Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Google as a PR tool

Communicators should know about these new options in Google that will make your intelligence-gathering and presence in news coverage more manageable--as well as one service the search engine has discontinued:

  • Researching reporters by byline: In Google News, you can now click on reporters' bylines or enter this as a search term: author: "byline name" -- either will pull up a list of that reporter's searchable articles. See details and a diagram here.
  • Seeing video in news searches: Now any of the 25,000 news sites aggregated in Google News can ask to have video included in search results of their stories and on YouTube, via a new partnership agreement. What does it mean for communicators? The new function should make it easier to research broadcast and online video coverage, for one. But it also means a wider audience for stories you're successful in pitching, and easier access to videos when you want to use one as a training example of good (or not-so-good) interview skills.
  • "No comment" on news stories, but still available on searches: Google's apparently killed this option, which was only available to named sources in news stories appearing in Google News. You can, however, still comment on Google search results, a relatively new feature that extends to any news stories appearing in search results. Click on the speech balloon at the end of any search result and a window will drop open for you to publish a comment.

June's top 10 tips

 In June, readers of this blog were curious about media interviews, writer's reference books, and everything about social media--particularly the habits of organizations considering how to use it. Here are the top posts featured this month:

  1. Writers told us what's on their reference shelves in this popular post from the weekly writing coach series.
  2. Heavy-handed social media approaches don't work. The quest to develop a deft touch in new media drew many readers to this post.
  3. Reluctant to get into social media, some government agencies and corporations lag behind. New data show where they're hoping to swim and stay dry, so to speak, in the new media pool.
  4. Playing around with social media is the best way to get started...as I explore in this post comparing it to learning a new musical instrument.
  5. Are your experts acting like turtles? Getting them out of their shells and into training and media interviews is explored in this popular post.
  6. Getting scientists to communicate clearly can be a challenge. Can you define "charismatic megafauna?" Check out how we changed that in a recent workshop.
  7. You're getting good at social media when you listen. Take some notes from a master jazz pianist on how and where to jump into the conversation in this post.
  8. You can rev up anniversary PR by using some social media tools and approaches for a new twist on a timeworn communications effort.
  9. Plenty of interviews must be going on, since our classic post "what to ask reporters" was among this month's top reads. I offer you 11 questions to try.
  10. Social-media branding...of yourself also made a comeback as a top post in June, reflecting the new realities of the economy. Check out how to use social media to advance your career.

Monday, June 29, 2009

weekly writing coach: lose the quotes

If you need to raise your hands and make a quotation-mark sign when you use a phrase, I can't help you there...but you should avoid it in writing. For inspiration, check out this blog about unnecessary quotes, with hilarious photos of real-life examples (some on bronze plaques) where quotation marks have no business. Not a complete catalog, by any means, but a nice reminder when you're tempted. While many of these examples suggest that people think quotation marks add a special emphasis, they do the opposite for most of us, making the phrase seem dubious or ill-chosen, or in need of definition because it's so obscure. Scour your work before submission to be sure you're not adding such an emphasis inadvertently.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

coaxing turtles into media interviews

It's the first rule of media relations: The biggest barrier to communicating your research, trends, or news is whether the source decides to participate. You may have a great story and reporters willing to cover it, but if the source decides to hide within her shell like a turtle, that story doesn't have much chance of success. That's why many of us are reading "No Turtles: Faculty-Media Relations," with a sense of familiarity. In it, Michael C. Munger, who chairs political science at Duke University describes the syndrome:
So whether it's "I'm not good enough" or "I'm not paid enough," faculty members turn into turtles. They draw their heads and limbs inside a protective shell and won't come out. If they do poke their heads out briefly, they embarrass themselves because they have no mental framework for media relations.
No one mulls this issue more than the communicators trying to put experts together with reporters, but even their best efforts may not be enough. In a recent blog post, Joe Bonner, Rockefeller University's director of communications and public affairs, highlighted this passage from Munger's essay:
Even the most outwardly focused campus news service will fail to bring faculty members out into the spotlight unless they are trained to deal with reporters and are rewarded for it.
"But how do you get reluctant faculty interested in practicing in the first place?" Bonner asks -- and it is the critical question for communicators tasked with carrying out the training and coaxing of experts. He says, "the key to getting scientists comfortable with the idea of communicating with reporters and the public at large is to get them early, while they are in graduate school or working as postdocs and before they've become junior faculty members."

