Friday, January 31, 2014

The weekend read

Time to pack it in: It's the weekend, your reward for being such a great communicator this week. The good news: I've boxed up the best finds I made and shared on Twitter this week, curated just for you. Unpack these gems now, and get smarter by Monday:
No, I would've known it was a lie. My main purpose as a musician has been to get people singing and get people to make music by themselves. And it's the only reason I keep singing is because I'm a skilled song leader now. My voice is 50 percent shot. I can still shout in the high notes, but my low notes are very wobbly. But I can still get a crowd singing. And so when they're singing, they don't bother listening to me. They're having a lot of fun. And that's my main purpose. I want to show people what a lot of fun it is to sing together.
Here he is doing just that at President Obama's inaugural. Watch the crowd shots to understand his impact, and look at the hundreds of comments on his obituary to get a sense of someone who knew how to touch an audience:

Don't move until I can thank you for reading, for being here on a Friday, and for considering my new workshop or sharing it with a female colleague:

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Media relations must-reads: New tools and perspectives

As journalism keeps trying to wrap its head around social media, new publishing models and the wide range of visual and tracking tools available these days, media relations requires more sleuthing by communicators who want to keep up. The good news? Many of the journalism world's digital tools and insights will work for your end of the business, too. Here are some must-reads that have come across my feeds of late, with tools, ideas and shifts in thinking that smart communicators should be adopting:
  • Rethinking the news hole: If what you're promoting isn't necessarily the most urgent breaking news, your day may have arrived: The New York Times public editor looked at how little hard news is in the newspaper these days."Even in this digital age, I’d argue, the printed front page is still a strong indication of editors’ news values," Margaret Sullivan writes of her own research. On one recent day, she found just one front-page article of 13 that could be called news. Click the link to find out what did make the front.
  • Rethinking the interview: A few of my clients are asking for media training for AMAs--the real-time Q&A "Ask Me Anything" sessions on Reddit. They're smart to start anticipating this new format, and Mashable has a rundown that compares AMAs to the interview options you're used to. Time to start getting smart on this option; let me know if you want to focus a media training this way with an email to eloquentwomanATgmail.
  • Got you covered: If you're already using Google Alerts to track news coverage, it's good to know that Google Alerts have been updated, allowing you to share results on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Might be an easy way to share coverage with your team, board of directors, donors or other fans.
  • Visualize the news, part one: Have you tried the new, more visual way to view "today's paper" in the New York Times redesign? I admit, I skipped right past the new feature until this blogger walked me through it, step by step. A must-read, again, for media relations types, so you can see how stories are displayed anew and think about how they're structured in the new format. The feature can only be used by Times subscribers, for now.
  • Visualize the news, part two: Will Newspeg become Pinterest for journalists? looks at the new site, which looks and feels like Pinterest, right down to the "peg it" button and the tiled images--except that they link to your collections of news coverage. You can curate boards on different topics as well as share and comment. This, too, might be a clever way to easily share news coverage with your clients, as well as to find coverage on your topic. You could, of course, do exactly the same thing on Pinterest. Here's a look at the Newspeg front page:

(Creative Commons licensed photo from derekbruff's photostream on Flickr)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Are you playing the visual winter games on your social feeds?

One smart and easy way to maximize engagement with your social media visuals involves nothing more than looking out the window, or at least, at your calendar app. I'm talking about what you might call, right now, the winter games--at least where I live, in the grip of the polar vortex.

Visuals, both photos and video, have long been far and away the strongest trend in social media. So it's still surprising to me that so many companies and organizations fail to maximize engagement by reflecting what we (and our followers) see around us. Your social audience is no different from any other audience in responding to the basic needs of humankind, expressed in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in which food, clothing and shelter (as in, from the weather) rank highest. Put in the context of social media, it appears that Maslow predicted the popularity of Pinterest, which makes an art form out of food, clothing and shelter visuals. Those common-denominator subjects are ones on which anyone can comment, increasing your chances of engagement exponentially.

