How To Create A Communications Plan in 12 Steps (Free Template)
What message do you want to communicate to your audience?
What do you want your audience to know about your organization?
What’s your brand’s mission and purpose?
These questions can leave marketers grasping at straws.
If you can’t answer them clearly, though, your communications plan is bound to go off the rails.
And that’s exactly why we’ve written this post.
You’re about to learn exactly how to create a consistent messaging strategy for your organization. As you go along, you’ll learn how to document it all using a simple communication plan template. Plus, you’ll learn how to execute that plan using your blog, social media, and email marketing.
Get Your Free Communication Plan Template + Bonus Calendars
To make planning your communications strategy easy, we’ve built this free template. Plus, we’ve also included two calendar templates to keep your execution organized.
Here’s what your kit includes:
- Communication Plan PowerPoint to lay out your entire communications strategy.
- Marketing Calendar template to plan all of your content and campaigns.
- Social Media Calendar template to schedule all of your social media messages.
Download them now, and then let’s get down to work.
What Is A Communication Plan
For this post, a communication plan is:
“A communication plan is a detailed strategy that outlines an organization’s target audiences and the messages they need to receive to drive desired business outcomes.”
12 Steps To Develop A Solid Communication Plan
Now that you know what a communication plan is, you can work on building one. The following 12 steps will help you plan a full strategy that you can share with your team.
Step One: Establish Your Mission Statement
The first step in your communication planning process is reminding your team of your mission statement. Your mission statement is the end goal that your company wants to fulfill for your customers.
Here are a few example mission statements to inspire your own (if you don’t have one yet):
- Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
- CoSchedule: Organizing the world one marketing calendar at a time.
- Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.
Try using this template to format your mission statement.
Our organization exists to provide [benefit], [benefit], and [benefit] through [product or service].
Once you have your mission statement record it in your communication plan template:
Step Two: Identify Your Business Objectives
The next step in your process is to identify your business objectives. Business objectives are goals your company or organization needs to hit to be successful.
Every goal your team sets needs to contribute back to these objectives. If you’re unaware of what you’re aiming for, you’ll miss every time.
Talk to or schedule a meeting with your manager to find these objectives. Once you have them record them in your template:
Step Three: Develop Audience Personas
The next step is to find your target audience or audiences. These are the people your organization is trying to reach.
Therefore, you need to identify who they are and what makes them tick so you can create messages that connect with them.
Identify Your Target Audience
Before you start developing your audience personas, you need to identify your target audience. Your target audience is the group of people who are most likely to purchase your product or service.
Here are a few ways to learn more about your target audiences:
- Survey current customers to learn more about them. Try using tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to gather data from your audience. Ask demographic style questions to gather the information you are looking for.
- Dig into Google Analytics to learn more about who is currently visiting your website.
- Search through your competitors social media followers to see who they appear to be attracting (and compare that to your own followers).
Once you’ve gathered the data, you need to create a one to two sentence description about your audience. It could look something like this:
Our target audience is made up of professional 20 to 28-year-olds who have just started their first job after graduating from college with a four-year degree.
Remember to keep it brief, as you’ll go into more detail later. Record these statements in your communications template:
Develop Your Audience Persona
Once you’ve determined the basic information of your target audience, you can use the survey information you collected earlier to create a detailed audience persona.
Each persona should contain the basic information about each of your target audiences including:
- Job Title
There’s also space to fill out interests and hobbies of your audiences as well as the problems they are currently facing.
Step Four: Identify Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
To craft effective communication, you need to know your unique selling proposition.
What is a USP?
According to Entrepreneur, a unique selling proposition is:
The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Casper is an online mattress retailer, and their USP is focused around one simple idea. Since their product is sold directly to the consumer, they can offer lower prices than what you would find if you went to a brick and mortar store. Unbeatable low cost sets them apart.
Big or small, identifying your USP will make a huge difference in your communication strategy. Work with your team to come up with your USP and record it in your template.
Step Five: Draft Your Calls To Action
Each one of your target audiences will have a call to action. What do you want your audience to do after they have read or heard your message?
For example, let’s say your organization is a budgeting program designed to help people create financial freedom. Your target audience is ages 20-28, starting their first job and dealing with a mountain of student loan debt.
Your call to action would be to sign up for a free consultation to help them get their loans paid off as soon as possible.
You know what you want them to do; now you have to figure out the right phrasing that creates the final push they need to take action.
This graphic is packed full of 54 different words that you can include in your CTA:
If we go back to our example some CTAs that this company could use are:
- Discover how to get ahead of your student loan payments and sign up for a free consultation.
- Register for a free consultation and take advantage of this special offer before it’s gone.
