Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November's top 10 social media & communications tips

The road into December had to go through November first, and along the way, readers checked out these 10 posts the most.  For some readers, technical issues made it tough to access posts this month--all the more reason to catch up here:
  1. Why you should let reporters into your scientific meeting (how not to edition) looks at a reporter excluded from a conference because he wouldn't promise coverage--and reminds why you should let reporters in.  Glad to see this as the most-read reminder of the month.
  2. Shifting to the anytime audience wonders "are you where (and when) they want to be?" Based on more evidence of audiences seeking on-demand access to information and media, I've got six ways you, too, should be making your information available, beyond your own website.
  3. Habits make the writer:  Lifehacker took a week to help you hack your writing habits, something the weekly writing coach feature has to get behind. Apparently, you did, too.
  4. Making the most of your Kindle as a communications tool takes you beyond reading, from staffing or giving speeches to working at outdoor events.  Even your smartphone won't be as effective at these 10 tasks.
  5. Giving thanks to your writer struck a chord with writers and editors with a collection of 8 great posts to inspire and encourage writers. Notes for editors and writers included.
  6. A pantry of social media stores:  I pulled together 7 thoughtful reads about social media for communications directors, from staffing considerations above and below you on the organization chart, to skills-building and managing social media time.  Lots of you stocked up on these posts.
  7. Don't just ask for "media training."  Perhaps you're shopping for media training for yourself, your team or your CEO in the coming year. Try one of these 14 focused variations on media training, because a general training very likely doesn't fit your company's or executive's situation--and a focused training can make you that much more effective.
  8. Need a retreat for your communications team?  Try planning a communications retreat as if it were a climbing wall to help you practice as a group for scaling new heights in the coming year.  If I were putting a team retreat together today, this is how I'd tackle it.
  9. How do you write about problem-solving?  No need to puzzle this out on your own. The weekly writing coach has a great test you can take to figure out how you approach writing about problems and solutions -- a topic area that's critical for any business or organization.
  10. Big thinkers tell you what's next in social media in what I'm calling "musings from Big Think." Take a look and see where your communications plans fit into what they are foreseeing.
Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.  It'll be out shortly, so now is a great time to sign up. 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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Small plates: Packable communications tools

I travel a lot when I'm training and I've learned to pack a lot of small, portable tools to help me with social media (and other tasks, like training). I pack them all into the Travelon 14" wheeled carryon, which in turn fits under airline seats with room to spare. The many zipped pockets--originally for those liquids you can't take on board--are great for small objects, like these items:
  • A Kindle and its charger. I'm never without reading material or any notes I need for talks--plus I can access the web, tweet and share passages I like from my readings. I load this with PDF and Word documents I need to review, too.
  • A Flip Mino HD ultralight camcorder and its tripod. Actually, I usually have between 2 and 5 Flip cameras with me--they're that small. Coming soon to this bag: The portable projector and wide-angle lens attachment for the newest Flip models (which have a good sale price right now on Amazon, BTW).

  • A Belkin mini-surge protector with 2 USB ports, which makes it easy to recharge two Flip cameras at once, and turns any hotel room into one replete with outlets. I often carry more than one of these, too.
  • The Pedco Ultra Clamp Assembly, which works as a tripod, screws into the bottom of a Flip camera and can be mounted on anything from a car window to a chair in a conference room.
  • The Zoom H2 stereo audio recorder, with a multi-directional mic--it even supports 5.1 surround sound. Great for podcasts and interviews.
  • The Doxie portable scanner, which is compatible with Evernote and other programs. Light enough to bring along, it means I never lug receipts and papers home from my travels.  (On CyberMonday, Doxie's offering free shipping.)
  • If I'm speaking, a remote control like this Logitech model.
  • A Verizon wireless Novatel MiFi, which can support me and 4 others with great wireless access--good enough to view videos and download files.  It's my antidote to bad public wifi in hotels and on trains.


  • What's in your packable social-media and communications toolkit?

    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.

    Monday morning PR pat-down: Avoiding the TSA's perfect storm of a story

    Thanksgiving weekend is over, and the irresistible catnip-story-of-the-weekend--the risk of overly assiduous pat-downs at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport checkpoints--generated 4,000 tweets an hour and more than 60 million Google searches for new TSA procedures. But it turned out to be a non-story, after all.  As early as the day before Thanksgiving, PR Newser was calling the checkpoint protests "ho-hum" and today, in the New York Times, David Carr notes:
    The occasional protester was surrounded not by angry crowds but eager reporters. Under all the buzz, 80 percent of Americans traveling were still encountering the same procedures that have been in place for years....By midday Wednesday, a forlorn CNN correspondent was wandering around during a live shot with nothing to report, with a nearby keening baby the only indication of terminal rage.
    Carr goes on to analyze 10 factors -- timing, execution, mystery, distrust of government, relevance, displacement, good visuals and gender (more for men than women, interestingly) -- that helped form the "news" decisions leading to over-coverage of a problem that was never going to materialize. (It helps to know that the screening machines in question are in use at just 70 of more than 450 U.S. airports, making the choice moot for most travelers.)

    Carr's list is a good one to start with if you're wanting to learn how your company or organization could avoid such a "perfect storm" of a story you weren't seeking.  I'd add that several of his issues--gender and distrust of government in particular--are magnified by yet another issue: This problem involved people's bodies.  I know from my work in public health and environmental issues that any controversy involving something that personal multiplies the controversy factor tenfold.  At EPA, that might have involved problems with pollutants that could be ingested through food or drinking water; at TSA, that's about "touching my junk."  When the conversation goes from protecting you to poking you, the communications goal can easily get out of hand, so to speak.

    I'm well aware that a determined group could have made this a story, anyway.  But what could TSA have done to forestall the firestorm? Here are a few thoughts:
    • Adjust the factors within your control:  The timing and execution of the new pat-down policy and screening machines could have been adjusted to avoid the busiest travel weekend, which also typically sees roving bands of reporters already stationed at airports. Taking the time to roll out new processes in a slower period also would help raise the transparency (not of passengers' images, but of the process), and thus take some of the mystery out of it. And if there are machinery options that would help the traveling public avoid this situation altogether, as was suggested during questioning over the weekend, go get them and use them--and take credit for working to protect people's privacy as well as their security.
    • Don't use the operator. Dial direct:  Social media guru Guy Kawasaki's latest effort focuses on enchanting your customers. His first piece of advice?  "Put likable, competent and passionate people on the front line." TSA would benefit in general from having spokespeople on the ground at security checkpoints. I don't mean the official media spokespeople. I mean customer service-adept "spokespeople," people other than the security personnel who could roam the lines to answer the questions of real travelers, offer reassurances, and let the travelers blow off steam without getting defensive. That would let the checkpoint Charlies do their job, but put another face between the skeptical public and that pat-down option.
    • Train those in the public eye with an eye to the public's realities:  In the run-up to Thanksgiving, coverage include a look at a pep talk given by a TSA supervisor to checkpoint staffers telling them to be "paranoid."  No words, apparently, acknowledging the difficulties travelers face--words that might have shifted the view of the agency as uncaring and mechanical. The same article notes that "no comment" is the standard response to basic questions about the whys and wherefores of the new procedures. Taking a knowing, even humorous "we're all in this together" tone would be better than the repetitive, defensive, anxious tone we heard from top officials through the weekend, and from the line staff observed in this article. The goal: Avoid sounding as if you support what one observer called the "shut up and sit down" approach to passenger security.
    • Get the news media into the tent. Now.  Carr notes that reporters are frequent travelers, so travel security stories are directly relevant to them. If the Defense Department and the CIA and the State Department have figured out how to brief reporters on high-security topics, TSA can do it, too. Giving top reporters access to some of the information and decision-making behind our security process might help create a more knowledgeable class of journalists less likely to fan the flames of a non-story--and help the agency get across the dangers we're facing more effectively than was done last week.
    • Call the fearmongers out:  It would have been useful to hear the administration officials point out, as Roger Ebert did, that many of the commentators advocating the full-body scanners sell them--and so have a vested interest in fear-mongering. Bringing balance back the the issue is part of the job when you're dealing with dangers that scare people, and have critics with nothing to lose by scaring the public.
    • Make your own laugh test:  When as gentle a funny guy as NPR's Scott Simon gets in on the act (see his tweet, right), you're in trouble. Why not anticipate how others will make fun of extreme measures--before they roll out the door?  If your proposed policy, product or next move nets a raft of internal joke-making, chances are you need to rethink it before you're the last comic standing.
    • Don't run this up the public flagpole before it's time:  The entire Thanksgiving news cycle had a just-trying-this-out feel, largely because the government's responses sounded as if they hadn't quite been thought through. Changing the policy midstream--allowing pilots to skip the scans, for example--made sense, but didn't add to a feeling of certainty. In the end, that left the White House nowhere to go but to suggest that things were...evolving, which made the government look neither secure nor on top of things.  If the vetting of a new policy about to be announced turns up holes in the logic that won't stand the test of reporters or the public, then the policy needs more work, not the talking points.
    I consult for a different arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security unconnected to the TSA and this new policy, and the thoughts here are entirely my own.  If you need some of this thinking before announcing a new or controversial policy, communications planning and strategies are among my services. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to discuss what's next on your agenda.

    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, November 23, 2010

    Weekly writing coach: Give thanks to your writer edition

    Writers: Drop this on the desk (or email inbox) of your supervisor, and walk away. 

    Managers of writers:  Read these links and send them back to your writers with a nice note about what you appreciate about them.  Urge the writers to refer back to these posts as a reminder that you know what they're going through on your behalf.  If you're in the U.S., it's Thanksgiving week. Surely you don't need another reason?

    Writers. Yes, you, again.  If you don't hear back from the manager to whom you forwarded these links, start reading. Consider it your reminder that I know what you're going through. (Insert clinking frosty mugs of something here.)
    1. The Fearless Journalist's 20 things I know about writing, life and how to survive offers gentle but real encouragement and advice, such as "You have to be good at a little bit of everything. It sucks, but it’s life. Deal with it."  A nice read.
    2. GOOD's most recent quarterly was focused on work, and this post on How to carve out time to think is a must for any writer.  (Managers: That's why she keeps staring out the window, you know.)
    3. Georgy Cohen found inspiration for brevity on a coffee cup.  How much can you say in 25 words? is more than a nice excuse to get a latte.
    4. The Measurement Standard understands. So you think you're the only person who struggles with writing? will let you know you're not alone, even as it prods you forward.
    5. Chris Brogan suggests how to use a writing frame--more than an outline. Try this new process on for size.
    6. Quips & Tips for Successful Writers, a blog you should follow, tells you how to edit another writer's writing. Gently, now.  Managers, do read this one.
    7. Quips also offers something for freelancers, the top 10 qualities of working freelance writers. If everyone did number 3 ("diligent, gracious and hard-working") we'd be halfway there.
    8. Web Ink Now tackles efficiency and cranking stuff out, for those days when you must. That would be, oh, like today.
    Everyone feel better? I hope so. You're doing great stuff, or would be, if you weren't reading this--for which I am truly grateful, as I am for the articles many of you pointed me to. Be careful out there. 

    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.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Planning a communications retreat as if it were a climbing wall


    It's rare that communications work follows a straight line on any given day, and that's been especially true this year. We've all juggled and faced challenges: reduced budgets and revenue, team anxiety about job security, and all the unknowns that come with social media, journalism's paroxysms, and the changing communications landscape.

    But you'd never know it from the retreats that some communications teams hold, reviewing the year in sequence, as if they could climb in a straight line up the mountain that is the year ahead..  Think of your retreat as a climbing wall instead, an exercise where you practice what it'll be like to navigate next year's mountain. You may move in a variety of directions, always aiming for the top, but you'll get a variety of perspectives that better fit the work.  If you're considering a retreat for the year ahead, here's what to incorporate in your practice climb:

    • Have you found new footholds and handholds?  There are lots of new niches in the wall you're climbing, places where you can grab hold of ideas, connections and audiences in new ways. What's emerged for you and your team this year?  How does it affect what you want to do next year? Where will you place your next steps up the side of the mountain?
    • Who are the carabiners on your team--and outside your team? Climbers use carabiners, metal rings with spring-loaded gates, as connectors.  Taking retreat time to identify who has that function can help extend your reach on next year's climbs. Figure out whether your carabiners were assigned that role or naturally gravitate toward it; what they're noticing about their connections; and who's serving that role for you outside your team and bringing connections to you.  It's from this type of analysis that you can grow more connections and collaborators -- and find new projects and ideas.
    • What technologies could give you an Alpine start? Climbers who get their gear ready the night before and rise early are said to have the Alpine start, which means they can climb further, faster on the big day. Social media tools have made many communications tasks more efficient--or could, if your team uses them. Taking the time to hear each staffer's nominees for tools that will make the team efficient, and a discussion on where to put that new-found time to use, can make you more productive in the year ahead.
    • Who's on your climbing team?  Also worth considering:  Do the new tools change team roles or workflow in any way? How will you codify that change going forward?  This is especially important to reconsider annually, as we continue to adjust to a changing set of tools and options...and as team members are asked to master more technologies and leave other tasks behind.  Your team is already thinking about this, so it's an important topic to air and discuss.
    • How's the team mind before the climb?  It's always worth letting team members take the time to assess not only the significant milestones (good and bad) from their work life in the past year, but those in their personal lives. I've got a great exercise for letting these themes emerge for discussion. Personal and professional events affect the work, so plan on checking in on what's really on their minds during your retreat.
    Here are 10 examples of communications retreats my clients have requested--and I'm happy to work with your team to customize a retreat that meets your needs.  Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to get the discussion started.

    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, November 19, 2010

    Weekend read: My weekly share (and favorites) on Twitter

    I love sharing ideas so you can steal them--helping you pick others' brains, rather than their wallets. Most of what I share winds up on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught. Here are the ideas and articles that had "steal this" written all over them, followed by my favorite favorites:
    And some of the posts I "favorited" on Twitter, put by for more thinking and reading:
    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.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    While you weren't looking: 2 quick updates on social web advertising

    When did this happen?  Seems like a minute ago everyone was uncertain about online advertising. Now it's taken hold in a big way. Not our usual fare here, but whether you have a product, seminar, staffing recruitment, issue, donor thank-you, fundraiser or other advertising opportunity, I guarantee this pair of posts will reshape your strategy. Never used ads? Read on. Now may be your time, due to the perfect storm of low price, big audiences, super-targeting and acceptance:

    1. If you've been ignoring Facebook ads, stop and read:  Facebook is now on point to publish 1 trillion ads a year -- more than 23 percent of the advertising market and double its rate of last year.  They're cheap and easy to customize. Use them to build your Facebook page fans, draw readers to your online resources (blog? website? social prescence?), recruit staff, sell ebooks, draw workshop attendees, do almost anything. How are you using them?  If you're not sure, start with Facebook's own guide to creating ads on the site.
    2. Where are display ads going?  Google recently shared a packet of insights on online display ads and predicted where they'll be in 2015. Among the predictions: Half of all ads will offer a video option to viewers, mobile will be the number one screen where users interact with advertisers, and 75 percent of ads will be "social," with options for sharing, comments and more.  Again, you need not have a product to sell to appreciate this--issue and cause-related ads and many more variations will find these data useful. You should start rethinking how you'll use ads now, even if you use them sparingly.
    How are you using online ads? Share your successes or questions in the comments.

    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.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Need to catch up on social networking skills? Press Club classes Dec. 6 & 7

    Lots of readers confide that they want to get up to speed with the basics of social networks -- in general and in particular -- but don't have the time or want some help doing it. Here in Washington, DC, the National Press Club comes to your rescue with bargain-priced classes on December 6 and 7 to get you started in social networking.  Each class is $20 for Club members, $30 for non-members. You can choose one or all from this menu of classes:

    Dec. 6:
    9:30 to 10:30 a.m. - Web 2.0 Tools
    11 a.m. to Noon - Advanced Google Search Techniques
    1:30 to 2:30 p.m. - Twittering Away
    3 to 4 p.m. - Reporting from Facebook

    Dec. 7:
    9:30 to 10:30 am - Basics of Blogging
    11 to Noon - Foursquare and Location-based Tools

    Go here for more detail on what's covered -- the "Web 2.0 Tools" class, for example, covers  Delicious, Flickr, wikis, Chrome, Meebo, Firefox plugins, iCal, YouTube, Skype, and Digg. You can bring your own laptop and computers also will be available. A great way to catch up quickly, communicators--jump on it if you need these skills.

    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.

    Stock up: 7 thoughtful social reads for communications directors

    Fall's the time for saving and stocking up, and I've been putting by some good reads for communications directors. Social media's the common theme, but you'll find in this pantry fodder to help you think through everything from staffing to social conversations and publishing to how the top communicator jobs might change.  You might well want to put this post in your own personal online "pantry" for reference--it's packed with good stuff:
    1. Defining roles on your social-media team: I'm working right now with a client whose nonprofit has a social media policy--but no clear lines about who's doing what or how odd situations get handled. So this post resonates with me, and I expect you'll find it useful. It moves you past a policy to real-time, day-to-day practical advice on staffing situations.
    2. And about that new generation of social-media experts you're grooming:  This looooong and thoughtful post might give you new eyes on the junior team members who have their own YouTube channels, blogs and postings--look first for the qualities to appreciate, then at the online video examples shown here. Stick through the end for real insight.
    3. You might want to answer these, yourself: Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker always wows the crowd at the Web 2.0 Summit, and this year--this week--she offered 10 questions Internet executives should ask and answer. I work with clients in every sector, and these questions are universal enough to apply to you. Take this quiz and see where you stand.
    4. If you straddle the worlds of journalism and the communities most important to your organization--and I know you do, I think you'll find useful "Escaping silos and talking to strangers" on Josh Stearns's Groundswell blog. It's about the dance of engagement, news and the roles we play.
    5. Wonder how you're going to manage it all? Chris Brogan's got a lovely, laid-out-plain post on how to set up a social media management center in your organization.  Hint: It's easier than it sounds, and way more logical than you think. 
    6. Have you struggled with why link with competitors, or how far to take collaboration? Then take the time to read TBD.com's Steve Buttry on how you can compete and collaborate at the same time. His current viewpoint's from the tough new world of journalism, but there are many lessons here for all sectors, employers and organizations. It's a mindshift you should be working on.
    7. What will the vice president's role look like? This post gets you to a list of attributes that communications and content management leaders will need in the brave new world of social media--and it'll change, but this one is a good start.  Hand it to your HR person or recruiter (and make sure you can meet these marks, yourself).
    Sample away--and I'm always awaiting your reactions. Put your thoughts in the comments and let me know how you're using these approaches.  A hat tip to Georgy Cohen and Joe Bonner for helping me find some of these gems.

    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, November 16, 2010

    Is your CEO's message inside-out? When your out-front person uses an inside voice

    When your CEO, board president or other leader gets out in front with an external audience--media interview, speech, blogger, small group talk--does she go small and inside baseball, or is her message as big as all outdoors?  In other words, is the external message more internal than external? Is she using an "inside voice?"

    It's a message misstep I'm noticing with more and more leaders, from corporate CEOs to top entrepreneurs and nonprofit or government executives: They're putting out front words, facts and discussions that, for a variety of reasons--legal and otherwise--should be left inside.

    When NPR fired commentator Juan Williams, the CEO made comments that weren't appropriate, inside or outside. A New York Times editorial described the CEO's response this way:
    The explosion in the blogosphere was compounded when Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive, rashly declared that Mr. Williams’s remarks were best left “between him and his, you know, psychiatrist.” A regretful Ms. Schiller, a former general manager of NYTimes.com, came to agree that a more measured, less sensational approach to Mr. Williams’s dismissal would have been better. Congressional conservatives were not mollified.
    The situation doesn't need to be that dramatic. I've seen CEOs handed an open-ended question about raising funds who chose to describe in mind-numbing detail the goals of their capital campaigns--in a way that would put off the best-intentioned donor. Others drill so far down that you're gasping for air.  You'll often observe this phenomenon with someone who's a longtime number 2 who gains the top post--someone who's used to handling the behind-the-scenes work. Can he switch from provost to very public president, from executive VP to CEO? His words will tell the tale.

    The solution? Have that discussion about "inside voice" and "outside voice" and related messages. Taking the time to discern and discuss the goals of what your top spokesperson's saying, internally and externally, is a basic. Ideally, make this part of the training you offer to a new leader, early in her tenure. If I can help you strategize or train a new leader on her perspectives--inside and outside--email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

    Weekly writing coach: How do you write about problem-solving?

    Try this test on for size: Get a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  Give yourself two hours. Finish as much as you can, and then write about it.

    "It" can be anything: The puzzle and what you learned about it, how you went about attacking it, whether you succeeded or failed or stalled, which words proved most elusive, whether you peeked at the answers.

    The point here is not necessarily to finish the puzzle. Some of you will, and you'll write about what a breeze it was (please don't show that one to me).  Many of you won't. But you'll learn a lot, in the writing of it, about how you write about solving problems.  Do you gloss over steps, or follow and describe the directions lavishly? Do you get frustrated--and show it? Can others relate to your experience? Would I be able to solve the puzzle (or make a better stab at it) from reading your description?

    Companies, nonprofits and research and educational institutions are asked to solve problems every day. Call it customer service, student affairs, public relations, engineering, maintenance, accounting.  How well your company or organization solves problems is critical to success--and to gaining and keeping your key audiences.  Make your writing about problem-solving the kind that, well, helps me solve problems. 

    This is a writing exercise, so don't follow the charming example from the frites and fries blog, which recreated a frustrating crossword attempt with pictures, including what was consumed during the effort.

    If you did well with this test and published it somewhere, leave a link in the comments. I'd love to see your examples--and so would everyone else.

    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.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Musings from Big Think: Smart thinkers tell you what's next in social media

    In my reading on social media, I've learned to seek out a range of voices and observers. The firehose-fast updates are like the guys on the street corner with the garbage-can-lid drums: accessible, fast, with a relentless drumbeat of news. Then there are the practical, hands-on sites, the studio musicians of social media, ready with a professional, steady and versatile accompaniment.

    You have to listen with more care for it, but there's another kind of tune I try to keep my social-media ear open for. It's the long view, the people who use data, trends and observations to tell me what's coming next. They're the ones who go off somewhere for weeks on end, and come out with five entire albums of groundbreaking tunes...or a rock opera...or both. So listen up, people, and find your music in these musings from the place I'll call Big Think, with apologies to The Band:

    • Up close and personal: With his usual great thinking, Louis Gray's recent post on "The third wave of the web will be uniquely personal" teases out the real differences between what is social and what is personal, and how the latter will shape the ways we (and our customers) experience what's on the web, now and soon.  "Show me my Web for me," he concludes. You've now got your mission. How will you handle this?  Gray represents my6sense, which calls itself "your digital intuition" for sharing relevant items from your RSS and social streams; another new option is Path, a network that aim to be more personal by limiting users to 50 friends.
    • Future and better: Lucy Bernholz is one of philanthropy's big thinkers, and she's focused on the history of the future, and uses her historian's perspective to remind us that "In so many areas of life, we are trying to thrive within rules written for a different time."  (No wonder it feels like a constant adjustment!) She has a challenge for this awkward time: "...if this is a moment of such profound transition that we will only see it clearly in the rearview mirror, than what we need to be doing now is imagining what better could look like." She has a few ideas for you.
    • Future trends to get ahead of:  Business Insider rounds up 25 tech trends you need to know about in order to be a "future-proof" entrepreneur.  That's overpromising a bit, but read it anyway--and figure out whether you're a step ahead or behind. How will you work these into your workday? Do you need to?  When you're thinking about what comes next, it's always useful to go back to Robert Scoble's list, "are YOU from the future?," to figure out where you might want to be headed--if you're not already there. It's 38 items, and not all of them involve one-upping your friends with new technologies. For example, if you don't use Facebook "like" buttons on your website and can articulate why, you might yet be from the future.
    What's on your mind, looking ahead? What "nexternal relations" questions are you concerned about? Share your questions and issues in the comments.

    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.

    Shifting to the anytime audience: Are you where (and when) they want to be?

    They used to call it "appointment television" -- that is, a standing appointment and you couldn't miss it. Then, the slightly vaguer "must-see TV." And now, as the New York Times has noticed, NBC Nightly News is acknowledging in its ads that the audience should record the news to watch when it's convenient to them.  While 8 million viewers still get to the television in time for the broadcast, a growing number (about 370,000) record it on DVRs.  Anchor Brian Williams told the Times in an email, “A growing number of viewers tell me they time-shift the news....Loyal viewers used to say ‘we watch you every night.’ These days, an increasing number make a point of saying ‘We RECORD you every night.’

    Williams takes it as a sign that his audience is more engaged and committed if it's willing to take steps to save the program.  Are you making sure your audiences can participate--even with many competing agendas?  Today, it's even more important to consider these ways to extend your reach to those who couldn't show up for that appointment you set:
    1. RSS:  Still the easiest technology for sharing and publishing, RSS takes your blog, website or feeds from something I have to hunt down every time to something that winds up in my feed reader--which in turn makes it easy for me to file, share, and comment on. If you don't have it, get it. Your audience will skyrocket.  Here's how one CEO uses RSS to follow hundreds of blogs.
    2. Options for favorites and bookmarks:  Similarly, if you can at least let me mark your article, video or post, I'll be able to find it when I need it (and share it, just as I can with RSS).  If you're incorporating Facebook "like" buttons on your site, publishing with RSS, and tweeting, those features will be built in for you.
    3. Audio and video:  Let your audience see (and hear) for itself. Post audio and video from your news conferences, conference sessions, interviews and more, particularly for events many won't be able to see.  The German Marshall Fund, a major convener of foreign policy confabs, offers this "virtual forum" of podcasts and an "audio annual report" that compiles the highlights from its podcasts.
    4. Transcripts and slides:  Can't manage audio? At least try publishing transcripts and sharing slides; you can add audio to the latter for more context.
    5. Live-tweeting and blogging or pre- and post-event tweets and blogs: If you're convening a meeting, you'll nearly always have potential attendees who can't be there in person.  Got a sold-out event? Make sure sessions are covered with advance background information and follow-up posts pointing people to slides, handouts and other resources. During the sessions, assign folks to share what's said in real time, and publish the Twitter streams to make them easy to find.
    6. Publish somewhere other than your website.  Put your audio on iTunes, your video on YouTube, your publications on Amazon (and get them into Kindle formats, while you're at it, which offers readers the choice of e-reader, desktop computer, and mobile formats all in one step).  Keeping your video to yourself and your website doesn't ensure that that's where I'll see it...in fact, the opposite is more likely. But put a video on YouTube, and I can share it on Facebook or Twitter, embed it in my blog or subscribe to it in a channel I've set up. It's worth the small extra effort.
    What are you doing to help the anytime audience? Leave your successes in the comments.

    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, November 12, 2010

    Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, now with my favorites

    For those who don't use Twitter or like their tweets in a single-serve portion, I've been pulling together this weekly "weekend read" of the links I share on Twitter (where I'm @dontgetcaught).  Twitter's wide open, so unless you protect your tweets, anyone who wants to poke around can see whom you're following and who's following you, what you share and which posts you "favorite."  So I wasn't entirely surprised when a colleague emailed to say, "Why don't you share your favorites, so I don't have to go look them up?"

    Why, indeed? No reason I can think of. Many times I hit "favorite" to save something for further reading, but typically, I do that with posts from people I know will share something useful.  So I'll cull my faves and share only the ones I think you can use--and I welcome your feedback.  They'll appear at the end of this list.

    A warning: I headed into this week from the National Association of Science Writers meeting, so some of these shares come from speakers and colleagues at that conference--but you'll find them useful no matter what your specialty is:
    • RSS. Yes!  RSS -- really simple syndication -- is still my favorite tool of all, so I was happy to share this post on the best mobile apps for RSS and another from publishing CEO Michael Hyatt on how to use Google Reader to keep up with the blogs you want to follow (or anything else with an RSS feed).  He keeps tabs on 200 blogs. RSS will help you stay productive, I guarantee it.
    • QR codes with a twist:  This post on why the best online marketing may be headed offline reminds us that QR codes let people access your online marketing while they're, um, not online, but in your coffee shop, office building or other location.  Expand your perspective with this one.
    • Just listen. Make your audience happy:  How often have you hear the urging to "surpise and delight your customers?" KLM is doing that by listening to its customers, then surprising them in ways to make them happy.  A thoughtful (and fun) approach to social media.
    • Line up now for open-source video editing:  Lightworks, which has won Academy and Emmy awards, is a top video editing app that'll be open source at month's end. This post describes it as "truly professional-grade stuff, with features like real-time audio and video effects, multi-track audio and voiceover tools, support for 3D projects, native 2K resolution support, and project sharing for multiple editors." One of my better finds this week.
    • My other great find was Google Refine, a new service that lets you clean up and work with large data sets, which you might need to do if you're playing with data visualization. (See the favorites for more on data viz resources.)
    • New nutrition communications program:  Tufts University is launching a new online graduate program in nutrition communications, worth exploring. Starts in 2011.
    • Want to make your blog or site shareable? Try these free social media icon sets. Yes, free.
    • Productivity hacks:  Lifehacker suggests a 30/30 minute work cycle to keep you productive and focused. Have you tried this?
    And now, my pick of the favorites I kept to myself on Twitter: 
    Would love your feedback on whether sharing my favorites makes a difference to you. Enjoy your weekend!
    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.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Why you should let reporters into your scientific meeting: How-not-to edition

    It's Veterans Day, and if I'm a veteran of anything, it's a scientific meeting.  Nearly every time I ran communications for a scientific meeting in my career, some scientist--usually a board member who signed off on my salary and also was distinguished in the field--would ask me "Why do we let all these reporters get in for free?"

    Because I knew to expect the question, it usually was posed while I took a board member or president on a tour of the meeting newsroom operation, so he or she could see the value and understand up close what we were doing.  On one such tour, when I was directing communications for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I was explaining that amongst our close to 1,000 newsroom registrants were two Associated Press reporters who'd be filing two stories a day that would appear in local papers and other outlets around the world.  The board president-elect--who's since become a Nobel laureate--thought that was swell. Then he said, "Who the heck are all these other people and why do we let them in for free?"  Good job, Graveline. You justified two press registrations, with another 998 to go.

    Fortunately, I was able to turn and point to each of the nearest 20 or so and reel off some great outlets: "There's NPR. Popular Science. The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post. Some of them are communicators, here to help connect their researchers--our members--with reporters and the public. That one's from your university, as you know. Which one don't you want exposed to our meeting?"  He later turned out to be one of the biggest fans of that meeting newsroom.

    I knew I had the group's mission on my side. Most scientific professional societies have the goal of public education or awareness of their mission and research--it's in part why they can have tax-exempt status as "educational" and "charitable" organizations under the U.S. tax code.  Letting in reporters is an easy way to share results with a wider public, and meet that charitable goal.

    I can hear you're not arguing with me, so why bring it up again? Because reporter Ivan Oransky gave some space yesterday in his Embargo Watch blog on a non-embargo issue, to report that the American Cetacean Society (think dolphins, whales, porpoises) told a freelance writer he could have a meeting press pass only if it resulted in a "mutually beneficial relationship" resulting in coverage.  The executive director of the group noted in a message to Oransky that the freelance reporter:


    ...offered no coverage of the event, which is from my experience is what press passes are all about.
    When I asked if he would do that, he declined. So I don’t think that is a mutually beneficial relationship based on integrity and good faith, and I’m happy to discuss that with you further.
    I had never, in 20 years of working nonprofit and academia, come across such a proposition, for him to enjoy two and a half days of a really awesome conference on our tab and offer nothing in return. 
    I'll say, in fellow feeling with the Cetacean Society, that I've heard and seen up close all the other issues this executive director raised, plus a few more. It does cost money--a lot of money--to host reporters, even if you don't put together a newsroom operation. There's staff time and lost revenue from registrations at a minimum, and those need to be justified. I've run newsrooms where the coffee service alone approximated someone's salary, and it's not like we served it all day. And reporters always ask for some above-and-beyond help. It's how they roll. 

    I've also run newsroom operations where all sorts of people--fine paying members of the society trying for the free option, spouses of same, homeless people hoping for food, students, marketers, publishers, exhibitors wanting to buttonhole reporters and more--tried to get that free press pass.  (A low point was when a Russian arrived in our newsroom in San Francisco with a photocopy of a 30-year-old and now defunct press pass and a chunk of cement he said was a piece of the Berlin Wall, offering them as his credentials. I am not making this up. He did not gain entry.)  I've had to turn down plenty of people for press passes in my day.

    But gaining entry didn't hinge on a quid pro quo in my experience, and -- unlike this organization -- I have never found that to be the norm in more than 20 years of working at and attending dozens of scientific meetings.  You certainly hope for coverage.  You aid and abet it as far as your budget and staffing will allow, from offering technology to tracking down researchers and convincing them that, yes, it's worth it to talk to the reporter. You retrieve reporters' lost audio recorders and feed them coffee and danish and keep the pesky marketers away so they can work.  But you don't promise coverage, and you sure don't demand it. Media relations--the name we use for how organizations interact with reporters--shouldn't be media strong-arming.

    Of late, lots of organizations have struggled with whether to give bloggers press credentials, and I have a handy roundup here of case studies for giving bloggers press credentials from all sorts of organizations that you can use as models. But asking reporters for coverage in return for entry?  Even if it were the winning path to wonderful coverage for your meeting, it's not the norm in scientific circles and puts your credibility--the more precious commodity--at risk. 

    I've helped some of the largest scientific societies figure out how to handle press registration at their technical meetings. If I can help your organization do the same, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

    Related post:  Do you restrict reporters' recordings at your medical meetings?

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    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Weekly writing coach: Hack your writing habits this week

    Put up that pen, keyboard or dictation recorder. This week, in honor of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) (whose website itself has a motherlode of tips and hacks), Lifehacker's running a series on the writing life.  In true Lifehacker spirit, the series is all about your writing habits and making them more effective. So far, you can check out posts like:
    More to come, but it's a good opportunity to remind yourself that your writing process and environment, as much as the writing itself, that matters.  Got a good writing process tip? Share it in the comments.

    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.

    Your year-end serving of resources: For Communications Directors newsletter, out Thursday

    For Communications Directors, my free monthly email newsletter, will be out tomorrow. Since we're approaching the end of the year, I'm serving up a diner's worth of my favorite resources, tips and hacks--the things I read, use to organize, and suggest to clients to make their communications and social media efforts easier.

    Newsletter subscribers get early notice of discounts and special offers, as well as content before it appears here on the blog and plenty of links, ideas and thought-provoking content. Get ready for 2011 with this month's jam-packed issue....the links to subscribe are below.  Step up to the counter and place your order now...

    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, November 09, 2010

    A video I love and why: Cheeseball marketing edition

    Inside Tim's Head is the very good blog of Tim Nekritz, associate director of public affairs at SUNY Oswego, who's asked his readers to blog about "A video I love and why."  And while there are plenty of videos that have made me laugh, cry, gaze in wonderment and spend entirely too much time on the web, I'm going to step up and offer the cheeseball marketing edition of this meme and nominate one of the first "Will It Blend?" Blendtec videos, in which 50 marbles were ground up in a blender.  This one dates from the wayback time in online video, October 2006, and was among the first of Blendtec's forays into online video:



    Why do I love it? So much cheeseball marketing goodness--and lessons we can all still learn from, that's why:

    1. Getting a great video online can be cheap and simple to do:  I see too many clients get tied up in knots over production values, creating a studio and storyboarding ideas when they begin work in online video. It's a bit like building the pyramids when you just want a place to stand in the shade--a cheap umbrella or awning would do to start.  Blendtec spent all of $50 to make the first five videos, this one among them. (The $50 went toward "a white lab coat, the URL and a selection of items to be blended, including a garden rake, a rotisserie chicken and a Big Mac Extra Value meal," according to the Inc. magazine article.  Marketing director George Wright now calls it the best $50 he every spent.
    2. Content that leads to sharing is all about the awesome:  I have lots of science writing and communications colleagues who've read about the research noting that the most-shared-by-email articles in the New York Times are those that inspire a sense of awe among readers.  When I heard those findings, I wasn't thinking about the Higgs boson, but "Will It Blend?", frankly.  George Wright got the idea for the videos by recognizing just that factor: "One day I walked by the lab, and Tom was testing some changes he'd made to the blender by shoving a 2x2 wood board into it. There was sawdust and wood shavings everywhere....I thought, This isn't normal, but it's awesome."  If we all posted video of the things we stumble across that evoke that reaction, no one would go outdoors again, so good would the viewing be. I want to go get my secret decoder ring, sit in front of the computer and watch these forever: They reduce me (and everyone else) to excited kids who want to know just how the heck the blender did that.
    3. A good ole cheeseball funny bone:  Here, now, is a company and CEO that are not afraid to have some fun, on a few levels. Cheese-o-rama game show music. A "stupid pet tricks" approach.  The jovial CEO/engineer who likes to play in the lab and ask "Will it blend?" The "Yes! It blends!" victorious message at the end. The "don't do this at home" category of videos. And whoever had the idea to blend the iPhone when it first came out surely could guess how much fun we Android fans would have with that one.
    4. No sales pitch:  Sure, you can find links to products on the site--and sales of Blendtec's home products have grown more than 700 percent.  But you won't hear the CEO sell it to you on these videos.  The light touch is welcome, lets the fun stay fun, and encourages more sharing.
    5. Universal staying power:  The first five Blendtec videos got 6 million views in five days.  This particular video, now four years old, is up to 4.7 million views on its own, thanks to cross-posting on YouTube and the Will It Blend? site built just to house the video collection. Most of the videos in this series are evergreen. You can come across them in any year, for the most part, and still find them fun to watch.
    6. A willingness to try:  Blendtec had no advertising budget when it tried these videos, just referral business, particularly for its home products. YouTube had only been founded 21 months earlier, and was not the powerhouse of social media it is today. The CEO reports he said "Who Tube?" when the marketing director pitched the idea--but the guy who was willing to put a 2x4 into a blender also was willing to trust his marketing director with the $50 idea.  The rest is history, great viewing, and genius marketing--none of which would have happened without the willingness to try.
    There's one more great thing about this video: I use it all the time when clients and audiences tell me that online video is too costly, elaborate, complex or difficult, or that the metrics aren't useful or there's no ROI on video and social media.  (I also know that they won't be able to resist cruising this site once they get to it.)  This Blendtec video is a fabulous cheeseball way to make anyone appreciate what online video can do.

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    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Are you an accidental broadcaster? How not to get caught making unintentional news

    Many interviewees and speakers blame the questioner when they get caught hook, line and sinker by saying something that misfires. Had to be the fisher's fault: that darn reporter, the persistent member of Congress, or a seemingly innocent audience member reeled them in.  But in reality, if you share without first thinking through the impact of your words or where they might wind up, you're helping to set the trap.  Even ordinary conversations can make unintentional announcements out of your words. Here are three of the many common ways you might be baiting the hook on which you'll get caught later--all worth preparing yourself for:
    • When the hook is shaped like a conference microphone: I can't count high enough to tell you how many times I've attended a conference session and heard the speaker share with the room something that's not public, shouldn't be public or wasn't planned to be made public.  Too many speakers mistake the intimacy of a conference room and a live audience for privacy and confidentiality. Last week, in an unusual twist, I watched a reporter do it in a room that included lots of other reporters among the listeners. But any speaker can get caught if she's too relaxed and chummy and wants to show what she knows in front of a jury of her peers. Think through what's off your list to share before you step to the mic.
    • When someone casts a wide net and you jump into it: Casting a wide net's a great way to catch many fish, and reporters do it all the time.  But are you helping to cast a net and then jumping right into it?  That's what happens if you speculate when you know you shouldn't.  In this very good postmortem about last week's coverage of a new option for lung cancer screening, the American Cancer Society's David Sampson looks at whether news organizations included several strong caveats about the coverage--caveats that were among the announcement's goals. One doctor gave a carefully nuanced interview, but eventually said,“There is a possibility that the American Cancer Society will recommend this as a screening test in the near future."  A measured, repeated "It's far too early to speculate" or "I don't know enough right now to say that" (if that's indeed the case) would have yielded perhaps less coverage, but fewer regrets.  The speculation helps that elusive approved test becomes the story now and in the future.  This happens routinely in the gap between research and policymaking, so put it on your prep list for those situations in particular.
    • When you forget about the other fish in the sea:  Having spent some time on trains this weekend, I was chatting with a security expert with a nice big booming voice who was getting into some of the finer points of his work--and only after 15 minutes said, "I should probably look around and see who's on this train."  It reminded me about a couple of health policy researchers I know who chatted away about as-yet-undisclosed findings on the train north to New York. They didn't realize that a health economist they knew was seated just ahead, taking notes; later that day, he shared the news with the New York Times editorial board and stole their thunder.  Your one-on-one conversations are rarely completely private: Think hallways, stairwells, while you're moving from one meeting room to another or waiting for a program to start.  Looking around you isn't foolproof, either. I've sat next to people on trains and planes who shared all sorts of useful information because they assumed it wasn't useful to me, based on appearance and a lack of knowledge of my background and connections.
    Where else have you heard people become accidental broadcasters? Share your stories in the comments, and if you or your experts need training on this kind of interview skill, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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