Tuesday, July 28, 2009

hey, where's my audience? 5 questions

I've been hearing similar questions lately when I speak on social media or on public speaking, and the questions go something like this:
  • "We set up a blog, and we know people are reading it--because they email us their comments. But they won't post their comments on the blog. How do you get people to do that?
  • "How do I handle audiences when they don't agree with the approach I'm trying to get them to take?"
  • "I've got to get more Facebook fans, so I asked my personal friends to sign up as fans of my work page, but they're not signing up. How can I get them to do that?"
  • "I keep asking people to please re-tweet my post on Twitter, but they don't do it. Isn't that impolite?"
Communicators have long known that paying attention to the audience is essential, but never more so than now, when social media gives them more tools and options they can control--and that audience control is changing live-audience expectations for public speakers, I've observed.

If your audiences aren't showing up -- in your comments section, fan page or as an agreeable listener when you speak live -- you may need to reconsider your approach. Ask yourself these questions to get a better handle on your audiences:
  1. Have you made it easy for them to participate, or set up barriers? If your blog requires commenters to register or you won't approve anonymous comments, you'll get far fewer comments--and some will avoid your blog altogether. That holds true in speaking situations, too. If you don't let your audience participate with questions, interruptions or their own observations, you'll get far less feedback and interaction.
  2. Have you forgotten to promote participation to audiences you don't know? A great advantage of social media is the opportunity to find fans you didn't know were there--if you promote your site, blog or page appropriately. A targeted Facebook ad, sharing links on Twitter, some traditional media announcements, and other promotions can help you gather followers from a broader base. You can't just "build it and they will come."
  3. Is it your way or the highway? Listening, discussing and sharing are all hallmarks of social media--and they're fast becoming what audiences expect when they see you in person. That may mean disagreeing with you. You'll be better able to engage a disagreeing audience if you use some of your speaking time to air their views, ask them what they want to hear and make it a discussion. Using a speech, or social networking, as a bully pulpit won't work as well these days. The same goes for re-tweet (forwarding) requests: You can ask, but there's no guarantee others will share it.
  4. Are you giving it enough time? Blogs take time to develop readers, and many readers prefer to remain silent (and enthusiastic). The same is true for any social media application. Don't give up if your first few months go without comments or replies--and don't stop your promotions.
  5. Are you too focused on numbers? Work on the quality of your fan base, not the size, and the numbers will develop on their own. Make sure you're fueling your fan page, Twitter posts or blog with frequent and high-quality content...that's what attracts and keeps audiences.

Monday, July 27, 2009

3 location-savvy ways with social media

When I visit a big city, I'm most excited about the times I'll be able to hang out like a local, at a free concert in one of my favorite city parks...the kind that can make you forget, for a few minutes, the size of the city you're in. And when it comes to communicating about your organization, social media's got some built-in advantages for reaching out to your closest community, the local one that surrounds you. I've spent my career communicating for national groups, and know that those local outreach efforts often take a back seat--but that doesn't need to be the case anymore. Here are some easy ways to take advantage of social media's "hyper-local" abilities:
  1. Try targeted Facebook ads: Boost your organization's name recognition, public awareness, events participation and more with location-targeted Facebook ads (check out this handy guide from the Inside Facebook blog on targeting FB ads for location, gender, education and other demographics). Got a Facebook page? Send targeted messages to your fans based on their location (click on "send an update to fans," then check the "target this update" box to see your options for sending it to specific countries, regions or cities). They're not expensive--and you can set a daily expense limit to keep things under control. These are best when they drive Facebook users to a page, group or event listing that allow more interaction.
  2. Share pictures of your location. Picture-sharing sites are among the most popular social media options, and bloggers, tweeters and others should have access to photos of your campus, headquarters or other locations...without copyright restrictions or other limits. Post your photos on photo-sharing sites like Flickr, or on Facebook (the most-used of the photo sites), and be sure to include the "official" shots of your location, as well as some interesting details: Many of you work in buildings with great architectural features, historic significance, superior views, outstanding meeting space that others can book...you get the idea. Take your photographer on a tour of your grounds or facility, then post the results and share them. Don't forget to share these on Twitter, too, using twitpic.com. For some best practices in photo-sharing, check out this information about the Library of Congress's experiments doing it, and be sure to include the interactive features they did.
  3. Do the reverse: Ask others to shoot your location and share it. "It's Time We Met" is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's ad-and-social-media campaign, which encouraged visitors to photograph themselves near works of art in the museum. Not surprisingly, folks got creative, posing like statues, holding babies near paintings with similar infants, and, in a move I can't help but admire, wrapping a pal in toilet paper to pose as a mummy. Got members who are visiting an association headquarters, students new to campus or about to leave it, customers walking in your door every day? Ask them to share their photo-experiences, either on Flickr or Facebook, or on your website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

