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Ask the Expert: Q&A with Shonali Burke, part two on integrated communications and the hub-and-spoke approach

This is Part 2 of a two-part Q&A with communications consultant Shonali Burke [1], ABC, principal of Shonali Burke Consulting and adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. In Part 1 [2], Shonali talked about about social media and its effect on public relations. In this article, Shonali discusses integrated communications and describes the “hub-and-spoke” approach — both of which she discussed during a recent webinar, “How to Supercharge Your PR Program [3],” sponsored by Marketwire and HubSpot.

How do you define “integrated communications”?

This isn’t a new term, but there’s a difference between communication and communications (plural). In my opinion, while “communication” is a discipline, “communications” refers to the different vehicles and tactics you’re using. “Integrated” means to make sure they all work together – that they’re not silo-d. To be effective you need to practice integration across corporate communication disciplines such as advertising, sales and PR. You frame your messages and disseminate them to your audiences and customers, but the core message has to be the same. That can’t happen until all the different entities are working together.

In your presentation you discussed the “hub and spoke” approach. Please tell us more about it.

The hub and spoke approach is really just common sense. The idea behind it is like a bicycle wheel. The hub is the center, the spokes lead outward and those spokes support the rim and tire, allowing the bicycle to move. The important part is determining your strategy so all the different spokes/tactics in implementing your campaign and the channels you use to communicate it direct back to your hub.

Since almost every business has a website, that’s the most logical place for the hub. You might want to set up a microsite. For example, I’m involved in the Blue Key Campaign to support international refugees. We created a microsite with a distinct URL that directly supports the campaign. As you work on developing and implementing your plan, whatever social platforms and traditional forms of media you use should all direct back to the hub – in this case, www.thebluekey.org [4].  This approach can apply to small campaigns as well as larger strategies. You always need a central repository for information – a home on the web.

Facebook offers a venue for fans to interact, participate in discussions and stay informed. In fact, some businesses use it as a “hub” in which they educate, run contests, include calls to action, run surveys and polls, offer special deals, etc. Why should Facebook or another social channel not function as your hub?

The only place over which you have complete control is a property you own, such as your website. You don’t have control over Facebook. Facebook is certainly useful for organizations to have a presence on, but why would you want to depend on an external site or platform when you have no control over functions that it controls? For example, if you rely on the “Events” tab and Facebook takes it away, what do you do? I publish a daily blog and use my Facebook business page to post links several times a day. One of the links goes to my blog post of the day; another might be a post (from another blogger) that I share, another might use Facebook’s “Questions.” I also use the Facebook tagging feature for status updates, to draw in people who might be interested in that particular conversation. Recently, without prior notice, Facebook pulled its tagging feature. There are so many posts showing up in the Facebook newsfeed that my posts may not get noticed without it. So now I have to figure out what to do – especially in the long-term – if the tagging feature (for Pages) is not restored. Fortunately I have other ways to create visibility, such as an RSS feed and Twitter. But at the end of the day, the conversation is taking place primarily on my blog, and that’s where it needs to be.

How does paid media fit in the equation?

There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for social media along with lofty expectations. Any good communication plan and strategy includes different forms of media, whether earned or paid. Advertising is not evil. Look at different channels and evaluate their effectiveness. Paid media these days is tough for most people. They don’t want to watch or hear ads (the Super Bowl being the exception in the US). Most paid ads are irritating. With earned media, people learn more about you. Don’t necessarily throw advertising out of the mix. It can take up so many dollars, though, there are fewer left for owned and earned media. A good campaign consists of the most effective channels and vehicles to accomplish your objectives. 

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