I agree with that--any trainer will tell you it's easier to learn public-speaking and media-interview skills early, before you develop bad habits, fears and firm opinions about why it's not worth your time. (Put another way, you'll have less to un-learn if you learn early.) And it's also true that more's needed just to make the training possible. Here are some tactics I've used in a variety of settings to coax experts out of their shells and into training:
  • Gently promote the coverage others are getting: I say gently because--especially with faculty experts--the appearance of self-promotion often creates more problems than opportunities with their peers. But if you update your experts about good coverage, you can convey, over time, that interacting with reporters is valued (and build up some competition). Think internal, think water-cooler, and physically post it where it can be seen and discussed, or circulate a one-page report. My favorite was a one-pager called "Got You Covered"--a simple letterhead underscored that this would be a regular report, and let my communications team compile a few bullets each week highlighting especially good coverage.
  • Recruit some allies. I'll never forget the time I got a tour from a university media relations rep. At the time, I worked for a major scientific society, and we stopped to see a scientist active in the society--who confided that she routinely threw away messages to call reporters, to the horror of my host. "Does the society offer some training?" she asked. We did, and I promptly signed her up. Likewise, you should recruit allies at professional societies or other organizations in which your experts are active--and where they may get recognition they prefer for media efforts. Then work with your allies to reinforce those opportunities.
  • Listen for what motivates them. I've seen research scientists run from media interviews--until they needed a donor, a technology transfer partner to take the research into the commercial sector, or some other motivator that had nothing much to do with the goals of the communications office. (In my favorite example of this, a researcher with a great new product was more excited by her coverage in Packaging News than in the Wall Street Journal--but we made sure she got both.) Ask your experts what they want, what would help them, and listen for the chance to motivate them into media interviews. The gratitude often means they'll respond again when you call.
  • Make it fun and easy. I love handing groups of people Flip camcorders. They're pocket-sized, cute and easy to operate, and those factors can help motivate your experts to get comfortable with a camera. Why not issue one to a few experts at your organization and ask them to spend just 10 minutes a week recording some insights they might share with a reporter--then email it to you for internal feedback? You might wind up with some useable material and your expert will be developing a comfort level with communicating on video.
  • Share training opportunities. Repeat. It takes more than one annoucement that training's available to convince otherwise busy, skeptical or shy experts to practice. So cultivate not only your home-grown trainings, but those offered by others...over and over again. Sooner or later, the message will sink in. Check out the "Communicating Science" workshops offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for scientists and engineers, ask professional societies and local groups, and, for women experts, you might suggest that they enter my Eloquent Woman blog's contest to win 15 weeks of free public-speaking training (and a free Flip Mino HD camcorder) if they enter by July 31, 2009.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

the art and science of clients

Clients bring me the most creative opportunities and intriguing challenges--and that's what really powers my work and makes it fun. Meeting their needs for communications strategies, training and content is both an art and a science. I've updated the list of don't get caught's clients , a great mix of companies and firms; nonprofits and associations; colleges, universities, and research institutions; and government agencies. We're helping make sure they don't get caught behind the curve. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz if we can help you, too.

eloquent woman contest: enter now

Over at our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, there's a new contest afoot: You'll get 15 weeks of free speaker coaching--including a focus on your top 3 priorities for public speaking skills--plus a custom-designed Flip Mino HD camcorder if you win this competition. The contest and coaching are designed to help you step up your public speaking skills in 15 weeks, whether you seek to enhance your existing skills or are just starting out as a speaker. Go here to learn about what the 15 weeks will cover, plus entry directions. To win, you must enter by July 31, 2009 and follow the entry rules; the winner will be announced in August 2009 with coaching online to begin in September. I hope you'll share this unique opportunity with women you know who would benefit from speaker coaching.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

weekly writing coach: stocked bookshelf

UPDATED: This week, the coach wants your input: If you're a writer, which reference books do you keep on your shelf? I started this conversation on Twitter and have these contributions to help you get started:
If you're a speechwriter or science writer, your shelf may be more specialized of course--so feel free to suggest references for various formats, styles and specialties. Whatever your focus, add to this list in the comments and share what inspires or educates you while you're writing.

