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A step-by-step guide to digital strategy creation

A step-by-step guide to digital strategy creation Greg Kihlström

Defining an organization's digital strategy is the ultimate test in balance, creativity, and prioritization. For nonprofits, throw in the added constraints of a limited budget, sometimes limited manpower, and goals and tactics that differ from for-profit businesses (such as collecting donations as opposed to selling goods or services). I recently authored a white paper titled "Creating a Digital Strategy for Nonprofits – Part 1:  Building Blocks of your Digital Strategy," drawing on both my digital strategy expertise and track record of success with my agency's clientele. The purpose of the paper is to give marketing leaders in nonprofit organizations a practical, step-by-step guide to defining and auditing the building blocks of their digital strategy and putting the foundations of a program in place to make it a living document that can be continually refined.

The white paper covers the process of auditing and defining the components that fit in your digital strategy and serve as the basis of your strategic recommendations. This process consists of six steps of goal-setting and identification, and a seventh step that outlines a plan, which you can analyze and adjust over time. It's not rocket science; it's just a simple and organized approach to creating a digital strategy to help grow your organization.


The first step in the process is to make sure you understand both your organizational goals and your audience goals, as well as the key performance indicators (KPIs) that help you evaluate the overall health and growth of your organization and its marketing efforts. Everything else you do will be dependent on this step. Take a step back and think of the big picture: What is your organization's mission? What are your core organizational goals, and what constraints will limit your goal-setting? Be honest with yourself during this process, and think seriously about what may be a challenge down the road.

At this point in the process, we can already see at a high level what we would like to accomplish and how we can start making a plan to achieve it, simply based on overall goals, dependencies, and challenges. We don't need to get very specific in recommendations at this point, but we should have a good sense of the overall expectations and limitations.

Audiences and personas

In this step, you should define primary and secondary audiences, what their purpose of interacting with your organization is, and what your definition of a conversion or goal for that audience is. This step should clarify your audiences' needs and wants, how to reach them, and how to track the effectiveness of your efforts.

Digital landscape

Your digital landscape is your organization's comprehensive presence on the web -- from websites, microsites, and mobile apps to social media presences and beyond. Your digital landscape can be divided into two categories: properties and tactics.

Your properties include websites and social media presences -- basically, any place online where your organization has control over content and branding.

Tactics are similar to your digital properties, except that they do not have a static destination. Examples would be email campaigns, digital display ads, blogger coverage, etc.

At this point, it is important that we get the lay of the land so you can begin to better understand how your organizational and audience goals can be achieved by strategic use of all your properties.

It is also important to define what success means for each of your properties or tactics, so that you can determine conversions. Conversion metrics could include successful completion of a donation, signing a petition, or registering for an event.

Technology infrastructure

Your technology infrastructure supports both external and internal communications, including your digital marketing properties and tactics as well as internal functions such as email and document storage. A proper technology infrastructure should be divided into website, CRM, and internal. You should assess the effectiveness of each component in order to make decisions about cost and efficiency that will impact your organization.

Content strategy

Content is a large component of any digital strategy because while your digital landscape is where you are reaching your audience(s), your content is how your organization is communicating. Even if you are not an organization whose primary offering is content (such as a magazine or blog site), content still plays a huge role in your communications.

The goal behind your content should be to communicate effectively, efficiently, and appropriately. Things to keep in mind include tone, audience, delivery, and timing. Considering these aspects will ensure the content your organization pushes out is effectively supporting your marketing efforts.

Defining success

There are many components for success in your digital strategy. Unfortunately, there are some things that we want to measure that are more difficult than others. And sometimes, though we can measure something, there are costs associated with it -- like time and money or both. According to Neil Mason's article, "5 Quotes for Analytics Success," the key is creating KPIs because it is important to stay focused on measurements that actually help achieve our goals. While it's important to measure as much as you can, it is more important to measure the things that are most meaningful.

The conversion metrics you outlined in step three are a good place to start. More likely than not, there is a series of steps a user goes through in order to complete one of these conversions, such as accessing a landing page, filling out payment information, or being taken to a success page. This process is something that can be tracked using software such as Google Analytics. While it is possible to measure absolutely everything, make sure that the key metrics you are reporting are directly tied to your KPIs and organizational goals.

Analyze and adjust

At this point in the process, we have gone through a complete analysis of the inputs and outputs of your current digital work. You might think that having gone through the previous six steps, your digital strategy is already built, but unfortunately, the true analytical work begins now. What we've done here is a thorough audit of how things currently are in your organization, and how they relate to your organizational goals. During this process, you might have found several holes in your current plans and infrastructure. In the next white paper, we will review the output of previous six steps and determine what's working, what's not, and what needs to change. This is where your digital strategy grows from a plan to realization. You'll also have all the tools in place to measure its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed when you are done.

Your digital strategy is a living process. Setting the foundation is imperative, but it's just as important to have a process that incorporates evaluation and evolution in order to fine-tune, modify, or add components.


Now that you've had a brief introduction to the elements of your digital strategy, you can see that without a clear strategy and clear set of goals, it's easy to create a series of tactics that serve no true purpose. You can now take your organizational goals and KPIs, along with these elements, and start creating your digital strategy. Ultimately, it will be a long-term plan that incorporates short-term tactics and allows each to work together in harmony, instead of having each working hard in a silo.

Greg Kihlström is the VP of digital strategy for Carousel30.

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"Strategy Full collection of icons" image via Shutterstock.

Greg is SVP of Digital at Yes&, a performance-driven marketing agency in the Washington, DC region. He was founder and CEO of Carousel30, a digital agency he started in 2003 which was acquired in late 2017 by PCI Communications which, together...

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