I recently wrapped up a ten week communications strategy engagement with E+Co, a nonprofit organization that invests services and capital in small and growing clean energy businesses in developing countries. E+Co is on the cusp of significant change to its business model and wanted to include a deep analysis of how it can use social media as part of the future operations. As the project manager, I contributed a portion of the analysis and led a team of volunteer consultants that had been organized through Net Impact’s Service Corp to work with E+Co over the past several months.
The primary driver of change for E+Co has been its desire to increase impact through a greater diversity and larger volume of investments. Historically, most of the recipients of financing and business development services have been entrepreneurs just beyond the startup phase with potential for growth. Still, the majority of funding has come from investors that prioritize development goals over financial return, of which there is only so much to go around. To be truly impactful, E+Co has decided to also approach traditional investors with higher return and lower risk expectations to build for-profit funds that will invest in entrepreneurs that demonstrate success over serial investments and have established a sustainable business model. One challenge, among many, is that E+Co must balance its messages to consider more viewpoints than it has done previously. To attract traditional investors, it must convey financial savvy, strong governance and convince an analyst that there are lucrative opportunities to be had in its target markets. At the same time, it cannot alienate its historic base of funders who value the social and developmental aspects of the investments and will continue to fund the nonprofit side of E+Co to maintain support for early-stage entrepreneurs and high risk projects. This is where the communications strategy comes in.
After several stages of consultation with E+Co and our independent research, we delivered several components of what will become the foundation of its planned communications strategy. The first was a stakeholder analysis, what we called an “Audience Map” for this scenario. In it, we took an inventory of all potential parties with some stake or interest in E+Co’s activity, well beyond just investors, investees and staff. The Map became a record of the interests and motivations, potential impact to E+Co, and potential communications strategies to employ for each stakeholder. We then conducted a thorough analysis of the wide field of options for social media networks and platforms in the US and E+Co target markets in Africa, Asia and South America. While this yielded quite a large menu, based on our observations of similar organizations’ use of social media, we recommended focusing efforts on E+Co’s website and blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We then determined what free and paid analytics tools were available and how the could be used to track the effectiveness of specific communications strategies. Though there are “Cadillac” web analytics tools that are very powerful and expensive, we were impressed by how many effective tools and services are available for little or no cost. Finally, we presented several case studies of peer organizations’ use of social media in the context of greater branding and communications campaigns.
We left E+Co with the cautionary recommendation that social media can be very powerful and support concurrent branding efforts, but it does not in and of itself constitute a complete strategy. It is tempting to look at the success of many companies and groups that have very effectively used what appear to be free methods to generate activity and business. In almost all cases, there is a coherent, coordinated strategy integrating many types of communication and an established brand presence that gives social media plays their power.
My team members Kelly, Niharika and Seth were absolutely wonderful to meet and collaborate with, and produced top-notch work that would hold its own with any professional consultants. The fact that none are communications professionals and did all of this work after finishing day jobs made it all the more impressive. We had a great time working with the very dedicated members of E+Co’s staff and hope that our contributions will help them be successful as they move forward with these big changes.