Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The all-in-one on getting started in social media, my way

Today, I spoke to a packed room at the Common Cents Conference, for nonprofit coalitions that offer free tax preparation and asset building, serving more than 40,000 people in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia. They help low‐income families receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, get help preparing taxes, and learn more about managing finances.  And they had a million dollars' worth of beginner questions about how to get started in social media.  So for them, and for you (if you're starting), here's a roundup of my best posts about getting started in social media--a mix of the practical, the planned and the poetic.


Practical:
Planned:
Poetic: 
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The top 10 communications tips and issues for August

In a month when grilling should have nothing to do with interviews, readers were in search of other kinds of communications inspiration and ideas, including these most popular posts for August:

  1. How do you make a social media strategy operational?  Make it like my homemade pizza, which mixes the tried-and-true with infinite variety.

  2. Those Facebook community pages--the ones that crop up whether you want them or not--can help drive traffic and widen your reach for your own official Facebook page. How? Use tagging to advantage.

  3. Executive compensation at nonprofits has been in the headlines recently.  This post on what communicators should know about the topic was a must-read for many this month.

  4. The FTC guidelines for blog disclosures about sponsorships came up at BlogHer, which I attended as the month began.  Read insights from an FTC attorney and others from this panel I covered.

  5. The networked communicator met QR codes this month, with 7 ways to use QR codes for networking.  Time to revamp those business cards?

  6. Authenticity or TMI? was a hot topic at BlogHer, with some odd lessons emerging on how much to share online.  No one-size-fits-all here.

  7. More science communications:  The Heinz Center's starting a new communications training for scientists, starting this fall in California and Colorado.

  8. Are you a writer and a publisher, as social media allows you to be? Then be one at a time, advises this post from the weekly writing coach series.  Lots of readers paused over this one.

  9. You love good writing tools, and this post on a new online dictionary for idioms proved popular, another weekly writing coach item.

  10. A camcorder the size of a credit card captured a lot of imaginations this month--it's a new offering from Kodak.
Want to catch up on the top 10 tips from previous months? Go here for a dense-packed experience.  And thanks for reading!

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Monday, August 30, 2010

What Times reporters want: The Talk to the Times archive

While researching my post last week on how to find resources online about what reporters want, I had in mind one extensive resource--that I couldn't find.  The New York Times has, for some time, held online chats in which reporters and editors field questions from readers.  The answers can shed a lot of light on what they're seeking or the topics a particular section aims to publish.  It was frustrating not to find it on the Times site, and I wondered whether it had disappeared for good.

Today, the new public editor for the Times dropped a mention and a link to it in his column, so I'm delighted to share this thorough resource (and have updated the original post, too).  All of the Talk to the Times chats with dozens of reporters, editors and other executives can be found in this useful archive.  Everyone's listed in alphabetical order by last name. Dive in and enjoy!

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A blog for a science-writing panel?

Along with Joe Bonner, I've been organizing a panel on "Experiments in New Media: Beautiful Failures and Startling Successes" for the upcoming National Association of Science Writers annual workshops -- and we've organized a blog to go with the panel. 

Proof that tablet computing began very early?
We've got a great lineup of speakers, including Danielle Brigida, digital marketing manager for the National Wildlife Federation; Steve Buttry, community manager for the newly launched TBD.com; Mark Coatney, who recently left Newsweek for Tumblr, the blogging site that just passed one billion posts; and Mike Spear, who directs corporate communications for Genome Alberta, which started a GenOmics community on Facebook.

Why a blog for a panel? I've been wanting to experiment with such a blog since writing How to: Panel discussions in the age of Twitter  for The Eloquent Woman blog.  In this case, the blog is both an appropriate outgrowth of the topic of new media, and it solves an old-school problem: The panel came together after the printed program went to press, so some of our speakers won't be listed there. But there are lots of reasons to create a blog for a panel, including allowing audience members to ask questions in advance, creating a permanent set of links to speaker resources, and letting the audience arrive at the session with some background.  We're in process getting background information posted, and welcome questions and insights.

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Are you forgetting to tell your sound financial story?

In recent weeks, I've looked at what communicators should know about big expenses in nonprofit executive compensation.  But another, often-overlooked part of your  public credibility involves your company's or organization's fiscal responsibility.  This article in Philanthropy Journal focuses on 5 financial questions that will yield a different story you can tell about your fiscal health--and they don't need to apply solely to nonprofits.  A strong bottom line may seem like a boring story, but in a recession, it's worth emphasizing (as are other reflections of your strong management, perhaps like this Washington Post award for excellence in nonprofit management).  If you can create a balance sheet that shows all your in-kind, volunteer and other results-oriented contributions to the community, so much the better.

Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, and I share a lot of news, tips and ideas there. Here's what caught my eye in the week of August 23:

  1. A different kind of job interview: These 3 questions to ask yourself about your career, originally shared by Joe Bonner, are just the questions we all need to be asking ourselves.
  2. How do you handle PR when you're launching a new-journalism, new-media site?  Steve Buttry described that process--awkward for a journalist to handle--for the new TBD.com, Washington's new community news site. My tweet had a bad link, so this one is corrected.  Buttry will be joining this panel I'm co-organizing for the ScienceWriters 2010 meeting in November.  TBD's using Crowdmap to crowdsource data on public transportation slowdowns, something I also shared this week.
  3. Do you wonder whether anyone's actually reading your social media posts?  Read this excellent think piece on social me me me me me media by Louis Gray as a way to adjust your expectations.
  4. New AAAS communications job open:  My client and former employer, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has acommunications officer job open. IF you're on Twitter, message Ginger Pinholster for more info.
  5. I see you doing private browsing on that office computer, and according to this study, people are taking 10-minute browsing breaks around lunchtime, data which jives with other studies on online video viewing, which is highest from 11-1 (am or pm) in any time zone.
  6. Google ramped up real-time search, and this post looks at how it may help reporters, so get educated now on what's available about your company or organization in this new search format.
  7. Turning a leak into a home run:  Someone leaked the Pittsburgh Pirates' financials for 2007 and 2008, so the team released more recent data in response.  It's a clean, straightforward demonstration of how transparency can turn around what might have been a bad story.
  8. Do you have a resume database?  It can power all those online profiles. Here's a great post on using Evernote to hold the components of your resume and keep them ready-to-use.
Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.


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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Researching online what reporters want: 12 easy pieces

Media relations folks can often be caught muttering, "What do reporters want?"  If you want to stop feeling like a short-order cook in a joint without a menu, you need to start anticipating what they want, based on real insights. And while reporters are tougher to buttonhole in person on that score, there are loads of online options for sussing out reporter preferences. Here are 12 examples of sites that will help you figure out what reporters want (or don't), divided into column A and column B, just in case anyone wants to place an order:

In the what-not-to-do column:

  • The New York Times tech reporter David Pogue often shares his unvarnished views of "PR people" (just search that term on his blog or article archive).  Here's "A Downside of Being a Tech Reporter" as one pithy example of What Not to Do.
  • Follow-up calls (as in, "Did you get the email?) are on this list, according to a panel of reporters I moderated.
  • The Bad Pitch Blog, while written by public relations folks, must be the guilty pleasure reading for many frustrated reporters. Read it if only to keep yourself from being featured someday.
  • Embargoes are amply covered by Ivan Oransky's Embargo Watch blog.  And while Ivan's generous in noting organizations that do a good job managing embargoes, always tricky, there are enough kids-don't-try-this-at-home cautionary tales that I think it belongs in this column.  (The latest: the retro-bargo, in which news is released after the time on the embargo. Huh?)
In the what-to-do column:
If you've got a go-to source for sussing out reporters' needs, share it in the comments.
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    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Is your Facebook page outpacing your website?

    That's the question in "What Happens When Facebook Trumps Your Brand Site?," in which AdAge looks at both sides of the coin. Among the most popular brands -- whose Facebook fan bases outrank the entire user base of sites like Foursquare -- Coke has seen a shift toward Facebook, where it has 10.7 million fans:
    That certainly trumps U.S. unique visitors to Coke's brand website, which fell by more than 40% to 242,000 in July compared to a year ago, per Compete.
    But other major brands on Facebook, like Starbucks and Walgreens, aren't seeing the same drop-off in web site traffic.  And one commenter notes that the difference lies between retailers and consumer and packaged goods brands, saying, "Candy and soda brands and such are hard-pressed to build an owned website worth visiting more than one time in your life."

    The best nugget in the article? Apparently Facebook is advising major brands to focus on status updates rather than apps, which are more difficult to track and to get users to adopt.

    Even if you're not a product or retailer, what are your experiences?  Can you see a day coming when your Facebook page is your web page?

    Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.


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    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Yahoo! makes a style book for bloggers, journos

    I'm adding this new book to my shelf of style guides for today:  Yahoo! has published
    The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World, joining the ranks of venerable style guides that have recognized the need to address how content is written in the digital age.

    In this Columbia Journalism Review article, the book's features are reviewed: It contains not just grammar and punctuation and usage, but pointers on how readers scan and view web pages, tips on how to suss out your audience and more things relevant to content creation beyond writing.  Here's one example of how this guide differs, from the CJR review:

    Without always saying so, Yahoo is concerned about the tendency of editors to transfer print standards to the Web. For example, newspaper journalists like to use italics to convey everything from emphasis to irony. But as the guide points out, those italics don’t show up in online RSS feeds or search-engine results, so the reader may get a completely different impression from what the author intended.
    What's guiding your style in the digital age? If you have another guide to recommend, add it in the comments.

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    New pocket camcorders sport features you've been wanting

    I love my Flip cameras (I own several and use them for group training, among other things). They've brought intuitive, inexpensive and shareable video to the 21st century.  But every Flip owner I know yearns for certain features--and some competitors are bringing those to market in a new batch of light camcorders. 

    That's the good news. The bad news: No one camera has all of the features.  Once you read this list of new options, I'm sure you will join me in wanting a camera that combines MP3 audio recording and an LED light for dimly lit settings and Skype and Eye-Fi and....well, you get the picture. Here are some new models that caught my eye:

    • JVC today announced two new Piscio pocket cameras, the GC-FM-2($179) and the GC-WP10 ($199), a waterproof model. You can choose from four resolutions for recording, up to full HD 1080p, and the cameras include image stabilization, time-laspse recording and robust editing functions and special effects that work with Macs and PCs. Both have SD card slots that are compatible with Eye-Fi cards, allowing you to share files on wireless networks, and a 3-inch touchscreen that JVC says you can even operate with gloves on. The waterproof model comes with an MP3 recorder built in. (Go here for a full list of specs.) These cameras can be pre-ordered now; they debut in mid-September.
    • Panasonic has a TA-1 HD camcorder enabled with Skype and iFrame with full 1080p recording, and the Skype includes both audio and video and connecting this camera to your PC makes it a webcam, if you wish.   There's also a built-in LED light for shooting in dim locations.
    • Sanyo scored this review on Gizmodo for the Sanyo VPC-PD2BK Full HD Pocket Movie Dual Camera, which I shared with you last week.  The review notes "The price for the VPC-PD2BK is only $170...It takes 10-megapixel photos, stereo sound recording, flash, SD/SDHC/SDXC card compatible, measures 2.48 x 0.87 x 4.36 and weighs 3.7 ounces. The 3X optical zoom also sets it apart."
    • Kodak, as reported here earlier, wins the tiny award for the Kodak Mini, which comes with an SD card and is compared to the size of a credit card (well, at least in one set of dimensions). It's the least expensive and smallest of the bunch.
    With new models on the horizon, deals can be found on models that were hot just a few months ago--the formerly $179 Kodak Zi8can be had for $119, for example.  And if you plan on shooting some extreme sports like motocross or surfing, therelatively new category of wearable cameras for helmets, surfboards and more might be more your speed.

    What ultra-light camcorder are you using these days? Do any of these tempt you away or toward a Flip camera? Share your preferences in the comments.

    Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.

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    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Why your social media strategy should be like my homemade pizza

    I rarely order delivery pizza, because I've found it's easier, healthier and less expensive to make my own. (Last night's had a tomato-eggplant-squash sauce, studded with salame, mozzarella and multicolored roasted red peppers.)  And if you take the time to develop a thoughtful social media strategy, it'll follow the same recipe I use for my house-made pizzas: 
    • Authentic--and without the middle man.  Sure, you can hire someone or some firm to ghostwrite your blog and Twitter posts or to manage your organization's Facebook page. And I could call and have someone deliver me a chain pizza.  But there's nothing like the real thing you've made yourself, minus the middle man. (Yes, by the way, your followers can tell the difference.) One thing that helps that happen is...
    • A consistent base that's easy to make--and lets the content shine. I've got a great dough recipe that has proven itself over and over again. It's simple (flour, water, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast), which makes it easy for me, and a showcase for the toppings. Whether you choose a primary social media base on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or online video, make sure your "base" is simple and straightforward enough to show your content to best advantage--and not tie your operation in knots trying to get it done.
    • Minimal active prep time.  From start to finish, a house-made pizza at my house takes just 2 to 2.5 hours--but about 20 minutes of that time actively involves me. The dough can rise and bake just fine without action on my part. If you invite crowdsourced answers, ask questions, invite people to share their stories, and encourage collaborators and guest posts, you, too, can kick back and watch the results develop.  It also helps if you've planned your content and interactions using a good editorial calendar approach, and taken advantage of...
    • Make-ahead magic.  Nowadays, I almost never make a single recipe's worth of pizza crust dough--I double it and freeze half. On social networks, find and use the schedule-ahead and automated services that let you prepare evergreen topics and queries early or at one time.  Just be sure you're monitoring interactions and posting some content yourself, to keep that authentic feel.
    • A capacity for leftovers, without a "clean out the fridge" feel.  If I already have a few roasted vegetables, sauteed mushrooms or just one leftover cooked sausage, I've got the start of a good pizza's "content."  Similarly, you should be able to use your social media channels to share small amounts of content that would otherwise not qualify for a full report, a news release, or some other major push.  Just don't put all those toppings on at once.
    Need help thinking through what goes into the pizza that's your social media strategy? Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.

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    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

    I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, where I share news on social media strategy, communications, journalism and more--and have great conversations. I also follow a wide range of people and organizations, just to have good examples for my clients.  Here's what I was sharing in the week of August 15--if you're hungry for news and rooting around in the fridge that was the web, this was a great week:
    • Flip-like camera with 1080p?  Yes, this review on Gizmodo got my attention for the Sanyo VPC-PD2BK Full HD Pocket Movie Dual Camera. The review notes "The price for the VPC-PD2BK is only $170...It takes 10-megapixel photos, stereo sound recording, flash, SD/SDHC/SDXC card compatible, measures 2.48 x 0.87 x 4.36 and weighs 3.7 ounces. The 3X optical zoom also sets it apart."
    • Have you used Twitter to quash rumors? That's one of its strengths, says TBD.com's Steve Buttry.  While you're here, I'm happy to say Buttry will join a panel I'm organizing for the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting in November. This post is typical wisdom from him. 
    • Put an editorial guide together for content marketing, this excellent guide counsels. Even if you use an editorial calendar approach, I'm guessing you will find some new ideas here, and many good reminders.
    • You need these six secrets on audience participation if you're a speaker or presenter. The excellent Olivia Mitchell reviews a new book on the topic to give you the takeaways.
    • Looking for sound effects? The Freesound Project offers sound effects with Creative Commons licenses, described in this Lifehacker post.
    • If you're used to thinking about earned, owned and paid media, start wrapping your mind around shared media, described here using Facebook as the example in a useful post from All Facebook.  Pop this into your metrics file.
    • Are you asking the 8 wrong questions PR firms are asking about social media? Check this useful list, then stop. Alternatives provided.
    • Facebook Places debuted this week, and already, here's a guide to adjusting your privacy settings to avoid being tagged as to your location by others.
    I'd love to hear your reactions, ideas and any posts you'd like to share in the comments. Enjoy the weekend!