These CTAs should identify the action and general messaging your organization needs to communicate to each audience. Record them in your template.
Step Six: Choose Your Channels
The next step in your communication plan process is choosing the channels that you’re going to share your message on.
According to Express Writers, featuring a blog as a key part of your website increases your chance of better search engine rankings by 434%.
Blog posts are great for sharing a variety of news including:
- Company events.
- Company news.
- Feel good projects your organization has taken on.
- How-to content.
- Updates to products and services.
- Launches of new products and services.
A second channel option to consider is email. According to Imagination, emails usually generate 38 dollars for every 1 dollar spent. That’s a 3,800% return on investment.
So how can you use email to spread your message?
Some common tactics are:
- Email Newsletters that keep your audience up to date with your latest content and news.
- Press Relations: Need to get a press release out in a hurry? Email is a great way send your press releases out to your press contacts.
- Sales Offers: Having a limited time offer to entice your customers to buy from you? Let them know with a quick email blast that is full of message copy that encourages them to buy.
If you decide to use social media, ensure that your organization is using the best channels for your purposes.
Here’s are some facts to keep in mind about each network.
You can also choose your networks based on where your audience would be most active. According to the PEW Research Center, this the most updated audience demographic data as of 2016.
Use this data to see where your target audience is most active.
Choose your channels and record them in your template.
Step Seven: Decide Your Publishing Frequency
Now that you have your channels decided, your next step is to determine how often you’re going to publish your content.
Each channel has its own set of best practices regarding publishing frequency.
Blog Post Publishing Frequency
Your blog post publishing frequency will vary a lot depending on your content team’s work span and how often they can write full blog posts.
Start small and grow your blog post publishing frequency as you get ahead in your content.
As you start to publish your blog posts, refer to this graphic to figure out the optimum days to post your content.
Email Send Frequency
According to Crazy Egg, if you grow your email list by subscribers, your optimum send frequency is:
Again remember that these are just suggestions. If your audience wants to hear from you more often, give them what they’re asking for!
Social Media Publishing Frequency
For social media, there are two things your communications team should focus on when sending messages; how often to post and when to post.
Here’s an infographic on how often you should post to social media according to 14 different studies:
After you’ve determined how often you want to post to each of your social media channels you can move on to deciding when you’re going to post. This is important because posting at the right time helps increase the chance that your audience will see your content in their newsfeed.
Check out this infographic on the best times to post on your social media channels:
It’s important to note that you don’t have to follow this publishing schedule exactly. Create one that works for your team and focus on growing it as you become more comfortable posting to the channel.
So how do you decide what your initial publishing schedule will be? An example schedule might be:
- Publish 3 Facebook posts a week.
- Publish 15 tweets per day.
- Publish 2 blog posts a week.
- Send 3 emails a week.
This publishing frequency is here to help you get started. If you can’t post as frequency as this schedule suggests, try working your way up to it instead. The main thing to focus on is consistency.
Ultimately the schedule that you decide on will depend on you and your team. Once you have figured out your initial publishing schedule, record it in your template.
Step Eight: What Messages Do You Need To Deliver?
You have your strategy, now comes the fun part, deciding what messages you want to send. Each one of your target audiences has a specific message they need to hear to beat the final hurdle to converting.
So how do you figure out what that message is?
Each of your audiences experiences a particular problem that would draw them to your product or service.
The messages you create for each of your audiences should address:
- The problem they’re currently facing.
- The solution your organization offers.
- The call to action you created in step six.
Creating your messages involves a five-step process:
Let’s walk through an example of this five step process. Think back to the example of the financial company who’s looking to help students who just graduated with their loans. This is how it should look in your communications plan template.
Their target audience would be 20 to 28-year-olds who have just graduated from college and are in their first job.
After you have identified your target audience, determine the problem they are facing and the solution your company can offer:
Next, create a message your company’s target audience would connect with. Try using this fill in the blank template to start:
Are you experiencing [insert problem]? See how [insert company name] can help with [product or service]. [insert the CTA that you came up with in step six.]
In your template, it could look something like this.
Your next step involves finding the channels that your audience would prefer to receive your message on.
For this example, we could assume that 123 Accounting’s target audience would be most receptive to their message coming from a variety of social media channels.
Then decide on the frequency that you will send your message out.
Finally, take the CTA that you created for your target audience earlier in this post and add it to your messaging matrix.
Step Nine: Determine Your Important Events and Campaign Plans
Another critical part of your communication plan is going to be laying out the essential events your team needs to keep track of throughout the year. You’ll also want to start formatting the campaign plans for each of those events.
To start take a look at your calendar for the next year. What common recurring events would your audience be interested in? This could be holidays, company events, anniversaries, or recurring sales or promotions.
