Friday, June 29, 2012

Do You Conduct Media and Social Media Training for Employees?

This week, I successfully lobbied for the communications area at my company, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) to be a regular part of new employee orientation with a media/social media session. My goal is simple: to increase employees' awareness of the public nature of their jobs, and how their actions, on the clock and off, can affect company image and even media coverage.

I will provide examples of e-mails and other such things that have gone public, as well as some general social media awareness (as in using common sense!) and our company policies that govern usage.

I am interested in hearing from others who are doing the same thing, and any examples of presentations, etc. would be appreciated! You can e-mail me directly at

Friday, June 15, 2012

Never, Ever, Ever Lick a Toilet Seat, and Other Things I Learned Last Week

The first piece of advice in my headline comes from my four-year-old son, who randomly chose this wisdom to impart on his babysitter. To my knowledge, no one in my household has done such a thing, especially now that I have a toddler who is helping me maintain some basic ground rules.

Beyond these family lessons, last week’s National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Communications School provided me (and many others) with all kinds of useful knowledge to take back to the workplace. For the next few weeks, I’ll share tidbits of information that was shared in the various workshops and pre-conference sessions. First up, crisis communications and leadership, courtesy of media expert Dr. Joe Trahan:

Quick Tips for Crisis Communications
• Do not disagree with policy on record with the media (sounds elementary, but sometimes media questions can subtly hint at flaws in your policy. Be aware.)

• Create “dark sites” (crisis-related web pages created in advance and kept offline until a crisis hits) that have basic information for a variety of crises. Once it hits the fan, you’ll have the ability to quickly post relevant information. Along those lines, have several tweets related to each, as well as a one-page summary fact sheet.

• Get your “top dog” (president, director, etc.) out in front of the crisis early. Make sure they are visible.

• Know your plan for mobilizing staff, but also know your plan for letting people go as you transition to normal operations.

• 3 C’s of media interviews: Control (always maintain it!), Competence (only talk about what you know) and Concern (demonstrate it!)

• You need one hour of prep for every minute of airtime.

11 Essential Ingredients of Leadership Gumbo

1. Knowledge: publics, goals, mission/vision, etc.
2. Accuracy: of all information that comes in and goes out.
3. Training: cross train all employees to do someone else’s job.
4. Response/Leadership: a leader must love their people. Listen to them, overlook their shortcomings. Voice your support and enthusiasm for them.
5. Information & Ideas: Reward creativity and candid comments.
6. Nothing Held Back: Maximum disclosure and minimum delay.
7. Access: Do you truly have an open door or is it just talk? Leadership by roaming - walk around and talk to your employees.
8. Resources: Do you have the right communications tools to reach all of your audiences?
9. Internal Audiences: What do they want? Recognition. Say "thank you!"
10. Teamwork: Everybody has a role and they must contribute as a whole.
11. Authority: Who is going to speak for the organization?

Who else learned something?

Advanced Social Media
Aileen Horgan of Granicus, one of the exhibitors at the conference, summed up some really cool tools for advanced social media and web technology in her Connecting Government blog. The presentation on free web 2.0 tools was conducted by GovLoop's Andrew Kzmarzick and Meagan Dorsch of the National Conference of State Legislature.

How Important is NAGC?
NAGC Professional Development Director John Verrico learned that some people will go out of their way, and overcome both financial and physical challenges, to attend this conference and further their professional development:

As members of the National Association of Government Communicators, we have an idea of how special an organization this is. The professional development and networking opportunities are unsurpassed. With limited travel and training funds available from many government agencies nowadays, some attendees at last week’s NAGC Communications School paid their own fare – including registration and travel – because they saw the value of attending. That says a lot! 

Others also recognize the importance of what we do and the unique opportunity presented by the NAGC Communications School, so much so that nothing would keep them away. 

Several speakers traveled long distances to be there, without any reimbursement for their expenses. The few paid speakers we had cut their rates by significant amounts, in most cases, cutting their normal fees in half. Peter Tork, who also halved his fee, wrote a special performance just for the NAGC President’s Reception. One of our panelists had major surgery the week prior to the School and postponed a high-level meeting at the Pentagon in order to attend. You know you rate high when you come before meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff! 

Those of you who attended the School, may have noticed the woman who showed up Thursday on crutches and then was put into a wheelchair. Parule Basa-Barua, one of the panelists in the long format media panel, injured both her ankles tripping on a sewer drain the evening before her presentation. She was in a great deal of pain, but did not want to disappoint us so she bought crutches and forced herself to come be part of our panel. We learned afterwards, that her injuries were more severe than she thought. She finally went to the hospital Friday and discovered that both her ankles were fractured! Wow! As much pain as she was in, she insisted on showing up!