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    NPR shares detailed stats on its online, mobile usage


    It's no secret that NPR's been pushing innovative approaches to merge radio with online and social media offerings. Now you can get a glimpse into the results all those platforms are producing for the network in this SlideShare presentation, and the related post on NPR.org.  It's an hour-by-hour analysis that includes mobile apps as well as website statistics.  Check out this rich array--it's a good model for measurement of your own results.

    In media interviews, is 3 a crowd? A checklist for communicators

    In the wayback time, press officers sometimes did and often didn't sit in on interviews with experts at their companies, government agencies or universities--and if they did, it was rarely disclosed. One of my mentors told me that getting yourself mentioned in an article was a true sign of having incurred the ire of the reporter, or having overstepped your boundaries.

    But the command-and-control version of public affairs has taken hold in recent decades, and the third-wheel press officer has become a regular in interviews. The hands-off approach seems to be in decline in many interviews. Hence, health news service MedPage Today has pledged to disclose the presence of press officers who sit in on interviews.

    The move has opened up a "discussion," of sorts, online, but it's mostly reporters talking to one another and press or public information officers (PIOs) talking within their ranks--and there's material enough for everyone.  Check out Paul Raeburn's piece on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker and a later piece that collects a conversation among mostly reporters on Twitter.  On the don't get caught page on Facebook, I heard from press officers (many former reporters) whose comments mostly sounded like this:
    • Mary Myers said, "When I have been present at interviews, it has almost always been at the request of the person (director, administrator, scientist, etc.) being interviewed and always in a supporting role. A PIO isn't there at the interview to act as a muzzle, but as a facilitator and aide if needed. How can that be construed as interference?":
    • Doug Levy said, "I've done interviews in hotel lobbies, elevators and all kinds of other places. Who else is there usually is irrelevant. If a PIO interrupts an interview or otherwise participates, that's different. When I am in a PIO or PR role, I'm there to make an introduction and handle any follow-up, nothing more. I am all for disclosure of material information, but this isn't material."
    • Jim E. Barlow noted, "It's not the role of a science PIO to be threatening or in the way of media ... or to carry a muzzle. Get real. I rarely staff such interviews; when I do I may followup with links or info that wasn't readily available during the interview."
    But of course, we don't expect the extremes--the interview-stifling press officers or the reporters wishing you'd bring the reluctant expert to them--to publish their views here, do we?  The issue isn't as black-and-white as the high emotions on either side make it seem. My only disappointment in listening to this discussion over the summer is that either side feels threatened enough to paint it in extremes.

    Like any other aspect of an encounter with a journalist, there's little communicators can do if the news organization chooses to use space to disclose the interview setting and who was present.  You show up, you might well show up in the story. That's always been possible. Reporters also can settle for not getting a desired interview, or just leave the interview if it's got a press officer present (though this rarely happens). If this convention of years past is crumbling, the best you can do is to take it as a sign of frustration over the over-use of this tactic, and reconsider your own policies, using this checklist of questions to get at the rationale clearly:
    • Must you send someone to sit in every interview? Why?
    • What are the reasons specific to this instance? 
    • What's the value to the interviewee? To the reporter? Do they agree with that statement?
    • Does the reporter know about this in advance, or are you just showing up?
    • Does that happen for every reporter, or just in particular instances? What are they?
    • What does your expert think about it? Have you discussed that option in advance and do they understand why you're going to be there?
    • What feedback do you get, formally or informally, from reporters about this practice? If it's not being shared, make it part of your regular discussions.
    • How often is your presence mentioned in news articles? When and why does that happen?
    • Will not sitting in reduce the number of experts willing to show up for interviews?  What else can you offer them--training in interview basics, an advance discussion--to make them more comfortable doing so?
    • Is transparency one of your stated goals as a company or organization? Where does this fit in?
    Feel free to share your insights, practices and sure, frustrations, in the comments.

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    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Weekly writing coach: Read comics to improve your writing

    Okay, I lied: Not comics as in those from many publishers. Just comics from The Oatmeal, a popular website by Matthew Inman. If you've wondered why the writing coach hasn't written about the following topics in grammar, spelling and punctuation, it's because I can't possibly top these comics:

    The grammar comics are available in poster form and The Oatmeal just made a four-pack of the grammar posters available.  For more fun, check out this video of Inman giving an Ignite! talk about The Oatmeal:





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    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Washington PR group seeks new pro bono client

    Washington Women in Public Relations is seeking nominations for a Washington, DC metro area nonprofit that will be the group's next pro bono client, as well as volunteers to work on communications projects for the pro bono client.  The current client is the Children's Law Center, and previous clients have all been charities focused on women or children.  To volunteer to help the pro bono client or nominate a worthy group, email probono[at]wwpr[dot]org for an application.

