5 Components of GREAT Story Telling

What is your story?Blogging, social media and video provide organizations excellent platforms to tell your story. However, if your stories aren’t interesting, then your audience will quickly lose interest….and they’ll stop paying attention to your stories.

The one thing that some of the most viral stories have in common is that they tell the story well. Well, what makes a great story?

However, story telling does not need to be complex or difficult in order to be compelling. After reviewing a number of different sources, I came up with five components of great story telling. With a few tweaks, and a little practice, you can turn your descriptive paragraphs into great stories that lead to excellent results.

1-Begin in the action

Draw readers into your story by beginning with the action. Instead of starting your first paragraph with, “On September 9th, ABC School students had an exciting Patriots Day assembly that included a SWAT helicopter, a fire truck and a flag raising ceremony” why not draw a picture of the students’ actual experience, as if one were watching a video of the story? “On the grassy field, students’ hair blew all around while they watched, wide-eyed, as a SWAT helicopter landed in front of them….” From there, you can then continue describe the audience’s experience, versus merely describing what happened.

2-Evoke Emotions

Using descriptive words and sharing the emotions of the participants, try to evoke those same emotions in your readers. Did some students jump up and cheer when she saw the SWAT helicopter? Or, were they so impressed that they looked up in awe as the helicopter came down onto the field? Including these details in the story keeps your reader’s interest.

3-Keep it True and Real

The good thing is, when you’re in the people business, like education and non-profits, it’s easy to keep stories true and real. Reinforce this by getting quotes from participants. Ask them open-ended questions about how they felt, whether they were surprised or excited about the event, and what they liked the best or what they learned from the event. Their responses highlight the true experiences of your participants, and are much more interesting than the usual canned, “We want to make sure students remember how important our public safety officers are to them.” Zzzzzzzz….

4-Highlight a struggle

Most great stories describe a challenge that was overcome. How many of your favorite movies or books involved a character that just skated through life? Audiences like to know that there was some type of challenge involved. Part of your story could be about the challenges of organizing the event itself—and how your event/community partners came through in the end. It’s a great way to highlight your organization’s gratitude for your community partners.

5-Keep it simple

The day of the week, describing what people wore (unless it’s relevant to the story), and other nuances aren’t necessary for an impactful story. One of the most interesting stories can be the shortest ones. A famous example that I keep in mind when I find myself “writing in the weeds” (i.e., getting too complex) is a six word short story (often wrongly attributed to Stephen Kind and Ernest Hemingway): “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Begins with the action, evokes emotions, true and real, and includes a struggle or conflict.

Bonus Tip-Include a Call to Action

Great story telling can also help your organization gain more supporters and partners for its endeavors. So, including a call to action at the end of your story is a great way to encourage audience members to be a part of the action, solution or support your organization needs to be successful.

Want to learn more? Here are some great resources:

TED Talks on Storytelling

The 5 Common Elements of Good Story Telling

The Secret to Great Story Telling

How to Tell a Great Story

21 Call to Action Examples

5 Ways to Build a Blog Following

keepcalm-and-follow-my-blog-keep-calmYou’re blogging…but are you reaching ALL of your audiences?  Building your blog’s audience is critical to your blog’s success–here are five ways to build your following:

1. Take advantage of existing email lists. You probably have an email database of for your organization or school. Why not repurpose blog content in the next email or e-newsletter to that audience? Tease these readers with a tweak of your blog headline and give them a link to your new blog (even ask them to subscribe so they can get each new post right in their email inbox).

2. Start with your own employees. Don’t forget, your employees are your best evangelists. Arm them with the information they need to share your blog posts with their friends, colleagues, and families. Maybe it’s a sample tweet or Facebook update along with a bit.ly link to the post. Or, maybe it’s a simple reminder on your intranet each week with that week’s posts. Either way, make sure you share blog posts regularly with your internal teams.

3. Take advantage of speaking engagements. Whether you speak at a conference or at a PTA meeting, you have an opportunity to market your blog. After all, all your speakers need to do is include the blog URL in the presentation deck and work a mention of it gently into his or her speech. Minimal effort with a potentially huge impact.

