Thursday, May 31, 2012

How can I encourage camera-shy experts to break out of their shells? 4 tactics

You're a communicator wielding a camera, wanting to get your expert to practice. She's doing an elaborate version of "talk to the hand," perhaps by saying she needs to leave the training early to go to an essential meeting (uh-huh) or using delay tactics like asking lots of questions about less important matters. That sudden fascination with meetings and minutia likely means just one thing: Camera-shy.

"How can I encourage camera-shy experts to break out of their shells?" was the question of one registrant in my June 19 workshop for communicators on how to 'Be an Expert on Working with Experts.'  Here are three of the tactics we'll be discussing related to using cameras to prep your experts for media interviews, speeches or public presentations:
  1. Cameras are the great equalizer: Nobody likes them. More precisely, no one likes how they look or sound on camera, from the best broadcasters to the never-been-seen newbie. Make sure your expert knows that the discomfort is normal, and something they have in common with people they admire.
  2. Why are you using a camera, anyway? Please explain. I don't use cameras in practice to help my trainees create picture-perfect broadcast-quality productions. I use them for two reasons trainees can appreciate more readily: To help them see themselves in action--something they can't get any other way--and to help catch things we can correct and improve upon. Establish the goals and don't assume your expert knows why the camera is there.
  3. Don't confuse shy with introverted, and vice versa. Susan Cain, author of the recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, offers some clues in Are you shy, introverted, both or neither? The skinny: "Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments." You'll do better if you warn an introverted expert ahead of time to expect camera practice in a safe environment, and in some cases, if you train her alone. For the shy trainee, use tactics like letting them be the first person to give feedback on their own video--they'll be much more honest and negative than you ever could be, which lets you come back in and correct misimpressions.
  4. Help them embrace the playback. I've seen trainees watch their videos while wincing, covering their eyes with their hands, or sliding down under the table. To allay their discomfort, make the process constructive, rather than destructive, by giving them guidance on what to look for and how to learn from it. I give all my trainees Instead of wincing, 10 things to look for on that video of your speech, and walk through it with them.
We'll be dishing tips like these and more at the workshop--and there are still seats available. Go here to register, find out what other kinds of questions and challenges the participants want to discuss, and learn about the great network of communicators who are already participating. Registration goes through Sunday, June 10, or until the seats are filled.  UPDATE: You can register for the newest session, October 8, 2013, right here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When your expert ignores all media but the big guys: 4 tactics

"Can you explain to him that he ought to talk to reporters or bloggers even if they don't work for the New York Times?" That's almost a routine request when I'm asked to do a media training for an expert or scientist.

Here's the rub: The researchers aren't wrong about the power of the biggest media outlets: Consider this 1991 New England Journal of Medicine study showing that "Journal articles publicized by the Times received 72.8 percent more scientific citations than control articles." But every good communications director knows there's value in reaching out to a wide variety of journalists, from freelancers to small outlets and trade press, in addition to major media outlets. That's not even counting the fact that the majors can't cover every topic, nor that what your expert has to say may not pass muster in prominent media. What can a communicator do to move experts beyond the majors and into interviews with the rest of the field?

We'll be talking about this issue at my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, since the expert who balks at media interactions is a common issue for communicators. Here are some considerations you need to explore as a communicator if you want an expert to move beyond the majors:
  1. Is this an avoidance tactic? Sounding all exclusive or setting unrealistic targets might be an effort to mask overall discomfort, lack of experience or bad experience with reporters. It's worth probing why he's choosing to narrow the field to find out.
  2. Is this a training deficiency? Just because he's expert in his subject doesn't mean he gets media relations. If you haven't taken the time to explain why you--and your company or organization--wants coverage from other-than-big-guys, do that before you attempt to set up the interviews.
  3. What's in it for her? Helping experts find motivation is an oft-ignored part of the communicator's work. Is she seeking funding, a tech transfer, research subjects, support from a legislature? Does his public funding call for reporting out findings to a wider public audience? Establishing a motivation for the interview can help you and your expert later on.
  4. Is this a time management issue? One of my favorite experts finally confided that 10 percent of his calls were from reporters, who were taking up 80 percent of his time. That's an easy fix: We started arranging more conference call briefings (think Google+ Hangouts, too) and other approaches that helped make better use of his time.
Those are just a few of the considerations behind this issue--and we'll be discussing more at my experts workshop on June 19. Join us to develop more tactics for varying your experts' media outreach. 

(Hat tip to Ivan Oransky for the pointer to the NEJM study.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, jobs and a workshop discount

I feel like a kid in the candy store this week, with lots of finds, reads and insights from the candy store known as Twitter. And I'm even willing to share. Here's the best candy I found after sifting through my Twitterstream this week:
And a job: The University of Minnesota's looking for a student outreach and communications specialist.

If you're interested in attending my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, today's the deadline for the early registration discount. There are still seats left, but if you register today, you'll pay just $300 for this daylong workshop. After today, registration is $350. I'll close registration June 10 or when the seats are filled, whichever comes first. Join us for a dynamic and unusual professional development opportunity designed just for communicators who work with scientists and other subject-matter experts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is your Twitter handle your calling card?

Don't be surprised if I change my company name to @dontgetcaught. Twitter handles, to my mind, are becoming what URLs used to be as corporate branding...and I happen to like mine.

We may not be there yet, but people like me are already using their Twitter handles as a handy--and short--nametag replacement for their company or title. And Twitter handles abound on everything from bumper stickers to business cards.

The more creative uses of Twitter handles as brands that I've seen come from sports--which makes sense when you consider how much time cameras are trained on athletes, making this a built-in broadcasting tool. Washington Nationals closer @DrewStoren put his Twitter handle on his glove (stitched in, thank you) and you can see Twitter handles instead of names on the backs of the Philadelphia Wings' jerseys. Athletes' Twitter handles let fans know how to reach them and encourage them to reach out. So do yours, on your business card or nametag.

There's another bonus to using a Twitter handle as your primary brand: It's yours. You have carved out your own Twitter identity, right? Mashable brought the standards up-to-date with Should You Combine Your Personal and Business Social Media Identities? -- and most of the discussion is around Twitter handles:
...if you intended to be a public spokesman for a company in 2006, then it made sense to put your company’s moniker in your social profiles. However, in 2012, the standard practice is to be yourself and build a social media following, and then act as a hired gun for the companies you represent....Also there are two fields of identification on Twitter: Your name and your handle; you can change both to whatever you would like (as long as it’s not already taken). Consider the case of Ben Smith, the former Politico editor, who joined BuzzFeed in January. When Smith left Politico, he changed his Twitter handle from @BenPolitico to @BuzzFeedBen, yet his name still appears as “Ben Smith.” He has kept his handle intertwined with his company, but remains his own personal brand on Twitter — as a result, the switch from one publication to another is seamless.
The takeaway: Make sure we know you as a person, not just a broadcaster for your company. I'm guessing we'll be taking our Twitter handles with us for a while, if we play our cards right.

How are you using your Twitter handle, outside of Twitter? Share your creative uses, or the ones you've seen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

7 reasons why putting numbers in your blog post headline isn't all markety

Saw this tweet in my Twitterstream this week from a  writer I like very much:
That gave me a chuckle. Numbers in the headlines of blog posts are widely known to help drive traffic--you know, those "8 ways to remove rust from your car" and "27 ways to increase blog traffic" posts. But while that formula's new to bloggers, perhaps, it's an old standby in magazine publishing. Back in the day, and even today, a good cover line on a magazine more often than not reduces the content to a number, even if that number never shows up in the article or sidebar, because it works to help readers grab the issue off the newsstand. These days, it helps them click on the link or article.

Markety or not, why does that happen? The reason numbered headlines work (and the formats they trumpet, for that matter) is worth a think, if only so you know why you're doing it. Here's my take on the real reasons you should use numbered headlines and posts for your blog, based on writing and editing a lot of magazine articles and even more blog posts:
  1. They're concrete: Readers know what to expect from a numbered post. The headline implies something practical, solid, knowable...and that makes it sticky, and memorable, to use a markety word.
  2. They favor the reader in a rush: Reading anything all the way through is almost unthinkable for busy folks, but you'll prompt more of them to take a detour with your post if it's defined in size, small bites they can swallow while they keep moving. 5 tips for improving your life sounds a lot better than "read this entire book of inspiration," on many days.
  3. They disclose a treasure trove: On the opposite end of the spectrum, the high-numbered item--27 reasons you should attend the SuchandSo conference, or 45 blogs to follow today--suggests information galore. And all it took was two numbers to make that happen in the reader's mind. But high numbers aren't the only way to signal treasure. Think of numbered posts that revive history, share secrets or suggest a find. Check out the New York Times's list of 10 Olympic events of yore they wish could be revived as one example.
  4. We like lists: There's even a post that's titled (what else?) the top five reasons why people like to share top ten lists. Lists provoke curiosity: Your list won't be just like mine, or will it? I'd like to find out. Lists can start arguments, bets or long comments disagreeing with the author. Just ask Rolling Stone after it puts out those top 100 guitarists lists.
  5. They provide structure: We also like lists for their order and organization. The reader can expect something crisp, useful, and short. Best of all, they know there's an end to it, coming soon.
  6. They offer options: Knowing that readers won't all agree with your list is one thing. But they know they have options, too; perhaps 3 of your list of 5 items will work for them, and that suggests possibility.
  7. They suggest there's more to know: If I only had 4 ideas about how to save money and you have 27, I'm intrigued. You're pushing my envelope, in a good way.
Numbered posts don't work all the time--but when they do, they're priceless. What's your take on numbers in posts and headlines?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with jobs & more

The walking man walks...right into the weekend, I hope. This week, I waded into Twitter and found these gems in my stream. Wade on in with me...the weekend's on the shore ahead, and I know we can make it there together:
One week from today, the early registration discount runs out for my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, here in Washington, DC. You'll still be able to register until June 10 or the seats are filled, whichever comes first. But signups have been brisk for this workshop--and you'll save $50 if you register now. So you know what to do. I'd love it if you passed this offer around to fellow communicators who work with smart people--and I'd love it even better if I could see you there.

Two great jobs in a stunning location: KSL Resorts is looking for a corporate Director of Digital Marketing & New Media, and a corporate Director of Marketing Communications and Strategic Alliances, both located in La Quinta, California (Palm Springs area). 

And finally, one of my most popular shares on Twitter this week: A how-not-to-pitch video that skewers you users of "social media news releases" and similar tactics. Enjoy the weekend, and thanks, as always, for being here.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Network with communicators who work with smart people at this June workshop

Some workshops offer professional development not only through their content, but in the networking among the participants, if you're lucky. And that's how my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, is shaping up, based on who's registered so far.

Who's coming? A government agency team. A PR executive. Communicators and media relations pros from advocacy groups and a major scientific society. Senior advisers, program associates and a vice president of communications. Communicators who train scientists, or put them in front of cameras, or ask their experts to spend time explaining their work in public policy settings. Some of the organizations represented focus on science, but just as many have broader missions and different kinds of experts, so we'll have a wide-ranging discussion and plenty of varied examples to discuss. I've asked registrants to share their challenges and questions about working with experts, and you can read their wish list here.

The session is a daylong workshop, from 9:30am to 4:30pm, and includes continental breakfast and lunch--and I'm expecting plenty of networking to go on in the breaks. This is a small-group session, capped at 20 participants, and seats are filling--so don't delay if you want to join us and meet this focused group of communicators. I'm looking forward to seeing some longtime clients and meeting new colleagues in this group, and hope you'll be among them. Go here to register and share your challenges and questions about experts. You'll get a discount for registering by May 25, and registration will stay open until June 10 or the date all seats are filled, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Young scientists ask: Is there room out there for one more science communicator?

(Editor's note: When I train scientists in public communications skills, many of them are Ph.D. candidates who wonder whether they might rather be a science communicator instead. While I can speak to that new-to-them profession, I can't advise them on what it would mean to leave their research, not being a scientist myself. So I turned to Becky Ham, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist by training and a science writer by choice, to help share advice straight from the source. Here's her take.)

What to tell a wavering scientist?

As a science writer, I often interview young researchers who have just finished or nearly finished their Ph.D. degrees. They’re enthusiastic and intelligent speakers, eager to explain what they’ve been doing with themselves for the past 4-10 years. And when I’ve run out of questions for them, sometimes they have one for me: “So…I was wondering how you got your job?”

I usually give them the short version, about how I got my own Ph.D. and then promptly stopped being a scientist. And then we’re on the phone for another half-hour, as they explain to me that they’re having second thoughts about getting a job in their field, and wondering if there’s room out there for one more science communicator.

I think about two things when I hear this: what should I tell them, and why does this question keep coming up?

Let’s take the second question first. There are some signs that science Ph.D. candidates aren’t exactly happy with the career choices they’re facing. This month, a study in PLoS ONE concluded that academic jobs become less attractive to scientists as they move through their Ph.D. training. Some scientists in the final stages of their degree are concerned that the research jobs they want won’t be there when they’ve finished their degree. Some, as the study gingerly points out, might have seen quite enough of the academic world to wonder if it’s really for them. Science has never been a nine-to-five job, but it’s hard to know whether that’s an exciting or exhausting thing until you’ve experienced it
And then there’s always Ph.D. fatigue, which I recognize. In the last days of my dissertation, I was upping the ante on my carpal tunnel by playing video games and ruining what was left of my sleep by going to the movies all the time. I was desperate to stop thinking about my research, and I bet these scientists feel the same way.

But I’m worried that there’s more to their stories. Here’s something else intriguing from the PLoS study. When they asked the Ph.D. candidates about other non-research careers they found “extremely attractive,” science communicator/writer topped the list.

Why does science writing sound so good? I think it’s because most scientists want to share their research. And new scientists haven’t given up on the idea that they’re allowed to talk to everyone—not just their peers—about what they’re doing.

So back to the first question. What do I tell a scientist who wants to be a science communicator?
  • Tell yourself the truth. It sounds corny, but you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Do you like to do science? If your honest answer is no, it’s time for something new. It might be science communication, it might not be. But you need to get the “am I a scientist?” question resolved before anything else.
  • There’s no need to choose. If you want to be a scientist and also a science communicator, I urge you to take that Ph.D. and then tell us all about it! Communication is no longer an optional part of a scientist’s job, and you can be part of the vanguard of researchers to fully embrace this idea. Instead of shying away from your desire to communicate, make it a living part of your career. 
  • Either way, you’re going to have to practice. If you want to write, you have to write, by starting your own science blog or tweeting your field’s breaking news. If you want to work in museum interpretation, you have to make a visit to the volunteer office of your local science center. Your academic life was probably rife with “tryout” opportunities like these, and it’s the same on this side of things. There’s no simpler way to find out if you can be a science communicator than to be a science communicator. 
  • ...And practice. I was trained to talk like a scientist, to other scientists. That doesn’t work in public science communication, as you might have guessed. But don’t despair. One thing that helps is to push back into the dark ages, and remember why you wanted to become a scientist in the first place. What were the questions, the mysteries, the excitement that you wanted from your career? Remember how you talked about it then, and you’ll find a path toward how to talk about it now.
Go on. We’re listening.

(Denise here, again. If you've got a group of scientists who want to communicate better with public audiences, I'd love to talk to you about the training options I offer for communicating scientists. And now the more important stuff: Becky Ham is a freelance science writer who writes about every discipline of science, a rare talent. She contributes posts about research on public speaking in many scientific disciplines for my blog The Eloquent Woman.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, jobs & a workshop

Feel as if your way to the weekend is being blocked? Don't worry, I have a workaround in the weekend read, a way to ease into the weekend with the best finds I made and shared this week on Twitter. Here, I'll hold the gate open for you so you can sneak into the weekend a little bit early:
I had a great time presenting to the Public Affairs Network of NCI-funded cancer centers this week in Portland, Oregon, and you can see my session notes for participants on ways to make blogging easier. Here's one reaction:

More seats were taken this week in my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts -- and you'll find some fellow feeling in the questions and challenges reported by participants about the experts they work with. The early registration discount runs out two weeks from today, if there are seats left by then. Don't delay on that--or on getting your weekend started. As usual, thanks for being here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Communicators: Your wish list when you work with experts?

If you've worked with enough experts--be they government leaders, corporate whizzes, policy wonks, sage scientists or rock-star physicians--you must have a wish list going, at least in your mind.

Maybe you wish your know-it-all expert could say "I don't know" once in a while to boost her credibility. Or maybe you wish your expert wouldn't blow off media interviews. You might be working with the realization that your expert has a high need to be perfect and fears failure, which means he doesn't want to take chances he can't control. You might have an expert scientist on your hands who dismisses communications as unimportant, not an essential part of her research activities.

Or maybe your wish list involves you: Perhaps you wish you, as a communicator, could do a better job figuring out the experts you're putting forward and what they need to succeed. How do you successfully handle big-ego experts, unwilling partners and dense language? And you're probably shuddering to think what reporters think of your balky experts, rightly so.

If so, you and I have a lot in common. I've spent most of my career working with smart folks and convincing them to participate in public communications, media interviews, testimony before legislatures, funder talks and other public forays. That's why I've created Be an Expert on Working with Experts, the workshop I wish I'd had at many points in my career. It's an intensive one-day session where you and other communicators can start creating solutions and new approaches to your work with experts, so you can be more effective at this important work--and it's based on my extensive experience working with experts of all kinds.

You'll get a substantial discount if you register by May 25--just $300 for the session, which includes continental breakfast, lunch and takeaway materials you can use again and again. After May 25, registration rises to $350, and all registration closes June 10 for this June 19 session in Washington, DC.  Registrations are already coming in, and some participants have been on a waiting list for this workshop, so it pays to act quickly.

To get a collective communicators' wish list going, I'm asking registrants what their biggest challenges with experts are, and their questions about working with experts. Here are the challenges communicators are citing in their work with experts:

  • "wonky language" 
  • experts who are "unwilling to rehearse"
  • the "belief that their priority should be everyone else's priority regarding news coverage"
  • "Scientists frequently seem to misunderstand the literacy of the public or the value of the editorial/ communications process."
  • "They seem to think everyone out there is a wonk with similar knowledge/interest/experience with their specialty." 
  • "They don't grasp the need to talk to an audience that might not immediately see a reason to care about their issue."
  • "Confidence and overcoming what I consistently perceive as an age/experience barrier. While I'm in a senior position within my company I am years younger than many of my colleagues."
And their questions about working more effectively with experts include:
  • "What is the best way to communicate the difference between 'dumbing down' and 'being accessible'?"
  • "How to get past the expert's ego?" 
  • "How can I get them to listen to a communications expert?"
  • "Any suggestions on how to deal with experts who think they are great interviews but are not?"
  • "Any ideas on how to convince an expert that "messaging" is a good use of their valuable time?"
  • "What are some techniques to encourage experts to think ahead for an interview instead of just diving in because they know their topic so well?"
  • "How can I preserve the content of the science but present in a publicly accessible way and a way that is comfortable to the scientist speaker? Sometimes, they seem uncomfortable with a speech written for them or over scripted."
  • "How to communicate with confidence? How to understand their vision without getting lost in the weeds? How to provide feedback that communicates collaboration rather than corrections?"

What's on your wish list when you work with experts? If these questions and challenges sound familiar to you, share your wish list in the comments, then register and join us on June 19.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Making it easy to blog, 12 ways: Session notes for my #NCIPAN talk

This picture says it all for most companies and organizations who think of their blogs as bawling, hungry, insistent infants that needs a lot of care and feeding. Regular care and feeding, possibly at 2 a.m.

Maybe that's why only 149 hospitals of the 5.700 registered hospitals in the U.S. have blogs, says this article, which cites fears about time-intensiveness, risk-taking and executive buy-in as the big barriers for hospitals and health institutions. At the same time, health care institutions have plenty of incentive to use social tools and blogs specifically: A recent PwC study found that 41 percent of consumers said that social tools influenced their choice of a hospital, doctor or medical facility. Last year, a YouGov Healthcare study found that 57 percent of consumers felt that a hospital's social media connections would strongly influence a decision to receive treatment there--and that consumers were going to blogs and review sites as often as they went to the hospital's primary website for information.

With that in mind, I spoke yesterday to the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network (PAN) on the "Care and Feeding of Your Blog" at the group's annual meeting yesterday in Portland, Oregon. This post will serve as the resource list for the session and let you get a sense of what we discussed. Anyone who wants to dive deep into blogging for business, from content ideas to analytics, should do that on Problogger, which has a great series on 31 days to building a better blog--well worth your time.

Many organization's blog efforts look like Rube Goldberg machines, with convoluted processes behind them, or like Christmas trees, decked out with something for everyone. So my talk focused on 11 ways to make it easier to blog, including:
  1. Making your blog your social media basecamp -- the core of your social publishing -- so you can use other social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to share posts from the blog, build the discussion and elicit comments. 
  2. Using ready-made platforms rather than over-customizing. One of the easiest ways to take the "easy" out of blogging is to over-customize existing platforms like Wordpress or Blogger. If you can fight the forces that want to overcomplicate your blog platform, you'll save lots of time and effort later.
  3. Using only willing bloggers. That means not forcing your CEO to blog if she doesn't want to or isn't any good at it. Both employees and CEOs can make great bloggers. But if your CEO is willing, you can make it easier for her to blog by getting past these barriers, and sharing some great examples of CEO blogs (here's one by CEO Michael Hyatt, urging other CEOs not to use ghostwriters for blogs and tweets).  Another good example is former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt's blog, all done by himself.  Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, prefers to tweet, but says that CEOs should blog or tweet mainly to connect to the customer, and should start with email and the phone lines first. Don't be afraid to use CEO blogs from many sectors as inspiration.
  4. Varying the length of blog posts, and not fearing the short post. Nothing wrong with a long post if the subject matter warrants it, but you'll get more reads and engagement with a crisp, short post. So why not chop that long post into 3 posts, and make a series out of it? It's also smart to make sure that you're not writing such a comprehensive post that you leave the reader nothing to don't include every fact, and ask the readers to add their tips and ideas. Short ideas and partial drafts prepared ahead of time are two things that help me to blog more without working too hard.
  5. Posting in the "sweet spot" of 3 times a week, minimum, with better results coming 5 times a week. Frequency signals readers that they should keep checking your blog for fresh reads, and it triggers search engines, too. I also urged the group not to ignore Saturdays, which are an important day for reader engagement.
To pull off what seems like a lot of posting at first, I recommended a series of tools and tactics that include:
  1. Building a content stash of ideas and sources for posts, using tools like and Evernote. Used together, these tools--both free--can automate much of your information-gathering activity. 
  2. Waste nothing that could be the germ of an idea. Create blog posts that use comments as their basis, pull together three small news items to make one solid post, and use any reactions, kudos or interaction with your blog as content.
  3. Categorize your stash based on the types of post formats you expect to use. Will you have opinion pieces, Q&A interviews, photo posts, video posts? Make sure your stash includes evergreen topics that can be inserted in the blog at any time, as well as some recurring features that encourage readers to come back on a regular basis. To engage readers, make sure you include posts that answer questions from real people, always the most compelling content (cancer center staff should ask nurses and call centers for the questions they field routinely as a starting point). And cultivate tipsters for your blog by making it known that you seek questions, ideas and contributions.
  4. Encourage many contributors. Do your researchers and doctors know you want them to blog, and what the guidelines are for contributed posts? Don't assume they do. Hold competitions to choose bloggers, and feel free to field one team for a short-term, then ask for new contributors. (There's a good model of this from my clients at UMBC, which established a student blog about campus food with a team of student bloggers chosen by competition.) 
  5. Look for your employees who are blogging elsewhere: Don't forget to look to your researchers and staff who are blogging elsewhere, on sites not related to your center, like KevinMD--Klout's pick for most influential health and medicine blog--or any of the scientist-driven blogs at Science Online, a great annual conference for research bloggers. You might reprint a researcher's post for an external blog, like this City of Hope research fellow who shared a letter to her 12-year-old self at the blog Science Club for Girls.  I also mentioned the BlogHer conference for women-focused bloggers, and cancer centers will want to note the special HealthMinder day at BlogHer for health-related bloggers. Remember: Your future blogger may be blogging elsewhere because someone made it easier for him. But even if that's so, you can still use those posts as content on your center's blogs, with permission.
  6. Promote your blogs, using Google and Google+, Pinterest and Twitter--they're the most effective sites for driving blog traffic. Pinterest, the fastest-growing social site ever, is particularly good at driving web traffic, and you should look at these data and dashboards to help you use Pinterest to promote your blog and to make the use of Pinterest easier to manage. I'm working on an ebook on using Pinterest to promote your blog, so if you want to get on the heads-up list when it's ready, sign up here.
  7. Look to your partners: Some foundations are helping grantees tell stories online on their blogs, like the Colorado Health Foundation, which offers technical assistance and financial help to its grantees for this purpose. NSF-funded researchers can request additional support to interpret and share research with broad public audiences, using tools like blogs.
I encouraged members of the NCI Public Affairs Network to consider attending my June 19 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, since many in the group are hoping to encourage scientists at their institutions to participate more actively in social media efforts. Registration is discounted at $300 per person until May 25, and is $350 thereafter or until the seats are filled--and they are filling fast!

And I welcome NCI PAN members' additional questions or links to their blogs-in-progress. Plenty of participants shared with me their plans for great blogs, so I'm looking forward to hearing more good examples to share on this blog.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with jobs & a workshop

Let's all slide into home and end the week together, teammates. It's Friday, and if you're going to spend an extra inning on anything, I hope it's my collection of the best baseball cards of the week -- that is, my reads, finds, data and other gems found in my Twitterstream. Here are my MVPs:

That workshop you need: My next session on Be an Expert on Working With Experts takes place June 19 in Washington, DC--but communicators from top organizations are already signing up and seats are filling early in the game. There's been a waiting list for this session, so don't delay. You get a substantial discount for registering by May 25, although registration continues after until June 10 or until the seats are filled. Next week, I'll share the challenges and questions that registrants have about working with experts, so stay tuned. (And just think of the networking you could get done with other top communicators in this small-group session.) I look forward to seeing you there. 

Another working weekend for me. As you read this, I'm in Portland, Oregon, for the annual meeting of the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network, where I'll be sharing secrets and strategies for the care and feeding of your blogs. (There'll be a post next week summarizing points from the session and resources you can use for your own blog.) Follow the PAN link and scroll down the front page to find another link to job postings for communications posts at cancer centers, a useful resource. Now: Take care of the weekend festivities for me, willya? I know you can hit this one out of the park.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

You and the overused word: A major problem of historic proportions

Do you have a thesaurus (or a link to one) handy? Better send it up to the state house in Albany, where the strategy of announcing many of the governor's initiatives as "historic" has come under the lens of the New York Times. And the idea that the adjective bears repeating is taking a beating. Of the governor's penchant for apparently historic moves, the Times wrote:
On his fifth day in office, he challenged lawmakers to “write a new page in the history book of New York State government,” and his administration has done just that more than 80 times, judging by the number of press releases issued by his office that described one of the governor’s actions as historic.
You know you're in trouble when they pull out all the press releases and start searching for word usage, and in this case, the Times found the term in releases, presentations, verbal remarks and more. Want to stay out of that historic trap of major proportions? Typically, the trouble includes these factors:
  • The repetitive term's a distraction: "There's that word again," wrote a reporter live-blogging a statehouse news conference. Just like too many ums or overuse of words like "actually" in public speaking, overusing a favorite messaging word means that at some point, close observers will start counting how many times you use it--and at that point, they're not listening to or reading you.
  • All those internal rationales don't fly outside your office: I can hear someone saying "But it really is historic!" even now. Despite that, it's not an argument that will hold water beyond your close circles. Just think of all the historians out there to whom you've given the chance to write op-eds explaining exactly why your initiative isn't historic.
  • Everything can't have the same status: As the Times points out, not all of the initiatives smack of historic proportions, and if all your programs are historic, all your grants are major, all your students are above average and all the food is safe, you're removing what makes them special and attention-getting by giving them the same status.
  • This happens a lot with adjectives and adverbs: If you're going to keep a sharp editor's eye on something, adjectives and adverbs are usually the culprits in tempting.  You can nip this in the writing bud by insisting on more concrete nouns and active verbs to describe your products, programs and people.
  • Alternatives do exist: Repeat after me: But first, do a word search on your documents to see what your most overused words are, and keep a list of them posted as a warning. At a major foundation I worked for, we actually banned the word "major" from descriptors of our grants for a while, and you may need a similar no-fly list.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Can you be deft with delete? Erasing the record in social media

That delete button's awfully easy to use--in fact, some social platforms help you out by automatically deleting certain drafts and other types of posts. But even without the help, the penchant for erasing or editing the record is a powerful reflex, and it's commonplace to see people deleting errant tweets, Facebook status updates, photos, and videos.

I use "see" for a reason, because no matter how stealthy you are, those deletions are in large part visible--which makes social deletions a double-edged sword. Sure, they get rid of the primary record, and to some, I think social media has an ephemeral feel. But other evidence lives on, and people are watching, able to serve as witnesses to the original. Under the microscope of social media, there's a whole lotta flinching going on when deletions are discovered.

I've been collecting string on deletions for some time. Here's the state of play I'm seeing, and I'd love for you to add some evidence in the comments:

The tweet, deleted

Maybe because they're short, or easy to send quickly, or reactive in nature, errant tweets are often deleted, for reasons as small as a typo and as large as a very public faux pas. But in the society around social media, deleting tweets is frowned upon, a blunt tool used where an apology, explanation or just plain silence would do.

The urge to delete tweets isn't unusual or limited to one group. Even editors at the New York Times have been known to delete staffer tweets they found inappropriate. Among Inc. magazine's top 12 list of social media blunders in 2011, misfired tweets (and some ham-handed deletions) made the list. Another high-profile whoops-deletion came from a Komen executive who posted, then deleted a tweet with a pointed, offensive comment about Planned Parenthood during the dust-up over the cancer charity's decision to cut off  funding to Planned Parenthood--a case of personal feeling overcoming a professional mien.  And presidential candidate Mitt Romney's new spokesperson went on a tweet-deleting binge the day after his appointment was announced. Jezebel blog kept track, as reporters are wont to do:
While he's done some writing on his personal site (which has since been taken down, but major props for using for hosting), the majority of his inflammatory comments were made on Twitter. On Friday (the day after his hiring was announced), his Twitter feed showed 7,577 tweets. By yesterday morning, he was down to 6,759 tweets. That's a little over 800 tweets he doesn't want us to see anymore—despite the fact that he once thought they were fit to post in a very public place.
Noted Internet researcher Danah Boyd, who had harrassing comments projected in a live Twitterstream behind her while she gave a keynote, had no documentation left when the harrassers deleted their tweets--but documented it in a forthright blog post, herself. This kind of deletion can be the most damaging kind, causing many users to question the victim of the attacks simply because the Twitterstream was changed by the deletions and no evidence remained.

Despite the apparent urge to correct via the delete button, there are more honest and well-received alternatives if you want to avoid committing two errors at once. In journalism (and perhaps for your communications office), when you need to make a factual correction to an errant tweet, the standard these days is to retweet the error with its correction--without deleting the error. Yes, you might take some hits, but you'll avoid the backlash that comes with attempting to erase what has already been seen--and the chance are very good that your deletions will get plenty of attention, and not the good kind.

Discovering deletes: Other media

Facebook status updates might be next in line for most-frequently deleted. In What would you do about this Facebook post?, a small-business owner thinks through what to do about an employee's disgruntled status update on Facebook, and gets some "leave it alone" advice from an HR expert. But if you look at the link above for the biggest social blunders of 2011, you'll find plenty of issues involving Facebook deletions, from ill-thought-out posts to issues around deleting angry comments from consumers on corporate announcements. And guess what? When you delete their comments, commenters take to their own platforms to report the deletion, sometimes making more of a splash than would the original comment.

Deletions in other kinds of media are being handled or discovered for you by technology, providing evidence in some cases. In some jurisdictions, video of police interactions with citizens are being taken with tiny cameras worn by officers. The video cannot be deleted while it remains in the camera. And YouTube will give you a heads-up when videos that you've added to a playlist are deleted, whether by the person posting them or due to copyright violations--in effect, a direct heads-up that perhaps someone thought differently about that video.

Recovering deletes

Recovery of emails can be important in legal and journalistic investigations, in which your internal business goes public. lets you email information that self-destructs after one viewing. Co-founder and CTO Jerry Thompson says "with the amount of free space offered by Gmail and other services, there’s little reason or incentive to actually delete these emails.” And the new Google Apps Vault is changing how emails get saved, searched and later deleted:
Gmail business customers are about to get some help. Google Apps Vault lets IT staff set make sure that all relevant emails are stored forever, then gives them an easy way to search those emails. Before, staffers would have had to download each user's inbox to a new location and search all of them manually -- and even then, users might have deleted potentially incriminating emails. Vault also lets IT staff set policies for when an email should be deleted. For instance, when an employee leaves the company, Vault could be set to automatically delete all emails to and from that employee within 90 days. That could be useful because Gmail (unlike traditional email systems) is designed to store everything forever.
In many cases, delete isn't as all-powerful an option as you may think. Deleted Facebook photos remain cached, for example. Even those deleted tweets don't disappear entirely, particularly direct messages, which can be found and published by third-party apps to which you've given permission. So much for off-the-record tweets.

Do you have a policy about how your company or organization handles deletions on social media? Is it clear to everyone who's posting? I'd love to hear about policies you use in the comments.