Avoid Gatekeeper Communications Woes by Targeting Internal Influencers
The problems of bumping into gatekeeper communications obstacles are nothing new. From the executive assistant that won't pass on your call to the person in the mail room who tosses your envelope out after deciding it's junk. But in the digital age, demographics add a new element to this problem as audience target segments refuse to adapt to content tools that are otherwise the most effective at getting your organization's message out.
In the current not-for-profit space, CEOs, presidents, board chairs, directors, and the like tend to be counted among the aging demographic that sees little use for social media or blogging, and doesn't want to take the time to learn. This isn't to say they don't see any value to it or believe it to be useless, but they personally don't want to get involved with social media trends and would rather leave it to others in their organization to take on what they see as a burden of paying attention. Their age is serving as a gatekeeper communications obstruction as surely as any executive assistant.
So, what can you do when the people you need to see your message refuse to join the newer, more popular social media channels (if any at all!)?
Identify the Influencers
To start with, resign yourself to the fact that you're not going to convince these people to join social media. If this aging demographic isn't willing to join so they can stay in touch with friends and family or see the latest photo of their grandkids, what can you do to get through to them?
You won't, so spare yourself the exertion.
Instead, consider who in your audience is in a position to exert influence on your preferred demographics. In other words, who has the ear of your anti-social media, desired target? Who is available to see your message and how can you enlist them to your cause?
Influencers, as such people are known, operate within a role that allows them the time to monitor your content channels even though they likely don't share the responsibilities and decision-making power as your intended target. They are close enough, however, that they are likely passing along their opinions and preferences during meetings, planning sessions, and the like. If who these people are isn't immediately obvious based on your understanding of your audience's typical hierarchy, you'll need to otherwise identify them.
First, use some common sense and combine it with a bit of research. Look into the common structure for the sort of business or organization you want your content to make inroads with. Combine that with keeping an eye on responses to your content and that of other content producers aiming for the same audience. A bit of guesswork is then involved, but you should have a pretty good idea of where your most likely influencers are located regarding target audience segmentation.
Make Believers of Influencers
Influencers must be engaged by your content even though they are not who you ultimately want ingesting it. This means you have to make it appealing enough to them to have a look at and be interested in what you have to say, but you also need to make them aware that they need to kick your message upstairs. This means getting them invested in what you have to say even if they cannot directly utilize your content.
You need to make believers out of them. But how?
Your content must bridge the interests of influencers with the needs of the decision makers your gatekeeper communications problems are preventing you from reaching directly. Your content should present a broad context that is interesting enough to engage your influencers, but use specifics that drive in a direction that points towards your true target. The problem, benefit, or whatever else your topic represents should be clear enough that influencers will pick up on its importance to their organization but also clearly illustrate they are not the right person for dealing with it.
Don't hit your influencers over the head with the proverbial stick, though. This strategy works best when influencers don't realize they are acting in this capacity. Instead, they must feel as though the topic is speaking directly to them rather than using them as someone who can open the gate for you.
Your Goal for Influencer Interaction
No matter how interesting your topic may seem to influencers, it isn't enough to make them aware of whatever your content is about. You need them to take action!
Something about your content must compel your influencer to write an email or walk down the hall once they are done with it. They must be convinced something must be done regarding your topic, and the sooner the better. And, since they know it's not them, you have to convince them to seek out someone with the responsibilities and power to do something actionable about it.
This can be as difficult as it sounds.
Unless the influencers are incredibly invested team players, your best bet is to point out how the topic can trickle down into their lap. If your topic is about a problem, influencers can be made to see how the issue affects them even though they can't do anything about it. If your content talks about the benefit of something, that benefit may not directly affect your influencer, but you should illustrate it has an indirect upside desirable to them.
You embed an incentive within the content that gets influencers invested in what you have to say, so much so that they will repeat it where it needs to be heard. Although not as ideal as not having to worry about gatekeeper communications in the first place, at least you can present a workaround so your content still achieves its goals.
If you want to figure out how best to connect with today's influencers, who are likely to be tomorrow's decision makers, you need to grab hold of the next generation. In her book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, Sarah L. Sladek tackles this strategy. Beyond making them influencers on your behalf, she talks about how associations need to adapt the changes this generation will bring with their arrival.