In my browsing recently, I've caught some posts that make the most of our current winter weather in North America, with bonuses for social-media engagement. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Icicle-breath: The Washington National Cathedral shared the photo above of an ice-spewing gargoyle, an image that got handed around Facebook and Twitter recently. Kinda says it all about our weather in the nation's capital. But the cathedral, now raising funds for needed repairs to its structure due to earthquake damage, is wise to be featuring and building community around its architecture.
  • Snow visitors: Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia encouraged staff members to share pictures of its campus in the snow, later expanding the request to visitors. The contest takes advantage of timeliness, that topic we all like to discuss the most (the weather), and in the process, shows off the beauty of its surroundings.
  • Cool campus: St. Lawrence University in far upstate New York is indisputably cold and snowy this time of year. Its Instagram account encourages students, faculty and others to share photos of the lovely campus in all seasons, and reposts the album here on Facebook. And it makes good use of its Facebook page cover photo to share wintertime shots of campus.
  • Wild winter: The National Wildlife Federation has an ongoing campaign to get kids and adults outdoors. Its "Explore and Get Outdoors" board on Pinterest is now pinning winter hiking, snow sculpting and winter outdoor fitness ideas, keeping its outdoor board fresh even in freezing weather months.
Got a seasonally themed photo series on one of your social sites? Let us know about it in the comments, even if you did just change it this morning.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The weekend read

The week is like a long hallway. The weekend? That light at the end of the tunnel that's been keeping you going since Monday. Before you hit the exit door, take a look at the finds I picked up and shared on Twitter this week, all great reads and leads curated for you, communicators. Consider this your hall pass to the weekend:
I'm excited to be launching a new workshop on women and public speaking, in two great cities: Be The Eloquent Woman will take place Feb. 28 in Washington, DC, and April 2 in Oxford, UK. The latter session is a pre-conference workshop at the UK Speechwriters Guild conference, also worth your time. Subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for a US discount code, or go to the link to find the UK discount code. And please, share with your colleagues!

If I could, I'd fill the halls with applauding fans thanking you for being here again on Friday. But that might slow your exit. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Can communicators work better with lawyers? 9 ways to try

"You can legally do all of the things you are hoping to do in this program under the Clean Air Act," said the counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to a senior official. "And now Denise is going to tell you how that's going to look."

That may have been my smoothest working relationship as a professional communicator working in tandem with an attorney: He not only got what I could contribute, he could explain it persuasively to the program staff--and he wanted me to succeed. But what happens when the lawyers don't talk to or work well with the communicators?

A health communicator sent in this story about a conflict between the family of a young girl whose tonsil surgery went horribly wrong, and the hospital where she'd been treated. Part of the hospital's statement said, "To date, they have been unwilling or unable to provide a physician to perform the procedures necessary, transportation, or a facility that would accept a dead person on a ventilator." Complicating matters: Brain death is legal death in all 50 U.S. states, as this New York Times analysis points out, and California is one of two states where that designation frees the hospital to decide when and whether to terminate care. The family, for its part, refused to let the hospital discuss the details of the case publicly.

My reader said "I get the point that they're trying to make--it's a fruitless effort, etc. However, as a communication professional I'm thinking their lawyers are running the show at this point. No sensitive human would refer to a little girl (regardless of the circumstances) as a dead person on a ventilator. So when you have a crisis situation that is being driven by lawyers or other outside-the-communications-field forces, how do you marry the two so you don't end up with an abomination like that?"

