Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August's top 10 communications and social media tips

Put up those surfboards already? August was a wild ride, with natural disasters making most of the waves, news-wise and otherwise. Communications directors were still reading and readying for fall, however, with these posts from the blog attracting the most readers in August:
  1. 16 ways I use Evernote on business travel is the latest in my series of posts on how I'm using this workhorse tool...this time, on the road. Remind me to add a natural disasters travel pointer to this post later on.
  2. Do you keep telling us what you're going to tell us? will help you counsel your experts and spokespeople to avoid over-anticipatory language. Just tell us, already!
  3. Nominate a communicating scientist for these two awards clues you in to a pair of prizes offered to scientists who reach out effectively to public audiences. Deadlines are in September and October, so act fast--there's top prize money at stake.
  4. 3 reasons Warren Buffet's "tax me" op-ed worked so well took an opinion piece that trended on Twitter and showed you how to emulate its success.
  5. July's top 10 communications tips and issues got August off to a strong start, and features some of the best-read-ever posts on the blog.
  6. Do your Flip one better: ZOOM camcorder for sound starts my quest to replace my Flip cameras. They still work fine, but a new camera might improve on some of the Flip's shortcomings.
  7. The weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter for August 5 got the month started well, with lots of readers. Find out why.
  8. Pros & cons from the pros: What's your advice for journos who want to try PR? yielded just a few high-minded answers. Still time to weigh in, if you dare...
  9. Do comments matter to readers? offers data that will help you discern who's really looking for the chance to opine on your posts--and whether comments scare them off or not.
  10. 10 ways to stop disappearing, for communications directors will help make sure you're a networked communicator who can remain visible, even when things are busy.
As always, I appreciate your readership. Welcome, September...

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Should you make a situational stylebook?

The Associated Press has developed a unique stylebook for coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I'm not sharing it just because you may find it useful per se, but because you should be thinking about creating similar style guides for reporters and others with whom you share information. From the Nieman Lab post:
The guide is intriguing — not only as a useful tool for the many journalists who will be, in some way or another, writing about 9/11 over the next few weeks, but also as a hint at what a stylebook can be when it’s thought of not just as a book, but as a resource more broadly. AP’s guide (official name: “Sept. 11 Style and Reference Guide”) is a kind of situational stylebook, an ad hoc amalgam of information that will be useful for a particular set of stories, within a particular span of time.
Notice that a short time frame isn't a liability for this highly focused stylebook. I'm thinking of a few clients and friends who could use this approach when:
  • A long-planned event will bring a lot of reporters or bloggers to your company or organization. That might be a conference, a commencement, or a contest, but if it includes many reporters who don't normally cover you, a special stylebook can come in handy.
  • An unexpected crisis or event draws coverage. In these cases, you might just need a standing shorthand stylebook in your back pocket to share so that reporters covering a crisis reference you and find out what they need quickly. Those who are handling communications for natural disasters might want yet another kind of stylebook.
  • You're marking a major historic moment.  Maybe it's occurring on your doorstep, or your company or institution played a major role. If the anniversary's big enough, it might warrant such a guide.
How might you use this approach as a communications tool? Share your ideas in the comments.


Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane hiccups from communicators: Crisis comms hits and misses

In the past week, I rode out an earthquake and a hurricane with no ill effects, and took that advantage to observe how others handled the crisis communications and media relations that comes with such a set of disasters--particularly the crisis communications done on social media.

I've worked my share of public and natural-disaster emergencies in my time at EPA and elsewhere, so I have a real behind-the-scenes understanding of how long it takes to get things checked and verified and out to reporters and public audiences. And this time, I'd give our public spokesfolks pretty good grades, with a few exceptions. Here's some of what I observed in the hurricane response that might get you thinking about how to prep for your next crisis communications exercise:

  • Spokesperson by Skype, the new remote availability: Communicators like Washington, DC's Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel used Skype to do live remotes with local area television stations throughout the night of Irene's path through the nation's capital, and as ^DS in @wmata's Twitter feed. His hurricane hallmark? Refuting rumors with a calm, non-anxious manner. Despite the rumors, Washington's Metro system stayed open throughout the storm. Spokesfolks weren't the only Skypers in the storm--local television reporters in Washington shared footage from their home locations throughout the area during the wall-to-wall coverage in live Skype remotes. Sounds like now's the time to get all your spokespeople--experts as well as communicators--experienced on Skype and ready to use it well before the next crisis hits. Count on this as one of your major channels to reach local television and others during a disaster, if you haven't already considered it.
  • Don't tweet and run: After a midday hurricane press briefing in New Jersey, in which Governor Chris Christie cited the death of a firefighter, the Princeton, NJ, township police department tweeted that the death report was inaccurate. And when you want to refute the governor, you can expect questions to follow. So it should not have been a surprise that Twitter saw immediate questions from reporters at the briefing, including the New York Times's Jennifer Preston, who waited an hour for clarification on Twitter. If you're going to pounce on a correction, fine--just be available for immediate questions and followup. Communicators can benefit from looking at what reporters say about correcting the record in real-time on Twitter.
  • Timeliness is next to godliness, even more than before:  At 9 am Sunday, when the worst of Hurricane Irene was roaring into New York City, Gizmodo reported on these actually useful tips from the Federal Communications Commission on using a cellphone during a natural disaster. The problem? While they arrived on Saturday, they were issued in PDF form, not easily shareable, so Gizmodo cut and pasted them into its Sunday post. Communicators, don't make those types of technical barriers stand between your good information and speedy passage to your audiences, especially in an emergency. And get these kinds of evergreen tips out in advance of the storm--while people still have battery power to see them, eh?

One thing I know about crisis communications: You can always do better. What did you observe about good--and unfortunate--communications during the hurricane? Share your observations, leads and links in the comments.

(Photo of Hurricane Irene damage from bryanthatcher's photostream on Flickr)

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with jobs and workshops

I hope your desk doesn't look like this (just one reason my office is nearly paperless these days) as we end the week. It's been a crowded week for me, but there was still plenty to share on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught. Here are the tips, good reads and other items I passed along this week:

A couple of good communications jobs caught my eye on Twitter this week:

  • food science journalist--to be based in France. Seriously. It's for FoodNavigator.com.
  • New York City's administration for children's services is looking for a deputy communications director.
  • And, not on Twitter, a DC-Baltimore area client is looking for a short-term science writer for its communications shop, ideally on-site. Email me directly if you are interested.

This week, I led the first of the "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" workshops for a mixed group of communicators--the workshop began as a custom offering for one client team, but this week, we had participants from a research and clinical professional society and two universities, including some teams of communicators. "I recognized so many of my experts, but hadn't put it together in just that way before," said one participant. Another said she found most useful "tips on communicating with [experts] so they begin to trust you and understand why you take certain approaches to prepare them." Based on responses to the first workshop, I'll be scheduling another soon, so let me know if you want to get a direct notice about the next one. I'm also happy to discuss bringing this workshop to your city or workplace. Just email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

3 reasons Warren Buffet's "tax me" op-ed worked so well

Warren Buffett trended on Twitter, stoked the presidential campaigners and took over much of the conversation on social media last week, by doing one old-school thing extremely well. His New York Times op-ed article, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," took over the conversation by proposing something at once simple and confounding: He asked the government to tax him and the people he referred to as "my mega-rich friends." 


You may not have a Warren Buffett to sign op-eds, and your op-ed author may not be mega-rich. But you can still learn how to hit an op-ed out of the park from the sage of Berkshire Hathaway. Here are three take-home lessons from Buffett's big op-ed:
  • He meets the first-and-last paragraph test for op-eds:  If your op-ed's first and last paragraphs, taken together, allow me to understand your argument completely, you've got a great op-ed. The paragraphs in between are for adding data and examples to cement your case, but you need to make your point or share your opinion clearly at the start and close. Here are Buffett's opener and closer: [Graf one:] OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched. [Graf end:] My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
  • He keeps it simple:  There's not a word in this article that could not be read and understood by most Americans, except maybe "stock index futures." Buffett makes his case in the clearest of language. That's his style, but it's also much more than a breath of fresh air. The clear, simple terms allowed this piece to grab and hold the attention and support of many, quickly. For your op-ed, keep in mind: The more barriers you put in language between yourself and your reader, the more you may slow down your support.
  • He surprised by speaking up:  If you read anything about Buffett, you quickly learn about his plainspoken and generous ways. But in general, billionaires don't walk around asking to be taxed. Actually, no one does. Here in Washington, the saying goes "Don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax that fella behind the tree." It's one thing to have a surprising belief, another to share it in public. Here, Buffett knew he could take the greatest advantages we all have, whether our wallets are full or empty: 1) No one can speak for you but you, and 2) Because of that, when you can surprise us and throw off our assumptions about you, you've got our attention. Here, it's the mere fact of his speaking up that makes the difference. Where can you or your leaders make a difference by speaking up and surprising us?
Photo of Warren Buffett with a Fisher College of Business student from Aaron Friedman's photostream on Flickr.


Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do comments matter to readers?

Comments are a great way to engage readers and crowdsource content--but what if the comments are too long or too negative? Will they scare others away, turn off your fans or attract more readers?

Maybe none of the above. This recent AdAge survey found that 63% of readers don't care if your site offers the opportunity to comment. But its report notes that that might not be the data point on which to focus, since the age of the respondent was significant here:

Maybe we need to dig a little deeper. If you look at the future news consumers -- mMillennials and Gen-Xers -- you start to see a very different picture. Younger millennials (18- to 24-year olds) are three times as likely as those 55 and older to say that engagement tools will make them more likely to visit a site. Almost 80% of the 55-plus crowd said they rarely or never comment on stories compared to only 24% of the 18- to 24-year-olds and 27% of the 25- to 34-year-olds.

If too-long comments have you thinking your readers should just get their own blogs, take a cue from the New York Times, which recently cut its 5,000-character limit for comments down to 2,000 characters.


Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nominate a communicating scientist for these 2 awards

Two scientific societies are offering awards as incentives to scientists who communicate with public audiences--which means communicators have two great opportunities this fall to nominate a particularly talented translator of the technical:

  • Emphasizing early-career scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is seeking nominees now through October 15 for its Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. The $5,000 prize will go to an individual scientist or engineer working for fewer than seven years at the pre-tenure or equivalent level, and who has promoted interactive dialogue with a non-scientific public audience. Find the application information here.
  • The American Geophysical Union will focus on climate change communication with a new prize worth $25,000. The award will go to an AGU member-scientist, and aims to highlight "the importance of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respect and understanding of science-based values as they relate to the implications of climate change."  Nominations are due September 30, and you can find the guidelines and application process here.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gate closed

Starting today and through next week, this gateway to communications and social media strategies will be closed. No new posts will be available until Monday, August 22, while I work on new features for both blogs and a new workshop I'm launching this month.

Please do feel free to leave a comment sharing what you'd like to see in the future in this space. Reader feedback and participation are what makes this blog fly. As always, I appreciate having you as a reader.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

10 ways to stop disappearing, for communications directors

man shadow in stairwellAre you doing your disappearing act as a communications director? You know what I mean: You're too busy to go to networking events. You send staffers to attend events in your place. You eat lunch at your desk. You've got a new boss/new project/new budget cuts to juggle. You're tired of the same old crowd. You don't have to be in the limelight all the time. But it's far too easy to get drawn into an internal vortex of deadlines and issues. Counter-balance with tactics like these:

  1. Meet with non-communicators: Skip your usual PR groups. Network with other professionals, using your community, subject specialty or cause as a link. You'll stand out and your skills will be valued more.
  2. Join a new PR group and volunteer: Look for a more or less specialized group, one in a different city, or where you can learn a new skill. Volunteer to speed up your networking.
  3. On a board? Don't volunteer to do PR: Why do your day job again? You'll build your skill base and make a wider network if you're on the finance or hiring committee.
  4. New in your director post? It's easy to get buried when you're new...and the best time to circulate. Ask for input while folks think you'll listen. Meet your new beat reporters, neighboring PR pros, area consultants, anyone who can help. Show up at conferences. New is news.
  5. Be social strategically: Dive into a particular social network to ask questions, seek advice, and let people know what you're working on. Find out what they need from you.
  6. Lunch and learn: Sure, lunches seem like a big time sink. But at least a couple of times a month, take out a freelancer, consultant, reporter, colleague at another company. Ask for advice, gossip, leads, ideas.
  7. Gently promote your office with others: Once a month or more, take another office director in your organization out to lunch to find out how your office is viewed...then use that information to build your visibility and support.
  8. Make a professional development plan...for you: Part of your plan should include attending meetings, making contacts and building an effective network. Put the intention into a plan with a deadline and goals to make it happen.
  9. Show up more: You've got lots of options. Don't volunteer for a committee, but show up at more regular meetings of groups you belong to. Decide beforehand to meet two new people, or deepen an existing connection...then do it.
  10. Communicate with video: Adding video--either to your profile or website can help people "see" you differently. You can do this, honest. How about doing a weekly rundown for reporters on big stories coming up, or a brag book sharing this week's accomplishment?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Do your Flip one better: ZOOM camcorder for sound

I'm still using my Flip cameras, but I do have my eye on the clock since Cisco announced the eventual end of the line for Flips. My strategy for replacing them? Choosing a camcorder that does the Flip one better in an area I've been wishing Flip would fix. And the feature most lacking, for me, was audio quality.

That's not only true of the Flip camera, of course. The pros will tell you that poor audio quality is right at the top of the list of what's wrong with online video in general. Flip eventually added a jack for an external mic, but when I started looking for better audio, I turned to my Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder,a versatile tool used by many podcasters and audio reporters. Its camcorder cousin, the Zoom Q3HD sports not just microphone jacks, but two high-quality mics, pointed in different directions, mounted atop the camera and protected by a plastic housing.

TechCrunch did a thorough review of the ZOOM Q3HD camcorder in January. Here's what the post says about the sound and sound controls:
It’s much, much better at filtering out voices in a crowded room, and making sounds much warmer and more natural to the ear. The pinhole mics often found on pocket cams and even some mid-range camcorders tend to muddle everything together, but the Q3HD...really does make for better sound. One thing that helps is a quick switch for going between low gain, high gain, and auto. While it does a good job auto-leveling, occasionally you might want to minimize background noise or just be sure you catch every word, and the switch from lo to hi is instant and noticeable. It’s especially handy having the live levels feedback on the video screen at all times...as it lets you know when you’re clipping or not getting enough sound.
Those are features that will come in handy when you're recording crowded events, have a speaker whose sound levels vary, or you're in an acoustically challenged setting.

TechCrunch notes the price as high, but as usual, the passage of a few months and some digging around on Amazon finds this Zoom Q3HD with optical zoom for $299.00, almost half off its list price.Accessory packs--with or without the camera--also are sale priced right now. (A non-HD Zoom camcorder is around $149, for comparison.)

Have you tried this Zoom camcorder? Share your feedback in the comments.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Pros & cons from the pros: What's your advice for journos who want to try #PR?

If you've ever had a reporter pal confide "I'm looking for a nice nonprofit to work for," now's your chance to weigh in.  I'm asking PR and communications pros--those who began in journalism, as well as those who've just worked with journos-turned-communicators--to share their advice on the pros and cons of making the jump to communications. Be sure to base your advice on today's conditions, as well as your own experience.

Last month, I asked communicators to share how they got their start in PR, and many respondents cited moving from journalism with a wide variety of motivators (fleas in the newsroom among them). So I know you're out there. What should reporters know before they seek out that nice nonprofit, worthy government agency job, or cushy corporate suite? Share your views in comments below, anonymously if you wish; on Facebook; or on Twitter addressed to @dontgetcaught.

Related posts: Compiled: How you got your start in PR or communications

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

Sweet! We're at the end of the week. You may want some dessert after what's been dished out to you this week, so here are the reports, links and reads I shared from others on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught. I hope they make a great weekend read for you:
And a few extras:
Enjoy your weekend, and thanks for reading!

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

For tomorrow: For Communications Directors newsletter

Are you doing your disappearing act as a communications director? That's the focus of For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, out tomorrow--use the link below to sign up now.

I think you know what I mean by disappearing act. You're too busy to go to networking events, or find a lot of reasons not to do so. You send staffers to attend awards luncheons or other events to which you're invited. You eat lunch at your desk, mostly. Your online profiles are woefully out of date. You see yourself as a "behind the scenes" person. If that's you--but you also want to advance and find out what's your next move--read tomorrow's issue. I'll have new tools and tactics to bring you into focus.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Do you keep telling us what you're going to tell us?

You've heard that old saying about public speaking, haven't you? "Tell us what you're going to tell us. Tell us. Tell us what you told us." It echoes the rule of three in message development, but it's been misused and misinterpreted by academics for years. And finally, that bad technique has been revealed for what it is--ineffective. Do you have an expert or spokesperson who uses this technique?

In An Academic Author's Unintentional Masterpiece, Geoff Dyer at once parodies the form and shares it with us by describing and quoting from a 2008 book, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before:
I’ll come to the rest of the book later. Here I will simply remark that the first page of Fried’s introduction summarizes what he intends to do and ends with a summary of this summary: “This is what I have tried to do in ‘Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before.’ ” The second page begins with another look ahead: “The basic idea behind what follows. . . . ” Fair enough, that’s what introductions are for, and it’s no bad thing to be reassured that the way in which the overall argument will manifest itself “in individual cases will become clear in the course of this book.” Page 3 begins: “The organization of ‘Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before’ is as follows. . . . ” Well, O.K. again, even if it is a bit like watching a rolling news program: Coming up on CNN . . . A look ahead to what’s coming up on CNN. . . .More striking is the way that even though we have only just got going — even though, strictly speaking, we have not got going — Fried is already looking back (Previously on “NYPD Blue” . . . )on what he did in such earlier books as “Art and Objecthood” and “Absorption and Theatricality.” The present book will not be like those earlier ones, however, “as the reader of ‘Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before’ is about to discover."
Dyer's beating the form to death to make a point, but if this sounds all too familiar, use it to reveal your experts' missteps to them when you coach them before an interview, speech or public presentation.  Yes, repetition is useful in helping the audience retain what you are saying...in moderation. But today's audiences are impatient for the point, not for hearing that your speaker is going to get to the point at some later point.

Want more help coaching your experts? Sign up for my August 24 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. If you sign up by August 5, you'll save $50 on your registration. It will share common issues and effective tactics communicators can use to coach experts and prepare them to communicate clearly to public, media, donor and legislative audiences. (Update: You can sign up for the February 1, 2012 version of this workshop here.)

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.

Monday, August 01, 2011

July's top 10 communications tips and issues

July was full of hot weather and heated rhetoric, but here's a cool 10-pack of insights to end the month. You and other communications directors read these posts the most in July:
  1. Dropbox changed its language, again. Will you delete your Dropbox account? I did. Now among the most-read-posts ever on this blog, this is a testament to getting that customer service language right...the first time.
  2. Help students: Share some bad health news releases got a ton of views, but not much news. Getting all shy are you? Or just careful?
  3. Compiled: How you got your start in communications pulled all the responses to number 4 into this post, compiling answers from Twitter, Facebook and the blog. Don't miss the fleas. That was based on...
  4. How did you get started in PR or communications? was another oft-viewed post. It's useful to touch base with your original motivators once in awhile, and I hope this post did that for you.
  5. Can your op-ed land the crucial one-two punch? offered a tactic I've used again and again to be sure op-eds actually have opinions in them, and to put them where the reader wants to find them. Put this two-step test into your regular routine.
  6. What you can do in 3 years on Twitter celebrated my third anniversary on Twitter, still far and away my favorite social platform, along with blogging. Find out what I've accomplished in a scant three years.
  7. 12 things I've changed about my blogs' content since starting them takes a look at my two blogs and how I've adjusted the content over time. Make this list about your own blog, annually--you'll learn a lot.
  8. Can you say no to an expert? considers the tough work of disagreeing with someone who's supposed to be smarter than you--except perhaps about communicating. If you sign up for the Be an Expert on Working with Experts workshop by August 5, registration is discounted.
  9. 5 things I haven't changed about my blogs since starting them flips number 7 around to find the things that have stayed the same (and probably will remain that way) on my blogs. Nice to be able to count on these five things.
  10. The weekend read for July 29 pulled in a lot of readers. The mix is different every week, based on what I share on Twitter.
Thanks again for reading in July--and now.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account. Subscribe to For Communications Directors, my free monthly newsletter, which features content before it appears here on the blog.