UPDATE: Here are more entries, submitted by email, Twitter and Facebook. Put your suggestions in the comments to keep the list going:
Click on any of the links above to buy the books now.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

anniversary PR, social-media style

Organizational anniversaries can be a challenge, even for the most creative communicator. They recur with alarming frequency, and nearly always are considered more important internally (by your board, management, members) than they are externally (by the media, public audiences, or donors), especially if they don't end in a 5 or a 0...or even then. But social media's being used by a variety of organizations to stir up unusual anniversary approaches, creating new resources for communicators and making these events more widely accessible--and interesting to wider audiences. Cull from these new ideas and resources before your company or organization's next big anniversary:

  • Pretend Twitter had been invented 40 years ago: That's the idea behind the Twitter accounts honoring the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, the mission that landed man on the moon. Nature News tweets under the tag @ApolloPlus40, posting events as they happened 40 years to the day. We Choose the Moon is using a variety of platforms, including Twitter accounts for Apollo 11's Mission Control and the spacecraft. This may be a good tactic if you have an historic progession of events with many dates and steps to be marked throughout an anniversary year or over several months.
  • Blog your archive, diaries, letters or logs: Open your archival materials and look for the founders' diaries, letters, a significant log or other ongoing records. Then use a blogging platform to re-publish them, turning the meaning of "dated" from old to simply an ongoing web log. You can read several historic diaries in blog form today, including the work of the great diarist Samuel Pepys and author George Orwell. Letting your founders talk takes on a fresh authenticity when presented in this way.
  • While you're in the archives, find those photos: Sharing archival photos may be one of the most powerful ways to share an anniversary celebration. Whether you use Facebook--the most popular photo-sharing site--or Flickr, consider making publicly available your archival photos, then add those from your current-day celebrations.
  • Everything old is news again: You may be able to find useful fodder for your organization's anniversary in two vast digital newspaper archives. The Library of Congress has digitized more than one million pages from American newspapers at its Chronicling America website, where you can find pages from from 1880 to 1922 from the following states: California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. And the British Library has put 2 million pages from 19th and early 20th century British newspapers online here. Why not go find your media coverage--from back in the day?
If you're using social media to commemorate an anniversary, leave details in the comments.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

united's deft hand with social media

If a major airline had a humor face-off with a famous comedian, who'd you put your money on? If it were United Airlines versus Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal, and the boxing ring were Twitter, you'd have to bet on the friendly skies for the win. An exchange between the two this week offers companies a great example of how to develop a deft touch with social media, in this case, using humor to match the master at his game. It started with this tweet from Sagal, who's on a road trip:

Clearly, United's searching Twitter for keywords like "Red Carpet Club." And within the hour, the airline--which typically posts about special Twitter discounts on airfares--put its marker down with this message:

The two traded a few more Tweets along these lines, but the first salvo was the best. United did a great job not overreacting here, and playing along, even besting Sagal in round one and providing the rest of us with a good laugh that does nothing to damage their online reputation, and everything to enhance it. I hope you'll look for similar opportunities to cultivate a gentle, playful touch in your social media communications.

