Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Digital Media Lounge at UN Summit

The Digital Media Lounge opens today as world leaders meet this week to take stock of the progress made on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. With only five years left, developing countries and donors are likely to miss their targets. Yet the goals as a measure of aid effectiveness are increasingly criticized, as this article in the Financial Times points out.

The media lounge is part of the Social Good Summit sponsored by Mashable and the UN Foundation. The event looks at the role of technology and social networks in improving the lives of people in developing countries. The digital lounge is a great opportunity for journalists and those who care about these issues to connect with others to share ideas and resources.

Aaron Sherinian, executive director for public affairs and communications at the UN Foundation, said in an e-mail, "We have pulled together a phenomenal agenda that includes informal conversations, expert briefings, opportunities for full-access Q&A, and real talk with musicians, celebrities, and people from the ground to inspire and challenge you and your communities."

You can watch the event live at www.unfoundation.org/unweekdml. The Twitter hashtag for the digital lounge is #unweekdml.

K4Health Blog will cover the UN summit and related activities this week. The Global Health Council and InterAction have more information on the MDGs and the summit.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Opening up government

The Gov 2.0 summit, September 7-8 in Washington, highlights innovation in openness and transparency. A quick look at the videos of some of the speakers shows the variety of efforts directed at a more open, participatory government.

Challenge.gov went live at the summit. This site intends to involve the citizenry in solving some tough problems usually left to government to face alone. I saw two challenges related to development. The U.S. Department of Treasury created the G-20 SME Finance Challenge. The U.S. Agency for International Development started LAUNCH: Health.

This summer I worked with a group of people to equip government managers with the tools they need to be more open. We focused on steps individuals can take to engage the public more effectively. Join our discussion on Smarter, Better, Open Government.

For a discussion focused on transparency in international aid, join the Aid Transparency group on LinkedIn started by Claudia Schwegmann of Open Aid.

The U.K's aid agency is inviting input on how to be more transparent.

What efforts do you know of that are fostering more open and transparent government?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Stories make us human

Country report are good. In fact, they are required. But stories are better for communicating to outside audiences. That is why to show the impact of the work you do, you need to tell a story. Stories strike a chord deep within us. Stories make us human.

This week as part of its series on what makes us human, National Public Radio looked at storytelling. We have been telling stories since the spoken word. Through stories we shape our lives and give meaning to our existence.

As Melinda Gates said in her blog post yesterday, "Stories can change the world."

To get inspired to tell your story, visit ViewChange.org. This multimedia website uses stories to show why international development matters. Participate in the ViewChange online film contest. Starting today you can vote for your favorite video. Voting ends September 15, 2010.

Wim Wenders directed one of the most entertaining films, Person to person. I liked the message, but also the communications angle of the piece.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yahoo! style guide helps writers

Hats off to Yahoo! for creating this style guide for the Web. While the AP Stylebook has served me well over the years, this online guide for the digital age has a lot to offer. It features articles on how to write for the Web, search engine optimization, and eye tracking. It even lets you download its word list to use as a starting point in creating your own.

You can win a copy by answering the question, What have you learned from the guide that you did not know before? Contest ends today.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is your content strategy in place?

Content is what drives people to your site. Whether you are about to do a redesign or are going to develop a new site, focus on the content. Good content should be
  • engaging
  • relevant
  • useful
  • current
  • flexible
  • social
Content that possesses these attributes will strengthen your brand.

Content on the Web, and I am referring to text here, differs from copy for a printed brochure. It is expected to do more. Once you provide your users with the information they desire, then you can start marketing to them. But first you need to give them what they want.

To make sure your content works for you, have a strategy. The strategy should include an analysis of what you already have, a workflow, and a maintenance plan. Too often organizations are eager to put something on their websites without thinking how it supports their business objectives and who will own it.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson is an excellent place to begin your journey toward great content. She maps out how to devise a strategy that will help your content satisfy both the organization’s and the users’ goals.

Some key steps:
  • Analyze what you have with a content audit
  • Know what business objective each piece of content achieves
  • Clarify who owns the content
  • Identify how users will find the content
  • Have a plan for creation and maintenance
Listen to the podcast on content marketing v. content strategy  in which Kristina and Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute discuss what can make your organization stand out from the rest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pitching in the digital age

Information overload? Journalists get it, too. As resources at news outlets decline, the pressure is on for people who work in media to produce—round the clock—even as they are getting bombarded with pitches.

Those interested in building relationships with journalists need to focus on the basics:

Know a reporter’s beat. These can change, but do your homework.
Give something substantive. Provide information or a perspective not found elsewhere. Point out deficiencies in conventional wisdom—or your competitors.
Use a fact sheet.
Include the peg. Every story has an arc. Hitch a local story to a national trend.
Personalize the e-mail. Here’s a great post about a broadcast service and why creating your own lists can be more effective. The same blog, Bad Pitch Blog, had an example of a good pitch.

Hear what Chris Brogan author of Trust Agents had to say about pitches.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Last week I attended Anne Wylie’s workshop on how to sharpen your writing. Below are some of the helpful points she made.

