There’s a saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” This is especially true when it comes to communicating for social change.
Fortunately, as a racial justice organizer, you probably already have a good sense of where you’re going and some solid ideas for how to get there. Now you just need to figure out where new and traditional media fit into your master plan. The first step is to determine why you are communicating in the first place.
When setting strategic communications goals for your campaign, there are four basic questions you can start with.
1. What is your radical vision for change?
Successful communications strategies are rooted in a clearly defined vision for change.
- What’s the big, audacious goal you have for changing the world?
- What bold vision drives your organization’s mission?
The answers to these fundamental questions will form the foundation of your communications plan. They will guide your strategic decisions and set the tone for your work with new and traditional media.
2. What are your concrete steps for getting there?
Now that you’ve laid the foundation of your communications plan with your vision, it’s time to build upon it with concrete objectives.
Organizing objectives generally fall into one of two categories: behavior change or policy change. Most campaigns involve some combination of both.
Imagine, for example, that your long-term vision is to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in your local school district. Your objectives for the next school year might be to:
- Change the student code of conduct to eliminate zero-tolerance school discipline.
- Decrease the number of police officers in school by 25%.
- Launch restorative justice pilot programs in three high schools.
- Train 300 students and parents to defend themselves against punitive disciplinary measures.
The first objective focuses on changing a specific set of policies, while the others are aimed at changing specific behaviors, such as placing less police officers in school, experimenting with alternatives to punitive discipline, and encouraging people impacted by the harsh discipline practices to stand up for themselves. Each objective is a concrete step toward your larger vision of ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
If you already have a clearly defined organizing strategy, identifying your communications objectives will be easy. They should be exactly the same as your organizing objectives.
If you’re not clear on your organizing strategy, this might be a good time to step back and define it. You won’t be successful in communicating for change if you don’t know what kind of change you want.
TIP: Remember, raising public awareness or educating the public about your issue are not objectives in and of themselves. They are midpoints on the road to behavior change. Just because people are aware of your issue and know something about it, doesn’t mean they’re going to take action.
Think about Donald Trump, for instance. His objective is to get your vote, so that he can realize his vision of becoming president of the United States. Now, it’s very likely that you’re aware of Donald Trump’s campaign, and given the astounding amount of media attention he has received, it’s likely that you know his position on a number of issues. But that doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll vote for him.
Popularity is not an objective. It’s a tactic.
To avoid this mistake, ask yourself: Why do you want to raise awareness? Why do you want the public to be more educated or informed? What change in behavior or policy do you want to occur as a result?
Having a well-defined objective is the most important part of any communications campaign. S.M.A.R.T. objectives, like the ones listed above, are: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.
3. What role will new and traditional media play in helping you reach each of your objectives?
Here’s where you start thinking specifically about how communications will help you reach your larger vision for radical change.
First, you’ll need to prioritize your objectives. To do this, ask yourself:
- Which objectives are most important to moving you toward your ultimate goal?
- Which objectives are the most urgent? In other words, what has to happen first?
Once you have a list of your two or three top objectives, you can determine how you’ll use new and traditional media to achieve each of them.
TIP: Traditional (old) media refers to the means of one-way communications and expression that existed before the advent of the internet. These include television, radio, film, newspapers, magazines, books, and other print publications.
New media is interactive content available through the internet, usually designed to inspire dialogue and creative participation. Content is spread through connection and conversation. New media include websites, blogs, video, video games, podcasts, social media, and other sources of online communication and engagement.
Here are some examples of how you might use communications to help you reach your objectives:
- To pressure policymakers or other targets
- To build legitimacy or credibility for your organization
- To introduce your issue into the public debate
- To insert your frame into an existing public debate
- To counter racial bias and stereotypes
- To recruit members and/or volunteers
- To mobilize your base
Though there may be some overlap, it’s best to consider the role of communications for each objective separately.
4. What outcomes do you desire from your communications efforts?
The last step is defining what success looks like. This is where you’ll determine what you hope to accomplish specifically through your efforts with new and traditional media.
For example, if your objective is policy change, and you identify pressuring targets as one of the roles you want communications to play in your campaign, a desired outcome could be to get your local newspaper to publish an editorial endorsing your position. Another could be to get a certain number of people to sign an online petition.
The key here is to have a concrete set of outcomes that you can use to evaluate your communications activities. You’ll find this valuable when deciding which tactics to pursue, and later on when measuring your progress.
At this point, you should be able to step back and see how each of your desired outcomes advances the broader goal you identified in question one.
Once you’re clear about why you’re communicating, it will be much easier to figure out who your target audiences are, what your message is, and which tactics are best. You’ll be able to ensure that you’re investing your time in activities that not only make a lot of noise, but also help to advance your radical vision for change.
What questions do you ask when setting communications goals for your campaigns?
Tell us in the comments section below.