We can't guess at all the discussions going on in this hospital case. But any communicator--nonprofit, university, corporate or government--will someday face situations in which she's got to tango with the legal side, or may find it useful to do so. Here are 9 strategies that have worked for me in corporate, nonprofit and governmental settings, and with university clients...and, no surprise from a blog called don't get caught, most of them involve working ahead:
  1. Build relationships and bridges before you need them: Make it your job to meet or lunch with the attorneys, and start acting like a human with them on a day-to-day basis. Get to know them, their hobbies, their family matters. Share info. Ask questions. Get advice. Don't be a stranger, and don't assume they know what you need. The general counsel's office at EPA gave me a fake honorary law degree when I left the agency, figuring I'd asked so many questions about the legal wrangles that I'd earned it. If the counsel isn't in-house, of course, this could get expensive, so seek out the executive who oversees outside counsel first and build that relationship.
  2. Get your whole team thinking from the lawyers' viewpoint, then reverse the process: You can't catch everything, nor will you always agree. But your communications team will be better able to spot potential legal issues if you get them caught up with the attorneys' perspective. Try inviting your legal team to a staff retreat as speakers, letting them share insight and letting your team ask questions. Then reverse it: Ask for a similar chance to brief the legal team.
  3. Be the devil's advocate: Not unlike the campus security chief who told me during a media training that he'd just arrest any reporters who swarmed the campus during a crisis, your attorneys may be thinking strictly in terms of legalities. That's their job. Your job: Show them a 360-degree view of how others might see what's perfectly legal but unadvisable from your vantage point. (In the case of the security chief, we worked on what those headlines would look like the next day, for example, if arrests were made.)
  4. Keep your eye on the ball:  It's easy, during a crisis in which your company or institution is under attack, to get defensive and even proud of the territory you've staked out legally, and that can infect your public messaging. Trouble is, the public audience won't have been in all those complex meetings, hearing the finer arguments. Make sure you keep asking, "How will the parents/families/voters/consumers who hear this story think about us afterward?" and use that fulcrum to help shape the message.
  5. Find and publicize your commonalities: If you're a don't-get-caught style communicator, that abundance of caution trait is something you have in common with attorneys--if only they knew. Many of your best efforts aren't visible. Use senior staff meetings or those occasional lunches with the lawyers to share ways in which your team is working to keep the organization out of further trouble. Keep  "appearance issues" on the table--the ones that look awful and need deft public handling. You also might find common ground in copyright issues, legislation, reputation management, tax issues and more.
  6. Use others' bad news as a testbed:  Use bad-news stories like the hospital example above as a discussion prompt with your legal team. Share the coverage and ask for perspective from their side, then share your insights. What would happen if something similar happened here? What if we handled it this way? It's a safe way to learn and explore together, before you need to do so.
  7. Articulate a vision for what you want from the partnership: "I suspect you and I work best when there are no surprises" is a great way to broach the conversation about coordination, if that's what you want. Don't forget that many attorneys consider themselves wordsmiths, so if you intend to share responsibility for public statements in a crisis, get that on the table. 
  8. Bring something to the party: Go into these discussions armed with knowledge from your side of the fence--for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently cleared the way for Netflix, a publicly traded company, to use social media to announce news. That's good to know if the attorneys don't like the idea of sharing material information on Facebook. Likewise, if you're no longer using press releases to announce things or think that press conferences have proven ineffective, keep the lawyers in the loop. 
  9. Establish yourself as a vetting machine: My public affairs team at EPA met weekly with representatives from every program, at management's behest: If an action of the agency was going to become public, it needed to come through me. Those weekly meetings were a device I've used many times since in other organizations, sometimes before major events like annual conferences. The emphasis was on both good-news announcements and anything that might become public and require a response. Over time, establishing such a meeting establishes you as a vetting machine. Invite someone from your legal team to sit in. I guarantee they'll find it useful.
If you follow this approach, it will be much easier during a crisis to convince upper management that you need input into the public messaging, and to make your case with the attorneys for the actual wording. By the time the crisis erupts, you'll have goodwill and understanding to fall back on.

I often do media trainings that focus on how cross-functional units in a company or organization need to work together to respond to a crisis, and I'd be happy to work with you on such a training; just email me at eloquentwoman[at]gmail[dot]com. What tactics have worked for you in working better with your legal team?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Keller v. cancer blogs: The communications questions

By now, you've not only heard about Bill Keller's op-ed in the New York Times decrying the "heroic measures" involved in the cancer treatment of Lisa Bonchek Adams, you've read some of the many well-reasoned critiques of the former Times editor's piece. And there were plenty of them, with some of the best on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, on Medium, on Wired, on Mediabistro's 10,000 Words, and on NPR's Monkey See blog. I knew this piece was problematic because I heard about it from journalists first.

Writing in the NPR blog, Linda Holmes gets closest to my first reaction: The column is yet another example of Bill Keller's obvious discomfort with social media. Many suggest it was unconscious on his part; I'm not convinced. Holmes analyzes it with his language:
Keller's writing about Adams is full of little code words that downplay the significance of her writing, her readers and her community, undoubtedly unconsciously. She has "blogged and tweeted," rather than "she has written." Her audience is "rapt," rather than appreciative or respectful. Her criticisms of elements of the breast-cancer lobby are "potshots." She is not an advocate for Sloan-Kettering, where she's being treated, but a "proselytizer." She "insists she is not dying," a construct that implies she is dying, and he knows it, but she won't admit it. She is "bedridden," rather than hospitalized. She doesn't type but "pecks." She is living "onstage." The expert he consulted has "perused" Adams' blog, a wiggly term that could mean "read for a while," but given the bad information that made it into the piece, might also mean "skim with skepticism." This continues in the statement Keller gave to Sullivan. He says he's received negative responses on Twitter, which "encourages reflexes rather than reflection." Those who come to the Times and comment are "thoughtful and valuable," because newspaper comment sections provide so much "space for nuance."
This, from the newspaper that decided to cherry-pick which articles permit comments and which don't, due to the harsh sentiments expressed in many Times comments threads. In recent years, I've been wincing when I read any comment Keller makes on social media, because it's clear he doesn't get it and sees it as a threat to his profession. His disdain is reflected in the sloppy reporting and overblown adjectives, as well as the diminutives he uses to describe tweets and blog posts.

