Tuesday, September 30, 2008

follow your audience: the chart cart

While at the Communications Network in Philanthropy conference last week, I heard about the Commonwealth Fund's "chart cart," an online communications tool that's a great example of using technology in an interactive way to meet your audience's day-to-day needs--and, in the process, positioning your organization as a trusted source willing to share what you know.

The idea's so simple and appealing, I'm wondering why I don't see it more often among Washington's policymaking organizations. The Commonwealth Fund's key audiences are health policy leaders, researchers and analysts, and the charts share data resulting from studies that the Fund supports, publishes or uses in its executives' speeches and testimony. Sharing the charts is a natural outgrowth of the Fund's dissemination efforts, and actually makes their job easier: There's no need to collect and respond to requests to share slides after a successful speech, yet they're putting data in the hands of people who want to share it with more audiences than they could reach. It creates opportunity for a wide range of secondary uses for presentation charts, from news media reporting on a topic to a ripple-effect created by researchers making presentations. Downloads are free, and available in PowerPoint or PDF formats; you can download a single chart, or create a customized collection of up to 40 slides at a time in the cart.

How to take this to the next level? First, consider what data collections you have that could advance your communications if shared with customers or colleagues. Then make them available online--and take it one step further by providing links to your data on a blog, Facebook page, or even on YouTube, where plenty of presentations are appearing.

Rx: online patient networks for health info

I'm a longtime admirer of John Schwartz's reporting, and in today's New York Times, he looks at the 75 percent of Internet users who seek health information online--and how the majority of those with chronic health problems use what they find there to make decisions about their treatment. Schwartz points out, however, that:
...paging Dr. Google can lead patients to miss a rich lode of online resources that may not yield to a simple search. Sometimes just adding a word makes all the difference. Searching for the name of a certain cancer will bring up the Wikipedia entry and several information sites from major hospitals, drug companies and other providers. Add the word “community” to that search, Ms. Fox said, and “it’s like falling into an alternate universe,” filled with sites that connect patients.
Schwartz goes on to explain that online patient communities have become a robust example of social networking media at its best, democratizing health care and sharing information widely among trusted networks. The article offers lots of links to oft-consulted sites, and follows one patient who used online communities, searches and even Twitter to advance her care--receiving from a Twitter follower a critical piece of advice on a possible drug side effect she was experiencing after surgery.

Lessons for communicators? Make sure your online health communities can be found in patients' searches, for starters--and even if your work doesn't involve health as a subject matter, start investigating how your audiences are using social networks to get informed about your issues. (Who'd have thought of Twitter from a hospital bed--but it's happening.) This article offers a great, detailed example that should be part of your audience research as you think about adapting old-line communications to new-media options.

what to watch for in social media this fall

The Christian Science Monitor's doing some of the best observation of the Web 2.0 world, and today, it offers a take on why you should start taking social media seriously. In What YouTube's 'Charlie bit my finger' tells us about Web 2.0, Cole Camplese riffs on that video--seen by 53 million people, thousands of whom adapted, emailed or otherwise made it their own--and what it means for incorporating or adapting to new media. First, he addresses the people who, in my world, call LinkedIn "Facebook for adults:"
It's easy to criticize the rise of participatory social media as a giant waste of time...But that criticism misses the point: This trend is setting the stage for greater long-term engagement. It's an indicator that people are working to find new ways to collaborate and to be part of something larger than they are individually. The sheer immensity of the participation is the story.
Then he describes the teenagers who are driving this train, and are:
...driving new business models and shifting the way people connect, share, and collaborate across every node of the Web. They intuitively understand that participation requires promotion. When they post content, they market it aggressively via word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, etc....In the next few weeks, pay attention as the big media personalities do the "real" reporting. And then watch how many iReports are cited, how many Twitter streams are mentioned, and how many YouTube videos turn into real campaign commercials. You'll be stunned.
Participation requires promotion. Repeat that to yourself--it's a basic tenet of communication that too many organizations have forgotten as they aim to control the message and engage in "if we build it, they will come" thinking, whether it's about events, reports or issues. Facebook, YouTube, and blogging all make it easier for your key audiences to interact and participate in your goals and activities, be it a purchase or a policy initiative.