That’s how important NAGC is! 

Keep your eye on the NAGC blog for many more of the stories to come out of our 2012 Communications School.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

30 Great Random Ideas

Last week's NAGC Communications School provided a wealth of professional development and networking opportunities for its attendees, and we'll devote several upcoming blog posts to some of the lessons learned, case studies and tips for improving communications in the coming weeks. One popular session in 2011 was "30 Great Ideas in 30 Minutes," which featured quick, random tips from attendees. We brought it back this year, and here's what people had to share:

1. A great addition to a communicator’s tool kit is duct tape in all colors. Start with gray, black and clear.

2. When pitching to the media, keep in mind a reporter’s interests and passions. Research the reporter, what they cover, and understand his/her reporting style.

3. Track your agency’s TV and radio clips in real time; it will help you be proactive in spreading the word about your services and programs.

4. When looking for a giveaway or leave behind item, consider something that is available to you at little or no cost. A great example is a pinecone – a park and recreation or environmental agency could give out pine cones. Pine cones are free, represent the great outdoors and make a unique business card holder.

5. Looking for data and information? Open data for crowd sourcing and reports is readily available at One NAGC member did this, and at no cost were able to map their site through crowd sourcing!

6. Make the subject line of your e-mail look like a text. That way, the key information is available to the recipient immediately.

7. The American Red Cross has a language bank of volunteers who can assist with language translations when developing emergency messages for emergency awareness programs.

8. Use pop culture references to create awareness for a cause. A great example is the Blue Pencil Gold Screen winner, the CDC’s “Zombie Apocalypse” campaign, which took advantage of trending interest in zombies.

9. Be sure to use one of the of the URL shortening tools when posting a web link that is long – popular and recommended tools by NAGC’ers were, and

10. Current research and web analytics suggests that posting to Facebook between 1 and 4 p.m. weekdays. The recommendation for Twitter is Monday and Thursday between 1 and 3 p.m.

11. Microsoft Word (2007 and newer) has a word count feature that appears at the bottom of the screen. Very helpful if you are preparing your tweets for the week. It also has a language setting for passive/active.

12. To clear up your writing, you may want to consider your “Fog Factor.” It’s an index that estimates the years of formal education needed to understand text on a first reading.

13. If your social media platforms are not monitored and interactive 24/7, consider signing on and off daily. Use a message that indicates when staff will reactivate the platform and be available for assistance. Also, periodically post a reminder that tells the public what kind of services and communication you provide through social media.

14. Use your agency’s internal messaging system to have an “ask the editor” feature. This could be where grammatical questions are answered in chat room format for fellow employees.

15. Consider a technology edit for your documents.

16. Ask a reporter to tweet your information even if they can’t cover your story. They often have many followers.

17. Section 508 Compliance: YouTube automatically outputs a transcript once a video is loaded.

18. If your agency does not allow a subservient Facebook or YouTube channel, work with the IT department to launch a non-forward facing channel.

19. For your subject matter experts, develop and keep current bios on file. Be sure to include something fun or quirky about the person at the end of the bio.

20. An internal communication idea – keep a list of people who have unusual backgrounds or skills (examples given were former athletes, published writers, etc.). These make great human interest stories.

21. Take photographs of employees in various departments on a regular basis to ensure that you have current photos of employees in your library.

22. Keep the photo library (the insider/technical term is “photo morgue”) in a safe place. It’s a great resource when employees retire!

23. Cross train your employees. At a minimum, make certain that the employees in your unit or department can assist each other in the event of an emergency.

24. Always keep your documents, brochures, fact sheets and reports in their native files, and make sure that you have the right software to open these files.

25. Make sure you have fonts for PDF files and for the proper operation system (Mac or Windows).

26. Back-up, back-up, back-up. Be sure to use a thumb drive or other external drive to back up your files on a daily or weekly basis. You never know when the next power outage or network failure may occur.

27. Career stories can be great media pitches. Human interest stories can have local or national appeal to the media.

28. Use Google alerts for some reconnaissance work on your agency or your competitors.

29. Repeat tip from 2011 – When you are required to wear a nametag, be sure to wear the nametag on your right side. That way, each person you shake hands with will look form the hand shake up your arm to the nametag and then make eye contact.

30. Get media training from the media. If you are on a limited budget, invite a local reporter or multiple reporters to come and present to your staff and executives.