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    Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

    I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter--that's where I like to share good reads, provocative thinking, new tools and ideas.  Here's what caught my eye and got me thinking this week:
    • Less hectic work? Bring it on!  The SCORE blog offered these productivity tips for making work less hectic. The list of six is just what I aim for.
    • Searchable bookmarks? They're yours with Historious, which uses a search index instead of tags. Read all about it here.
    • How do foundations use communications--specifically, to further their public policy? USC put out a report on that topic; more about it here.
    • Sure you want that social media job? asks Brass Tack Thinking, with some pauses and questions you should take to heart.
    • Got a Ph.D. -- or just love one? Then you'll want to see this illustrated guide to that elevated degree.
    • Are African-Americans using broadband more? Yes--this Pew Internet study shows it's up 10 percent compared to last year, and now up to 56 percent of the African-American adult population.
    • Looking for a cool communications job? Harvard Business Review wants a comms director, and here in Washington, the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. is looking for a multitalented website manager.
    • Does TBD.com have a business model that'll work?  Nieman Lab looked at the "newsonomics" of the new Washington, DC local news site that debuted this week.
    • Ready for a health data mashup challenge? My former employer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced support for three new Health 2.0 Developer Challenges, on county health rankings, apps that will help you download your medical records, and apps that can run on commercial personal health record services.
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    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    What communicators should know about nonprofit executive compensation

    Washington's full of major nonprofit organizations, some of them with complex structures.  During a speaking engagement in which I talked about a credibility checklist for nonprofits, one communications director told me her nonprofit was too complicated for her to read through the organization's IRS Form 990--there were no less than six of them at her workplace.  At the same time, she confessed, the first media call she took in her first week there was from a TV network asking about executive compensation.

    If that sounds like you, listen up: It's not a new story, but nonprofits' executive compensation is in the news more frequently these days--and smart communicators should understand the reasons this issue is coming to the fore yet again:
    • The economy, stupid:  Any time unemployment is high and your group is seeking a mix of a tax break, goodwill, volunteer time and donations, the measuring stick for your credibility gets longer and it's tougher to measure up in the eyes of public audiences.
    • Tighter IRS disclosures:  Form 990--the tax submission for nonprofits--includes new reporting requirements that aim to discern just how much top executives are paid, among other financial data.  The new requirements, set in 2008, are coming to roost now.  With these new reports will come more scrutiny, as reporters, citizens and regulators look at the new data cuts. The IRS has added more auditors for this purpose as well.
    • The rise of the SERP:  That's "supplemental executive retirement plan," not "search engine results page."  This payment, usually tied to performance and in addition to existing retirement plans, began in the corporate world, where it's the target of ire from unions and shareholders. But SERPs, which can make annual benefits look as large or even larger than an executive's actual salary, are equally controversial in the nonprofit sector, where they've been used increasingly over the past  10-15 years.
    • Tighter governmental budgets:  Nonprofits that receive support from state, local or federal agencies are finding that lawmakers are looking at executive compensation, as this New York Times article notes, as a justification for refusing funding or as an area where budgets may be cut.
    This combination of factors is nearly a "perfect storm" for nonprofits. The Times article describes the fallout from one large nonprofit's unexpected clash with the U.S. Senate this year:
    On Capitol Hill, four senators this spring refused to approve a $425 million package of federal grants for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America after staff members looked at the organization’s tax forms as part of a routine vetting process and were surprised to learn that the organization paid its chief executive almost $1 million in 2008 — $510,774 in salary and bonus and $477,817 in retirement and other benefits.
    In this case, SERPs became the hot-button issue, and BGCA CEO Roxanne Spillett, a 32-year veteran of the group, asked her board to stop paying her the additional retirement payments, prompting a (public) discussion among some board members about whether that made it look like they'd done something wrong.

    The Times notes that there's little consistency between and among the nation's one million nonprofits in how they compensate executives, and that the very largest nonprofits--those most likely to face such issues--are a tiny fraction of the whole.  My advice:  Any nonprofit executive's salary can be called into question.  This issue can scale up or down, and the controversy won't feel any more gentle if it's your leaders who are called into question.  What can communicators do?
    • Get close to your CFO and that 990:  Thanks to a variety of charity-watch sites, like GuideStar, the PDF of your organization's 990 is already online--so shouldn't you have read it yourself? Understand when the regular reporting deadlines fall throughout the year, even if your group defers filing, since those dates are when reporters will be calling. Ask about SERPs. 
    • Make sure you understand the value of what your group gets from its nonprofit status:  What would you be paying in income tax, sales tax, real-estate tax, at the local, state and federal levels? Those figures will arise in questions from regulators and reporters.  Should you pay some of those taxes, anyway--to build goodwill or avoid controversy?  For example, I've worked with large nonprofits that considered paying a local tax they didn't need to pay, like real-estate tax.  If you can do that, make sure it's known.
    • Talk about the public issues around compensation with your board and management team:  Form 990 requires listing compensation for the top earners in any organization, which means that they should be prepared to understand the story that may result and what will happen if their particular compensation becomes an issue.  Involve your board members in this discussion.  As the ultimate force behind top executive decisions, they too should understand the public and media ramifications around these salary and benefit decisions--long before the reporters get them to discuss it in the media, or a Senate committee calls it into question.  Even if this happens just once a year, make it happen.
    • Pay attention when the first questions arise about pay:  That's true no matter where they come from--and if you've done your legwork with management and board members, you may start hearing more about grumbling or just legitimate questions they hear.  In the Boys and Girls Club case, Youth Today notes that "The BGCA has declined to answer many questions regarding the congressional inquiry, including which clubs opened and closed, and details about Spillett’s salary. For several months the BGCA also has declined to answer a list of questions from Youth Today about how it spends its money, including how it arrived at the salaries of two other top officials."  In this case, then, the questions weren't new--they just got more visibility when some senators asked, and there was no need to get caught on this score.
    • Understand the zeitgeist on nonprofit salaries:  One sampling is in the 134 reader comments on the New York Times article, which run the gamut from supportive to scornful.  And if your organization has disaffected members, employees, volunteers or donors, you need to assess how they'd react. In the article comments, more than a few people recall hearing nonprofit execs talk about how they got good pay for not too much work. Ouch. Equally problematic: A big divide between executive and rank-and-file pay, another issue readers mentioned.
    • Look to the left and the right for comparators:  This shouldn't be a "we're no worse that that group over there" exercise, please. Instead, keep in mind (as the Times notes) that the IRS will be looking at similar-size groups based on how much money is raised or given away, executive compensation and other factors.  While most major nonprofits use compensation consultants to give them some cover on whether these benefits are "comparable and reasonable," it's rare in my experience that they're told not to proceed.  So use the comparators that reasonable outsiders would use:  The organizations closest to you in size, in your location and nationally (and size can be measured by revenue, membership, volunteers, etc.); those located near you physically (a measure folks in your community will use, if no one else); those in your subject category; and any other yardstick you can think of. 
    Communicators must weigh in on this score--or as one attorney I worked with used to tell executives, "What we're about to do here is perfectly legal. Now Denise is going to tell you how it will be received."  Both should factor into the discussion when decisions are made.  What else would you share as advice for communicators on this issue? Share it in the comments or on don't get caught's Facebook page.  And if you need help auditing your fiscal credibility or devising a sound strategy to make sure you don't get caught on this issue, contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