Lots of our clients are on the cusp of considering how to re-tool their communications and adapt traditional methods to capture the Web 2.0 potential. Check out our "get your toes wet in the new-media pool" orientation/strategy sessions for your organization--we'll conduct a customized orientation and brainstorming to show you how to use these tools to your advantage. How are you adapting communications to Web 2.0?

Monday, September 29, 2008

more adapters: garage and gallery

At the Communications Network in Philanthropy meeting last week, the authors of a new report on foundations' use of Web 2.0 technologies noted that -- no surprise -- grantees are ahead of foundations in adapting social networking applications to their work and communications, and foundations are wrestling with issues of control and transparency, as well as identifying where the conversations are that they should join. But a session on Web 2.0 yielded more examples of what I call new-media adapters, organizations that are retooling their communications using Web 2.0 tools.

One such foundation is the Rasmuson Foundation, which has created a Second Life gallery to highlight the Alaskan artists it funds and to reach the "creative class" that populates Second Life's virtual world. Here's the description of the gallery from the foundation's announcement of the gallery opening, held in the real and virtual worlds on the same day:
Located on a snowy hill, the Rasmuson Gallery of Alaskan Artists takes full advantage of the creative possibilities of building in a virtual world. Enormous paintings and photographs hang in midair around the outdoor space. Avatars can either walk around or fly around the exhibits to view the select pieces of Alaskan art. One exhibit, a poem, is mounted as words on a towering post which can be read by flying to the top and floating back down to the ground. There are three levels to the gallery - the ground floor will house art from some of the 2008 award recipients, the second floor houses additional artwork from grantees from previous years, and the third floor is a social gathering space for Second Life residents and Alaskans in Second Life.
In addition, the foundation is using Facebook, MySpace and blogs to connect art collectors, artists and others with its Alaskan art resources, encouraging conversations with the artists as well as views of their work. (If you're a member of Second Life, you can see the gallery here.) It's a great example of using social networking tools to communicate from a remote location and increase your global reach, as well as a novel arts promotion tactic that's gaining wide acceptance: Second Life features more than 1,000 such art galleries.

Innovation moves from the gallery to the garage at the Knight Foundation's "News Challenge," which gives away up to $5 million a year to innovative projects that bring news and information to communities. The Garage is an incubator of sorts, where prospective applicants can post their ideas before they submit a grant application, getting mentor advice, job applicants, comments from other applicants, and general help in shaping the proposal to advance its success. Live meetups are scheduled for applicants in various cities to augment the online experience, and frequent updating of the site with new submissions makes it a lively virtual experience. Previously, a foundation seeking submissions might issue an electronic and print call for proposals to people on its mailing list and website, and work individually with applicants during the review process. Opening up the "garage" opens up new opportunities--and challenges, as some applicants may hesitate to share their ideas publicly. But the Garage holds promise for other organizations wanting to publicize their contests and applications processes, while gaining new audiences and partners along the way.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

annual reports: overloaded, underused

On the last day of the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting last week, Mark Sedway of the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative shared results of a survey on annual reports as communications tools for foundations in a "group conversation" style plenary titled, "Is the annual report nearing extinction? Should it be?" Prompting the discussion: The ubiquity of annual reports as the primary communications tool for foundations--and the (perhaps not unrelated) low awareness of what foundations do. Here, some findings of the survey of foundation communicators:
    • 67% of foundations use print and PDF annual reports, but only 9% use "interactive" versions.
    • Harris Interactive data show news media are a more reliable source of information about foundations than annual reports for engaged Americans.
    • In fact, the annual report's the last thing read by people seeking foundation information--the odds are 4 in 1000 than an engaged American will read an annual report.
    • Little evaluation data exist to justify the ubiquity of annual reports: Only 3 of 20 foundations with $500 million or more in assets conducted reader surveys of annual reports.
As one communications vehicle, annual reports have too many objectives--so foundation communicators say they are too dense, limiting, or long. The costs of printing, paper and postage have risen while annual report readership has declined, and while the corporate sector has moved to print-on-demand, the philanthropic sector overwhelmingly favors print vehicles in this case, even as they see annual reports as a major budget drain with little return on investment.