Many bloggers, journalists and commenters have listed well the questions Keller never asked in this long string of assumptions, so I won't repeat them. But from a communicator's point of view, there are a few more to include. Keller writes that Memorial Sloan-Kettering "has embraced her as a research subject and proselytizer for the institution." Any health communicator (and surely any health journalist) knows it's not up to the cancer center to decide when, whether and how a patient like Adams blogs or tweets about her illness, treatment, participation in a study or recovery--the health privacy law says it's the patient who makes that call. Presuming Keller still supports freedom of speech, what's the problem?

Ditto her fundraising. Keller snidely observes "she has implored followers to contribute to a research fund set up at the hospital in her name, and has raised about $50,000 so far. 'We love it!' the hospital tweeted last week about the Lisa Adams phenomenon. 'An important contribution to cancer patients, families, and clinicians! :)'." Apparently, Sloan-Kettering should neither be pleased nor supportive about patient efforts to blog, raise money and donate. Maybe he thought the cancer center should suppress her writing, or that they forced her to raise funds. (Good luck with that, as any cancer development officer can attest.) Keller's wife had cancer, but perhaps neither of them noticed that many people working at cancer centers have been touched by cancer in their personal lives, as well as their work. The idea that Sloan-Kettering is pulling strings somehow is offensive to the center and its staff and to Adams.

Unfortunately, hospitals are lagging behind in using blogs as a communications tool, whether the blog comes from the patients or the hospital itself -- and Keller's column is unlikely to encourage those on the fence. As I noted in a presentation to the National Cancer Institute Public Affairs and Marketing Network in 2012, consumers are reporting that social tools including blogs have an influence on their decisions about where to seek care. In fact, consumers report going to blogs as often as they go to the hospitals' websites for information. Getting information and perspective from other patients is widely recognized as an effective way to gain education and support, and blogs democratize that process. Should a cancer center turn away from a tactic that so many patients and potential patients consult for advice? I think not.

I'd urge cancer communicators -- those on staff at hospitals, and those publishing independently -- to see this as an opportunity. If people as well-educated and highly placed as a former New York Times editor and his wife (who also wrote about Adams in this way) can be so ill-informed, clearly, communicators have much more work to be doing. I hope cancer centers and cancer patients will use this as a fulcrum to do their own blog posts and op-eds to bust the myths that Keller scattered so far and wide.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from pntphoto's Flickr photostream)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The weekend read

Feel like you've been behind the magic eight-ball this week? (Signs point to yes.) Ready for the weekend? (Without a doubt.) Let's pause and consult the weekend read, my best finds-of-the-week shared on Twitter and curated just for you, communicators. Starting now? (Outlook good.):
Am I glad you're here yet again on a Friday? It is decidedly so...thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Writing a book in @Evernote on women and public speaking