4. Insert the blog URL into your email signature. It’s simple, but you’re looking to build the blog into your comprehensive marketing approach. Keep in mind that by inserting your blog URL into your email different audiences will get a glimpse of your blog, including audiences—vendors, analysts, journalists, etc.—you may not have been targeting.

5. And…integrate your blog into ALL of your operations. I’m not simply talking about adding your blog to your website, but instead integrating your blog into your actual operations.  Beyond including a link to your blog in your email signature, include the URL on all organizational communications, meeting agendas (“Let’s continue to keep the lines of communications open—follow ABC Organization’s blog at www.abc.org!”), business cards, outgoing voicemail messages, and more.

Want more ideas?  Here are 16 LOW- and NO-cost ways to market your blog!

16 LOW- and NO-Cost Ways to Market Your Blog

Marketing your blog doesn’t have to be a high-cost adventure.  In fact, taking advantage of each of your organization’s touch points offer a number of low- and no-cost opportunities to market your blog.  Here are a few ideas to get you started!

  1. Insert the blog URL into your email signature. It’s simple, but you’re looking to build the blog into your comprehensive marketing approach. Keep in mind that by inserting your blog URL into your email different audiences will get a glimpse of your blog.
  2. And…integrate your blog into ALL of your operations. Beyond including a link to your blog in your email signature, include the URL on all organizational communications, meeting agendas (“Let’s continue to keep the lines of communications open—follow ABC Organization’s blog at www.abc.org!”), business cards, outgoing voicemail messages, and more.
  3. Put a sign in your organization’s/school’s office window or announcements area (or bulletin board) to promote your blog.
  4. Include a blog link and a call-to-action in everyone’s email signature file. Make sure that you can change these signature file URLs centrally.
  5. Have a sign-up sheet at your organization’s/school’s meetings to collect email information by hand. Don’t forget to simultaneously gain permission to contact signees.
  6. Create a handout for visitors/meeting attendees using a few of your best how to articles as a take one in your place of business.
  7. Identify a volunteer of the week and promote them using your blog. Recognizing volunteers is also a great way to retain volunteers!  Provide background information about why the person was selected—this individual and their friends will certainly share this announcement via their social media and email channels. (Just remember to get people’s permission.)
  8. Promote the blog via customer service using mentions on written emails and phone hold messages.
  9. Include a blurb about your blog on customer facing materials.
  10. Ask partners to promote your blog. PTA, boosters, business partners…and, remember this should be a two way street. You need to offer to help their promotion efforts in return. Coordinate efforts!
  11. Make a decorative sign promoting your blog and its URL. Hang it in a critical area with a lot of traffic like a conference room or, even, the restrooms.
  12. Place a computer in a public place in your location so customers can check out your blog and register for emails.
  13. Write a column for a local newspaper that helps build interest in your product and your expertise. For example, an “Ask the Principal” feature can answer readers’ questions. Include a mention of your blog in your column bio with a link back to your blog.
  14. Work with a local business. For example, you can offer a series of talks or demonstrations related to your organization’s offering and use the opportunity to promote the blog through their communications channels.
  15. Offer to help one or more of your local houses of worship and cross promote your blog through their communications vehicles.
  16. Use other tools creatively to promote your organization/school. Ifyouspend a lot of time in your local Starbucks, why not put a URL with an attention getting sign on your computer so people see it as they pass by?

We like to give credit where credit’s due, and inspiration from this blog post was drawn from Heidi Cohen’s “24 Ways to Promote Your Blog With NO Budget, NO Time & NO Resources”.  Read the full blog here.

10 Tips for Starting a Principal’s Blog and Keeping It Strong

BlogBlogging is increasingly becoming a popular communication tool for principals and administrators.  Unlike the “Principal’s Corner” in your school’s weekly bulletins, blogs allow for immediate communications, sharing of photos and videos, and more.  Here are 10 useful tips on how to keep the lines of communications open through engaging and inspirational blogs.

1. Work in WordPress.

WordPress is the most popular, most versatile blogging platform available. Plus, it’s pretty easy to use, and it can be added fairly easily to your existing website. Some experts recommend against using Blogspot or Blogger, as they’re not as user-friendly as WordPress is.  Keep your blog professional, clean and easy-to-read.

