Communication channels are the means by which you connect with your stakeholders and audiences. The single most important thing to remember is to find and choose channels that your specific stakeholders will be able to use as part of their day to day experience. So you must know who you want to reach and what their ‘ecosystem’ is like, including what their information sources look like.
You are aiming to interact with them in their world, in a way that instils trust in your messages.
The list of possible channels you can use ranges from printed materials like booklets, to online content of many kinds, to video, audio and mainstream media work, to face to face methods including practitioner conferences, round table meetings to one-to-one briefing meetings.
Working with other organisations
We very often use third party channels to carry content for us – for example, RCGP to engage with GPs, NICE and clinical guidelines for clinical content, social work expert networks to connect with social workers, charities (which often have enormous reach) to connect with members of the public, or news in the Nursing Times to connect with nurses.
Deciding on your channels
Choosing the channels you will use requires you to balance several factors: you might want to consider
- Instilling trust – your channels must be trusted by your target stakeholders
- Reach – are you aiming to reach small specific groups of named people, or a wide audience of thousands or more?
- Durability – how long will this content last or is it ephemeral?
- Fidelity – will this channel reproduce my messages and content accurately?
- Cost – in time and money?
At PCU, we can give you a starting block in the form of a news post on our website, which can then be shared across partner organisations, funders and collaborators and on social media. We call this content ‘anchor content’ as it provides a stable, durable, rigorous summary of your messages, which can be linked into other material and used in multiple ways.
Once you have an anchor post published, it can be shared on Twitter, in the PCU monthly news update, by sending to partners who might republish, cascading by targeted email, including on profile pages, grant applications and much more.
Reaching your stakeholder ecosystem
Building on your anchor content can give you a much more personal and interactive connection with the people you want to reach. Achieving this requires you to understand your stakeholder ecosystem – the world they inhabit – and the information sources and interfaces your particular target stakeholders are most comfortable with or pay most attention to. You can then decide how to access those channels.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Ben Bowers, PhD student in the Cambridge Palliative and End of Life Care Group, wanted to build practitioner and commissioner awareness of his research on anticipatory prescribing for those at the end of life and ultimately aims to change clinical practice.
- He built on his initial PCU anchor statement announcing his paper, by preparing blogs on aspects of his research, an editorial in the BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, and by pro-actively briefing his contacts and networks about the messages in his research.
- He used tailored emails and twitter to respond directly to comments and to inform his specialist palliative care and nursing networks.
- The issue was very topical and Ben took up every opportunity he could to connect with practitioners and policymakers face to face, at conferences and private meetings.
- Unusually for a PhD student, he achieved connections with very senior civil servants and national palliative care charities at meetings on his topic.
- Robbie Duschinsky, head of the Applied Social Science Group, convened an international consensus statement paper in 2017, addressing the use of psychological theory in assessments of children for emotional abuse and neglect.
- The statement was highly relevant to safeguarding professionals and care service commissioners and was announced in a media statement to the national and international press by the University’s research communications team.
- To reach the practitioner audience, Robbie blogged about the consensus statement for an influential and well circulated ‘trade media’ website, and we commissioned a poster with infographics to summarise and share the key messages.
- The paper is now listed as the second “most read” in the history of the journal (since 1999). Its swift impact has led to characterisation of the consensus statement as a “historic publication” (Spieker & Crittenden 2018).
- Developing connections with other researchers and policy-makers stemming from the paper led to a collaboration with colleagues at the University of Kent, the National Children’s Bureau and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. Together they have recently won a £1.5m grant from the Wellcome Trust to study the integration of health and social care for at-risk and disabled children, developing and extending Duschinsky’s work in this area.