Stakeholder Identification: Using Digital Channels for Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder Identification: Using Digital Channels for Stakeholder Management

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A well-established and well thought through stakeholder identification plan is, more often than not, the difference between a major and minor response rate. A better response gives you more opportunity for a positive outcome.

The Consultation Institute (tCI) says it’s important to “start early and to identify where and how to deploy your resources”. The earlier and more thoroughly you undertake stakeholder identification, the better chance you have of being able to gauge the needs presented during the engagement process.

Using Search Engines for Stakeholder Identification

Search engines are the gateway to information. And when identifying stakeholders, information is king. The strategy and methods you use to find stakeholders are going to be critical to your success.

First, you need to broaden your definition of the search engine. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu are search engines dedicated to wide-reaching searches for information that is indexed by their algorithms.

A potentially far more valuable class of search engines to investigate are the internal search engines of corporations, academic institutions, industry associations, council and national government regulatory agencies, and Social Media channels. This is where you’re going to find your niche stakeholders. Most of these entities have a search box on their website which links to content that may not be exposed to the Googles of the world.

There is also a host of smaller, lesser-known search engines that might prove valuable in your search for stakeholders. Wolfram Alpha and Duck Duck Go are two of the more interesting ones. Wolfram Alpha approaches searching the web in an alternative manner to Google.

It’s designed solely with the intention of answering questions around data and analytics. Duck Duck Go predominantly serves as a search engine that doesn’t track and report your every move, but also removes any search results that are tailored to you, so you can escape your personal bubble and find a wider variety of stakeholders.

Your search strategy is your key to success. Get it right and you’ll easily find stakeholders, but get it wrong and you could find yourself going around in circles.

  • Develop a list of keywords and phrases. Using your project descriptions and objectives, identify keywords relevant to your project. There are keyword identification tools that can help you with this, such Google’s keyword planner, but your project documentation and a good thesaurus can be effective as well. You need to do this well because the accuracy and effectiveness of your search results depend on it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. As search results start rolling in, you will see possible search words and phrases that didn’t occur to you in your initial analysis of the project documentation.
  • Identify the influential people talking about your project. Use search to identify articles and blog content that’s relevant to topics around your project or organisation. Identify authors and use this as a list of potential stakeholders.
  • Refine your search. Using information gleaned from search results, continually refine searches to identify new and more niche stakeholders.

For a more accurate search, use the sophisticated advanced search capabilities that are available on search engines. These allow you to focus the search on specific words, names, and phrases that you’ve found to be relevant to your project. Given that Google is the primary search engine for most people, let’s look at their advanced search options.

As you can see, Google allows you to organise an advanced top-level search and then narrows that search down to some very specific choices. This same technique can be used on any search engine, even if you have to do it manually. However, with Google, it’s a plug and play exercise until you find what you’re looking for.

The shortcoming of the search process lies in the initial definition of keywords and phrases. If you do it without much thought or discipline, the search results will not be relevant, and your niche stakeholders will slip through the cracks. If you don’t learn something from each successful search event and refine your search terms and phrases, your search for niche stakeholders will fall short of its goal.

Social Media Techniques

There are those that say Social Search is one of the most powerful search tools available but beyond looking for friends and family, it’s also one of the most underused. The ability to review live discussions and comments around a project provides an invaluable asset to the stakeholder management process.

Using the same keywords and phrases as you would for a broader internet search, it can provide an on-the-ground view of the attitudes and sentiments surrounding a project that would be hard to find elsewhere.

On many platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, search results can be filtered to provide more precise results, including dates of posts, language, and location, giving access to highly relevant content and comments.

Social Search isn’t a perfect tool. Many Social Media users prefer their activity to be kept private, so the search results offered are often not the complete picture.

Users without a private account could still find a search of their profiles or status updates invasive. Using Social Search should be done carefully, conscientiously, and with the privacy of stakeholders as a priority.

Facebook Groups

Social Search can be used to identify ‘Groups’, communities of users that share a similar interest or hobby. High-Interest/Low-Influence stakeholders will often form groups as a means of communicating about a project; it’s essential that these groups are monitored and engaged with as part of the stakeholder management process.

Use the keywords identified earlier in the search function found on Facebook. Then, use the Groups tab to filter the complete list to relevant groups.

Once you’ve identified the group, or groups, relevant to your project, you can do further work on categorising stakeholders within the group, or add the group as a whole to a communication strategy.

If groups don’t appear to exist relevant to your project, create your own Facebook Group and draw potential stakeholders in. The process is simple and contains the types of things you might expect.

  • Provide value. Post content in the group that provides real value to the members.
  • Keep the content fresh. Discuss the current events of the project in real time as much as possible.
  • Ensure it’s newsworthy. Bear in mind that the content is not about you, the company or the project. It’s about what the stakeholders want to hear. It isn’t hard to align what needs to be heard with news about the project. It’s all a matter of perspective.
  • Build a community. Focus on your lower tier interest/influence stakeholders using this one-way communication path. If you’ve done a good job and pulled these stakeholders together as a project community, getting the word out to them suddenly becomes very easy.
  • Develop Relationships. Use the Facebook Group as a team strength builder in building some of these lower tier stakeholders into higher interest stakeholders. You can never have enough project supporters in your camp.