Related posts: Develop a deft social-media touch: 5 ways

here's your stash of social-media stats

When you're making the case for using social media as a communications tool, or monitoring where you should focus your social media outreach, having some data at your fingertips helps. Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang has started a useful roundup of links to 2009 social media data on his blog. The links cover social networks in general, as well as on specific networks like Facebook and Twitter--and come with an invitation to you to add your own sources in the comments section. Remember: Numbers shouldn't be your only indicator, but these data offer one source to help you strategize your social-media forays.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

jazz master's social media lesson: listen

Telling social-media newcomers to listen as much as or more than they talk sometimes sounds odd to the untrained ear. After all, aren't they in this to reach an audience? They know what they want to say. Why would hanging back help? Earlier this week, I got a tuneful lesson in listening from the likes of jazz master pianist Ellis Marsalis and friends, during a concert in his honor at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, in which he played alongside his four sons--saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason--and guests Harry Connick, Jr. and fellow jazz master and pianist Dr. Billy Taylor. Here's what I took away that makes sense for social media listening:

  • Wait for the right beat to jump in: I'd spent the day seeing user after user on Twitter jam through 5 to 10 posts in a row--so fast no others came through my feed at that point--instead of listening, waiting to post, and then posting one and waiting again. So I was even more struck by what I saw at the concert, where I was seated just below Ellis Marsalis's piano and watched him wait, listen, then play....wait, listen, then play. Taking in the other performers' rhythms first gave him a sense of where his notes would fit in, just as it will for you in social media discussions.
  • Be responsible to the group: Before the concert, the players joined in a jazz program at the White House, where First Lady Michelle Obama said "there's probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble: individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group." And in performance that night, players would step to the back of the stage to let their fellows take a spot--and the spotlight. Everyone got their notes in, but let others' notes fly. No one failed to contribute as needed. Do the same in your social-media interactions by explaining your context, asking questions of others, answer others' questions of you--something many neglect to do--and being respectful of their views.
  • Let your followers take center stage: A noted music teacher as well as pianist, Ellis Marsalis featured one of his most famous students: Harry Connick, Jr. And while Connick sang one song, he primarily played piano at this tribute concert--skillfully dueling keyboards with his teacher, who hung back so the one-time student could play. When you can feature your followers, friends and fans in social media, do so. It builds the relationships that are the basis for everything else you'll do in these media.
  • Make sure you can "hear" your key audience: In an evening full of highlights, I loved watching Ellis Marsalis and Billy Taylor, grand pianos nestled opposite one another, whirl their way through a lagniappe of variations on "Body and Soul." But I noticed that the first thing Ellis did was to lower his music stand, the better to be able to catch Taylor's eye--and understand from a look where he'd be heading, since there was no chance they'd see each other's keyboards. In the same way, you should be listening to and monitoring your key audiences on social media so you'll know where they're heading.
  • Once you hear the audience, follow them: At the rousing finish, eveyone who'd played was onstage for a big New Orleans-style jam, when Harry Connick (now on cowbell) looked at the audience, which was on its collective feet, dancing in the aisles of the normally staid Kennedy Center, waving handkerchiefs and otherwise acting as if it was Mardi Gras. "Let's go around," he yelled to the others, and they all jumped off the stage for a parade through the aisles. It was just what the people wanted. Paying attention to those cues on social media pays off, too.
(For more inspiration, go here to see a video of Harry Connick, Jr. performing "Stardust" with Ellis Marsalis, as they did in the concert this week. Photo of Ellis Marsalis from ellismarsalis.com)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

don't trip on the charismatic megafauna

Yesterday, a friend emailed to say he'd heard this story on "charismatic megafauna" on NPR and "nearly went off the road!" That's because he's heard the term before, when I recalled the very first Communicating Science workshop I facilitate for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

I pulled a scientist--a wildlife biologist--out of the audience to demonstrate to all how to develop a message suitable for a public audience from the technical language a scientist uses. When I asked her about which animal species she was studying in a California valley slated for development, she replied, "the charismatic megafauna," without missing a beat. "We have those in Washington, D.C.," I rejoined, "but we call them Congressmen. What did you mean?" (The audience, all scientists from various disciplines laughed--and they didn't understand the term, either.) Turns out she was talking specifically about mountain lions, 200 species of birds and salamanders, and I encouraged her to just say so.

