Over the past few months I’ve been working on a brand new Idealware course about online communications. We had a great team of contributors that included Laura Quinn, Debra Askanase, and Lisa Colton, but in spite of the tremendous collective experience and knowledge of this group, it felt as though something was missing.

I had kind of an “aha moment” about this recently as my kids started school again. They’re both in elementary school, which means getting back into memorizing state capitals, practicing spelling, and working through math problems.

When my son was first learning to read and write he would spell words any old way, which was okay because the goal was fluency. Then he mastered the correct spelling of many words, the fundamentals of grammar, and some basic structures for stories and persuasive writing. At each stage, he was so excited. It was as if he’d unlocked a secret the world had been hiding his whole life. Knowing those mechanics was enough to make him a passable writer, and now in third grade, he is starting to experiment with these building blocks, elaborating on the details to better express his imagination and perspective. From this point forward it’s all about sophistication, nuance, and creativity—but he will still benefit from having teachers to guide him.

Online communications (like most of life) is iterative. You have to build up your audience and strengthen your relationships bit by bit. You learn how to be more sophisticated, nuanced, and creative by practicing, experimenting, and picking up tips from your peers. In my view, advancing beyond the communications basics happens in three areas:

  • Becoming more strategic—letting goals guide your choices
  • Using data, including metrics and feedback, to optimize channels and messages—which requires experimentation
  • Streamlining processes and doing more with less—including cutting things that aren’t performing

There isn’t a secret to communications success, unless you consider working hard and paying attention to what matters a secret. And that’s OK. It’s actually a sign of growth. In a few years my kids will be in high school and their homework will get a lot more complicated. And in college there will be even fewer easy answers. I can’t wait for the conversations we’re going to have.