    Related posts:  The fiscal communicator's credibility checklist

    Paperless brainstorms and notes for communicators

    Does creativity go out the window when you reduce your paper footprint? Not necessarily. Even this New York Times article with metrics for reducing home and office paper use starts with an example of creativity. I used that as a guide and reduced paper files, books, newspapers and all sorts of clutter and found the creative options are myriad. Here are some of my favorites:
    • Evernote's a wonderful utilitarian notekeeper--I scan or transfer recipes, receipts and all sorts of workhorse notes and files in all media here, and much of the appeal is the searchability once your items are stored here. To take it to the creative side, this marketing manager uses Evernote to create "mood boards" to discuss design and thematic concpets with clients, and to store ideas.  You can email or share notebooks from Evernote with clients and colleagues if you want to.  I use the Doxie portable scanner, compatible with Evernote, even when I travel.  And Evernote has launched the Trunk, an trove of compatible programs, apps and hardware to give you new ideas about creative uses.
    • Draft, an iPad app, lets you replicate a sketchpad, as shown here in the importance of sketching and why you should be doing it.  Short a sketchpad or an iPad? Take photos or video to capture your visual thinking.
    • If you journal your ideas, check out OhLife, a free journal-via-email that makes recording your thoughts simple--and private. You'll get an email at 8pm nightly asking about your day; respond to the email and your entry's made. Eventually, OhLife will show you past entries so you can track your progress. Read more about it in this review from The Next Web.  I confess that pen-to-paper journaling has been my daily habit for a long time, but this email-prompt (and the paperless storage and ability to archive) is cunning and appealing to me. 
    What creative paperless tools are you using these days?  Share them in the comments.

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    Are you a company of one? How do you retreat?

    "Have you ever done a post on how to do a career retreat for yourself--if you're a freelancer or a company-of-one contractor, etc? Did I just dream that?" asked a reader of the blog.

    That started me thinking about what it means to be a "company of one," and realized this might also be useful for communications directors--who rarely get to bare their souls in retreats with their own staff members--as well as for entrepreneurs, freelancers and anyone contemplating a career change that's not ready to announce. How do you contemplate, then act in a way that propels you toward your goals? This issue shares questions and tactics that have helped propel me forward in figuring out my own strategy. Please share yours--and share this issue with your colleagues.
     
    Get perspective: The personal/work timeline
     
    Communicators put things out and hold things back, as needed...but to get perspective on your own career path, you need a personal/work timeline that looks back on the previous year. I like to use flipchart pages, one for each of the previous 12 months, with the timeline drawn across the midsection of each month. Above the line, write significant things that happened each month in your personal life; below the line, significant events in your work. You define "significant"--it can be good or bad, accomplishment or lesson learned, stumbling block or easy win. When you're done, step back and look at the year in its personal/work entirety. What patterns do you notice? What changes might they prompt in the year ahead?
     
    Get Focused: A checklist to map the road ahead

    Once you know where you've been, it's time to look ahead--but you need to pinpoint where you're headed, in effect drawing your own map. Here are 16 questions I think any communicator should be asking to pinpoint a path forward:

    Where do I stand?
    • What has my "company" really done so far? What did I like the best?  
    • What was most lucrative?  
    • What's been the sand in my shoe--the work that bothers me or makes me most uncomfortable? 
    • What were the big mistakes? What did I learn from them?  
    • If I haven't started yet, what are 10 small steps I can take toward becoming the company of one: lunches with mentors, building a database, research on monetizing my goal?  
    • Have I scheduled time to do those things?
    What do I want to do?
    • If I could give something up without harming my career, what would I give up? What am I tired of doing? 
    • Is there something I've always wanted to do that I haven't done yet? 
    • How can I choose projects that are expansive and energizing rather than sapping?  
    • How do I want to feel about my work over the next few years?
    What are the obstacles?

    • If I had to guess, which tasks/specialties/skills that are now common in my work will be obsolete shortly? 
    • If I had to guess, what will be replacing them? How and why?  
    • Which things on my wish list require conditions I don't control? 
    • Where might I go or what might I do to gain control?
    • Am I in the right place to do what I want to do?
    What training and technology upgrades do I need?