weekly writing coach: bookshelf update

I'm delighted to get a writer's bookshelf suggestion from Michael Erard, the author of one of my favorite books on public speaking, Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. He's a thoughtful observer of language and usage, and he suggests another "little book" to go alongside your Strunk and White:
I keep Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style on the shelf -- it's like a Kama Sutra of the English sentence.
Erard reports that he's "working on another book, about language superlearners and the upper limits of the ability to speak and learn languages, to be titled Babel No More." Stay tuned, language lovers!

Buy Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean

Buy Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

inviting live tweets at your meeting

Some conferences discourage or limit live-tweeting and blogging by participants; some leave the issue unaddressed, or push back with "courtesy guidelines." Here's a new case-study-in-progress: Inviting conference participants to live-tweet, -blog, and -record your proceedings--and asking them to commit to a specific amount of posting, to ensure thorough coverage.

Along with other members of the Communications Network -- communications professionals working in and with philanthropies--I've been invited to join its 2009 Gorilla Engagement Squad at the group's annual conference in October. I was among a group of ad hoc live-tweeters at last year's conference, and had some great experiences--including watching a fellow Twitterer check out my web page two rows ahead of me, and hearing on Twitter from members who couldn't attend, but were grateful for the chance to glimpse what was going on. It was my first try at live-tweeting, and it sold me on the process.

This time around, the Network's asking for applications, and a commitment to cover a certain number of sessions, as well as to participate in some conference calls during the weeks before the conference. Tweets, blog posts and video are being requested. Here's what Communications Network executive director Bruce Trachtenberg has to say about why the group's eliciting live-tweets and blogging:
The more appropriate question is "why not?" I've always maintained that one of the reasons the Communications Network exist is to remind members that we're all part of something larger than what we do individually. And, as professional communicators in philanthropy, we have an obligation to ourselves, our organizations, and to the larger sector to share what we're learning to help improve practice. Our conferences are a piece of that larger effort. We want to use the social media tools availalble to us to help form greater connections among those who will be in NYC, as well as others who will be "looking" and "listening in" from wherever they are so that everybody, everywhere -- whether in the conference meeting rooms or checking in from their computers or handhelds -- can be connected to share with, and learn from each other.

One of the first people to respond to our recruiting call said it best about why this matters. She wrote that when she's at conferences she "often has new thoughts and great ideas" that she collects in a conference binder. Adding that while "I might talk to someone at lunch or dinner about them, there usually isn’t a chance to really reach out to my peers and share and talk and discuss." What we are planning for the conference, she says, "will allow attendees to connect in ways we don’t usually get to and will also allow us to keep the discussions alive after the conference is over.
And here are some of my early observations about what you can take away from this experiment:
  • Listen to your attendees. Network members started asking for social media sessions at the conference two years ago, and the organization responded not just with sessions and speakers, but with participatory options: Everyone was invited to join a Facebook group in 2007, tweeters were thanked in 2008 and their tweets went into a live-stream on the conference blog. If you have people already posting in and about your meetings, there's a good chance they (and others) will want to see more, not less.
  • Focus on engagement. As I read the invitation, the gorilla squad's there to engage--with the wider Twitter community, with absent members who can't attend and with attendees in the room. That's the appropriate focus for a conference. You set up receptions, sessions, lunch-and-learns, awards ceremonies--why not set up other ways to get your attendees engaged so they can "connect in ways we don't usually get to."
  • Examine this model versus a press room. The Network's a smaller conference with limited attendance and doesn't include a press operation. But this model--eliciting Twitter and blog coverage, ensuring a system for thorough coverage, and doing some advance discussion to answer questions and set goals--has great potential for ensuring that your next meeting, workshop or conference gets even more thorough coverage than you might from press reports. And who better to indicate what's of interest to attendees than attendees?
My application's going in shortly, and I'll also take time at the conference to cover the experience of organized live-tweeting so you can learn some lessons as we go. Let me know in the comments if you've seen other models like this one!

