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Topics are at the core of communication. Communications departments take on the work of collecting, prioritizing, and coordinating topics and stories that arouse stakeholders’ interest. Topic-based strategic communication harnesses the power of storytelling.
The process of topic identification is largely strategy-driven and systematic, aligning the communication strategy with the corporate strategy and the company’s vision. Topics can be found in the internal and external corporate environments and are derived by combining a top-down and a bottom-up approach. The graphic below gives an overview of the key sources.
Corporate strategy: The corporate strategy constitutes the starting point for the communication strategy. It contains the main focus topics that provide guidance. These topics (e.g. digitalization, sustainability) are long-term and general in nature, and they are usually revised annually at most. Thus, they stay on the top of the topic architecture.
Operational level: Building on the main strategic topics, the topic architecture contains numerous sub-topics that aim to put the general topics in concrete terms. They originate from the day-to-day operations of the company and its business divisions.
Communication level: At the lowest level of the topic architecture, the sub-topics produce visible output in the form of communication measures via different channels.
Emerging issues: Events like accidents, critical situations, and crises influence topics at the operational level. At the same time, major global trends (e.g. demographic and climate changes, smart technologies, etc.) need to be constantly monitored and can be adopted as strategic corporate topics. Thus, companies can help set the agenda for future discussions and even become opinion leaders.
Stakeholder inputs: External stakeholders’ preferences should also be considered in the topic development process. The preferences can be derived when interacting with them in personal meetings or via social media.
Topics and projects proposals: In their everyday work, employees can report on their working processes as well as on personal and team achievements.
Ambassadorship: Employees can become active communicators by engaging in social media. They can not only promote certain topics to a broader audience but also bring in new topics from outside the company. This may play an important supportive function in the outside-in approach.
The main internal drivers for topic management are the corporate management from a top-down perspective and employees as bottom-up topic initiators.
However, topics also emerge in the external environment (outside-in perspective). Here, the ability to listen to, monitor, and respond to critical issues and stakeholder inputs is a decisive success factor. Learn more by moving the cursor over the graphic.