    • What am I missing that would allow me to pursue and reach these goals?
    • What kind of help can I get to learn the skills I need?
    • Which skills can I hire, rather than learn?
    If you really are starting a business, you might want to think about these questions from Seth Godin about what he considers the foundation elements for modern businesses--good discussion starters, even if you're just talking to yourself.

    I facilitate retreats for communicators, either as teams or on the topic of communications for boards and management.  But if your retreat is a retreat-of-one, what other questions would you want to ponder on such a retreat? Share them--anonymously, if you wish--in the comments.

    This post first appeared in my free monthly newsletter, For Communications Directors. Sign up here to get early reports, special discounts and offers and news that doesn't appear on the blog.  Then head over to the don't get caught page on Facebook and continue the conversation.

    Related posts:   Creative hacks to help you boost new ideas

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    New communications, policy training for scientists

    A new communications training opportunity for scientists is being offered this fall by the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.  The Center's new Institute for Science Communication and Policy Development is launching workshops that walk scientists through skills for reaching public audiences, news media and policymakers effectively, with hands-on writing and training options as well as a long list of expert speakers.  The four-day training costs $1,000 and will be limited to 20 scientist participants from academic, governmental or nonprofit organizations, and graduate students, postdoctoral candidates and faculty may apply.  Here's the application for the Davis, California workshop, due August 20 for the Sept. 19-24 workshop; another workshop is planned in Fort Collins, Colorado, November 14-18.  Share this with a scientist you know!

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    Puzzling local news media? Check these innovators

    Yeah, yeah, you've heard that local is the new black when it comes to news media...but who's doing it right? Are there lessons to be learned or cool kids to keep your eye on?  Of course there are. Here are some of the thoughtful and thorough sources and strategists I follow when it comes to local newsmaking and reporting. Note how their observations share insights on how promoting and sharing are becoming equally important in news reporting:
    • Oakland owns it: Susan Mernit, founder of Oakland Local and a powerhouse in online information, just shared 10 lessons in how to make local media work, based on the experiences of the Knight-McCormick Leadership Excellence Institute, and a healthy dose of her own learned home truths. These sound basic, and they are: Miss or omit them, and your local focus will go awry.
    • California Watch goes wide: NiemanLab analyzes how California Watch chose a potent story about how some school districts were shortening the school year to cut costs and promoted it widely. In this case, NL says, the local site "treated its story’s distribution process as an integral part of the editorial process — to the extent that...it’s hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins."
    • Engagement before editorial:  Here in Washington, DC, local news site TBD takes its turn and launches this week. In another NeimanLab analysis of 6 reasons to watch local news project TBD's launch, you'll learn that social media engagement staff were hired before reporters--not a bad thing.  And Poynter Online notes four issues it thinks TBD might answer in the new world of local news, including a new partnership model (with television), an aggressive approach to corrections and reporter transparency, a different way of working with contributing bloggers (Scienceblogs, I'm looking at you), and handling outbound links to the competition.  You can follow Steve Buttry, who manages the social media engagement for TBD on his blog -- even without the launch of TBD, he's a great read with insights based on a long career in local journalism.
    • Get your congressional district on: In a good example of a national site extending its reach locally, this Programmable Web post shares how the New York Times "shows how civic APIs should be built." From the post: "the Districts API returns not just House data, but also City Council, the State Assembly and State Senate. No more sending users to a separate site to figure out their districts, at least within New York City." Can your site be this useful?
    If you have other favorites, failures and firsts to share in local news innovation, share them in the comments.

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    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    At #BlogHer, odd lessons in authenticity vs. TMI

    I usually advise my clients--all people who use social media for business--to "be the same person online that you are offline" when they ask how to balance personal and professional content online.  And when it comes to speaking in public in rooms where there are journalists or bloggers, I like to remind clients that talking into a microphone means your words may be published, no matter how intimate you feel about the presentation or the audience. This year, at the BlogHer 2010 conference, however, I'm hearing many different takes on what constitutes too-much-information, versus authenticity. 

    That was the topic of a panel yesterday that I decided not to live-tweet, in part because the speakers--all identified online--spoke in some detail about personal issues that they had chosen to hide online. They had removed earlier blog posts entirely, chosen private Twitter feeds for certain personal posts, and asked their friends to avoid discussing their personal issues online.  (All those tactics met with mixed success at best, and none are foolproof methods.)  It put me in an awkward and ironic place:  Here they were, talking into a microphone in a packed room of people who publish immediately via Twitter and blogs, and the topics were the things they don't want anyone to know about them online.

    That conversation has been repeated again and again at meals and in the hallways at this conference. Bloggers here have experienced the full gamut of options, with brands, bosses or bully friends who make a point of targeting or publicizing what they write when they share personal details. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not. At the same time, there are plenty of bloggers here whose topic and brand is their personal lives, and among them, there are those who delight in sharing what others might consider TMI.  They see themselves as transparent and authentic, frank and fearless.  Any problem with that is your problem, they seem to say.

    This morning's keynote with winners of BlogHer's International Activist Blogger Scholarship recipients puts an entirely different face, so to speak, on the issue, since showing images of these women could easily endanger their lives or those of their families in their home countries.  On entering the gigantic ballroom, attendees saw signs saying no photography and no video were allowed and that devices would be confiscated if this policy was ignored.  The moderator softened that, saying photos and video could be taken if participants would obscure the faces of the speakers--and in fact, BlogHer was videotaping the session rather visibly.

