Communications as social impact.

A company or not-for-profit can do good in a lot of ways. Communication for impact, not just about it, is a fundamental part of that. 

This isn’t CSR (corporate social responsibility) which usually comprises isolated or peripheral projects that can’t alone make a company ‘responsible’. Looking good, isn’t enough. Doing good is what matters. And that takes more than telling stories about good deeds.

The very act of conveying information or persuading action can create social impact – for individuals, organisations, communities and society.

For instance, say you need a health service and you are searching for it online:

  • If you can’t find a service, you can’t receive it.
  • If you find a service but can’t understand it, you won’t use it.
  • If a digital gateway is hard to navigate, confusing or confronting, you may experience a net negative impact.
  • If the goal of the user experience is predominantly transactional, you may be influenced to make the wrong decision, with negative health and wellbeing consequences. 

The potential to have a positive impact on a person’s health and wellbeing can begin with an advertising strategy, through the digital user journey to the point of decision and then continues offline, with the service provider upholding its proposition and providing evidence through service delivery.

At every point, we are communicating, and, at every point, we can measure the impact.

At every stage, with every word, image and motion.

There is academic agreement that humans communicate to achieve two overarching goals: to convey information and to influence (or persuade).

We do this mostly without thinking, beseeching another person to like us with humour and broad smiles. Or, by concerted verbal argument, presenting facts as hard as diamonds.

When, then, in a business context, does communication begin having a material impact?

When the call comes in from a manager to ‘get a press release out’ or get ‘content on digital’? 

Yes, that’s important but it’s often way, way too late by then.

You need strategic and tactical communication when the idea was formed, and a plan hatched to make it a reality – when the research and social innovation process was designed and initiated. 

We have a saying here at Ellis Jones: ‘when you do research, you are communicating; you are saying, ‘we value you, your input will have a material effect, you can expect change’’. 

So, the research better be framed well, supported with a narrative that sets expectations and extracts maximum value from the exercise – all without compromising its results.

The diagrams below outline a general process of taking ideas from concept to market. As the red dots define, consideration for the material impact of communication is often missing in action at crucial points along the journey.


Communication will attract the right participants in the required numbers. It will ensure unfettered input in a setting that encourages self-expression. 

After insights are gathered, a strategy or design process begins. An understanding of human behaviour is essential to guiding the process, identifying and making assumptions, and testing concepts.

This is when communicators focused on impact will use behavioural insights, looking for common behaviours and setting up opportunities to test.

When an initiative or a system is launched,  particularly when new or different actions are required of its users, communication can be the difference between its success or failure.

Placing social impact in the communications and design process.

In all of our measurement, strategy and design models, Ellis Jones is asking different questions than we once did. 

It does not matter which project or which settings; the augmentation of our models means we don’t miss an opportunity to design-in impact.

By addressing both business fundamentals and social outcomes, communications can, and should, be a vehicle for positive social change. 

 Communications can:

  • Improve accessibility
  • Reduce risk and harm in decision-making
  • Inspire and guide people to act on issues that matter
  • Build relationships for collective impact
  • Clarify needs so they may be adequately addressed

Communication is an instrument of impact. Use it that way.