1. Start with the message in mind.
Think like your reader. What do you want that person to remember about your press release, blog post, or feature story? Back in the day, we were taught how to get our messages out. Today the challenge is how to get our messages in. The way to do that is to start with the benefit.

Think about your own life. How do you decide what to spend time on? (Reading means spending time even if it is only 10 seconds.) How do you decide what to read? Simple: when what you hope to gain is of greater value than the amount of time or effort it takes. Here is the formula:

Expectation of reward / effort required

2. Try starting with “you.”

When writing a press release, skip the traditional format of leading with “Who, what, where, when.” Focus on your readers and the benefit to them. One way to do this is to start with “you.” For example, “You will save money…,” “You will get to work faster…,” “You will be more secure thanks to XYZ’s innovative product.”

3. Use short paragraphs, short sentences.

Keep paragraphs short: 42 words is a good target length. The job of the first paragraph is to get the reader to the second paragraph. It can be 2 to 25 words. According to recent research, the rate of comprehension goes below 90% when sentences are longer than 14 words. If you find you are writing long sentences, break them into two or start using bullets.

4. Use a summary sentence after the headline.

Often called a deck, the one or two sentences after a headline summary the article. This is especially important when writing for the Web. Visitors to your site will use this information to decide to click through or not. Here is a recent example.

The deck lets you know if you want to read the article.

5. Review and cut.

Good writing takes time. Go through your drafts keeping the reader in mind. Where can you trim the excess? Here’s a fun quote Ann mentioned by Peter DeVries:

When I see a paragraph shrinking under my eyes like a strip of bacon in a skillet, I know I’m on the right track.

You can get more tips at RevUpReadership.com Anne Wylie’s service for writers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The digital economy is thriving in DC

As Digital Capital Week 2010 came to a close this weekend, it was clear that DC has a vibrant digital economy. The event also demonstrated the many opportunities to use social media for social good. This 10-day event was chock-full of interesting, forward-looking discussions. Here are some of the highlights.

Transparency in government
The government is using new technologies to engage its citizens in a more open and transparent way. Data is being made more accessible.  The panelists seemed to agree that within the next 18 months much of the data would be available. This prompted Clay Johnson, who recently left Sunlight Labs, to say that the next step in transparency is an “information diet” meaning that we need to be careful about the news sources we select.

Alex Howard wrote a great summary of the Gov 2.0 sessions on Huffington Post.

Open leadership
Charlene Li, author of Open Leadership, talked about how social media can change the way people lead. Her thoughts on organizational change are relevant particularly as the government becomes more participatory. She encourages leaders to define the rules of engagement in the "sandbox" of openness.  Read the introduction.

Focus on organizational goals
A theme running throughout the week was the importance of using social media strategically. There are many ways to engage your audience, but the focus should not be on the technology. The bottom line is social media can help achieve the goals of the organization. I'll write more about this in future posts.

The connected me
At the 140 Conference, organizer Jeff Pulver described how he connected with a variety of people through Twitter.  In his opening remarks he emphasized the social value of social media. People can donate skills, not just money.  You can catch part of what he said in the last two minuets of this video. The program he put together showed the application of micro-blogging in areas as diverse as emergency response, education, dating, film making and the military.

Failure and criticism in public
We learn from our mistakes. But in social media, our mistakes take place in a very public way. Geoff Livingston, Allyson Kapin, and Justin Thorp described their experiences of failing or being criticized in public.  Simply put, the conversation will happen with or without you. You have to decide how to participate. Geoff wrote about the topic here. Jill Foster, who moderated the panel, later tweeted: Live, fail, thrive.

Thanks to the organizers iStrategyLabs and Shinyheart for this event.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Women Deliver: Five things done right

The Millennium Development Goal #5 is to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. Each year hundreds of thousands of women die from preventable deaths related to pregnancy. Women Deliver was established to help end maternal death. Its message is that maternal health is a human right and critical to sustainable development.

The Women Deliver 2010 conference in DC ends tomorrow. Here are five things I like about their online advocacy efforts.

1. Inform The website has facts, figures, and links to background information about family planning, HIV, or maternal health in general. The site offers downloadable fact sheets and publications.
2. List next steps Once informed, people may want to take action. Individuals, governments, civil society organizations, and the media can make a difference. Women Deliver tells you how.
3. Give something Free widget to add to your site. You could get the full library, or select a specific video.

Watch live streaming video from womendeliver at livestream.com

4. Socialize Links to YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook appear at the top of every page. The Twitter feed for the conference shows up next to the webcast.

5. Use good design I saved this one for the end because it probably cost the most. This site was done by Aardvark Brigade.

Women Deliver has delivered on the message and the execution. The conference has got the attention of many, including Melinda Gates. She chose the occasion to announce a $1.5 billion investment in maternal health. That should help toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal #5 by 2015.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Social media developing for development

As a sector, international development has been slow to pick up on social media. The USAID administrator acknowledged as much during his town hall meeting May 5. His comments focused on the State Department’s current strategic review. At one point, he acknowledged that more people at USAID should know what a hashtag is.

