Thursday, September 30, 2010

September's top 10 posts on social media and communications issues

Maybe you're stuck in the office and can't take a long drive to enjoy the fall scenery...but you can drive through these most-popular posts from the month of September to get ready for the season ahead of you in social media and communications.  These are worth a second look:

  1. You've got a social media plan--but does it have a crisis plan, too?  Using what happened to a university's Twitter feed during a major hostage-taking and fatal shooting, I've got some tips for how to build a crisis plan into your social forays.  It was this month's most popular post.
  2. Managing time on social media is a big issue for communicators.  What if I have just 5 hours a week? asked on audience member at a talk I gave last month. Here's what I--and Facebook readers--recommended.
  3. A new online conference networking tool:  I love sharing new tools, and Lanyrd's a good one: A social network that's all about conferences, whether you are attending, organizing or speaking.
  4. What message do you send to others about PR?  The question's prompted by what a business owner saw when trying to hire a firm to help promote her work.  I saw parallels for you, whether you work in a firm, company or organization.  Remember: How you go about the work reflects on you and the profession.
  5. And then there's social media measurement.  It's a tangled mess of metrics, so which ones should you value?  This post looks at that issue, from the view of digital journalism outlets.
  6. Getting started in social media seems daunting.  Here's the "handout" from my talk at the Common Cents conference; it's an all-in-one on getting started in social media, with plenty of links for reference. Pass it on to your favorite newbie.
  7. Should you draw attention to a failure?  Publicizing flops works in many situations and may be worth consideration if you want to build credibility and trust.  Check out this example, plus more ideas.
  8. I love to steal good ideas, especially when I can move them from one sector to another.  And apparently, you do, too.  That has to be why "Steal this idea to reconfigure your comms shop today" was so popular this month. In this case, we're borrowing a list f the key staff positions that are needed today in digital journalism, which I think could apply to your teams, too.
  9. A blog for a panel discussion?  You bet.  To show you how easy it is--and beneficial--to share information about a conference panel online, I've put together this blog on the "Experiments in New Media" panel for the ScienceWriters 2010 conference. I'm co-organizing the panel with Joe Bonner, who also contributes; check out his wildly popular post on how new data about mobile apps fits into the "mobile first" strategy of one of our top panelists.
  10. Are you using the wrong lens for social media results?  I have a few new perspective for you to consider in this post, which was first featured in the newsletter.  Sign up for an advance look in the next newsletter, out next week, below.
If you're looking for ways to improve your presentation and public speaking skills, registration is now open for a two-day workshop I'm calling Good on Your Feet: A dynamic speaking skills workshop.  Slated for November 3 and 4 in Washington, DC, this hands-on workshop will be limited to 16 participants, giving you ample time for questions, practice and strategizing. We'll work through all the aspects of dynamic speaking, from your starts and your content to movement, mindset and graceful ways to handle on-your-feet questions and challenges from the audience.  I hope you'll register and share the link with colleagues and friends!

Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.  Then head over to don't get caught on Facebook, where you'll see new social media trends, technology and communications issues as they crop up during the week--and great conversations with our community of communicators.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Where you *really* get your ideas



Is there any writer who's come up with a creative idea and not been asked "Where do you get your ideas?"  I used to imagine having a warehouse with loads of ideas, shelved, waiting to be sent on a conveyer belt to me as needed (and not a few clients seem to assume that I have them just that close to hand).

In this TED talk, Steven Johnson -- author of the forthcoming book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation-- talks about where ideas really come from, and which environments lead to creativity, from coffeehouses to the web to biological environments and cities.  He pays attention to recurring patterns of behavior, wondering whether we can apply them to our own lives and work to boost creativity...and along the way, does some myth-busting around our inspirations and insights. 

Johnson contends they're not the stuff of "Eureka!" moments, but are "cobbled together" from randomly collected bits of inspiration, via our networks (online and off) and environments that are, well, chaotic--places where you are more likely to "collide" with ideas.  The problem: When we talk about our idea-forming, we tend to want to summarize it into that discovery moment, but often, good ideas take a long time to simmer. 

You also may need to work with a creative partner to get your idea out of the mulling process and into reality, Johnson notes.  Check out this excellent Slate article, "Two is the magic number," about how creative pairs breed creative success. (Think Lennon and McCartney, for starters.)  Johnson's final story tells you how creative collaboration led to the creation of global positioning systems (GPS).

What do you think of this talk? Does it reflect your creative process?

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Work *with*--not against--a live audience that's using social media

Live audiences have been quicker than those who organize them to incorporate social media tools into the event experience, be it at a theater, speech or performance.  But the border between social media and live events is sometimes a ragged one.  Some organizers, speakers and performers see it purely as a threat or distraction, and fear they're losing, not engaging the audience. How to manage it smoothly? 

Success here lies in incorporating audience sharing into your live event, whatever it may be.  Beth Kanter's recent blog post on engaging Facebook fans shares a great tactic from the Anchorage Concert Association. She notes:
...before each show begins they make an announcement from the stage.  They ask patrons to pull out their smart phones, take a photo of the person sitting next to them, and post on their Facebook page.  Then they ask them to shut the smart phones off.
You get the best of both worlds:  Audience engagement in the live setting, fan-page postings from the event, and yes, silence during the performance.  But if you're not doing a live performance and can allow people to use social networking tools during a speech, presentation or other live gathering, why not build it into the action?  Ask for volunteers to take photos. Offer a prize for the best photo posted by the end of the day, or the most re-tweeted live tweet from the speech. Ask people in the room to describe something for those not present, but watching virtually.  Encourage Foursquare check-ins or hand out some ultralight camcorders so folks can help record the event for use on your website.

What are you doing to make social tools part of your live events? What's working--or not? What are your reservations or encouragement for the idea?

Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.  Then head over to don't get caught on Facebook, where you'll see new social media trends, technology and communications issues as they crop up during the week--and great conversations with our community of communicators.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

Ready to stack up those chairs and call an end to this week?  While you're packing up, check out my list of what I've been sharing this week on Twitter (where you can find me as @dontgetcaught).  Lots of good reads, tips and finds caught my eye this week:

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter. The newsletter comes out next week, so today's a good day to sign up.



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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The flip side of the new Flip cameras: Accessories add wide-angle, projection

Last week, I told you about the new versions of the Flip Ultra and Mino HD camcorders, and every time a new iteration appears, I look for things on my Flip-features-wishlist.  Don't get me wrong: I own five Flips and use them for everything from quick still photography to group public speaking seminars. The simple, light, easy-to-operate Flip is still my favorite camcorder--but it does leave one hankering for a little external mic action, or wide-angle lenses, from time to time. Maybe some 1080p HD (not this time).  Gizmodo reminded me that that's the challenge with Flip cameras: Balancing extra features with that essential simplicity.  And Flip tells us this week that the answer lies in the accessories.  Be still, my beating heart, but here they are, letting me check off a couple more items on my wish list. Note that all these new accessories become available in October 2010:

  • Wide angle lens:  Flip now offers a Bower wide-angle magnetic .45x lens that allows panoramic and other extended-view shots, both in close-up and distant ranges.  This lens is made especially for Flip cameras and comes with 3 magnetic rings and a tether. List price is $49.99.
  • Portable projector:  The iGo portable projector will be compatible with all the HD versions of Flip cameras, but not the original Mino or Ultra models. Battery life is 1.5 hours and it fits "in your pocket."  Projects in  16:9 widescreen resolution to make an image up to 70" diagonal, and offers SD card support. List price is $349.99.
  • Portable wall charger/backup battery:  Compatible with all Flip models, the iGo Charge Anywhere can be either a charger or a backup battery to extend your shoot. It, too, is small and easy to take with you. List price is $49.99.
At the moment, these new accessories are listed for pre-order only on the Flip website link above, although I'd expect to see them on Amazon in the near future--and will keep you updated. If these are going on your holiday wish list, it may be worth waiting a month or so to see whether discounts come into play.  Now, what's left on your Flip camera wish list?  (Affiliate link.)


I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time to vote in the "Taggies," nonprofit tagline awards

Colleague Nancy Schwartz reports it's time to place your votes in the 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (aka, "The Taggies").  Go here to vote on 70 tagline finalists from nonprofit organizations, a process that takes 8 minutes or less.  You have until midnight, Wednesday, October 6, 2010.  In addition to helping crowd-source a winner, this is your chance to check out a wide range of taglines from nonprofits working in 13 different sectors.  Schwartz notes, "Voting doubles as a tutorial and a chance to participate in a fun project that will help nonprofits in all fields." New this year are special categories for program, fundraising and special event tagline award winners, in addition to the strongest organizational taglines. More than 1,700 nonprofit groups submitted more than 2,700 taglines for this year's awards.

Weekly writing coach: Fired up about fact sheets

Sure, it makes sense to issue a fact sheet in the wake of a major disaster. That's what happened in Boulder, Colorado, after the recent fires. Issued by Boulder Downtown, How You or Your Business Can Help with the Fourmile Fire lists contact information, dates and details on how to make donations, where safe but evacuated people can report themselves, and other updates relevant to citizens and area businesses on one web site (including a fundraising effort based around the poster shown at left). It's a great, straightforward example of the form.

But you don't need an emergency on your hands to make use of a fact sheet as a communications tool. Instead of struggling for analogies and graceful leads, perhaps what your audience needs is just the facts.  I think many a news announcement would be better served by a fact sheet or two with a cover explanatory note, and any data-laden announcement would benefit from the form.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Brevity's a must.  Please don't innovate a seven-page fact sheet. Keep it one page or less. If you have enough for more, consider separate fact sheets on separate sub-topics, and one overall fact sheet. Then let the users choose the ones they need.
  • Consider the user.  Fact sheets for reporters and those for the public may not need the same organizational structure--and they may need more background.  Rather than go all-purpose--and vague--think about whether you need different fact sheets for different audiences.
  • Use microcontent to make them work at-a-glance.  Bullets, strategic use of bold type and subheadings, rather than paragraphs, make a fact sheet easy to use and use again.
  • Cut out the flowery language.  No quotes, no spin, no congratulations. Just numbers, names, dates and information, please.
Some additional good examples of fact sheets include:
  • A fact sheet about Washington, DC, for travel and tourism professionals, part of "DC in a Box" from Destination DC.  There's just the right amount of data, allowing users to be able to tell tour groups which are the most-visited museums and attractions, for example.
  • A White House fact sheet about the early retiree reinsurance program offers a short opening paragraph, then sections off the fact sheet with the basics on who would be covered, what's included, effective dates and statistics driving the creation of this new program.
If you've got a good example of a communications fact sheet that worked well for you, please share it and your experience in the comments.

(A hat tip to In Case of Emergency, Read Blog, which alerted me to this good example.  Go here to buy the "Thank you Firefighters" poster.)

Related post: When to skip the storytelling: 5 ways (including fact sheets)

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

3 easy things I'd like to see foundation leaders doing on social media

The Foundation Center has issued a report about foundation leaders' use of social media (in PDF form), based on responses from 73 membesr of its Grantmaker Leadership Panel.  The results? While social media use "is catching on in the foundation world...it is far from being part of the regular routine of most chief executives," said Lawrence McGill, the Center's vice president for research. Overall, foundation leaders say that they use old-school online tools like e-newsletters and Listservs more than social media. 

It's that "regular routine" reference that caught my eye. I'm a former foundation executive myself, so I understand the routine.  But one of the not-so-secrets of social media is the ease with which you can make it part of your routine--if that weren't possible, no one would be using it.  If foundation leaders tried even these 3 simple ways to participate in social media, we'd be the richer for it (knowledge-wise, if not grant-wise):
  1. Share what they're reading.  There's inherent appeal in learning what's on the reading stack of those whose job it is to look ahead, anticipate trends and find effective tools to meet charitable needs.  Plenty of tools make it simple to share what you're reading -- from Facebook "like" buttons and bookmarking sites like Delicious to blog-like sharing on Tumblr and the New York Times "recommended" button on TimesPeoplePosterous will take an email from you and make it into a blog post; Google Reader will let you share articles you're reading right from the reader.  Most of the tools work right from a smartphone, making this activity portable for busy, traveling executives.  The ability to connect those sharing feeds to wider networks on Facebook or Twitter can help foundation leaders build a large reach without much effort.  If you're a subject-matter expert, so much the better; your reading share-list can become an effortless bibliography for others to consult.
  2. Post their activities, travels and meetings.  Take some of the mystery out of what foundation executives do.  You're traveling to meet with policymakers, grantees, other foundations; heading to conferences; conducting site visits to charities you've funded.  Show us the map, Foursquare checkin, TripIt itinerary or Twitter travelog that proves you're not stuck in the ivory tower, and broaden our view of what kind of legwork it takes to work in philanthropy.  Steve Case of the Case Foundation--a good example for all these points--describes a meeting at Twitter, above.  But imagine the impact if you compiled the trips and travels of all your on-the-move executives...
  3. Point us to what catches their eye from other foundations.  If you're a community funder who admires a major national program in an area you fund, tell us about it--and vice versa. It'll help even more if you tell us why it caught your eye.  One role of philanthropic leaders, I was taught, is to give potential grant-seekers enough information to make their proposals better, and ultimately successful. Giving us good models from a range of funders helps us see what you mean by quality.  All it takes: Share a link from something you're reading (see #1) about another funder.
Then there's that easiest and best thing you can do on social media: Listen. Read. Then start sharing in the three easy ways noted above.  A hint for executives in all sectors: You can try these steps, too, particularly if you're looking for a simple way to get going in social media without fear of it taking over your life. 

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who should be publicizing flops, and why

Live Drill - No water for our birthday in Central African Republic from charity: water on Vimeo.



If you shy away from publicizing the less-than-perfect result, the flops that might make you look bad or those awful outright failures, take a refresher on why you might want a different strategy from none other than charity:water.  Known for its innovation in raising money through crowdsourcing and Twitter, the nonprofit raises funds to dig wells and bring drinking water to communities lacking it.

The flop--documented in the video above--came at a high-stakes, high visibility moment in the middle of a special campaign, on the organization's "birthday," which features a "live drill" captured on video every year.  Drilling projects in this country, the Central African Republic, have a 95 percent success rate.  So why bother sharing the flop?
  • It's transparent to donors: charity:water's keeping a pledge to make its operations transparent, something that helps donors feel more confident and willing.
  • It's dramatic, good viewing:  Face it: Failure's gripping, and we can all relate to it. This video does a great job moving us through the actual timeline of the failure, including the choice to work through the night to find a solution.
  • It's educational:  We learn a lot in a short amount of time about why some wells can't be dug, how much the people here need one, and what folks are willing to do to get one.
  • It puts the goal into perspective:  Failure's a foil for your ultimate goals, answering the question, "what would happen if we couldn't be here to do this?"  Showing failure, especially repeated failure, can make a reached goal seem all the sweeter.
  • It reminds us not to take drinking water for granted:  Failure sets them off on a quest for a well that can be dug, with a pledge to return to find success in this needy village, still without a well.  Showing the work, and the failure, reminds potential donors not to take the effort for granted.
In our communications strategies, often we're polishing the apple, putting things in the best possible light and working around those awkward disappointments. But that may do a disservice to communications efforts in the end. Even if you haven't pledged the transparency that charity:water has, you have efforts that might benefit from sharing failures.  Scientific research comes to mind:  I remember learning that a pharmaceutical chemist might spend her entire career without ever seeing a drug she worked on get to market, a yardstick that comes alive when measured by an entire life's work. (It also put into great perspective the achievement of one chemist colleague who's seen six drugs he's worked on make it to market--that's a rockstar achievement.)  Any effort that relies on others for funding, moral support, votes, volunteers and other contributions can use failure as a way to explain, educate, rally and even uplift your key audiences. If you're responsible for standards or protecting something, showing failures can help you explain why those don't meet your standards, and what you need to do to meet them.  After all, it's part of your quest, and a quest is nothing without a good old-fashioned dragon or two standing in your way.

By the way, broadcasting your failures means it's even more exciting when you can come back and report a success--and that's what charity:water did, in a different village, with the second day of its "live drill." Note that they use the occasion to explain the conditions that make a good drill site, so you get to learn as well as celebrate.

Live Drill Day 2 - We Hit Water! from charity: water on Vimeo.


(A hat tip to Tqctical Philanthropy Advisors, whose post alerted me to the charity:water video.)

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

While I'm picking tweets to share with you this week from my feed on Twitter--where I roll as @dontgetcaught--my weekend plan includes extra time pickin' on a guitar. What's yours?  Think that over and check out these items I shared with my followers on Twitter:
I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like writing coaching--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Your social-media plan needs its own crisis plan: 6 lessons from the #hopkinsshooting

We're all learning from experience when using social media as a communications tool, and when you learn from experience, you usually wind up with the bruises to prove it.
 
In the spirit of helping us all learn, I want to share what I watched unfold on Twitter today while many of us were keeping an eye on developments in the shooting that took place at Johns Hopkins University--a shooting in which the gunman shot a doctor (who is expected to recover), barricaded himself in a hospital room,  fatally shot his mother (a patient there) and finally himself.  Dozens of city blocks were shut down, as well as one floor in the hospital, throughout the day.
 
Some of the great communications team at Hopkins are among my clients, and like many with friends on the campus, I first sought to check on their safety.  Twitter was buzzing with rumors, links and updates from a wide variety of sources.  (The Baltimore Sun's crime reporter, Justin Fenton, did a great job reporting via Twitter and soon became a primary source for those of us watching events unfold.)  But because I hang with a lot of communicators and journalists, I felt good about my sources and shared what came across my stream.
 
At no point, however, did I share actual tweets from Hopkins.  Here's why: The ones I saw weren't about the crisis, but about ordinary feature-y topics that could've been posted anytime. Later, I saw this tweet from JohnsHopkins, the primary Twitter account for the university (which I follow):


It was sent in response to the tweet at the top of the post, from a reader who--like me--saw it as odd that the university was tweeting about seemingly mundane topics when a real crisis was afoot.

None of this endangered people on the ground, let's be clear. And I don't agree with those who feel that the only information we should listen to on Twitter during a crisis comes from the institutions involved.  Witnesses and smart observers can add to the understanding of what's happening, and do so on Twitter.  But I think this small example can serve as a reminder of at least six home truths we might want to add to our "lessons learned" about social media use during a crisis, such as:
  1. Your social media plan needs its own crisis plan.  Just as with any other planned activity, crisis can disrupt your social media strategy.  It's entirely possible to think through ahead of time a variety of scenarios and how it would look if you proceeded with your social-media-business-as-usual, then figure out what to do differently. Put that on your team's to-do list.
  2. If ever there were a time to unhook the automated tweeting, a crisis would be it.  Don't continue to post evergreen topics when the rest of the forest is on fire.  At best, it comes off as odd and dissonant; at worst, uncaring and callous. Think of it this way:  If you were in the middle of a news briefing with reporters about a shooting on your property, and paused every few minutes to announce mundane, unrelated news, how would it look?  Assign someone to cut off or alter the automated feed as soon as possible, as part of your crisis plan.
  3. Remember that, in a crisis, people are looking to you for information (and that's a good thing).  I know that the communicators at Hopkins were juggling two major tasks yesterday:  Keeping themselves calm in the face of real danger, and handling an onslaught of inquiries.  But those looking to you for information don't care that you prescheduled that tweet, honestly.
  4. Sometimes, old-school tactics work just fine in social media.  There's a longstanding dictum in crisis communications that suggests there's only one thing for a spokesperson to say during an emergency of the type we saw today, where there's a bomb/shooter/barricaded suicidal person afoot, if you are speaking from headquarters.  That one thing is as follows:  "Our first concern is for the safety of our employees/students/residents/citizens."  You can say anything you want after that, but it's essential to make clear that you know your priority is the people in harm's way. If I'd had to respond to that tweet-complaint about off-topic posts today in 140 characters, I might have tried this: "Thx 4 feedback. 1st priority 2day: Keeping students, employees safe, & handling ?s. We didn't take time to turn off auto-tweets in the rush."  (But I'd sure cut off that feed next time.)
  5. Your Twitter feed isn't just a way to push out automated announcements.  Let me say upfront that I've been following Hopkins since the start of its Twitter feed, and I don't feel that they approach it this way. But I do encounter dozens of communicators every time I speak about social media who are looking for the quick, canned, how-do-I-get-this-done-easy fix, be it hiring a firm to tweet for them or autoposting around the clock.  Crisis communication was among the earliest uses of Twitter, for a reason. Again, it's worth your time to consider what you'd do differently if a crisis blew a hole through your auto-tweet policy.
  6. Be useful on Twitter in a crisis.  Share updates that are public. Explain things that may seem odd (for example, why you can't disclose the name of the person who was shot, yet). If there's a hotline or other way to find information, post it.  And--especially useful to all, reporters and onlookers alike--explain why there are delays and when you expect to have another update. I'd much rather see a tweet that said, "University officials and police now meeting to update situation; we hope to have more to share after 3pm" than almost any other kind.  It suggests, for starters, that real people are back there listening to the real concern being expressed.
I've helped more than a few clients think through their crisis responses in advance, and have even created customized trainings so they could work through how different parts of their organizations would respond publicly.  But we're all learning on this territory, so I'd like to know: What else would you add to this list, if you were remaking how we handle social media in a crisis? And, just for the record, while I do have clients at Hopkins, they didn't contribute to, nor have they seen, this post in advance--but I welcome their insights as well.  I figured they could use one less phone call today, of all days.

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like writing coaching--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Weekly writing coach: Is Edwin Newman rolling in his grave over this obit?

Edwin Newman's writing about writing was among my early influences, and when the former NBC newsman's death was announced this week, I enjoyed the chance to read about some of his pet peeves in language use, and some of his delicious puns.  But his obituary in this morning's New York Times brought me up short.  Was the ending of this paragraph a poke at Newman's preferences, an example in situ, or just a truly well-placed error? From the obit:
Among the sins that set Mr. Newman’s teeth articulately on edge were these: all jargon; idiosyncratic spellings like "Amtrak”; the non-adverbial use of “hopefully” (he was said to have had a sign in his office reading, “Abandon ‘Hopefully’ All Ye Who Enter Here”); “y’know” as a conversational stopgap; a passel of prefixes and suffixes (“de-,” “non-,” “un-,” “-ize,” “-wise” and “-ee”); and using a preposition to end a sentence with.
Since the "with" is superfluous, I'm going to say that it's good Newman isn't here to see this. He might have chosen to write his own obit, had he known this would happen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Lighten up with a light box

There are some winters when I've thought I must be part bear, becuase I'm so good at wanting to hibernate when the days get shorter. If you're a sometimes-brooding writer, your mood may not just be linked to your inability to finish that sentence. Come the dark months, you may be able to fight off that urge to hibernate or mope with a lightbox.  And if you're like me, you should be starting a bit ahead of the change of seasons so you can adjust right with the switch that nature is making.

I use the Verilux HappyLight 6000 at my desk--a big burst of light--and when I travel, I use a smaller, packable Verilux Natural Spectrum Deluxe Book and Travel Light. (The latter is especially helpful traveling across time zones any time of year, or during the dark months.) I get about 10 minutes of lightbox-light first thing in the morning, a pattern that helps me wake at the same time, and early, after just a week or so. I use the office light when it gets dark early in the afternoon. 

As productivity tools go, this is one of my stalwarts in the dark months.  Are you using a light box or other tactics? Share them in the comments. (Affiliate links.)

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like writing coaching--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Emphas.is could be your next source for photos by journalists


Your organization--a nonprofit or foundation, or even a media operation--values top-quality photography, but the issues you follow are in dangerous, remote or out-of-your-reach places. Photojournalists are finding fewer outlets for their work as media outlets contract and change, and even when jobs are available, the photographer rarely gets to share the excitement of getting that perfect shot. Emphas.is might change all that by bringing you together, in a unique model that aims to remake how journalistic photos are funded and shared.

In this post, the Nieman Journalism Lab describes Emphas.is -- launching early in 2011 -- as a site that:
...will be a platform that looks to the crowd to fund photographers’ work in dangerous places around the world. Similar to other crowdfunding sites like Spot.us or Kickstarter, photojournalists will post trip pitches with a fundraising goal. If that goal is reached, backers will get access to postings from the photographer about his or her experiences and the photographs and videos that are filed along the way. The photos will be initially available to only to backers, but photographers will be free to distribute them as they please — Emphas.is will not own the photographs.
It's important to note that nonprofits will not be able to fund more than 50 percent of a particular project, and that media companies also may want in on backing particular shoots and projects. Those who contribute will get access to both the backstory behind the trek to get photos, and the photos themselves, making the site, in essence, a visual storytelling site. From Nieman Lab:
Backers on Emphas.is will get to meet the photojournalist and then ride along virtually as they sneak through border check points and embed themselves with rebel groups. (Imagine getting a text message from the photog you’ve funded: I’m entering a dangerous region of Yemen, will check back in three days.) The experience will drive how the audience consumes the story.
The concept struck me as a perfect mashup of nonprofit journalism, crowdsourced funding, and the strong need for visuals in a social-media age.  I'm thinking of my colleagues working on global health issues, on water quality in remote areas, in politically sensitive zones, or any place where the visual can help tell a story.  Foundations, corporate social responsibility programs and multi-location nonprofits all should take a look at this option

Emphas.is hasn't launched, but you can enter your email to stay updated.  Watch for the launch in January--and let me know if you're going to try this new option for quality photography.

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like writing coaching--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Social media results: Are you using the wrong lens?


While we're all adjusting to communicating in a social-media world, I'm hearing all sorts of out-of-focus views expressed about the results people are seeing.  If you're impatient for instant success, making assumptions about where your audiences can be found, or pushing numbers over concrete understanding, you may be using the wrong lens when looking at your measurement.  Here are some questions and perspectives to help you refocus:

  1. Are you pushing social networks to the fringe when they're front and center?  In Twitter not going mainstream? Correct, it already IS mainstream, a Forrester analyst reminds us that Twitter--with 145 million users and "only" 29 million new users every month--is as or more "mainstream," by the numbers, than such stalwarts as the New York Times, American Idol and blockbuster movies, based on their monthly numbers.  And tweets on Twitter grew 33 percent over the summer of 2010--which mainstream media outlet did that?  (Despite that, you may not want to use Twitter any more than you might have had the goal of becoming "a household word" back in the day.)
  2. Do you know the meaning behind the number of people following you?  That rough count only measures your potential, not your success. The litmus test you should be using:  What followers do with you on social networks. Going beyond social media reach notes we "collect humans like marbles" when we get all about the follower count.  Instead, this post prompts you to measure for "relevant reach," based on actions taken by followers. Which begs the question: What is it that you want those fans and followers to do?
  3. Are you using the data as a path to understanding the variety in your audience?   Audiences aren't monolithic. If there's anything we've learned from the explosion of self-publishing on the web, it's that audiences want more variety, not less. So when you're looking at your social media results, make sure the data you're collecting can tell you more about reader and follower preferences. Hang on to those areas of variance. Here, the New York Times offers a look at how newspapers are shifting their tracking and analysis of readers' preferences, with some lessons you may be able to borrow.
  4. If all you can see is the big ponds in social media, start looking for some puddles. Dave Fleet gets in on the front end of measurement, and looks at whether we should evolve how we target social media. His goal? To get you to stop saying things like "“One in three of our target audience is using Facebook. So, we recommend creating a Facebook page for this program.”

If your perspective is really out of whack, Chris Brogan flips this question and looks at numbers that matter, and most of them have nothing to do with your metrics.  What are you measuring in your social media results?

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter, where an early version of this post was shared with subscribers.

Will Google real-time search help you monitor embargoes?

If you're issuing embargoed news, you'll have to pay attention to possible embargo breaks--the task no one wants to anticipate but everyone has to handle at some point. Until recently, the process (if you can call it that) was a bit like playing "telephone" with two tin cans and a piece of string: Someone, usually a competing reporter, would hear or see an early report and call the issuing institution to check out whether everyone could go with the story.  The backtracking and checking then commenced to eat up what was left of your day, typically.

But now that Google has rolled out real-time search, will monitoring embargo breaks get more efficient?  Ivan Oransky takes a thorough look at just that on the Embargo Watch blog, and concludes that, while Google real-time has potential, you'll still need to double-check Google News and other sources.  To figure out the process, he looks at a high-tech blogger's analysis of whether Google real-time could have helped identify an embargo break about Google's priority inbox, then turns to examine recent science and health embargo breaks.  (Plenty of those going around, apparently.)  The research highlights the importance of tweets in populating real-time search today, although I agree with Oransky that we'll see a mashup of real-time and news search before long.  In the meantime, he and his readers suggest adding real-time to your existing Google alerts.
This is a must-read post, if only because it shares how Oransky does his own checks for embargo breaks--if you communicators aren't at least taking those steps, well, don't say we didn't warn you. 

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like media relations--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.  I'm afraid I know more about embargoes than I would like.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's all about.me -- time to save your name URL

If you've ever missed the chance to save your name or brand name on a custom URL, heads up:  About.me, which combines an all-in-one social media profile with jazzy design options and a social analytics dashboard, is moving out of beta and towards its public launch.  You can't set up a page now--the profiles on the site were beta users, like the founders--but you can send an email and request a custom URL, worth doing just in case. I like the option to have one splash page (the post below notes another one, Flavors.me) and the addition of an analytics dashboard just sweetens the deal. 

I registered my name and had confirmation within a couple of minutes, while writing this post.  They assured me "We can't wait to make it all about you," a clever tagline if ever there were one. Go. Do it now.

Related posts:  The networked communicator: Rethink your online profiles, 7 ways

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills, like writing coaching--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

New social site for conferences: Lanyrd

If using social networking tools has become as much a part of your conference-going as your name badge, the new site Lanyrd wants to make it even easier for you, whether you're an attendee, onlooker, speaker or organizer. (A hat tip to John Gruber's Daring Fireball for pointing me to the site, which he calls Dopplr-like.)

Calling itself "the social conference directory," Lanyrd is still a work in progress and some features are yet to be launched.  But you can see where it's headed, since users are already playing with what's in store now.  The site's initial blog post notes that:

Lanyrd is now listing 1,508 conferences and 5,167 individual speaker profiles. 5,637 people have signed in to the site and made 13,293 edits to our data. A big thank you to everyone who has helped populate the site — we're amazed at the response and have plenty of features planned to make the most of all of that beautiful data. We're not just interested in upcoming events — we care about events in the past as well. We currently have 683 past conferences and we look forward to this number growing as more speakers start using Lanyrd's profile pages to build a portfolio of the talks they have given.
So speakers, heads-up:  A profile on Lanyard, listing all your talks, past and future, might serve as a useful link in your other online profiles and on your website, to make sure you're sharing information that will help you get more gigs.

You can log into Lanyrd with your Twitter account, which allows you to start with a profile pre-populated with your Twitter profile and any conferences you decide to track or attend on Lanyrd, and to see conferences your Twitter friends will attend, and which of them will be speaking.  Below is one user's profile. Note that the profile not only lists where he's speaking or has spoken, and which conferences he's tracking, but also those people with whom he has appeared as a speaker:


Organizers and others, if you want to add a conference, you'll be able to search to find out whether it's already listed; add the conference website, hashtag and Twitter account; suggest related topics and books; and list conference organizers.  "Conferences" on this site can be any size, as long as there's one speaker or more.  Here's a screen shot of An Event Apart DC 2010 conference. You can see that it's easy to find the relevant hashtag and Twitter accounts, and to indicate whether you want to attend or track the meeting. Conference profiles list who's speaking, who's attending and who's tracking, offering a wealth of data:


Among the features yet to appear are video uploads, the ability to export to your calendar, adding books you've written, putting conferences into a series, and real-time updates to meetings you are tracking, such as slide or video uploads, new speakers added, and more.

There's a lot of appeal here for attendees and speakers, who might have been able to do some of these things on their own sites or on individual conferences' sites, one by one. The ability to aggregate your conference activity, past and future, means you can elevate the benefits of networking and marketing in one place, across all your conferences. Attendees and those who just want to follow conferences from afar will heave a sigh of relief at the chance to find many hashtags, conference sites and conference Twitter accounts in one place, with click-through links that let you follow easily. Organizers should note that, in a wiki-like move, anyone can upload a conference, add relevant books and resources, and so on.  You can use that option to tap the crowd of speakers and attendees, encourging them to make your meeting's profile a robust one.

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with playlist

Time to stop surfing. You won't need to, once you dip into what I've been sharing on Twitter (where you can find me as @dontgetcaught).  A lot of good reads caught my eye this week and may have inspired a playlist while we're at it:

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Programmer-journalists get their own "Nerd Blog"

If you read yesterday's popular post, "Steal this idea to reconfigure your comms shop today," you know that journalist-programmers (or programmer-journalists) are among the top jobs in today's news (and, I think, communications) operations.  But you'll want to keep up with this new specialty, which means you'll want to read this new blog from ProPublica: The Nerd Blog.  It's written by the nonprofit news site's programmer-journalists (or are they journalist-programmers?) and the initial post promises it will:
...talk about what programmer-journalists at ProPublica are working on, announce newly-launched news applications, and to hear from technically-minded readers, as well as our fellow nerdy journalists. We're going to be writing about each of our projects as we release them, and flagging open source tools we've found useful.
Then, just to get you started, the initial post offers links to some of ProPublica's data sets and data tracker apps, and talks about the philosophy behind how those tools contribute to the stories the site produces.  Meaty stuff. Be sure to load this into your RSS and share with your team.

Are you getting the free monthly newsletter, For Communications Directors? You can go here to subscribe, or check out the "join my list" feature on the don't get caught page on Facebook.

The tangled mess of online metrics--which results should you prize?

Later today, my free monthly newsletter, For Communications Directors, will bring subscribers several articles about making sure you've got the right lens on your social-media results.  A nice complement to the newsletter appears this morning in Depth Reporting blog (another one you should follow).  The post focuses on a Columbia Journalism School report called "Confusion Online: Faulty Metrics and the Future of Digital Journalism," and a companion CJR article called "Traffic Jam: We'll never agree about audience size," which summarizes the findings.  This isn't exactly comforting news, but the kind of reading you need to reassure yourself that everyone else is in the same leaky measurement boat.

Subscribers to the newsletter get to see content before it appears here on the blog, and today, they're getting new perspectives on how to consider your follower count, which metrics newspapers are paying attention to (aside from the ones noted above), why and how to target audiences to get better results data, and more.  You can go here to subscribe, or check out the "join my list" feature on the don't get caught page on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Steal this idea to reconfigure your comms shop today

One of the best ways I know to get ideas for what to do next--particularly in the changing media and communications landscape--is to look around for what others are doing and adapt it to your needs.  That's why this post from the Journalism Lives blog, about the changing face of journalism jobs, caught my eye.  It's got a reconfigured set of jobs that are "the many ways one can be a journalist today." Communications directors might just want to steal a leaf from this playbook, and use it to retool some of your positions.  This list includes:
  • The mobile maven
  • The multimedia reporter
  • The Jack or Jill of all trades (modeled after a hyperlocal editor)
  • The online content guru
  • The online engagement specialist
  • The journalist/programmer
I can see a place for any of those positions in a communications shop.  Handily, the post includes a sampling of real job descriptions and other links to help you flesh out each post, and don't miss the comments, where some veterans add perspective on what it's like to retool your career in this way.  What would you keep, add or delete from this list, if it were for your communications operation?

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Who are you? What are you looking for here?

Earlier this year, I mused about what I've learned from writing this blog after hitting the five-year mark. Lesson 10 was that if you miss the chance to find out about your readers, you miss the chance to understand not only them, but your blog.

And while this blog is here to share news, updates and advice about communications and social media, from my perspective as a consultant, I've learned that readers come here for all sorts of reasons. The more I know about them, the more I know why I'm here.

You're also among my best sources. I'm fortunate that so many readers send me links, questions and updates; examples of what they're working on; ideas about what they're thinking about. Over time, all my tipsters have helped build this blog into a real workaday resource.

So let's do this: Who are you? What are you looking for here? What are you finding that helps you, and what would you like to see more (or less) of?  All that aside, what questions do you have about communications and social media--especially when it comes to making sure you don't get caught unprepared?  I expect we'll all learn a lot about each other from the answers you share.

I asked this question on The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking, and many of the readers who responded used the opportunity to ask questions they had about speaking--so I hope you'll do the same and ask questions here, if you have them.  If you do, I'm likely to turn them into blog posts to answer your questions, so have at it.

I'm looking forward to your responses, and I appreciate having you here.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Get nimble with contranyms

Contranyms, sometimes called auto-antonyms or antagonyms, mean their opposite when used in different contexts. Think "cleave:"  You cleave or cut something in two, but wedding ceremonies tell couples to "cleave unto one another." No, they're not suggesting dismemberment, but togetherness and fidelity.

Once you start looking for them, as author Rose Levy Guyer did, you'll find plenty:  Sanction (allow or punish), seed (to sow seeds, or to remove them), dust (another case of removing or adding particles), and more.  Roy Peter Clark, whose new book is The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English, also demonstrates a fascination with contranyms in this interview.  (Link revised--thanks alert readers!) 

Writers can use contranyms in a variety of ways (though rarely with both uses in the same document). You can add them to your list of words to flag to be sure the context and meaning are clear, or, with equal care, use them to spice up your writing and word choices.  Speechwriters might do the best with contranyms, which allow the speaker to make a contrast and to explain it, using the two opposites to make a point stand out.  (Affiliate link.)

I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Long weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, where I share lots of good reads, news and information that comes across my stream about communications and social media strategy, content and training. Here's what caught my eye in the week of August 30:
  • When social media numbers don't count:  Another reason to be careful when flinging around your follower count: This book's title alone accounts for most of its enormous following on Facebook.
  • Just when you got that follower thing down, Facebook is reportedly testing ways you can subscribe to a user and see all of his or her streams.  Don't say I didn't warn you.
  • This qualifies as work, right? NASA put its historic images up on Flickr this week--a collection worth exploring and emulating. What would your archival photos yield if made public in this way? (At right, an example from the collection.)  I also shared that the Smithsonian is asking history buffs and DC residents to help identify old photos in its Flickr stream.  (Companies, universities, nonprofits: Put your alumni and former employees to work on this kind of project.)
  • Facebook's out in the wild, as it begins to sell gift cards for FB credits at Target stores.  (Is that the new thank-you gift in your office?)  Meanwhile, Danny Brown delved into using Facebook "like" to market your business, and we learned that PayPal is streamlining payments for social games.
  • I love code monkeys, and if you are a wannabe code monkey, check out this trove of tutorials called "Google Code University."
  • Cool job:  There's a medical writer III position open at Rockville, Md., contractor SAIC, supporting the National Cancer Institute's experimental therapeutics program.
  • Is this my new MiFi?  I use Verizon's MiFi--a portable wireless access card that supports up to five users--but David Pogue reviewed a new one that's less expensive and has new advantages.
  • Go have that conversation with your team about securing rights, right now:  The agency behind the popular Pepsi MAX commercial--the one featuring two guys bonding over the song "Why Can't We Be Friends?"--apparently didn't secure the rights to play the song in the commercial.  Very. Expensive. Mistake.
  • Will this change your next news-conference-call?  Skype is rolling out 10-way video calls, which leads me to think about all sorts of options for online coaching, press conference calls for small groups and more.
  • Tumblr, the super-easy-blogging platform, made TIME's list of the 50 top websites for 2010, and Mark Coatney, late of Newsweek and now of Tumblr, is one of the featured speakers on the "Experiments in New Media" panel I'm co-organizing with Joe Bonner for the National Association of Science Writers meeting.  Read more about Tumblr (and our other speakers) on the panel blog.
I offer communications and social media strategy consultation; content development; and training in public speaking, social media and related skills--and I welcome your referrals, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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.

New here? Find out how to subscribe to the blog and my free monthly newsletter.