    Even as they publish, many of these women take pains to protect their identities online.  For example, the Afghan Women's Writing Project publishes controversial issues like being sold into marriage or slavery, with the goal of sharing authentic, unfiltered stories of real Afghan women. To understand why, read "I Am For Sale, Part II."  It describes in great detail an enormous amount of painful personal information, at once authentic and anonymous. Here's how that site describes setting boundaries about personal information:
    The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is aimed at allowing Afghan women to have a direct voice in the world, not filtered through male relatives or members of the media. Many of these Afghan women have to make extreme efforts to gain computer access in order to submit their writings, in English, to the project.

    Most of our Afghan writers participate in the project partially or entirely in secret from friends and family. We cannot provide details on how some women have been able to submit their stories in order to protect them from those who would not approve of their participation. Due to security concerns, we use the Afghan women writers’ first names only, generally editing out names of family and friends and removing locators. On rare occasions, security has required that the pieces be anonymous. In all cases, we or our liaisons in Afghanistan know these women well and can vouch for the authenticity of their stories.
    And yet the names of all these women, with links to their blogs, are published on the BlogHer site. A similar approach has been taken by other organizations in the U.S. when they honor such women; see this post about Sahar Issa, one of several Iraqi women working for U.S. news organizations in Iraq, who was honored by the International Women's Media Association, sans photographs.  There's some tension and a more than a few practical issues raised by letting these women be identified on an accessible website, with their location known--and in having them talk into mics and before cameras. At this conference, letting the activist scholarship recipients speak is a new session this year, and the emphasis is very much on honoring them in a way that they cannot be honored at home. What's more, the underlying assumption at yesterday's panel and today's keynote is one of trusting the audience not to publish. That's a risk, something these activist women know firsthand. They say things like "be prepared to lead even if you have to put your life on the line" and "don't be scared to kick ass."

    What does this mean for you? I still recommend sharing personal information, as it makes your blog or Twitter feed or Facebook posts more engaging--and I hope seeing these extreme boundaries will put your own choices in perspective. At least one participant tweeted:
    Speakers like these remind me of how very fortunate we are to be able to write about anything we want, without fear.
    You'll still need to think through your limits, boundaries and issues posed by particular media in advance, and take the time to periodically review and revise your balancing act between authenticity and TMI--both steps are part of a smart social media strategy.  I hope you'll share your questions and approaches to handling this in the comments.

    Friday, August 06, 2010

    At #BlogHer, bloggers and brands wrestle with FTC guidelines

    After sitting through much of the BlogHer '10 panel on The FTC Guidelines: After a Year, Has Anything Changed?, I realized the session offered a meta view of the mashup that is blogging--and how brands and bloggers are wrestling not only with the FTC guidelines on disclosures for endorsements on blogs, but with each other. 

    On this issue, the test for the FTC is whether the average consumer can clearly understand the relationship between compensation and an endorsement, which means bloggers need to do more than put up a blanket disclosure on their "about" pages; it may mean sharing disclosures in a tweet or a particular blog post. If there's compensation, but no endorsement, or an endorsement without compensation (you just happen to like the product and say so), there's no need for a disclosure. There's a great FAQ on the FTC website if you're trying to figure out endorsement guidelines for your blog, or if you're a brand hoping to get bloggers to endorse your product or service.  Blog With Integrity and BlogHer.com's resources also were recommended as resources for bloggers trying to do the right thing.

    But the mashup was about issues much bigger than the guidelines. First, a little background:  This is the sixth year of the BlogHer conference, and the attendance doubled over last year, so there are now 2400 women bloggers here in 2010.  For the participants, that's the biggest change--and for the brands, part of the reason they're here, the other one being that many of these bloggers reach the 55 million women in the U.S. who read blogs. (And no, not all of the blogs here are "mommy blogs.")

    In this session, which included an FTC speaker, Stacey Ferguson, the audience questions came from both brands and bloggers.  Here's a bit of the flavor:
    • Some bloggers sounded resentful--why should they have to disclose gifts or sponsorships when people recommending products in other situations don't, like doctors recommending drugs or retail salespeople pushing one product over another?  (The answer for many of those situations: In many such environments, the relationship is already clear to the consumer, or other guidelines apply.)
    • Brands' marketing staff members got up and urged bloggers to just use their legal language, or the language they wanted bloggers to use in posts, prompting one panelist to remind the brands that when they specify language, that's an ad, not a sponsored post.  Tensions around control were clear.
    • A CNN reporter suggested that the FTC hadn't done anything to tell bloggers about the guidelines, Ferguson noted that FTC hasn't turned down a single speaking engagement request (and has appeared several times at BlogHer conferences, and sponsored other blogging conferences) on this issue, in an effort to make the guidelines clear.  And it was noted that many bloggers have spread misinformation and rumors about the guidelines, one reason for holding the session.
    I have to say, it was interesting to be in a room with one reporter and well over 100 bloggers, all of whom could publish their own take on the panel--and many were doing so in real time.  At the same time, it's clear that bloggers aren't necessarily attempting to act as journalists, but don't want brands to interfere with their editorial control (did anyone really think that would happen?).

    You can read the discussion in more detail through the live-blog of the session.  I'm going back in...