Related posts: Tweeting at meetings gets controversial

Tips for using Twitter to report from meetings

weekly writing coach: overused words fix

Years ago, when I worked for a private foundation, my boss decided he'd seen enough of my writing about "major" grants we were awarding, and we spent an afternoon hunting for more unusual synonyms for sizeable gifts (he liked the thesaurus that suggested both "protruding" and "seaworthy" as potential nominees). And that's the problem with the overused word: Your most-interested readers, the ones who read your writing all the way through, glaze over when they see these chestnuts again and again. Even if that means only your editor, it's worth it to switch up your word choices.

This week, I note that CNN has declared the word "absolutely" overused,and, upping the ante, Wired Science magazine decided to throw five of the most overused science-cliches "into a black hole." That's excuse enough for the coach to urge you to hunt down your overused words (you write them, so you should know what they are) and try this test on any recent document: Use a search function to see how many times you've used it in a given text, just to put a number on the usage. Then, consult a thesaurus to find a few replacements, or check out The Dimwit's Dictionary: 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them. Take one overused word a week to revise in this way--it'll take only a few minutes--and your writing will improve.

Monday, July 20, 2009

register now for 7/27 speaking workshop

Registration is now open for the July 27 Washington Women in Public Relations professional development workshop I'll be leading on "Step Up Your Speaking: Be an Eloquent Woman." I'll share an overview of the issues women face when they want to speak up, whether in large venues or small meetings, and then we'll let the audience set the agenda--so bring your questions about how to handle public speaking skills from gestures and wardrobe to messaging and handling Q&A. The workshop will be from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, 25 Massachusetts Ave., NW, in Washington, DC, close to the Union Station Red Line Metro stop. This is a bring-your-own brown-bag lunch that should be full of great networking, tips and ideas--I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, July 13, 2009

save the date to step up your speaking

I'm delighted that I'll be speaking at Washington Women in Public Relations' next professional development brown-bag lunch, Monday, July 27 from 12 noon to 2pm. Our topic: "Step Up Your Speaking: Be an Eloquent Woman." In this session, we'll conduct a lively, hands-on workshop based on your questions and training priorities--yes, the audience will help set the agenda. And I'll be talking about the skills, confidence and opportunities you need to succeed as a public speaker, as well as why women have traditionally had fewer speaking opportunities and say they fear speaking more than men do. As author of The Eloquent Woman, a blog on women and public speaking, I hope you'll use this session to get ready to enter our contest "15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking," and win a Flip HD camcorder and 15 weeks of speaker coaching. Want to learn more? Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to join ongoing discussions and tips. Stand by for an update on the location for this session, and registration details. I'm looking forward to learning about your top priorities for improving your speaking skills!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

tweeting at meetings gets controversial

I've been listening for weeks to a wide-ranging discussion about meeting participants who use social media tools to share, in real time, what speakers are saying. What's new: tempers are rising as this trend has taken hold. More and more, attendees have taken to live-posts, but conference organizers, speakers, and observers are all over the map. Is live-tweeting a version of spilling the beans? Should meeting contents be available only to attendees? Is it rude/childish/self-promotional/harmless to disagree with the speaker in a post written before her talk is over? Must you register like a reporter? Agree to certain timing embargoes? Only post when sessions are over, not during them? It's a mashup of etiquette, ownership, competition and peer-pressure. Here are three examples of how the discussion's playing out, from three different perspectives:

  • From the annoyed attendee and observer: Here's a blog post from a PR consultant whose colleague was attending a conference where social media "courtesy" guidelines were published in the program, suggesting participants shouldn't post during talks, "oversimplify" speakers' remarks or make personal comments. After she'd blogged and tweeted about the issue, attendees at the meeting noted the conference had issued a hashtag, suggesting that people post on Twitter, in effect. Some speakers admitted to tweeting while on panels, and the attendee who first flagged the issue refrained, feeling constrained by the rules. The author's take: "if they’re going to decide for me how much attention I can or cannot pay while attending a presentation - well, I’m going to be thinking of spending my money elsewhere next time around."
  • From a speaker and presentation coach seeking middle ground: Olivia Mitchell's a thoughtful speaker who coaches and trains speakers, as I do, and she's been exploring this issue in aid of her clients and herself. In "How to Tweet During a Presentation," Mitchell offers a measured discussion, including some academic research into this new trend, her own experience as a speaker and a Twitterer-during-meetings, and thoughts on what guidelines might say: "I like the idea of the principle that you should only tweet what you would be prepared to say face to face. But in practice, it’s quite challenging." She takes an example from her own tweets, in which she wrote of a speaker: "Being stimulated by Jeanne’s acting workshop. But not convinced that bringing acting techniques into presenting is useful. #pcampLA." Was that wrong? "Not necessarily," she says. Ultimately, she advocates the "face to face" guideline.
  • From a scientific journal, a dose of practical realities: Scientific meetings are competitive sessions. Some researcher-presenters work hard to avoid coverage at such meetings to avoid incurring the wrath of journal editors with strict pre-publication release rules. (Traditionally, but not always, presenting findings at a meeting precedes publication in a journal.) The editors of one such journal have published this editorial after one laboratory issued the rule that meeting attendees must first have the presenter's permission before posting online during the talk. After considering some basic realities--researchers attend meetings to discuss others' work and have theirs discussed in turn, for one--the editorial says: "Critical discussion of worthy results should not in principle be restricted to walls of a conference hall or even the pages of a journal. Any meeting to which anyone can register is fair game for all available communications technologies — and any rules that cannot be policed will be ignored anyway." The editorial suggsts that those wanting complete control should close the meeting to all but participants who agree to avoid broadcasting the discussions, a model that already exists.
Meetings are just one more area where social networking and new technologies are rubbing up against well-established rules of the road--and the rub feels like sandpaper to some and silk to others. After listening to this discussion for some weeks, it sounds to me as if the objections to live-posts in meetings are symptoms of a larger discomfort with change, new technology and the unknown. It's that kind of discomfort that leads to the creation of rules that are unenforceable (who, exactly, would decide what a "polite" comment was?) and strident comments about etiquette and intent.

If you're struggling with this issue, take the time to brainstorm the potential benefits that will accrue from opening up live-tweeting of your meetings--and then experiment with them before you affix rules. You may find benefits you didn't anticipate if you give it a try. Or, as the Nature editorial suggests, you can make a tough decision to close your meeting and lose the benefits of a more open structure as the price of control. (Hat tip to Joe Bonner for pointing me to the Nature editorial.)

Related posts: Tips for using Twitter to report from meetings

Monday, July 06, 2009

weekly writing coach: LeGuin exercises

Sometimes, writers want a guide they can turn to every week--or every day, for a short period--with exercises, ideas and inspiration that'll prod them into new skills and insights. I'm already fond of this one: Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Not unlike her own novels, this book reflects LeGuin's passions for structure as well as flights of fancy, with exercises on everything from writing "gorgeous" sounds to be spoken aloud alongside those on sentence length and syntax. Dip into this for smoother sailing in your own writing...

Buy Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew

online video: time's now on your side

It's official: the era of watching the cat play with the toilet paper is giving way to longer online videos and a wider array of content as a result, according to today's New York Times. Here's what that may mean for you when using online video as a communications tool:
  • A taste for online video has taken hold: A wide audience now appears comfortable with online video, and hungry for it. In the U.S., for example, some 150 million Internet users watch 14.5 billion videos every month, or close to 100 per viewer, on average.
  • Audiences want longer-form videos: Good news for those who want a story to unfold or demonstrate more complex concepts: Thanks in part to the demand for TV programs online, audiences willingly watch 20- or 30-minute programs where once it was thought three minutes might be too many. One signal: YouTube now offers "shows," their version of the longer format programming.
  • Content, once again, is king: Rob Barnett, founder of the video distribution site My Damn Channel and a college pal of mine, says "it comes down to quality winning out over minutes and seconds." No longer does a nine-minute piece need to be cut into three shorter segments--if the content's high quality, compelling stuff.
Analysts note that online video's expected to become a $1 billion business in 2011.