We professional communicators have had a lot on our hands in the last decade. The ways in which people get information and communicate keep shifting, radically and often. Was it only 15 minutes ago that the iPod changed everything and now it’s in the landfill?
In a world of rapid flux, we look for any place to plant a stake, especially in the complicated world of digital communication. Yes, THIS is the way to build a website. THIS is the way to launch an e-mail campaign. And so on. Especially in large corporations, following industry best practices is critical to selling a project up the leadership chain and covering one’s behind.
But is a best practices approach automatically the way to go? The key is to understand when to use so-called industry best practices as your road map, and when to hold your nose and jump in to the deep end of the pool.
Best practices are relative
Go back to what you’ve always known as a professional communicator. Understand to whom you are talking, and what they want. Once you’ve done that, you can make sound decisions based on the passions and habits of your particular audience, not what the industry is telling you. There is no one right answer.
A 22-year-old fashion-loving, heavy-smart-phone-using woman and a 54-year-old male physician with a busy practice are two entirely different creatures. Do you really think there is one best way to connect with both? If only one is in your target market, feel free to ignore the other. If both are your targets, you will need to create experiences specific to each. So, your set of best practices may be perfect for one of these people, and completely off for the other.
Best practices and creativity are uncomfortable companions
The upside to a best-practices approach is that it can save you from a terrible mistake. If you want to perform well in organic search, for example, your site pages should be rich with key words. (Just be prepared for all of that to change next week). The downside to a best-practices approach is that it may keep you from considering something new.
Don’t ignore current best practices, but you don’t need to be slave to them. Feel free to inch over a few feet.
Group think and trends often masquerade as best practices
Somebody blogged about it, many others tweeted the blog post, the retweets ensued and voila – best practice! Maybe. Just make sure the decisions you make are based on the needs of the particular audience you are addressing, and the particular result you desire.
When faced with a question to which there is no clear answer, we all feel better if we can turn to expert opinion. But the liveliness of the digital environment has transformed everyone into a publisher. Are they all really experts? Aren’t we all just experimenting? Take what you read with a grain of salt, and apply only those nuggets that feel right for your circumstance.
By all means seek the opinions of those who are in the forefront of the industry. Watch everything, and learn as you go. Use best practices as a guide. But remember, while we’ve learned a thing or two about human communication over the years, the technology we use to communicate is in constant flux. So should be your best practices.