The conversation included a variety of views from foundation communicators seeking to change that situation. One foundation communicator said, "We stopped doing an annual report in 2000 and the world didn't stop spinning," and another went to print-on-demand, only to find there was no demand. In at least one case, a foundation did survey a sample of its annual report readers and found they did want a print copy--an important reminder to follow your audience.

As for new-adapter versions of the old print annual report, the Heinz Endowments reports that its quarterly magazine includes one "annual report" issue that seems to solve the problems noted above (see its online "library" here). And in a brainstorming session, the German Marshall Fund--which convenes many policy conferences and experts--suggested a podcast version of an annual report to capitalize on the hours of recorded material captured during those sessions. (GMF also has a blog that captures ongoing conversations by and with its experts, another good way to avoid loading all your communications goals into one single, overworked vehicle.)
I'd go even further and suggest more interactive versions: A lookback at the previous year on your blog, including lookbacks from grant receipients, partner funders or other key constituents. Video and audio interviews with program officers to capture their best sense of progress made or barriers faced. A year-round blog that offers a series of lookbacks, with links to relevant posts from the previous year. Still not sure how to proceed? We offer new-media orientation and strategy sessions for organizations who want to know and understand their options before they transition away from a time-honored approach to new alternatives; contact us at info@dontgetcaught.biz for more information.

state of blogosphere report offers insights

Blog search engine Technorati's annual "state of the blogosphere" report's now fully out, with sections released over the past week covering who's blogging, what and why they blog, how they blog, blogging for profit, and the entry of brands in the blogosphere. There's a lot to explore in this survey of 1,000 bloggers if you're making the case for a business blog for your company or using it to promote yourself as an entrepreneur. Since I'm speaking this week to the greater DC chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners on using social media to promote your business, let's take a look at what bloggers say their blogs have done to advance them professionally:

54% said they were better known in their industry
26% have used it as a resume or for prospective hires
16% have more executive visibility within their companies
11% were promoted as a result of blogging
And in the visibility department, here are results that show blogging can lead to other types of opportunities. Surveyed bloggers report that their blogs led to invitations to:
Attend interest group event (27%)
Participate in a blogger roundtable (24%)
Be a reviewer or endorser (21%)
Contribute to print media (20%)
Speak or serve on panel at industry event (19%)
Broadcast media appearance (17%)
And as for brands, the report offers a reminder that bloggers have established themselves as critical sources of brand information and customer feedeback. From the report:
More than four in five bloggers post product or brand reviews, and blog about brands they love or hate. Even day-to-day experiences with customer care or in a retail store are fodder for blog posts. Companies are already reaching out to bloggers: one-third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates.
I'll be talking about those benefits and more Wednesday, October 1 for NAWBO. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ira Glass pitch advice: surprise me

At last night's opening session of the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting, Chicago Public Radio's Ira Glass, host of This American Life, talked about how his program does storytelling--and along the way, gave advice that many types of organizations can use to pitch reporters or communicate their messages more effectively. Known for quirky angles and deft narrative delivery, Glass recommends the following:

    - Think about what sound and visuals add or subtract from your story: On radio, Glass likes that the lack of visual keeps you from judging a teenage female gang member with black lipstick, and forces you to see her heart through her words. And the music that so often runs below the TAL narratives? Glass says: If you're talking over music, and then it stops, whatever you say next sounds really important. That got a laugh, but the point is sound, so to speak: use sound and visual--or the lack thereof--for emphasis, and to underscore your point.
    - Look for the pleasure, fun and discovery in the story you want to tell: Glass sees most news coverage as having "no sense of" those elements, and notes "it makes the world seem smaller and less hopeful." The universal elements of sucessful stories are the ones where we see (or hear) someone realizing a home truth we recognize in ourselves--and let us laugh at it, and ourselves, in recognition.
    -When pitching, pass on the corniness: Telling private foundations "your bigger problem [in storytelling] is the corniness of your stories" and that "the more do-good your mission, the harder it will be to get your point across," Glass said sometimes it's just best to give a reporter access to a program to let him or her see its intrinsic value, rather than trying to craft hifalutin language about how it fulfills its mission. Such language, while noble, "isn't hurtful, but it's just not relevant," said Glass.
    -When pitching, pitch the surprise: The twist in the narrative, the surprise ending, the unexpected narrator all can help your story move out of the crowd and forward in a reporter's line of thinking. (Check out TAL's "favorites" among its own programs here, and listen for the surprise in each story.) Glass: "You must be cunning to get attention."
    -Choose storytellers who can get their feelings across: The subject of your story has to be able to convey what happened with emotion and emphasis, or the story--no matter how good--won't reach the listener and hold her attention.
    Glass says his program finds its unusual stories in several key ways: occasionally they're emailed in by listeners or pitchers, and more often, the producers brainstorm what they're wondering about -- as in a recent show on the mortgage crisis -- and then go looking for stories that fit that topic or issue. In the latter case, they cast a wide net among their contacts--people who've been on the show, people who've pitched them successfully before, people they'd like to get on the show -- and say "we're thinking about this, what do you have?" They've also published this section on their website offering more concrete advice, including a manifesto by Glass and an essay on how to get on the show.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    foundations: dive into the new-media pool

    So says a new report from the Communications Network in Philanthropy, with the encouraging title Come on in, the water's fine: An exploration of Web 2.0 technology and its emerging impact on foundation communications. Among its recommendations for how foundations should use new technology:
    • Provide their staff members with the skills they need to operate in the new digital world.
    • Reward creativity and innovation in using these new media internally and among grantees.
    • Build social networks that cut across sectors and institutions, to engage in ongoing dialogue among private, public, nonprofits and research stakeholders.

    Good ideas for any organization wanting to take the plunge--and they're among the recommendations I make in my "get your toes wet" orientation and strategy sessions on new and social media for communications. I'm at the Network's annual meeting in Chicago (and will be live-Twittering many sessions over the next two days under the hash tag #comnet08). At this conference, we'll have participants from all ends of the pool, from the MacArthur Foundation--an early player in Second Life--and the Mott Foundation, which reorganized its website around themes important to its audiences, rather than its own structure, to organizations still hesitant to employ new technologies due to a wide range of concerns captured in the report. My guess: This year's conference will get the group even further than last year's, in which we started a Network Facebook group that's actually done well keeping group members in touch between conferences. Check back for more updates: I'll be sharing innovations and good ideas here.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    tiny interview = twitterview

    Think interviews are way too long? Take too long to do? Get overedited? Then a Twitter-view--a live interview conducted on Twitter.com, where questioner and respondent are limited to 140-character "tweets"--is for you. The popular TVNewser blog conducted a Twitterview, shown here in part, with CNN's Rick Sanchez, himself an active tweeter. (See the whole Twitterview here.) And while many of their readers disliked the form (based on their comments), I think a Twitterview makes for a useful real-time shared chat that can take its place alongside more traditional Q&A. As noted elswhere on this blog, the short form requires crisp thinking and writing, and the unedited/live aspect adds an appealing extra.

    This may become one more thing to practice in your media training, and a feature to consider (as just one example) when you have an otherwise hard-to-reach interview subject...want to interview a speaker at a meeting that's already being live-tweeted by attendees...or want to add to your own organization's or company's tweets about a conference.

    You can follow TVNewser on Twitter here.

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    the creation of op-eds: anniversary marked

    A hat tip to Fishbowl DC, which alerted us that the Writer's Almanac paid tribute yesterday to the 38th anniversary of the creation of the modern op-ed page. While they started in the 1920s, op-ed pages (short for opposite the editorial page) were originally reserved for the newspaper's columnists. Not until 1970 did the New York Times publish other-than-columnist long-format commentaries from readers--and then only after a 10-year effort by the Times's John Bertram Oakes. And he got the idea from a reader, who sent in a reasoned commentary too long for the letters column--so readers, push that envelope. Or get a blog, the modern-day equivalent...

    the beginning speaker's guide

    Tomorrow, I'll be training senior graphic design students at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, offering beginner speaker skills to get them started on what we hope will be a career full of presentations to clients. This practice session will focus on message, movement and image, so here are links and resources from the don't get caught news & info blog and from The Eloquent Woman blog to bolster those lessons:

    Message:  The primary lesson: Keep it short and memorable, for you and for your audience. A strong message is one you don't need notes to get across--and one your audience can get without taking notes. Since these students are seeking jobs and clients, introductions are key--and I'll teach them how to take charge of how they are introduced.

