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Does Your Business or Nonprofit Need a Communications Audit?

Undoubtedly, audits are not a new concept for most, but the prospect of a communications audit may be. If so, then it is time to beef up the knowledge, sooner rather than later, because the damage may have already been done.

Businesses, organizations and individuals spend valuable time, effort and money seeking to control their branding, message and image. The irony is, on a daily basis it is what they don't "say" that is doing the most damage! Remember, the old adage applies here, "actions speak louder than words”.

With the competition that exists today for businesses and nonprofits, there is little room for error. The scary part is it is the little things that can trip us up, but on the flip side, they are normally easy and inexpensive to fix. A communications audit can do more than help a business find these errors; it can also make recommendations for prioritization. So what exactly are we talking about?

Is This Your Company or Organization?

Think about these typical encounters with a business or organization, did yours include:

  • An auto responding e-mail with typos or inaccurate information.

  • An insincere and programmed "Welcome to _____" when you walked in the door of a business. Worse yet, not being acknowledged at all.

  • Visiting a company's website and getting outdated information.

  • A sales clerk who carried on a conversation with the cashier in the next lane.

  • Receiving a delayed letter or receipt acknowledging a donation to an organization.

  • Calling a business and receiving the dreaded voice mail message addressing the "importance" of your call.

Did you come away from the experience with a warm and fuzzy feeling? Probably not.

The irony? It is not unusual for businesses and nonprofits to carefully craft press releases, beef up the advertising budget, issue service expectations and do one thing while "saying" another. This only contributes to the incongruence. Effective communication is really about building trust through consistency. When consistent messaging exists across an organization, what consumers hear is what they experience, so the trust value increases. Something as simple as outdated website information can make a consumer question credibility, accuracy and professionalism. In the end, how can we as consumers build trust with an organization, which consistently delivers conflicting messages, both verbally and non-verbally? Conflicting claims and service erodes the basis for trust.

Managers, politicians, and public speakers deal with these same issues. As recipients of the message, we have problems with a leader whose words say one thing but the body language or experience says another. Imagine a speaker arriving late or having audio-visual issues that were avoidable and hearing them espouse how important their new program and this meeting is to them. Unfortunately, they delivered a message or two by arriving late and not preparing in advance; they did not respect the time of those attending and did not reflect the importance in preparation. How can the flock be expected to follow?

So what is a leader to do? Most organizations have dozens of communication issues similar to those mentioned and they are difficult to identify when immersed in the day-to-day activities. A good leader will know their blind spots where their messages are concerned. I suggest an outside "communications audit" to help gain a much needed outside perspective. Those of us in the industry have the ability to be impartial and help tailor the right service.

A communications audit can review items as simple as:

  • outgoing e-mails and auto responses

  • phone etiquette, greetings and policies

  • website information, social media postings and responses

  • paid ads and earned media

  • signage and onsite experiences such as traffic flow

  • written communications with customers, including invoices and statements

The more channels reviewed, the better the communications will become because each touch point "says something," and delivers a non-verbal message whether we like it or not. Traditionally this type of audit is more focused on interpretation by the consumer than it is outbound marketing success.

An audit yields a report telling your business or organization where you need to dedicate resources and helps prioritize the quick hits. Some of the changes will be cultural and require more effort for the team, while others will take some simple adjustments to verbiage, phone greetings or styles used in printed communications to generate consistency. The cost of an audit is minimal when compared to the business loss which is most likely occurring without it.

Remember, actions really do speak louder than words! Businesses and individuals are "saying" a great deal and it is definitely time to get the unintended communications under control before they inhibit those positive messages we care so much about!

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