We’ve all been there.
You attend a retreat designed to prompt innovative ideas. You participate in a focus group. Or perhaps you met with a consultant or internal strategist. Maybe you joined a brainstorming session in your department.
The gathering concludes with hope. People are inspired. Action plans or next steps may be discussed.
And then …
Or, if something did result from your participation, you never found out.
Doesn’t that experience feel frustrating? It probably also makes you less enthusiastic about participating the next time you’re asked. At the very least, it makes you wary about investing your time or energy into subsequent requests.
Yet, when content marketers ask for input from others, we often make the same mistakes. We fail to let them know what has happened – and what hasn’t.
You can easily change that. But don’t just promise to do it – even those with the best intentions end up forgetting or let “more important” tasks push that promise further down their to-do list – until it falls off.
Make a plan to communicate progress (or lack thereof) with those who gave input but aren’t involved in the day-to-day efforts. This move brings a couple of benefits. First, those asked to share their insight will know their participation mattered. Second, you and your team will be more accountable for the action plans.
Here’s an outline of a plan you can implement right away.
Take notes on who participated
If you ask for input from a lot of people, it can be hard to remember who needs to see the follow-up communication. Create a spreadsheet with their contact information, tag them in your database, or create a group email as you work on the initial meeting, retreat, or interview request.
Now, you can quickly contact your early input contributors whenever you need or want to reach out to them.
Make an appointment
Map your next steps or action plan milestones on your calendar. But don’t just list it as an activity to do that day. Schedule each as an appointment with yourself (or your team). In the description, list what you’ll report on that day and who will share the update.
Now that you have an action plan tied to your calendar, go back to your early input group. Send them a thank-you note for their participation. In the message, let them know the next time you’ll be reaching out with an update on the outcome of their work.
An email can work for this thanks-and-next-steps note. But if you or your team have time, think about sending a handwritten note. The extra personal touch can go a long way in making the participants feel you appreciated their time and input.
TIP: If you don’t have the action plan on the calendar quickly, send two notes – a thanks-for-participating message followed by the next-steps-with-dates communication.
Create a template for updates
Your update outreach doesn’t have to go into great detail. After all, people don’t want to wade through a lot of information to learn what’s up. Remember, the participants aren’t consumed by the project –they just want to be kept in the loop. So, making it easy for them to see what’s up also makes it easier for you to create the communication consistently.
Develop a template for updates. It will save you from having to update fields and headers that don’t change every time. You’ll also see what you shared last time.
Your template can be a simple document with standard headers:
- Project Name
- Progress This Month (pick an appropriate period but do it at least every six months)
- What’s Next
- Noteworthy or Surprising News (optional)
- Shoutout (optional – and I’ll explain this later in the article)
Or, if your follow-up report involves sharing a lot of metrics, you might want to consider a spreadsheet with standard columns:
- Goal (measurable)
- Metric to Date (or Progress to Date if the project is not yet at the measurement stage)
- Next Step
Send the update as an attachment or link in an email. Always invite questions and be sure to respond to everyone who asks one (even if the answer is “I don’t know.”)
TIP: If the update is text-based, paste it into the body of the email, too. That spares them from taking a second step to open an attachment or click on the link.
Give a shoutout
People like to be recognized for their contributions. If you use an idea from an early participant in the project, give them credit in the update report. I suggest listing this as a shoutout, so you can give them the proper recognition among all who have been or are involved in the project.
If it’s appropriate to share publicly when the idea sees the light of day, you could acknowledge it by tagging their social handle or noting it as something like “h/t to Jamar Smith” (h/t stands for hat tip).
Bring the gang back together
When the project or milestone is complete, ask the early participants to gather again. Invite them to celebrate the accomplishment. Share how their input made a difference in the project.
TIP: If it’s not realistic to gather in person, invite everybody to a virtual gathering.
Of course, if nothing happened or the project didn’t work out, you likely have nothing to celebrate. But you can still get people together to help discern why it didn’t work. But, if you don’t need that kind of input, simply send a final update explaining how their input still mattered even if the goal wasn’t achieved.
No news isn’t good news
Be ready to report and explain a lack of progress. It’s easy to update people when things are moving along or succeeding. It’s harder to share when things aren’t going well. But that honesty and transparency will go a long way to indicate you appreciated and respected their participation.
Your early participants will feel seen and heard when you update them throughout the process. It also keeps you and your team accountable because you know others are interested in the outcome.
And the next time you ask people for their input, they’ll give you a “yes” right away.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute