The following column is the second in a series discussing how organizations can put the public at the heart of communications strategies. This latest column focuses on how research and behavioural insights can help harness the power of the public. 

In last week’s column, I shared Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Global Chairman Jack Martin’s Fifth Seat approach to giving the public a chair at your decision-making table. This week, I want to share how the person in the Fifth Seat can deliver insight.

In baseball, a game-winning RBI is the ‘run batted in’ which represents the margin of victory. In communications, the game-winning RBI is the ‘research and behavioural insights’ which represents the margin of victory in achieving business goals.

To harness the power of the public as part of a public relations or public affairs strategy, you need to first understand public attitudes and perceptions. That means collecting a complex mix of data analytics, and, then, distilling them into useful insights.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Modern organizations now gather and generate massive amounts of data, the volume of which frustrates any attempt at analysis. You need a skillful and methodical approach to isolate what is useful.

Relevant data includes that which helps us to understand what people are interested in, why it matters to them, and how they prefer to interact. This is crucial to earning the public’s trust, which is only possible by engaging people on their terms.

The best data comes from a research design with a mixed-mode methodology. It employs behavioural science techniques to better understand the extent to which the public is willing to engage, as opposed to simply whether or not they might.

The design should use both primary research techniques (surveys to measure behaviours and attitudes) and secondary research techniques (measuring actual behaviours and attitudes by analyzing social media data for peer-to-peer interactions).

To mobilize the public, you must motivate the public. Research based on behavioural science can help you ‘hit it out of the park’ by tailoring your communications to factor in how people actually think and act. Your RBI should be a ‘home run.’

Rob Mariani is a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies and serves as general manager of their Ottawa offices.

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