2. Brainstorm.

Side aside time to come up with ideas for blog posts—even writing some in advance.  Try to come up with 15-20 ideas at a time. Inspiration can come from interesting conversations, issue areas, articles you’ve read, current events, and more.  Read other blogs written by other principals for inspiration (follow and comment on them, too!).

3. Concentrate on high-quality content.

“Strive to provide readers with tips and advice that can’t be found anywhere else on the Internet,” says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of personal finance blog MoneyCrashers.com.  This is even true for principals’ blogs—think about what matters to parents when it comes to their child’s education: homework help, the Common Core standards, behavior, internet safety…the list goes on. Draw upon your past experiences as a principal to provide unique and insightful commentary, and focus on quality over quantity. A simple “5 Tips for Helping Your Child With Math” will be met with more enthusiasm than a long post about the intricacies of the Common Core Standard.

4. Use photos and videos

Schools have the best source of photos and videos—kids enjoying learning, being active, playing musical instruments, doing art, conducting a science experiment…the list goes on!

5. Post several times a week…okay, at least once a week

If you don’t publish regularly, you risk suffering from “Dead Blog Syndrome,” says speaker, author, and marketing consultant Thom Singer. Google and other search engines highly value fresh content. “When someone finds your blog and your most recent post is weeks, months, or years old, they do not assume you are committed to your projects,” Singer says. As a principal, you’re busy, so several blog posts a week may not be possible–try to aim for at least once a week.  Better yet, using the inspiration from Tip #2, above, write several posts in advance and that way, you’ll be able to post more than once a week!

6. Market your blog.

Tell your PTA, site employees, community partners, parents, and others about your blog through social media, email, regular communications, commenting on other blogs and even writing guest posts for other blogs (and including a link to your own blog).  Your blog posts should be a regular part of your social media updates.

7. Make a list.

Blogs with lists are a great way to attract and engage readers, and they’re an easy way to deliver valuable information in a succinct format.

8. Stray away from “all business, all the time.”

Non-business posts—ones that share thoughts about family and friends—are well-received because they show your human side.  Keep a positive tone, and try to keep non-business posts to a few times each month (versus a few times a week!).

9. Avoid politics.

Education is a political business-from budgets to the Common Core, politics infiltrates everything in education….except for your blog.  Whether or not you love or hate the Common Core, teacher tenure, or the latest collective bargaining updates are not content ideas for your blog. With that being said, generating support for your district’s bond measure through your blog?  That would be a good thing.  But, use the context of how the bond measure will directly help YOUR school and YOUR students—personalizing the information will go a long way in generating community support.

10. Share the workload.

Two words: Guest bloggers.  One source: Your school—PTA president, National Board Certified Teachers (they lend a certain expertise to education-related matters), your school’s PE teacher, the school nurse, your school counselor, the district’s food services director.  The list goes on—you have so many experts in “your own house” and so many topics they can lend to valuable blog posts. We always believe in giving credit where credit’s due—this blog was inspired by an article on PR Daily.  See the full article here.

Want more blogging tips?  Follow Sounding Board’s Social Media blog!

5 articles to help you boost, fix, or improve online engagement

I love learning new things (or getting an affirmation that old things continue to work) to help fix and improve the ways I do my work.  These are some recent PR Daily articles that I found particularly useful for boosting, fixing or improving online engagement:

3 Key Tips for PR/Marketing Spring Cleaning & Organizing

gerberdaisiesWith Spring, comes….Spring cleaning, of course! This is a great time to start getting your marketing, PR and communications organized for the upcoming school year or for the quieter days of summer.  But, you’re probably asking yourself,  “What should I focus on first?”  Here are three ideas:

  1. Content.  Develop a gameplan over the next few months to update content on your organization’s web pages.  Delete now-expired deadlines and dates, update calendars, map out blog entry topics (including planning guest bloggers), view currently posted or linked videos (and remove any outdated videos), check links to make sure they still work, and rework messaging, where needed.
  2. Planning.  If you don’t already have a Three Year Marketing & Communications Strategy, this is the time to start the process of outlining your strategy and the steps involved, so that you can plan ahead for holding focus group meetings, sending out surveys, and implementing the first year of your strategy.   A thorough strategy includes taking inventory of how well your print and electronic methods of communications are working for your organization. If you’ve been feeling like you’re “just keeping your head above water” then run, don’t walk, to developing your strategy.  Need help?  Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help you develop your strategy.  Are you a DIYer?  If you opted-in emails from Sounding Board, you received a FREE “Marketing & Communication Strategic Planning 101” Guide—use this guide to develop your own Three Year Strategic Plan!  If you haven’t yet opted-in to receive emails, then fill out the contact form to the right!
  3. Learning. Take the time to focus on your professional growth in marketing, PR and communications.  Even us marketing experts and consultants are lifelong learners—I know there’s always, always better ways of doing things.  Read articles on Mashable.com and PR Daily (and, if you’re on social media, you can follow their pages for daily updates…and, if you follow Sounding Board on social media, I post PR/marketing/communication best practices articles on my pages, as well.  In addition, I also write blog posts on a variety of best practices (click on the topics linked above, and if you want to see them when I post them, follow Sounding Board on social media—click on the social media icons above!).

I genuinely want to help you accelerate your organization’s marketing, PR and communication efforts.  If there’s anything I can do to help YOU in your efforts to obtain, maintain, retain, and strengthen your organization’s stakeholder relationships, please send me an email at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net or call me at 916.673.8868.

Fantastic Focus Groups-A Key to a Successful Marketing & Communication Strategy

focus-groupGathering stakeholder input is a critical part of your communications, PR and marketing strategy process.  As PR and communication practitioners, we can make some assumptions about how well our organization is relating to its stakeholders, but directly facilitating feedback from your stakeholders is the only way you can accurately gauge the success (or challenges) of your efforts.

Focus groups are a great way to generate in-depth, valuable feedback from each of your stakeholder groups.  Focus groups allow for thoughtful discussion on the areas that you are evaluating in your organization’s communications, marketing and PR.  Surveys are useful for gauging behaviors and preferences of your stakeholders and are encouraged to be used in tandem with your focus group research.

When planning focus groups, ensure that your focus groups are just that…focused! You are asking these individuals–from their stakeholder perspective–to answer questions that will provide you valuable information about your organization’s communications. To achieve this, guarantee that you:

  • Ensure that each focus group member is sent an invitation well in advance of the meeting, and that the time, date, location and purpose of the focus group meeting are clearly stated in the invitation.
  • DO schedule focus group meetings at a time and location that is feasible for each stakeholder group. For example, avoid scheduling focus group meetings with teachers during instructional or non-contractual hours. Do provide parent and community members focus group options of daytime and evening hours.
  • Be aware of the Brown Act when scheduling focus groups with elected officials from the same government (your school board, the city council) to avoid violations—this may require scheduling individual interviews instead, or two separate focus group meetings for each group.
  • Plan no more than one hour for each focus group meeting. This will allow enough time for thorough responses, but is short enough for individuals’ busy schedules.
  • Develop the same questions for each focus group but make adjustments to ensure that the questions are appropriate for the audience. For example, when inquiring about opinions about your organization’s website, students may use the site differently than parents, and parents may use the site differently than Board of Education members. Therefore, instead of asking, “What are your opinions of our website?” you may want to start with a question like, “How do you use our website?” to obtain valuable information about its use by each stakeholder.
  • When opening the focus group meeting, set some key ground rules: Encourage honesty, ensure confidentiality (meaning, people’s names will not be used in the focus group report or communication audit), keep discussion relevant to the question, and  respect the role of the facilitator (this is important, because when the facilitator either you or another staff member needs to cut off discussion to move forward to the next question, or redirect the group to the discussion, participants tend to bristle at the facilitator’s role!).
  • Have both a facilitator and a scribe: It’s challenging to do both roles successfully!
  • Provide refreshments for focus group participants: People tend to talk more when they’re not hungry…and people naturally like to talk over food!