I have used hashtags most effectively for events, but there are lots of ways organizations can use them. For more ideas, see Beth Kantor's list.

Social media is here to stay and by some accounts it is already mainstream. Why are people in development lagging behind? There are probably several reasons. In my experience, often development organizations--even the for-profit ones--devote few resources to communications. A second reason could have to do with their audience. If development organizations are exclusively focused on the beneficiaries of aid, they may miss out on conversing with the donors, not to mention those who contributors to the donors.

Today, organizations have to use social media to be responsive to their stakeholders. Many international organizations have jumped on the bandwagon. Of the 44 organizations that are members of the Global Health Council, 34 have a presence on Facebook. Are they using it effectively? Do they follow the rules of engagement? It surprises me that so few of their communications officers seem to use it. Are you responsible for communications at an organization that promotes international development? Are you using social media? If so, let me know. I think we are a small but growing club.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Multi-tiered strategy to end poverty

How can communicators help their organizations achieve the millennium development goals? InterAction and the United Nations Foundation hosted a one-day media summit to discuss this and other issues with journalists and development communicators.  A predominant theme in the discussion was having a multi-tiered strategy that includes social media and partnerships. Here are a few points that stood out.

1. Mainstream media might not be useful. Paul Mitchell, former division manager of development communications at the World Bank said out loud what many of us have already been thinking. Read more of his thoughts here. Given the way media is changing and niche markets are developing, there is good reason to focus on niche outlets.

2. The new stupid: congregating around an issue at a very shallow level. Ben Parker IRIN pointed out that it is easy to great a social networking group, but it is not clear how to move it to action. As he put it,  “Liking” on Facebook is not a real engagement.

3. Partnerships are increasingly valuable. Karen Turner of USAID cited examples of public private partnerships that are important especially given the new aid architecture with 80% of resources transferred is from the private sector. Jon Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center cited an example of partnering with National Geographic, the News Hour, and other outlets on water issues. Todd Jacobson, vice president of community relations at the NBA emphasized the way to create effective partnerships is to leverage core competencies. 

Read more about the event on Twitter. Look for the hashtag #iasummit.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Changing media landscape opens opportunities for NGOs

In an earlier post I summed up a presentation on the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual report on the media. Below are three points from the report that weren’t mentioned in the presentation, but are important for organizations that want to connect to their stakeholders.

1. News organizations discover the long tail.
Most news organizations—new or old—are becoming niche operations, more specific in focus, brand and appeal and narrower, necessarily, in ambition. Organizations can seek out those outlets that speak directly to their niche.

2. News is a social experience.
Our relationship to the news—how we access it, how we respond to it—is changing. The Internet and cell phones have allowed users to turn the news into a social experience.  More than 60% of American access the news online. More than 25% of adults get news on their phones and PDAs. The new technologies are making news “more portable, perpetual, personalized and participatory.” Communicators need to keep this in mind when developing strategy.

3. The top stories vary from traditional to social media.
Social media look at different topics. What trends on Twitter is not typically what leads on NBC Tonight. During the week of April 26, 2010, for example, aliens dominated the news on social media while mainstream press covered the economy. If the boss is disappointed your press release didn’t make it into the New York Times, show her your stats on Twitter. The topic on aliens got some scientists talking seriously. Find the touchstone for your audiences and help them share it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What's happening with the news

Each year the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism publishes a report on the state of the news media.

Last week Amy Mitchell, deputy director for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, highlighted features of the report at the IABC Washington chapter meeting. Here are a few key points:

1. Primary news source no longer exists.
People are “news grazers.” According to the report, 92% of users get their news from multiple platforms. Readers go to multiple places throughout the day. They are not aimless wanderers, however. They have some direction. Most people go to 2 to 5 different sites. Approximately 35% have a favorite site. Most favorite sites are for the weather, news, or job-related.

2. News is search-based.
Consumers search for their news: 56% get their news from aggregators or portals. Only 6% get their news from Twitter. Consumers of news search by story rather than brand. The search for news can end with Google search results.

3. New content is generated by old media.
According to the report 92% of new content in one U.S. city came from old media. Stories originate in the old media and go forth on many new platforms. There is less control over where the product goes.

Communicators need to recognize how the landscape of media has changed. Look here for more posts on this topic. Later this week I am going to New York for the media summit on international reporting organized by InterAction.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Starting anew

Spring is here--the tulips, dogwoods, and azaleas are in bloom around the nation's capital. The season makes me feel rejuvenated. It is a great time to refocus and start blogging again. Part of my inspiration comes from Denise Graveline of don't get caught. Read about the lessons she has learned in five years of writing a blog.

This is an exciting time to be in this space. Social media is now mainstream, but the challenge for organizations to use it effectively remain. International development is changing as a sector. I am interested in the QDDR, aid effectiveness, and the open government movement. Look for posts on these topics in addition to those on strategic communications.