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Change Agent: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Your Organization’s Digital Road Map

by Allyson Burns, Case Foundation & Mike Connery, Weber Shandwick

This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Change Agent

Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, Google+ and Snapchat, oh my!

For communicators, operating in today’s digital world can be an exciting experience: an opportunity to test messages, discover new ways to engage with individuals and organizations, and to reach new constituencies. But it can also be an exhausting one—as most of us don’t have the resources to experiment with or maintain a fresh and current presence on every platform.

We are enthusiastic believers in opportunities to leverage new tools and technologies to find more effective ways to connect with people. But at the Case Foundation, we recently realized that in all of our enthusiasm and “go first” mentality, we had lost our way when it came to our digital presence—getting caught up in the tornado of new platforms had turned into a constant distraction. In other words, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

So how do you find your own yellow brick road? Regardless of how you approach social platforms and online communications, every organization can benefit from the creation of a Digital Road Map—a set of guiding principles that help you define and navigate your organization’s unique online ecosystem and achieve your communications goals. Here’s how to get started:

1. Define and get to know your audience

It may seem like Communications 101, but ask yourself: can we clearly define our key audiences? From millennials to prospective donors, grantees, baby boomers and more, each audience may require a different approach and a different platform. Do we know what kind of content they want from us, and where and how do we reach them?

If you can’t answer those questions quickly and easily, it’s time for an audit (and even if you can answer them, it can’t hurt to test your assumptions). Through online surveys and in-depth interviews with a handful of select stakeholders, you can learn a lot about how your brand is perceived and the ways in which the people who are most important to you want to receive information.

In our own audit process at the Case Foundation (with support from Weber Shandwick), we found that our primary audience wanted to interact with us via our website, email, and Twitter, but had very little professional use for Facebook. What’s more, we learned about the types of content that were most important to them—and the formats most relevant to their media habits—allowing us to create audience personas to guide our digital work.

2. Map our your digital ecosystem

Personas in hand, you probably have a good idea who your audience is, why they value your organization, and how they want to receive information. But what do you want them to do? What journey do they need to take to help you achieve your communications goals? Mapping your digital ecosystem can provide the answer.

This is essentially a visual map highlighting the connections between your goals, channels, audience, and content. These key elements will serve as the cornerstones of your organization’s digital strategy, helping you identify the key channels you want to leverage and the promotional tools and marketing techniques that will drive your audience through that ecosystem.

Here are a few key things to keep in mind as you map out your own ecosystem:

Remember, there’s no place like home. For a large majority of organizations, your own website will be the hub of your digital ecosystem – a place for your core audiences to get information about your organization. So be sure to spend time understanding how a range of digital channels – from social networks to email to partner websites – will serve as entry points for your visitors to your website.

Equally important is identifying opportunities to leverage the exit points. Specifically, make sure that your content is easy to find and shareable, so that as people are leaving your website, they are also serving as ambassadors for your content. And don’t forget about employees who can serve as brand champions online by sharing your content among their own networks.

Don’t abandon tried and true tactics in favor of the shiny object. As early adopters of new digital platforms, we at the Case Foundation found ourselves wondering whether email had become passé as a communications vehicle. But as we went through our audit, we heard from several key constituencies that email was still an important, if not critical, tool in our interactions with them. It became clear that email was a tool that we were completely underutilizing in favor of channels that did not guarantee the same rate of delivery.

3. Leave room for experimentation

Don’t shelve that Snapchat campaign just yet. Experimentation is an important aspect of driving innovation in communications programs and identifying new platforms that may indeed be worth investing further resources in. These kinds of experiments can take many forms—from encouraging team members to personally explore new channels to periodic landscape assessments on how other organizations are effectively using new tools or partnering with a grantee on a one-off online campaign.

4. Define/realign your content strategy

Once you have clarity on who you want to reach, how and where you want to reach them, and how you want individuals to flow through your digital ecosystem, you are almost ready to begin your digital journey. There’s still one more critical step…don’t forget to define your content strategy. Ask yourself: what types of content will you use—blog posts, video, white papers, motion graphics, etc. —who will author the content, and what is the tone you want to exude? These are all questions you should ask in order to complete your digital road map, and you’ll find the answers by looking at your goals, your core channels, and the audience’s needs.

5. Find the wizard behind the curtain

As we did at the Case Foundation, many organizations will find that this process uncovers a need for some significant adjustments in messaging and strategy. This might take the form of abandoning a regular presence on some social networks, or a full on redesign of your website. Before you start to feel intimidated by what’s ahead, consider adopting the Lean Startup principle of “minimum viable product.”

In today’s rapidly changing world, you’ll find that the best approach to adopting your road map is one that allows for rapid iteration and easy navigation.

By preventing the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good, and embracing your digital strategy as an ongoing process, you’ll find that the wizard might not be the intimidating character that he seems.

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