Next, prepare your focus group, interview and survey questions based on your communications/PR research goals.  Here are some examples:

  • What are the strengths of ABC organization?  Keep this broad–the PR/communication strengths will be mentioned by participants in this discussion, but it’s important to learn the other organizational strengths, from their perspective, to tie them to the PR/communication strategy, where applicable.
  • What are its challenges?  Again, keep this broad–PR/communication challenges will ultimately be highlighted here, and there may be trends in organizational challenges that may link back to PR/communication challenges.
  • How do you receive news and information about ABC organization? Which do you use most frequently?
  • What is working well/not well about ABC organization’s: website, newsletter, social media, email system, customer service, phone system (and, add any other communication, news, PR, and/or marketing mechanisms used by your organization, here)
  • What are some of your ideas on how ABC organization can improve its communications?  You will be amazed by your stakeholders’ creativity…but also gain some insight into what they value most.

Lastly, have fun during this process!  Stakeholders value the opportunity for their opinions to be heard, and focus groups provide a great PR opportunity for your organization to show your stakeholders that you listen to them and value their feedback!

These tips were pulled straight from Sounding Board’s Unleash Your Best Communication guide.  Click here to download FULL guide, which includes more tips and advice—including a handy workbook with a communications audit guide and Heather’s five-step PRIDE Communication Audit Process!

30 Tweets in 30 Days

It might seem daunting to create a month’s worth of tweets, but really, when it comes down to it, so much of the content is already at your fingertips!  I’m a big believer in two things: 1) NOT reinventing the wheel (seriously, who has time to create new content for every online and/or print medium?!) and 2) message consistency.  Your audiences will read your organizations’ messages in a variety of different formats, and you will reach many (if not most) of your audience members in different ways–email, your organization’s website, social media, video, and any of your other communication mediums.  Therefore, you need to ensure that you are carrying your organization’s messages across each of your communication mediums.  

So, here are a few easy ways to create 30 tweets in 30 days:

  • Turn your organizational newsletter into an internal blog and give employees the ability to contribute. Link tweets to articles in the newsletter.
  • Identify which stories will be best shared via video—and work with students and other audience members on creating those videos.  Link teaser tweets to these videos.

Utilize the rule of thirds:

  • 1/3 of your content should promote your organization (calendar updates, board meetings, new student registration, other matters that are “organizational business”).  So, over 30 days, create 10 tweets that link to this information.
  • 1/3 of your content should be evidence of your organization supporting similar or like-minded businesses/organizations. Identify key partners that can help share your messages—and work with these partners on identifying which messages your organization will share.  Over 30 days, share 10 tweets that help leverage your partners’ news.
  • 1/3 of your content should be related to the “heart and soul” stories of your organization.  Find 10 ways to highlight how employees, students, and volunteers contribute to the mission of your organization.

Remember to time your content! Create a calendar that spells out what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it, and align this calendar with organizational activities/initiatives.

For more inspiration, check out my blog post on “5 Social Media Content Ideas Readers Love” http://sounding-board.net/5-social-media-content-ideas-readers-love

The 10 PR Commandments of a Successful New Website Launch

hcgovimageNo matter what side of the Obamacare debate you’re on, there’s one thing that we can probably all agree upon: Websites still matter.  In this day and age of increasing focus on social media, websites and website content have kind of gotten the back burner in terms of marketing focus.

The healthcare.gov website roll-out debacle certainly fueled politicians’ fire on both sides of the political spectrum, but there are some valuable lessons that can be drawn from “the nation’s worst website roll-out in history” for any organization with a website—whether it’s a school district, school, county office of education, governmental entity, non-profit, or business.  While techies and other website gurus could spend a lot of time discussing the technological aspects, I’m going to focus on the 10 PR Commandments of a successful new website launch, so that your new website becomes your best PR tool…and not your latest PR nightmare:

Commandment 1: Develop a website that is responsive to stakeholders

How do your stakeholders want to navigate your site?  Do they want a list of options, or do they want a site that is intuitive and takes them to the information they are seeking?  In the healthcare.gov example, backend users (insurers) are experiencing problems that differ from the frontend users’ (those seeking insurance) problems.  Both are equally important to the overall success of the site.  And, let’s not forget the “ques”….look, if you built a site for all of America to get government-subsidized health insurance, then make sure your site can handle the traffic!  So, with this in mind…

Commandment 2: Strategically develop your new website

Use surveys, focus groups, and interviews with key front end and back end users of your site.  Make sure the tech folks understand the needs and capabilities of those who will be updating the site and vice versa.  Look at the short- and the long-term needs of the site.  Ensure that your organizational policies will support the new site, and consider implementing a governance plan for the site to ensure the site’s integrity over the long-term. And, before launching the site, test pages with your front and back end stakeholders and ensure that everyone’s needs will be met.  There’s nothing worse than having a new website launched and then hearing about everything that’s missing from a key stakeholder.

