If you build it, will they come? Creating awareness through a communication plan

By Marian Abernathy, LINGOs and Ruth Kustoff, Principal, Knowledge Advantage  

So, with your help, your organization has made a decision to provide your global staff with a learning platform or portal (or Learning Management System – LMS). You’ve planned it, branded it, launched it… and some of your colleagues from around the world have taken courses, acquired new knowledge and developed some new skills.  Are you ready to sit back, relax, and pull some reports? Think your work is now done?  Not so fast.

In fact, now that the learning portal is established, and courses are available to staff, there still is more work to be done. In fact, your awareness campaign is just starting. For example, after Coca-Cola® launches a new product , it doesn’t sit back… it starts the never-ending work of building and maintaining awareness of its products and ensuring that those who might enjoy a refreshing drink, are never far from a reminder of the refreshing taste of their product(s).

Watch Melinda French Gates TED Talk on What Non Profits Can Learn from CocaColain October, 2010. You’ll see from her presentation, that what we learn from the commercial sector is that we can’t launch a new product, or brand, and then let it sit. This is when marketing and promotion must follow. Your global audience needs to know what is available to them and how to access it.

Building Awareness with a Communication Plan

Now that your learning program is underway, you’re ready to start your internal “marketing” or awareness campaign.

First, identify objectives for your communication plan:

  1. Organization-wide knowledge of course availability – Inform everyone in the organization, including country directors and field staff that the training program is available with relevant courses available to interested staff.
  2. How the portal or LMS works – Explain where the courses are, how to access them, the registration process, and if there are learning expectations or requirements of anyone.
  3. Highlight specific courses – LINGOs provides members with a wide variety of courses, and the catalog is growing regularly. Create a short guide or “cheat sheet”  for staff that highlights individual courses available or recommended for specific staff categories.  Keep in mind that a short dated document offered electronically provides you opportunities to communicate with regular updates and provide “bite sized learning.”
  4. Communicate the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) – Identify how the training program generally will support staff growth and development, and on-the-job performance success.
  5. Ask for feedback – As learners begin to complete courses, provide an avenue for their feedback on course selection, and topics, and ask for input on how to make improvements to the learning program.  

These objectives will show staff the value of the learning program, the courses, and that it is easy to access and complete the courses. Your second level of marketing is to reach the end learner at an individual level.

Marketing to the End Learner

As you build on your marketing campaign, you’ll want to highlight the WIIFM aspects of learning, knowledge and course completion. Working with managers and supervisors is important. Managers need to convey to their staff their belief in, and support of continuous learning, and the value the current online courses offer.  Staff needs to get the message that acquiring the knowledge and skills from certain courses, if not a job requirement, is strongly recommended.

 Additionally, you want to help staff to identify and determine which courses are “right for them”by role, job function or competency. Not everyone needs all the same courses or content. You’ll also want to promote success stories of individuals, by showing how completing courses can align to positive outcomes. Highlight how individuals have put their own learning into action, and achieved results that contribute to the organizational global mission. Finally, you want to ensure course choices remain fresh,

with updates to course selection, adding new courses, and managing updates of current courses as information changes.

Building a Liaison or Learning Champion Program into your Marketing Efforts 

If you launched a Liaison program during the planning phase of your overall program, these staff learning advocates can also help during the communication phase. The liaisons are one or several staff leaders who create a team of people from multiple offices who become points of contact across the globe. These liaisons ensure information is distributed to, and received by everyone.

The liaison program may also identify individuals who want to become champions of learning, if they have a special interest in, or are oriented toward online learning. These champions can be trained to become Power Users – individuals who “test” elearning courses prior to roll out, and are given time in their work schedule to do so. Power Users then become identified as individuals others can go to for help.

Building on the liaison program creates a strategy to identify and include local people as learning champions – – similar to Coca-Cola® with its large network of local distributors. As Coke knows, it’s not possible to manage large distribution of products, while keeping interest and demand high, all from the home office. It’s important to recognize the need to work at the local level – to establish central messaging – again, using the Coke analogy – it’s the same recipe for Coke, but packaging may vary and the messaging may be slightly different – depending on the local distributors who are pushing it. The local liaison for your organization, is close to the end user, in this case, the learner, and advocates are needed to be sure local learning needs are understood and met through programming that comes from the home office.

 Ten ideas to build awareness of your learning programs:

  1. Email – blast or individual messages to learners about new courses, offerings – demonstrating alignment with your organizational mission, objectives, projects and themes.
  2. Internal Learning Fairs/Conferences –food or other enticements encourage staff to stop by and see what’s available, sample a course, view posters, and talk with others who have used the resources. These physical space events can be held annually, semi-annually, or more often.
  3. Learning websites with detailed info about courses – such as a conference might have
  4. Informal video testimonials about learning offerings – viewing can be tracked via YouTube or similar.
  5. Radio-style podcasts, conference calls or webcasts about learning opportunities. Some organizations interview fellow staff members who are internal opinion leaders about specific courses or learning assets they want to market.
  6. PDF posters/flyers or brochures with fresh messages that are sent (or emailed to be printed in) each office. Many organizations post info in places where staff is sure to see them (on entry doors, elevators, stairwells, even the restrooms!).
  7. Postcards for each person you want to reach with a certain message – ie, for supervisors prior to annual performance reviews with a reminder of a course or job aid on the topic.
  8. Build the information into performance planning/annual reviews: show individual contributors and supervisors that learning is highly valued in your organization and include reminders and access information into the performance process.
  9. Leverage organizational social media: Yammer, intranets/sharepoint – highlight your self-paced, and instructor led training offerings/resources.
  10. Short videos from your Executive Director, Country Directors or internal opinion leaders: about new learning resources, the importance of staying up-to-date, aligning learning with your mission.

What other approaches have you seen used, used in your organization or want to try? Add to the discussion on the LINGOs group on LinkedIn. Communicating Learning seems like a topic worth of a Virtual Coffee Break or discussion at the Annual Member Meeting in October.

Be part of the discussion: Make plans to attend LINGOs’ 2011 Annual Member Meeting

  • Hosted by PATH in Seattle October 11 and 12, 2011
  • Reception at SightLife evening of October 11
  • Optional Workshops at PATH October 13

For information on the member meeting, please click here.



2 thoughts on “If you build it, will they come? Creating awareness through a communication plan

  1. Marian and Ruth,

    Good ideas for maximizing the reach of content and getting that all-too-familiar and sought after ROI for LMS investment and ROE (return on effort) on courses.

    I’m aware from Brandon Hall Group webinars, LinkedIn group discussions and the like of the extended diligence that goes into selecting an LMS. I’ve also been reading about the estimated hours it takes to complete a course in various content authoring platforms. And working with the last LINGOs’ Global Giveback competition gave me a keen appreciation and insight for the innumerable touch points and dedication from the many team members that are behind building the content.

    I have great respect for course designers, when I consider the hours of researching, honing content and ideas, and organizing and inputting them aesthetically in a content delivery system to create a course. It only makes sense to use the huge variety of communication channels available today (e.g., social media and forums) to maximize the reach and impact of that content, creating a much wider audience to potentially learn and benefit. Fortunately the hours, days and weeks invested by a dedicated core can hugely magnified, post-production, by the addition of a few minutes or even seconds attention of a tweet, “like” or even word of mouth mention.

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