Here's the real issue with the term: Charismatic megafauna is a term developed in biology to describe those animals that are so popular that they can help achieve conservation goals, even for other animals. Think panda bears, polar bears, penguins, whales. So...wait for it...it's an eight-syllable term for an animal that has so much appeal that any person would recognize the real name of the animal. There's a clue that your jargon may have gotten out of control.

Flash forward to yesterday's story: The wildlife biologist using the term missed the chance to omit it from his interview, and so the reporter wrote the story with the term in quotes (a sure sign a definition is coming). When you have an "inside baseball" term of art that's known in your professional tribe, take the time to define it for a public audience--and then use it that way in interviews or presentations. You'll gain nothing from tripping over your own version of charismatic megafauna.

Friday, June 05, 2009

develop a deft social-media touch: 5 ways

Many communicators are tentative about social media for a valid reason: They don't want to be seen as taking a heavy-handed approach to these new tools. And those of us using social media on an increasing basis have plenty of bad examples we can point you to--users whose messages are strained, strident or strictly business at a time when a little personality or levity would be a better choice.

How do you develop a deft touch with social media? It comes with practice and sometimes intuition, but here are some ways to hasten the process:
  1. Stop, read and listen...first: Easily the best way to avoid overstepping and stumbling in social media is to read and listen widely. Find tweets, Facebook status updates or messages you find ineffective or off-putting, and think about why that is. Find those that aren't compelling, and figure out what you'd have to do to make them work. Watch popular users and think about why they're popular.
  2. Strike a work/life balance: Yes, you're using social media as a strategic work tool, but you can be a person, too. In fact, it's best to have a personality (or get one, if need be). If you find yourself doing as one friend of mine does, posting Facebook updates that say things like "Writing memos at midnight and loving it!" please rethink your approach. (No, she's not being ironic.)
  3. Ask, don't assume: Before you push your information out there, ask what your followers, friends and fans want to see or hear from you. Keep asking. The New York Times's new social media editor, Jen Preston, made her first task asking Twitter users what the Times should be doing on Twitter. As you can see in the photo, above right, a week later she's working on replies to the 1,000 responses she got--you might get a similar avalanche.
  4. Don't force interactions: You can't push people to re-tweet (forward) your Twitter posts, favorite your Facebook page, become fans, or hit the "I like" button. You can ask, but you shouldn't be doing that all day, either. Stand on the quality of your content, wait for the viral passalongs to come about, and you'll gain in reputation as a result.
  5. Do what your mother taught you: Thank people. Share their information instead of only your own. Recommend others. Don't run with scissors. Don't use your precious posts to make fun of others--it'll discourage followers and friends. Become a fan in public of those you admire, and share why. Be generous in answering questions and helping others solve problems. All those tactics can leaven a business approach to social media in ways that pay major dividends.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

social media: pick it up and play

 I'm making a pilgrimage to visit the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, next week, and I'm excited. I don't yet play guitar, but am going to start taking lessons soon--and have been asking for advice from my personal guitar heroes. In thinking their words over, it occurred to me that guitarists' advice to a newbie sounds a lot like the advice I give to clients considering how and whether to use social media as a communications tool. See if you can find some inspiration here:
  • Just pick it up and play with it: I've barely strummed a guitar, but an acoustic blues player I know tells me I should just jump in and starting picking and playing, to get a feel for the sound and the instrument. (For inspiration, Martin offers a "Play Me" wall full of guitars you can take down and play while you're at the factory site.) That's exactly how you should step into social media: Pick an instrument (site or application) and start playing with it. The tools are designed to be intuitive in many cases, and making mistakes is a great way to learn. That goes not only for your first forays into social media, but whenever you encounter a new app or site.
  • Attach yourself to a pro: In addition to seeking lessons, one of my guitarist friends suggested I find a player I admire and ask him or her for some lessons--even a professional player. (Wonder if Bonnie Raitt's available?) In the same vein, some training or coaching can help you come up to speed faster on social media skills, or help you hone a particular skill or approach.
  • You're not too old to learn: Encouraging guitarists all have told me not to hesitate to start learning now, much as I encourage social media waverers to take the plunge. What's age got to do with it? In social media, technology favors the late adopter, making applications easier and more functional with every update; that may be why baby boomers are fast becoming the growth factor behind sites like Facebook, and Twitter's populated by more middle-aged folks than youngsters. Let's hope the same is true for guitars.
Let me know if you want to add a social media training or a strategy-setting retreat to your agenda; email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[biz].