Commandment 3: Set realistic timelines for the development of a website

Everyone wants a new website…yesterday.  Rushing the development of a website will risk critical website testing that needs to occur prior to its launch.  This website testing is code word for: saving your organization’s rear from a PR nightmare. Testing takes time—so does applying fixes.  With that being said…

Commandment 4: Heed the advice of your website developer

Prior to its launch, the healthcare.gov site’s website contractor threw out several red flags related to the site’s capacity and its ability to launch by the October  deadline.  These warnings were widely ignored (according to media accounts), and, as a result, an incomplete, faulty site was launched, placing a dark cloud over the launch of the nation’s first comprehensive healthcare plan.  Look, a great website developer is going to be your partner in success—they don’t dig in their heels for their own kicks.  They have a very valid reason to raise concerns about launching before certain activities are completed. Listen to them.

Commandment 5: Develop a website that is reflective of your organization’s brand

Many organizations think they can use a cheap template approach to work around the financial challenges associated with developing a new website.  Unfortunately, this out of the box template approaches result in underperforming websites that look like…a bunch of other underperforming websites.  I work together with who I consider to be some of the best website developers around who develop custom, branded websites for a competitive price.  They not only provide great design elements, but they also deliver websites that use navigation, content organization, and design that best respond to stakeholders’ needs.  Consider making a little more of an investment to launch high quality website that is responsive to your unique stakeholders/customers and best reflects your organization’s brand.

Commandment 6: Every page shall have content

Seriously, healthcare.gov had pages without content…worse, it had placeholder content. I don’t think this should require further discussion.  Really, please don’t use placeholder content—just don’t include pages that don’t have content.

Commandment 7: Every page shall have consistently messaged content

Having a content style guide for your site will ensure that your organization isn’t referred one way on your home page, and another way on an internal page.  The content style guide will also ensure that, if multiple employees are developing content, that there’s one way that bulleted lists are presented, a consistent approach to linking content, and more.

Commandment 8: Every page shall have effectively messaged content

Writing effectively messaged content ensures that your content is interesting to readers, guides them to other pages on your website, increases SEO (search engine optimization), and reflects your organization’s brand.

Commandment 9: Launch a website—that meets and exceeds everyone’s expectations

With that being said, don’t overpromise and underdeliver.  If you wanted video streaming on your website, don’t talk about the “new streaming video feature” until you have ironed out all of the details and finalized that video will actually be on your site.  There are a lot of technological details that go into every website feature.  Video, for example, sounds great on the surface, until you discover that you don’t have organizational support for developing video, or because your server can’t accommodate video hosting…and your organization blocks YouTube videos.

Websites cost money and take time—when public funds are used, then the light of scrutiny shines brighter on a new website launch.  When discussing the yet-to-be-launched website in public, make sure that your organization’s leaders are on the same page when describing the website’s new features—I would highly recommend developing talking points.  That brings me to my next and final point…

Commandment 10: Have a PR and Marketing Plan for the launch of the new website

Just as you would carefully construct a PR and marketing plan for the dedication of a new building, launch of a new program/product, or other feature of your organization, your website is the most important digital PR and customer service vehicle and structure for your organization.  Yet, all too often, organizations launch new websites quietly, under the radar, and expect their stakeholders to take up and notice the site when they happen to visit it.  Here’s a quick reality check: you may have already lost a lot of your stakeholders’ interest in your website before you updated it—and I’d be willing to bet that one of the goals of your new website is to have increased traffic!  So, why wouldn’t you treat its launch with the same PR kitten gloves (talking points, press releases, announcements to stakeholders, social media announcement) as you would any other important launch in your organization?

Oh, and if I could add a Commandment 11: Keep your new website updated!

Want more resources for developing your new website?

Sounding Board provides website content writing services, as well as capacity building workshops on writing effective website content, including a website content style guide.  Contact us to begin improving your website content today!