    Movement: We'll go through a range of moves for speakers, from what to do with your hands to how to get out from behind the lectern and what to do when you get there. Using a prop during a presentation helps rivet your audience, and requires you to use your hands--and even move into the audience to share it with them.

    Image: I won't need to explain color and design to this group, but they'll find out why and when to wear a dark suit, and which color complements all skin tones. Since appearance and wardrobe are doubled-edged swords for women speakers, I'm sharing all my posts on that topic here from the Eloquent Woman blog.
    I'm looking forward to the training--I always learn new things from beginning speakers--and to launching a new set of presenters on Washington.

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    More on "new" media for biz Oct. 1

    If you're leveraging new media to grow your business, I'll be speaking on the topic October 1 to the greater DC chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. (And if you have a great example--your own or others--of using blogs, wikis, Twitter or social networking sites to advance your business, post a comment or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught.biz to share it.) Go here to register. The event starts at 4:30pm and includes a networking reception.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    Executives get our speaker tips

    First Tennessee's Executive Highlights magazine's summer 2008 edition includes "Pump Up Your Public Speaking," an interview with don't get caught president Denise Graveline on ways to energize and even enjoy giving your next speech. Here's an excerpt that reflects our philosophy of thinking about your audience first:
    "Think about what you were doing during the last speech you sat through," says Graveline. "You were probably making your grocery list or secretly looking at your Blackberry or looking at your watch and thinking, 'How much longer is this going to last?' It takes a lot to crack through the distractions of everyday life, which is part of the reason that speakers get scared. The only way to fix that is to plan ahead."
    Go here to read the article. Contact us about speaker training for your team, your next meeting or a one-on-one session for yourself, at info@dontgetcaught.biz

    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    CEO bloggers: 31 percent

    Still trying to make the case for your CEO to start a blog to communicate with customers, policymakers or the media? Tell her to listen to her peers. In its September issue, Inc. magazine surveys the CE0s of its 2008 "Inc. 500" and included CEO blogs in the survey, with generally warm responses. Some 31 percent of the CEOs surveyed have a blog, offering comments like these:
    Within 60 days of launching our blog, it is our top referral source.

    More effective than any marketing budget for getting our name out there.

    The community members are our fourth-highest revenue source.
    Recently, one of our communications manager-readers asked whether it's acceptable for a CEO blog to be ghostwritten by the communications team. The answer is no--bloggers have created a community where transparency rules, and writing your own posts is the best practice here. Some CEOs share blogging duties with other senior executives, who may respond to comments or write additional posts--but it's announced as part of the blog, and done under their own names. Others--like Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt--vow to blog without extra hands on deck. What's your CEO doing with a blog?

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    why we're called don't get caught

    Stuart Elliott's advertising column in today's New York Times looks at a rogue's gallery of mostly misses in ads, marketing, media and public relations...reminding us why our company's called don't get caught--we certainly try to make sure our clients don't get caught doing anything that might get on this list, through strategies, training and message development. If you don't value those preparatory services, or shrug your way through the thought process before you step out in public, check out these cautionary tales from the list.
    How many viewers of ESPN rubbed their ears in disbelief after an announcer promoted the program they were watching by declaring, “The State Farm Home Run Derby, brought to you by State Farm, proud sponsor of the State Farm Home Run Derby”?...How many readers were misled by an ad for the novel “Chasing Darkness” by Robert Crais, published by the Simon & Schuster unit of CBS, because it described an accused murderer being linked to a series of “grizzly” deaths rather than “grisly” deaths?...Did anyone reading Variety notice that an ad saluting the publicist Warren Cowan after his death, which listed many of his famous clients, gave a new heritage to the producer David O. Selznick by referring to “David O’Selznick”?
    Check out the article for the rest of the bunch, as a way of easing back into work after a holiday weekend...