Some of my clients have it all: They are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. They run their own online community. They have a blog. When I speak to them, they are so overworked that their main question is: “How can we automate all this?”

Others are just starting out, and are overwhelmed by all the platforms and possibilities out there. How can they decide where to place their energy?

Very simply – focus on getting the basics right before branching out. Whether you are running a nonprofit or starting your own business, consider these five essential elements first:

  1. Your online home. Yes, you probably want your own domain. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter where you play. It could be a basic hosted website (e.g. on Google Sites, Tumblr, Wikispaces or, a simple content management system (I recommend WordPress) or even a Facebook page. Just point your domain there and make sure to include your contact details.
  2. Your list of fans. Email is still the most effective way to keep in touch with your audiences. Who needs the media if you can talk to people directly, right? Give those that want to hear from you a chance to give you their email address. Again, it doesn’t matter how you manage them – a contact group in your email program is good, so is a spreadsheet or an online form (have a look at Google Forms). Consider a mass email service like Mailchimp for advanced options like automated bounce management.
  3. Your style. As your project grows, its style will change and evolve. At the same time, you’ll make your own life (and those of your colleagues) easier if you document design decisions and provide templates for repeating tasks. Dropbox can help, so can a folder on your shared server or a Google Doc. Make sure to capture logos and graphics, colours and fonts, grids and spacing, editing guidelines and frequently used text snippets.
  4. Your update cycle. Communication is an ongoing process – and people can only engage with you if you keep in touch. Depending on the nature of your project, you might opt for a very light quarterly rhythm or tweet multiple times a day or both. What can you offer your audience? What would you like them to do? Updates should happen where your audience is: Email is always good. Which other venues can you consider?
  5. Your photos. A picture says more than a 1.000 words, they say. Even if you are not using photography in your communications yet, make it a habit to collect photos of your work, your team, your events and catalog them with the name of the photographer, a description/some context and eventual restrictions to use. If you work in virtual teams, consider an online library like Flickr or Picasa – otherwise a directory on the shared server should work fine.

All other tools will depend on your audience and your objectives. If you tend to meet a lot of people in person, you’ll want to invest in business cards and a brochure. If there is already an established publication or online gathering point for your sector, find a way to engage there.

Most of all – have fun and experiment.
Then do more of what works for you.

5 essential elements for your communications kit
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