Twitter Lists

Twitter Lists are another excellent source for stakeholder identification. From a project management point of view, the trick is to use Twitter lists to find and subscribe to the additional lists your project could benefit from.

You’ve already completed a partial list of stakeholders through the usual process of reviewing your project communications. Now is the time to use that information to your advantage and utilise Twitter Lists.

twitter lists stakeholders

Visit the Twitter profile of several of your most important stakeholders. Once it’s popped up, click on the “Lists” tab.

Check out the lists that these important stakeholders think are important. These will be their public Twitter lists; the private ones won’t show.

If you hit the “Member of” tab, you’ll find out what lists they’ve been added to and not the ones they’ve created. The other people in these lists are potential stakeholders.

The Use of Hashtags in Social Media and Search

Like Facebook Groups, hashtags provide a platform for an audience unified by a common interest, giving them the ability to communicate and comment together.

They’re used to group conversations and comment chains together and are most often utilised as a means to vocalise opinions around specific subjects or events. Hashtags can be used as a resource for identifying stakeholders that meet a specific demographic.

They can also be used as a key source of intel regarding project opinion. Once identified, it’s essential that primary hashtags are monitored regularly and should be included in any communications strategy.

  • Identify with keywords: Use keywords to find relevant hashtags used by groups of people that are talking about things that will be going on in your project. That list of keywords and phrases will come in handy again.
  • Analyse and Prioritise: There are analytical methods available using several tools on the market that will identify the frequency and reach of a hashtag’s influence. Naturally, the marginal ones can be discarded and the strong ones used to identify people that just might be stakeholders in your project. Stakeholder sentiment can also be tracked after the fact to keep a “silent tab” on how stakeholders react to your project news and announcements.
  • Create your own: Maybe, you could create a few hashtags of your own to draw the stakeholder audience into one common forum.

Hashtags can be a lot of work to attract and develop a stakeholder sounding board. One of the major shortcomings of an approach like this is getting false positives from a relatively small audience size. The sentiment of the group may not represent mainstream opinion.

Treat it as a sounding board or a warning flag, and you’ll avoid those problems.

Social Media Advertising

Unlike traditional advertising, Social Media advertising allows you to target a niche audience directly and, when done correctly, can provide a list of contacts that have shown interest.

This is particularly helpful if you are aiming to attract stakeholders that meet a set demographic. Using targeted Social Media advertising, you can reach the audience demographic and ask them to ‘sign-up’ or register their interest in a particular project.

This audience can then be flagged as interested and targeted by future communications, be it email or further Social Media advertising.

The biggest shortcoming of this method of stakeholder identification is cost. Advertising on Social Media is cheaper than traditional methods but is still a relatively risky avenue for return on investment (ROI).

The cost of ads on social media can mount quickly if you’re running them for weeks at a time. The good news is that each Social Media channel you would use offers advertising and analytics as part of the package.

The process is well-described, and there is a support structure within the social media channel to help you get your advertising campaign off the ground. Facebook advertising is an incredibly powerful tool with a significant global reach, but at a local, niche level, it’s at its most powerful.

Categorising Stakeholders

Once stakeholders have been identified, the next stage is to classify them. Not all stakeholders are equal. Not all of them require the same amount of attention.

Each of them will have preferred methods of communication, and a strategy for communication that is more economical and efficient. Classifying stakeholders is a way of providing a visual aid to demonstrate how they should best be managed and communicated with.

Below are two methods of stakeholder classification that will help to inform your communications strategy and refine your stakeholder management process.

Interest/Influence Matrix

The Interest/Influence Matrix is a powerful tool for identifying the weight and type of communication appropriate to each stakeholder and stakeholder group.

As you can see in the diagram below, the interest of the stakeholder is plotted along the ‘x’ axis, whilst the influence is plotted on the ‘y’ axis.

Attributing a stakeholder with a score from 1 to 20 for both these categories will provide a point to plot in one of four quadrants.

The communications strategy can then be informed by using one of three weights of engagement (informing, consulting, and collaborating), ensuring that a suitable amount of engagement is provided to each quadrant and that each stakeholder group is satisfied.

stakeholder matrix

The Salience Model

The salience model takes the concept of classifying stakeholders even further, with a Venn diagram of three-parameters; urgency, power and legitimacy.

Power is attributed to a stakeholder who has the ability to influence the outcome of a project. Legitimacy is the level of involvement and authority a stakeholder has on a project. Urgency relates to the time that a stakeholder expects responses and actions.

The three parameter approach allows a deeper understanding of each stakeholder’s needs and, when used correctly, can better inform the communications strategy and the digital tools used.

By using the Salience Model to categorise stakeholders into one of seven groups, you can identify a strategy that is more tailored to each stakeholder’s needs.

For example: On the outside of the diagram, a stakeholder identified as a ‘dormant stakeholder’ would require a hands-off, informative approach. At the centre of the model, a stakeholder identified as a ‘definitive stakeholder’ would require a much much more engaged approach, utilising collaborative and consultative tools on top of being kept informed.

stakeholder identification

Mark Rutter

Director at Tractivity
After graduating from Staffordshire University I joined Tractivity as a Junior Developer and can say I have never looked back since. From Developer to Director, my passion for Tractivity continues to grow as I uncover new ways to improve and grow our business.

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