Sounding Board’s Preferred Website Developers

We want to refer you to the best of the best when it comes to website developers.  For this reason, Sounding Board does not endorse companies that provide a cookie-cutter, template-based approach, and instead, would prefer you to invest in a strategically-planned, branded, and beautifully-designed custom website through either of these amazing website developers:

SectorPoint, Inc.: Sounding Board Marketing & Communications regularly refers clients to SectorPoint, Inc. on the development of large-scale websites on the Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 and 2013 platforms.  More information about SectorPoint, Inc. can be found at www.sectorpoint.com.

Bourn Creative: Bourn Creative specializes in strategic consulting, extraordinary branding, and custom WordPress websites. More information about Bourn Creative can be found at www.bourncreative.com.  (P.S. Bourn Creative designed Sounding Board’s website!)

Pitfalls of the Amber Alert text launch…and how to avoid them

When I received the noise-jarring, wake-up inducing Amber Alert at 11 p.m. a couple of weeks ago on my smart phone, I’ll admit it: I looked up how to turn it off, and did turn them off.  That was only after I received two more alerts, and I had no idea why I was receiving them (and how much longer I would receive them throughout the night).

Please forgive me—as the mother of two children and someone who had slept poorly the night before, I desperately needed some sleep, otherwise I would have to issue an Amber Alert for my children the next day, as they would have gone missing due to my sleep-deprived status.  Personally, receiving an Amber Alert at 11 p.m. was about as good as reading it in the paper the next day for me.

Of course, I joined the thousands of “heartless” and “unsympathetic” people who cared more about their sleep than a missing child (I did care…however, there’s not much I could have done about it when I was in my bed, thank you very much).  However, my public relations and communications side of me begged this question: “Why didn’t we know ANYTHING about this in advance?”  I considered the thousands of people, like myself, who searched the internet for “How to shut off Amber Alerts on my smartphone” and have kept them off indefinitely, rendering this potentially-effective communication vehicle ineffective.

In reality, this system—IPAWS (Integrated Public Awareness Warning System)—has been around for some time, beginning about 10 years ago.  However, ongoing hiccups, bureaucratic challenges, along with FEMA’s admission that yes, they could do a better job of educating the public about it, has led to ongoing challenges in fully and successfully launching IPAWS.   Article: “Why the government is sending emergency alerts to your smartphone”

Which brings me back to the Amber Alert—and why public outreach and education are critical in launching— and the ongoing success—ANY kind of program:

1)      Educating the public early and often will help your program win fans…and let’s face it: fans are good.  Fans will also help positively promote your program.

2)      Communicating in advance of a launch will ensure that everyone is “on board” for the launch when it does occur…and this also increases the likelihood that your organization’s messaging about the program are front and center.  This also provides your organization the opportunity to address questions and concerns before the launch—versus having the questions and concerns become the central messages about the launch.

3)      Public education and outreach provide people information about the choices they do have regarding your program—versus making them think they have no choices.  In my experience, when people feel like they have limited or no choices, they tend to react negatively, no matter how wonderful your program is.  Case in point—Amber Alerts.  We can all agree that they are an effective and amazing way to inform the public about an abducted child.  However, when people receive a jarring alert on their cell phone—without education, warning or information about their choices to receive (or verify) alerts—some of their first thoughts will be, “Here’s big brother government, forcing me to receive these alerts” or “I didn’t sign up for these!” or “This is nice, but, how do I manage these alerts?”

4)      Timing IS everything:  Look, I know child abductions can occur any time of the day.  But, launching a new alert system at 11 p.m….the worst timing ever.  In fact, had there been a notification alert sent earlier in the day, stating, “The Amber Alert system will begin sending alerts to your cell phone, starting today.  For more information, including how to manage these alerts, please visit www. Amberalert.org” I’m sure this launch would have been received with more positive feedback (and fewer people turning off the alerts) and much more effective outcomes.

So, when developing your organizations plans to launch a new alert system, new program, or changes to an existing program, don’t forget to include a good portion of time for public education and outreach before and during the planning phases, and allow for a significant amount of time prior to launching the program/changes to inform the public.  The success of your program depends on it.