Most DGC blog readers know I write another blog, The Eloquent Woman, on women and public speaking--and this year, I'm working on a book on the same topic. To do that, I'm centering my organization, research and writing activity for the book in Evernote, the robust note-taking, -storing, -sharing system that works in the cloud and on all your devices. Here's how I'm using Evernote to get the book started:
  • Collecting string: Long before I knew I was writing a book, I was filing articles, photos, research papers and other resources in Evernote as fodder for The Eloquent Woman blog. I have thousands of notes related to public speaking in general, and women and speaking in particular, a wonderful way to jump-start my research.
  • Organizing chapters: Evernote lets you organize related notebooks into "stacks" for easier use, so I started a new stack of notebooks devoted to book chapters. I've been moving notes from the blog notebooks into the relevant chapter notebooks (look on the left in the screenshot above), and as you can see, the content of the notes is shifting my chapter organization. While I began with one notebook per chapter, I now have sub-chapter notebooks for themes that are emerging, so my original Chapter 5 might now be followed by a Chapter 5a, 5b, and so on. Because the notebooks in the stack are shown in order in the left column index, it's easy for me to get a feel for the entire book at a glance. 
  • Getting ideas: As a writer, this process is yielding enormous creative fuel for me: In the process of sorting notes into notebooks, I get a visual and numeric picture of how many notes I already have on a particular topic, which helps prompt me to think about how much space it will earn in the book. Which themes are more robust than others? My chapter notebooks also have notes I've generated, since you can use Evernote as a word processor, including outlines, things I don't want to forget, lists of sources and more.
  • Finding holes in my research to date: The opposite is also true: I can easily see which chapters only have a few notes so far, which might mean more research--or a change in what's included. By sorting all my existing material first, the holes will be evident, perhaps allowing me more focused research going forward.
  • Organization backups: Even if I weren't creating notebooks like a boss, Evernote is searchable--so I could search all notes or particular notebooks looking for a missing file, if needed. Evernote includes its own backup of my files, so all my devices can crash, but I'd still be able to access it all on the web. And every note retains a "note history," so I can restore a recent version if I manage to destroy it somehow.
  • Conducting interviews: I take written notes from phone interviews in Evernote, but I especially love using Callnote, which records audio and/or video from Skype or Google+ interviews, putting the file right in Evernote at the end of the call.
  • Layering in other material: A major feature of my public speaking blog is its index of famous speeches by women, based on a weekly feature that curates and analyzes such speeches. Once I've finished sorting the notes that already reside in Evernote, I'm going to plumb the index for famous speeches by women on the topics I'm covering in the book, or speeches that exemplify particular issues, topics or speakers. My hope is to develop companion books that collect famous speeches by women, by topic, type of speech, or type of speaker, and those future volumes will be getting their own notebook stacks in Evernote.
  • Proposing the book: I'm also keeping what you might call "admin" notebooks on publishers, agents, copyeditors, research sources and archives, and the book proposal, as well as information on author pitch conferences and other resources that will get the book published.
  • Selling the book: Selling is well in the future, but I'm keeping notes on ideas for marketing the book, stealing good ideas from other authors writing on similar topics, collecting screen grabs of good social media tactics, possibilities for my own public speaking on the book and more.
  • Workshops: I'm developing a workshop on women and public speaking that will debut this year in Washington, DC and perhaps in the UK, so outlines and materials for that session are getting their own notebooks. Evernote lets you copy notes from one notebook to another, so it's easy to pull good material from the book notes and put them in the workshop notes.
  • Capturing new ideas and research: As new material comes across my line of vision, I have myriad ways to get it into the notebooks I've created for the book. Evernote offers a web clipper for all the major operating systems, a major time-saver that lets me clip a selection, full article, full page or the blessedly simplified page minus ads and decorations. The web clipper suggests the right notebook with a lot of accuracy, but also lets me override that if I wish, and I can add tags and notations before saving it. I use Powerbot for Gmail, so when an email comes in with fodder for the book, I just hit a button, designate where I want it to go in Evernote, add tags and push send. (You also get an Evernote email address to which you can send notes you wish to save.) In fewer cases, I have hard-copy material that gets scanned using a Doxie scanner that's compatible with Evernote, sending material straight into my default notebook. And when I'm on the go, my Evernote phone app takes pictures and sends them into specified notebooks, or lets me dictate or tap out notes to save.
  • Sharing: Evernote lets you share notebooks or notes, sending them via email, unique URLs, or as "shared notebooks" with other Evernote users. I have a group of volunteers who will be early readers, and sharing notebooks with chapters will be the easiest way to get their insights. If I wish, I can adjust the share so that they can add material or comments.
And that's all before I get much further with the writing, which has begun in Evernote. This process also has had an influence on my blogging: Because I've identified interesting themes in the note-sorting process, I've started to collect and share them in "book journal" posts that let readers of The Eloquent Woman get a peek at what I'm considering as I research and write. So far, I've shared two book journal posts: Seen or silenced? More on women speakers and their wardrobes, and another on Misogyny around the world as a barrier to women and speaking. More of those will be coming through the year.

If you use this link to sign up for a free Evernote account, you'll also get a free month of its Premium service (at $45 for the year, it's a bargain). How are you using Evernote for big projects?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Strategic View: Q&A with Jim Garrow, Philadelphia Director of Digital Public Health

(Editor's note: This Q&A interview series brings you the strategic views of top communicators who are working creatively. For some time, I've been following Jim Garrow, who was just named Director of Digital Public Health--my nominee for cool title of the year--for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a former government and public health communicator, I noticed right away his focus on sharing tactics and research about communicating in public emergencies and health crises like epidemics. And since I was among those who tried to tackle difficult health prevention challenges like condom distribution before the days of social media, I'm especially impressed with the campaigns you'll read about in this interview. Garrow's great to follow on Twitter and elsewhere, and I'm delighted to share his insights with you.)

Go back to when you were considering how to use social media. What did you decide on as an approach, and how did you come to that decision?

I first started using social media personally nearly seven years ago. I was starting a new job in a new field and wanted to force myself to learn all about it. But I was scared of what my new job would think, so I started blogging under a pseudonym. I never did it for anyone else, but I learned so much, and my pseudonym was getting slightly famous, so I came out of the closet, so to speak and named myself. Having that history, that ability to get comfortable using social media before jumping into the deep end was HUGELY helpful. I often recommend folks start a personal account, or an account for their pet or about a specific hobby, before starting an agency or professional account. It's much easier to learn the ropes when one's professional reputation isn't on the line.

