to decision-makers within the organization, getting them on board with your recommendations and ensures that you are adapting to change effectively and with purpose.??Even better, making decisions based on real data takes the politics out of almost everything.

Recommended Reading:
Web Analytics and Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik

5.??SEM & SEO

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) & Search Engine Optimization (SEO) have become essential practices for anyone looking to position themselves to be found by the right audiences. Search Engines like Google and Bing have become powerful engines that millions around the world rely on to find content they need. These engines and practices have become very complex and continue to grow as more people contribute and search content by the day. We dont expect communicators to become experts at SEM or SEO but understanding how it works and how to take advantage of it will help you be found and heard. To get started, invest in the time to at least read and understand the Google Webmaster Tools SEO Starter Guide.

Recommended Reading:
Google Webmaster Tools, SEO Starter Guide

6.??Creativity and Design Sensibility

We dont expect you to be a whiz at Adobe Creative software (although that would be a very helpful skill) but would rather recommend you to be a communicator that can think creatively and have design sensibility when it comes to solving problems at your organization. Effective communicators are innovators and it takes creative thinking and design sensibility to find new solutions to the problems we face as modern organizations. Embracing creativity and acquiring design sensibility also helps communicating with design professionals to achieve the most optimal outcomes to designing and delivering reports, websites, apps, service programs and more.

Recommended Reading:
Designing Positive Change: A Creative Guide to Marketing with Mission (Yup, thats right… you are reading it right now, the LimeRed Studio blog!)

7.??Decision Making

Communicators with good skills at making decisions are efficient. In an information-based environment that is fast-past and in a slow moving economy, deciding when and how to act or respond can mean everything. Communicators often have to juggle and prioritize engaging various audiences through multiple channels while deciding what resources to dedicate to get things done. Having the skills to know how to prioritize them makes them effective and results in more win-win situations for themselves, their organizations and the people they serve.

Recommended Reading:
The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking by Michael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler

What skills do you think makes an effective communicator? Let us know… If you are looking for more help or would like us to design a custom workshop to help build some of these skills for you, hire us!

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