The broad definition of a “stakeholder” is anyone in a position to affect or be affected by the actions of a group or organization. Corporations and non-profits alike pay a great deal of attention to stakeholders, whose attitudes and behaviors can mean the difference between the success or failure of a company’s organizational mandate. Communication with stakeholders is critical for organizations, but is not always easily or effectively done. To begin, identify key stakeholders, then craft and disseminate a message and make sure it is having the desired effect.
Every organization or entity interacts with others, so, technically, anyone having interaction with the organization could be considered a stakeholder. It is important to assess the importance of each stakeholder group, however, when developing a stakeholder communication program. In a traditional organization, typical stakeholder groups are likely to include customers, suppliers, management, employees, contractors and subcontractors. In a non-profit or academic setting, stakeholders may consist of citizens, students, elected officials, municipal leaders and workers, other non-profits, staff and management.
Set Communication Objectives
Prior to developing a messaging campaign, it is important to clarify the reasons behind the communication. Is the goal of the communication simply to inform stakeholders of some impending action or decision, to involve them in an initiative, to engage them, or to prevent or overcome opposition? If you are trying to simply inform or raise awareness, rather than influence behavior or affect perceptions, the approach to communication will be very different.
Develop a Message
The communication itself must take into account the audience or audiences as well as the objectives for the communication. For example, if the audience includes local business people and the objective is to engage their cooperation in a new initiative, the communication will need to address their specific concerns and demonstrate a clear benefit to them of participating in your cause. If you are simply trying to increase awareness of your organization in the community or marketplace, the communication can be more general and geared to a broader audience.
Choose a Communication Format
The way in which a message is communicated can range from personal encounters to mass communication. If the goal is to change behavior, two-way communication may be required, such as in-person or telephone contact with stakeholders. For general, one-way information to inform stakeholders, newspaper or magazine ads, flyers, or public service announcements on television or radio may be an appropriate choice.
Get Feedback on Effectiveness
The ultimate test of the effectiveness of communication with stakeholders is getting feedback from the stakeholders themselves. Conduct research with all relevant constituencies in order to determine whether the desired messages have been received and the desired results achieved with the communication effort. The research can be in the form of mail, Internet or telephone interviews, whichever is most effective in reaching the audience in question.