How to frame messages that work

Message saying 'You're not lost, you're here'
Image credit: Thiebaud Faix via unsplash

Sometimes it seems as though messages are the part of communication that gets forgotten. There is often much focus on format – whether to use video or text, how to make an Insta-ready image, the best time of day to send the e-newsletter etc. But I rarely hear as much deliberation about the actual messages.

And yet, the actions people take as a result of your communication are influenced by the messages they take away from it.

Same situation, different message
At the CharityComms storytelling festival earlier this year, Peter Gilheany and Ayesha Gardiner from Forster Communications talked about the #nevermoreneeded campaign, which aims to demonstrate the vital role the charity sector plays. The messages of this campaign are framed to show our sector as part of the solution for society’s long-term recovery from the pandemic, rather than positioning us as victims.

In practice, this means talking about what we do to help those in need and the impact we have, rather than a focus on lost income and redundancies.

The situation that voluntary sector organisations are facing is the same – the way they talk about it is different.

Tips for framing
So how do you ensure that you put your messages across in the best way possible? How do you get people to react in the way that you are hoping for?

1. Start by getting really clear on what you want to achieve.
If you want your audience to take a certain action or understand an issue better, understand for yourself what that looks like. Will they be writing to their MP to praise the work that you do and insist that it is funded? Or will they understand that you need income today, otherwise you won’t be able to send carers to the care home on Monday?

If you need income now but your communication leads to them emailing their MP for a longer-term fix, your messages are probably not presented in the right way for your current needs and funding could come too late to save you.

2. Build up a picture of your audience.
Which emotions will inspire them to take the action you are looking for? What is going to help them get to that place? Think about things from their perspective, not yours. Consider what they care about and what motivates them; understand what they already know or think that will influence how they react.

And remember that their knowledge, experience and motivators may be different to yours.

3. Avoid ‘accidental’ messages.
These are most common in situations of uncertainty and change, where people are actively looking for hidden messages. They may put 2 and 2 together and make 5. This is a particular risk right now.

For example, you may have decided (pre-covid) to invite everyone to an off-site meeting to announce an exciting new investment programme. But if you use the meeting room at a local hotel which you last used to announce redundancies, the invite will probably carry the (inadvertent) message that there’s more bad news on the way.

4. Flip your messages.
Sometimes it can be a useful test to look at your messages from a different angle and see whether they are likely to inspire a different response or a response from another group. This isn’t about ‘spin’ or presenting things in an overly positive way. It’s about a new perspective.

For example, a gardening charity could choose to put out messages highlighting the opportunities for volunteers to get out of the house by helping keep their local park tidy. Or they could inspire volunteers to join them by talking about pride in the local area. The way they frame the message will depend on what motivates their potential volunteers.

Framing your messages well can be a tricky business to get right, but with a little planning and a lot of thought, it can be done. If you need to identify messages that work for what your organisation needs to achieve right now, get in touch to see how I can help.

Until next time

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