Some common holidays are:
- Thanksgiving (In the US)
- The Fourth of July (In the US)
- Memorial Day (In the US)
- Veterans Day (In the US)
- Labor Day (In the US)
- President’s Day (In the US)
- Valentine’s Day
- St. Patrick’s Day
- New Year’s Day
Many sales and promotions will fall around the holidays, but there are also some recurring dates to keep in mind:
- End of quarters (the end of every third month).
- End of companies fiscal year (this will depend on the organization).
- Beginning of a new season.
- End of a new season.
- Recurring industry conferences.
Mark any of these recurring events and holidays in your calendar:
Record those recurring dates in your communications plan so your team doesn’t have to flip through a previous calendar.
Step Ten: Set Your Communication Goals
The next step in your communication process is to set goals that your communications team needs to reach.
These goals should relate back to the business objectives you identified earlier in this post.
For example, let’s say your business objective is to increase charitable donations by 50%. So a communications goal for your team could be: increase the number of event signups by 75% from last year.
Each goal that you create should also be SMART or:
- S: Specific.
- M: Measureable.
- A: Attainable.
- R: Relevant.
- T: Timely.
Try this fill in the blank template when you’re creating your goals:
Our [insert team name] will reach [number] [metric] every [time frame] by [date].
So in practice, it could look something like this:
Our communications team will reach 5,000 event trial sign-ups every quarter by December 2018.
Once you have your goals you need to determine what metrics you’re going to track. Metrics are data points that show whether or not you are reaching your goals.
If you’re looking for blog metrics some common ones are:
- Unique page views
- Total pageviews
- Time spent on site
- Bounce rate
- Organic search ranking
If you’re tracking email metrics, some common data points are:
- Email opens
- Number of new subscribers
- Total subscribers
- Link clicks
Finally, here are some common social media metrics your team could track:
- Follower total
- New followers
Once you’ve connected your goals to your metrics, record them in your template.
Step Eleven: Using Your Marketing Calendar to Execute Your Communications Plan
You finally have a full communications plan. Now comes the time to execute it.
The question is how?
That’s where your marketing or content calendar comes in. Using the content calendar template that you downloaded earlier, fill out each one of your events and the length of the campaign it’s related to. It could look something like this:
You can add in what days your blog posts, emails and more are publishing:
To schedule your social media posts open your social media calendar and use the same color codes to indicate which social media posts are related to each campaign:
Do This With CoSchedule
You may start to notice you need three, four, five maybe even six tools to get your messages out to your audience. That seems like a lot.
What if there was a way you could do it all in one tool?
That’s where CoSchedule comes in.
With our marketing calendar software, you can:
- Manage your team’s workflows, plan all your content, and see deadlines in one place.
- Automate your WordPress and social media publishing schedule (and email scheduling is coming soon).
- Measure your content + social performance.
Plus a whole lot more.
Step Twelve: Measuring Your Results
The very last step in your communication plan is to measure your results. You need to know what you’re doing is working right?
This is where you’ll pull the metrics that you created for each one of your goals and start tracking them to see if your efforts are indeed paying off.
If you’re going to be tracking blog post metrics, Google Analytics is going to be your best friend. To find the data you need to go Behavior → Site Content → All Pages:
There you’ll be able to find all the data on the metrics we mentioned earlier in this post including page views, average time spent on page and bounce rate.
Email metric data should be found in your ESP or email service provider tool. Each one will vary a bit on what data they pull and where this is located on the platform.
Social metrics actually need to be found and tracked in Google Analytics and the internal analytics that the app gathers.
Google Analytics will let you find traffic by going to Acquisition → Social → Network Referrals:
From there you’ll be able to see the number of sessions, pageviews and session durations coming from your social media channels.
Another way to find your social media data is to go to the in-app analytics of each of your social media channels. Each channel holds its own series of analytics including post reach, post engagement, audience demographics and more.
Do This With CoSchedule
It would be inconvenient to have to search through every single social media channel analytics to find the data you need.
What if it was all in one place?
That’s where the CoSchedule Social Profile Reports come in.
These reports automatically record and gather the data you need in an easy to read format.
The best part? You can schedule them to automatically come to your inbox. To set this up, go to the analytics page of your CoSchedule calendar:
Select your desired report:
Select Export in the top right-hand corner:
Select Schedule and then choose your frequency and the email addresses you want the report sent to:
Once you have the data you need, you can create your own report or record it in the progress report in your template:
Go Out And Create An Amazing Communications Plan
Now you have everything you need to create a solid communications plan. You’ll blow your audience away with consistent messaging that saves them from their problems and it showed up right when they needed it.
Did we miss something in our communications template? Let us know in the comments.