I started using social media professionally during the H1N1 influenza vaccine campaign in 2009. We needed a novel way to get the word out and we started from scratch that fall. In retrospect, I wish we would've started sooner and built an audience up before the pandemic, but once there was press, people naturally tried to seek us out and our followers grew beyond what we thought possible during the time.

Have you replaced any traditional PR methods using social tools only? Share some examples that you think are working well.

We haven't yet. I still work for a big city government agency and changing techniques is like turning a battleship--things take forever. But our Department has recently made a big foray into using social media more by convening a social media users working group to help coordinate messaging across the many programs and projects and creating a new Director of Digital Public Health position (me!) in the Commissioner's Office to start coordinating digital endeavors throughout the Department.

What's a big lesson you've learned in using social media?

The democratization of publication due to social media is the biggest change in media since the establishment of mass media conglomerates. Anyone can be a publisher--actually, that's not entirely correct. Everyone IS a publisher. One only needs to look at the Justine Sacco situation to see how a relatively unknown Twitter account can galvanize the world. This is a huge opportunity for government communicators and small firms that are willing to take a chance and experiment with innovative social media practices. You don't need ten thousand dollar (or more!) ad buys to get recognized, you just need the right message at the right time. 

Which platforms are you using now?

Throughout the Department, we have a number of social media platforms in use. Twitter is my favorite, but we also have a few Facebook Pages and an Instagram account. The platforms are chosen based upon the goals of the campaign. Twitter is a great resource for interacting with the media and giving out quick, constant updates. It's also a big winner among the urban crowd. The Instagram account is part of our free condom distribution program and this is targeted at young, connected teens. 

How do you measure results?

We are NOT very mature in our metrics. Funding is extremely thin and what we can collect for free is really all we get. This means that some of the higher level data points like sentiment analysis are out of our reach. We collect basic followership data and interactions. I try to capture specific, anecdotal stories to punch up the data, but overall, it's rather rudimentary, unfortunately. I hope to identify specific funding and more dedicated metrics tracking in the future. 

What would you like to be able to do that you're not doing now?

As I said above, I would like to professionalize our data collection attempts. I would also like to move some of our media relations work online. Finally, as a government agency, I'd love to start incorporating some crowdsourcing and "big data" into our operations. Utilizing social media to identify public health situations like outbreaks would be awesome and a great opportunity to get ground-truth at almost no cost. 

Finally: Share some links to examples of your social media efforts.

Personally, I can be found on and My agency is on and Our biggest, most successful social media accounts are and

Friday, January 10, 2014

The weekend read

Where I live, we could use some tropical influences right about now...not just because it's winter, but because it's the weekend, or nearly so. Think orchids, rainforests, beaches. You can warm up and catch up on the good data, reads and leads I found and shared on Twitter this week:
Let me say warmly--and I mean warmly--how very nice it is to have you hanging around this archipelago of curated stuff again on a Friday. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Strategic View: Q&A with Binghamton Univ. communicator Rachel Coker

(Editor's note: This Q&A interview series brings you the strategic views of top communicators who are working creatively. Rachel Coker has been director of research advancement at Binghamton University since 2008. She graduated from Columbia University’s journalism school and began her career in daily newspapers. She’s a Francophile, a lover of literature from Jane Austen to Kurt Vonnegut and a bit of a science nerd. She's a client and a communicator I admire for her news sensibilities and her no-nonsense approach to communications. I asked her to share insights about how she's using social media to advance research.)

Go back to when you were considering how to use social media. What did you decide on as an approach, and how did you come to that decision?

Social media initially seemed like a fun way to keep up with my interns and the students in the classes I was teaching at the local community college. That was back in March 2007, the early days of Facebook being available to the public. By the time I joined LinkedIn (in February 2008) and Twitter (in March 2009), it was clear that social media was part of my job as a university communicator. Although I launched the Binghamton University Twitter feed, these days I have the luxury of using social media as part of my job without having direct ownership of any of the campus’ official channels. 

My approach has been to: 
  • Stay positive whenever possible, whether posting about my life, my employer or something else. No one, not even your closest friends, really wants to listen to you complain. At least not very often.
  • Share work that I’m proud of across as many platforms as possible — and make it easy for others from my campus and my university system (the State University of New York and the Research Foundation for SUNY) to do the same. I don’t maintain a separate research news Twitter feed, for instance; instead, I contribute tweets that go out from the university’s main account. I reach a wider audience this way, and it reinforces the importance of research to the institution as a whole. 
  • Give serious thought about whether to join new networks. I have an account with Google Plus that I very rarely use, and that serves as a good reminder to me that I don’t need to join Every. Single. Network. 
  • Stay current with the networks I do join, without being a slave to every single post. I give myself about an hour each morning to dip into Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook and Twitter usually stay open in a tab all day so I can see what’s happening. 
Have you replaced any traditional PR methods using social tools only? Share some examples that you think are working well.

It has always been part of the job to know what journalists are interested in, and Twitter in particular has made it easier than ever to see that. It’s also part of my job to know how other schools handle research news, and Twitter also enables me to keep up to date with a variety of peer institutions as well as schools whose efforts Binghamton might want to emulate. 

What's a big lesson you've learned in using social media?

This is a two-way street! Don’t post something unless you’ve considered how you will (or won’t!) respond to criticism, requests for more details, etc. In my experience, people say they understand this, but then often have a knee-jerk desire to remove negative comments. Interestingly, this has been more of a struggle for nonprofits that I’ve helped with social media than it is for the university, which is accustomed to a certain degree of dissent.

The other big lesson, one I’ll credit to Sree Sreenivasan, a real social media guru and one of my Columbia professors, is that most people will miss most of what you do on social media. That’s right: Most people will miss most of what you post. Since absorbing that lesson, I’ve been less shy about devoting multiple tweets to one topic. I’m also less shy about telling a friend about something that I’ve posted about on Facebook! 

Which platforms are you using now?

In order of the time I spend with them: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Foursquare, Instagram and YouTube. 

How do you measure results?

I check our research news website’s analytics regularly, and pay attention to which social media networks produce the best traffic. It’s humbling to see how much is out of our control. Some months, for example, Reddit (which I don’t use regularly) directs more traffic to our site than all of the other networks combined. I also use Klout to see how different posts perform and to track my own status as an influencer. 

What would you like to be able to do that you're not doing now?

Build better/easier sharing into everything that we do. Increasingly, people are reading what their friends share, so it’s vital that we make it simple to share the news we produce at Binghamton. I’m also always looking for ways to streamline my efforts. In 2013, I embraced Hootsuite, and that has made a huge difference in my use of Twitter. 

Finally: Share some links to examples of your social media efforts.

The Binghamton University research magazine’s digital edition (or at B-Reader in Apple’s App Store) has a simple sharing mechanism built into every page. Click on the suitcase icon when you’re reading a story to share across a variety of platforms. 

Binghamton University hosted the 2013 conference of the University Research Magazine Association. I put together a Storify for the occasion. It’s a cool way to capture our social media mentions from the event. I plan to do something similar in February as part of my work as the social media director for the (much larger) Council for Advancement and Support of Education District II annual conference in Baltimore. One of my favorite things about Storify is that you can set up a slide show of all the tweets/photos/mentions and use that as part of an interactive display during an event. The time you put into curating the content on your hashtag can pay dividends in multiple ways. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Don't get caught speechless: What's in your message wardrobe?

You want some tried-and-true pieces that are versatile enough to suit many occasions, that make you look good, and that travel well. Ideally, they'll all be pieces that make it easy for you to get ready quickly. If you can mix and match them to create variations, so much the better.

Oh, snap--you thought I was talking about a wardrobe. Well, I was. A message wardrobe, that is. 

Developing a message is just a plan-ahead way to make sure you don't get caught speechless in the variety of situations where you might need to explain yourself. From speeches, media interviews and presentations to one-on-one conversations with that investor or donor, messages are the crisp, thoughtful response or takeaway you wish were always on the tip of your tongue. Ironically, the more you prep and practice a message, the less planned it will look.

Mostly, thinking about a message wardrobe means you're ready. I've put hundreds of executives and experts out in public, and I can tell you from experience that memorable messages rarely show up unbidden and without advance thought and planning. Perhaps the best example of this was the late Senator Ted Kennedy's inability to answer, back in the 1970's on national television, why he wanted to be president of the United States. His failure to have an answer ready cost him a campaign even before he'd announced his intentions:

As amazing as that may seem--really, you want to be president but can't tell us why?--it's the same situation you face when someone at a networking event asks "What is it that you do?" or your neighbor asks "what is biochemistry, anyway? I'm not sure I know," or you're up on stage with the assignment to get the audience to do something, and you forget the main thing you were going to say. I've done messaging workshops with teams in which no one could articulate briefly the mission of the organization...because they'd never given thought to it. Those are all missed opportunities to communicate.

I know an easy way to avoid getting caught on this one: Take the time to think through and develop some messages you can use as the core of any answer, speech or presentation. It helps if you take the time to think through how that message might fit (or not) particular audiences you expect to reach, how it might be challenged or questioned, and how you can customize it for specific situations. Here are the pieces I'd put in a message wardrobe:
  • Your introductions: How shall we introduce you? If you just hand a stock bio to the moderator and hope she'll wing it with your best features, you're missing the chance to present yourself as a speaker and expert to your audience. Keep this short and specific, and use it when you introduce yourself as well. 
  • An explanation of what you do, in layman's terms: You've got plenty of people you can test this on--your loved ones, for starters. Pick three things that explain some of your work, and field-test it at the dinner table until you get somewhere. You'll use this set of answers with anyone who doesn't do precisely what you do, from donors and policymakers to the scientist in a different specialty or the executive in marketing. You'll need this type of message for your overall company or organization and its mission, as well as for your specific role there.
  • Answers to the questions you expect: If you're running for president, expect to be asked why you want the job. If you're in the middle of a controversy, expect tough questions about how we got here and what you're going to do to get us out. This category is worth spending time on, because in most cases, these really are the questions you'll get.
  • Answers to the questions you fear: Oddly enough, the questions you fear don't always turn up, but it's still a good practice to have answers ready for them.
  • Answers to the questions you want: You might call these "softball questions," the ones that cheer rather than challenge. Many do--until they get posed and you have no answers for them. There's really nothing sadder than someone who's stumbling to answer, "Have you always been this successful?" or "Isn't it wonderful that you can do so much good for the community?"
  • Your call to action, or what you want others to do, aka "the ask:" Of all the things not to leave out of a pitch, presentation or speech, it's the action item. What do you want to inspire/ask/compel the crowd to do? What decisions need to be made?  From money to votes to an up-or-down decision, "the ask" is another core message. If you can't articulate what you need, don't expect us to act.
I work with all sorts of organizations and companies to help them develop messages--it was among my specialties as a senior public affairs official in the Clinton administration. Sometimes it's a one-on-one effort, sometimes I facilitate team retreats so everyone works through message development together. Let me know if you need help with your message wardrobe. Email me at eloquentwoman[at]gmail[dot]com -- yes, that's the new and only email.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The weekend read

Yup. Your clock is right. The new year is still here, no turning back. Time to usher in the first weekend of 2014, and there's no better way to start the new year smartly than with this collection of reads, data and leads I found and shared on Twitter this week. Set your alarms for informed o'clock:
So excited to be starting a fresh new year with you, right here, right now. Happy new year!

Gosh, I hope you're following don't get caught in all the places we work on the web: On the DGC Facebook page, on Twitter, on Google+, on Pinterest, and via my free monthly newsletter, as well as right here on the blog.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why I discourage observers in training sessions

I've heard nearly every possible configuration of the request to have observers in my training sessions, whether the training is for public speaking, social media, media interview or presentation skills. Here's a sampling:
  • I'd like to observe the one-on-one training you're doing with Fred, which would seem to be a mathematical impossibility. One on one does not equal three. 
  • Of course, we'd like our entire team to observe the training as good professional development, which suggests I'm really training two groups for the price of one. 
  • We need to be there in case they (the trainees) do something inappropriate. Heavens. 
Whether it stems from an assumption or good intentions, your request to observe a training may not be taking into account other critical factors that I always keep in mind:

  • The climate: Too many observers, or only high-level observers, can intimidate the trainees. If the observing row includes the CEO, department chair or an all-management team, it sure looks and feels like a test instead of a training session. Many observers cannot avoid getting caught up in the session, wanting to add commentary or ask questions rather than "just observe." That, too, can have a dampening effect on the people who are actively participating in the training.
  • Peer disparity: That's also true for a CEO being trained in front of a group of subordinates, by the way. It's also difficult for a trainee to feel comfortable failing, which happens many times in a session, with observers present--and as the trainer, I need trainees to demonstrate their default behaviors if we have a prayer of changing them. That's especially true for the leader of the organization.
  • Privacy and confidence: Many introverts seek one-on-one training for a reason that you may not be taking into account if you're an extrovert. And some trainees have special issues they don't want to demonstrate in front of others--issues about which you may not be aware. It's not at all unusual for the trainee to bring up previously unmentioned issues once we're alone, and those can make the difference between a so-so training and one that resonates.
  • A bad sales pitch: Having a potential client observe a current client in a "one-on-one" training would suggest that my client is there to demonstrate my skills, which I find unacceptable. I'm sure my clients would, too. There are better ways to find out how I do my training without violating another client's privacy. 

Trust and confidentiality are critical to my training and coaching, whether I'm coaching speakers, executives prepping for media interviews, or a presenter. Let's discuss your concerns about observing a training and find a good solution together.

(Photo from Judy Baxter's photostream on Flickr)