When ‘Best Practice’ Isn’t In Your Best Interest

Best practices have a place in any industry. After all, why spend time and brain space developing a process when others have already tested variations and determined a clear winner?

Certain activities are clear best practices in communications:

  • Address recipients by name
  • Be curious
  • Respect client integrity and confidentiality

No-brainers, right?

The problem is, somewhere along the line, “best practice” came to mean whatever-the-other-guy-is-doing.

Years ago I presented a new fundraising event idea meant to reach a new target audience for our organization. Following my well-rehearsed presentation complete with mock-up materials and marketing ideas, the executive director’s immediate response was “who else has done this?” Not in a great-idea-I-hope-we’re-the-first-to-do-it kind of way, rather he clearly meant “only if someone else in our market has already done it successfully.”

Talk about a creative trip-wire.

I see it all of the time – a mentality of keeping up with the Jones.’

When I launched an electronic newsletter for a non-profit back when they were the next best thing in communications, the director of a similar organization called for a how-to session with no questions asked about our goals, responses, successes or resource spend. We were doing it, on the surface it looked like a good idea, and it was “free” in the sense we did not need costly software to produce it, so they were all-in.

Using best practice as inspiration to copy, paste, repeat is especially pronounced with social media use, events, newsletters and video (and podcasts are close behind). It’s an instinct to jump in without thinking about the purpose.

The problem is, surveying what competitors and colleagues are doing for a plan of action should be just a single step in a multi-faceted approach to building a communications strategy.

It is important to know what competitors and colleagues are doing, but not so you can do the same – so you can do better!

If another organization seems to be crushing it with social media, that doesn’t mean you will too as long as you post similar content. And, even if you get similar engagement, is that something that matters to you? Is that engagement something that furthers your mission and is tied to a business goal? Maybe it is. If so, fantastic! But, maybe it isn’t. Then, it was a whole lot of precious staff resources poured into an activity that doesn’t do much for the wider organizational strategy.

Implementing an activity or procedure as best practice makes loads of sense at face-value. It saves resources including time, energy and money. However, if that best practice is not aligned with your unique business goals, appropriate for your unique target audience and reasonable according to your team’s skills, it ends up costing you in the long run.

So when you find a highly touted best practice, soak in the inspiration, then question the daylights out of it. Do your research. Keep in mind your organization is unique. No one else has identical goals, resources, staff and stakeholders.

If you’re looking to optimize your resources, don’t just latch onto every best practice out there, or follow what your neighbor has done. Know your audience. Make strategic decisions on messaging and methods. Research. Plan.




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