Monday, June 01, 2009

scientist's message floats like a butterfly

The Chronicle of Higher Education has captured a moment from one of the Communicating Science workshops I've been leading for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. When we start to explain the concept of developing a three-point message to construct a clear explanation of the scientists' work, I pull a volunteer from the audience and we do a message makeover in front of the group, translating from the technical as we go. Here, from the article is where the aha! moment occurred from our Raleigh workshop:
One such effort helped Ms. Leidner realize that public explanations of her study, "The Effect of Urbanization on an Endemic Coastal Butterfly," didn't really need the word "endemic" to help people recognize that an environment that's bad for butterflies could be bad for other living creatures, too.

"You can explain what you want without the word 'endemic,'" said Ms. Leidner, who is now pursuing her research at the University of Maryland after earning a doctorate in zoology at North Carolina State University. "So why make it more confusing?"
And, by the way, I get no advance clue about what the scientists will bring forward for that exercise--it's entirely done on the spot, and we've always been able to boil down the message in ways that will reach a broader audience, but stay true to the science.

The Chronicle goes on to note that this participant put her message makeover to use just a week after the workshop, explaining her studies to the North Carolina delegation in Congress during a lobbying day organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. But, as we discuss in the workshops, learning to communicate clearly is a skill you can use in many settings, from family gatherings and cocktail parties to meetings with your boss or public speaking. To find out about arranging workshops and training for your organization, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Related posts: Two more views into the AAAS workshops

social media: can you swim & stay dry?

 That seems to be the hope in many private- and public-sector workplaces, according to two recent surveys that show companies and government agencies are still way behind their customers and constituents when it comes to using social media as a communications tool. The big barriers? Lack of knowledge, no policy guidelines, or such restrictive policies that these tools can't be used at work--the equivalent of posting a "no swimming" sign when everyone else is in the pool.

Let's start in the public sector, where a survey of corporate and government communicators by Ragan Communications and PollStream found that turf battles between IT and communications are holding up progress (reported by 45 percent of the government communicators) and a whopping 70 percent of communicators at government agencies say they can’t access social media at work. (You'll need a subscription to read the link above). This, despite the federal government's continuing--and successful--efforts to negotiate terms of service that will allow federal agencies to use Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social media sites.

Deloitte's 2009 Ethics and Workplace Survey found a somewhat hopeful picture--14 percent of CEOs have Twitter profiles and 31 percent are on Facebook, for example. But the size of the potential pool for social media use comes clear in these data: 55 percent of executives say their companies don’t officially use social networks, and 22% said their companies would like to use social networking tools, but haven’t yet figured out how to do so. The Deloitte surey also probes employee/employer views on whether a policy would change what employees say about the company online and whether social media policy should be a boardroom issue.

The downside of all this: When you fail to follow your audience into the pool, you're missing myriad opportunities to engage your constituents--and creating opportunities for others to do so. For agencies in a federal system, it also creates an uneven level of taxpayer service, since I can access some agencies readily in social media, but not others. At some point, that's a performance issue for the entire system.

This uneven pool landscape may be why my "get your toes wet in the new-media pool" sessions, a combination of orientation and brainstorming, are still in demand in the public and private sectors. Until you get all the players in the room--from naysayers to early adopters--you won't be able to come up with a comprehensive approach that actually moves forward. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to learn about holding a session customized to your business needs. Where's your organization in this mix? Leave a comment and feel free to share your successes or barriers--and check out similar feedback in the related posts.

Related posts:

When federal agencies limit social media use

Get your toes wet in the new-media pool orientation sessions