Where’s my reach?

The death of the organic Facebook reach is obviously something digital communicators and marketers are watching closely, and not really sure what to do about. I am definitely one of the masses.

While the big companies can pony up the money to “pay to play,” that is simply not the case with government communicators. Budgets have shrunk [or continued to shrink], meaning even less money available for paid marketing, especially online marketing.

Even if government entities do pay to push more of their content to their followers, the ugly cries of “wasteful government spending” sound. Again, that is if there is even money available.

Herein is the double-edged sword — residents don’t want their governments to spend tax dollars ineffectively, inefficiently and wastefully, but they want — and need — to be informed. What’s a government to do?

For many, it has taken years to build a decent following. Personally, it’s taken three years to grow our page by 1,000 to 5,723 fans. Then it becomes very disheartening to see text-only posts reach five to 10 percent of your fanbase — even down to less than one percent for some post types!

So what are we going to do? Take a good, hard look at our social media. From there? I’m not really sure. Twitter will likely get more focus. It’s possible we may look into diversifying our “social portfolio,” and work more in LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

One of the best ways to combat this is through direct emails. But even there you need be careful to not spam and over-email subscribers to cause them to unsubscribe.

Facebook is already hemorrhaging younger users. Are brands next to ditch Facebook? Only time will tell.

Reblog: Public Relations and Local Governments

Reblog of a guest post I wrote for the Minnesota PRSA Perspective Blog.

While I was sitting in PR classes and going on agency tours with the campus PRSSA group, I dreamt of working in an agency. Everything about it seemed fast-paced, diverse and exciting. Now, I am nearly three years post-graduation, and my career has taken a much different route than the one I imagined.

Generally, when you think of government, what comes to mind? Terms like “slow,” “old-fashioned,” “out of touch,” and “non-transparent” are usually thrown around. It’s not exactly where most people want to start – and continue – their careers.

I came into my communications internship at the City of Edina in 2010 with those same perceptions. I quickly came to find, at least on the communications side, that the work reflected that of a PR agency than that of a stereotypical government department. I really enjoyed my time as an intern and was lucky to be hired full-time when a position became available a few months after my internship ended.

The City’s Communications Division, and the City itself, is quite unique. The City not only operates as a normal government, but also runs ‘enterprise facilities,’ which are entities meant to run like businesses, such as Edina Liquor, Centennial Lakes Park, Edinborough Park, Braemar Golf Course and other golf operations, Braemar Arena, Edina Senior Center, Edina Art Center and the Edina Aquatic Center.

This is what makes it fun. Not only do we work with the City and individual departments, but we also work closely with the enterprise facilities. The Communications division, in which I work, serves as in in-house firm and oversees the City’s communications, marketing, media and public relations, advertising and video production for the City, its public safety and enterprise facilities.

While in a different setting, we still do all the same things mainstream PR professionals do: write stories, pitch to the media, plan events, update social media and website, etc. However, we have a few wrenches thrown into the mix.

One of the biggest roadblocks we run into is tight budgets. Our internal clients don’t have the budgets of the companies that use a traditional PR agency. We must be creative and strategic in our planning and execution to get the best bang for our buck. It’s not easy to do $1,000 worth of work on $100.

Secondly, residents expect news that affects them in real-time. This is a challenge across the board. Though, this seems to have emerged as a new trend in government communications. We are always looking into new technologies and tactics to get the message out as quickly and accurately as possible to as many residents and we can, again, on a budget. Add the need for transparency into the mix, and we have an interesting concoction.

I love what I do and am very proud of our work, from our article writing and website to our graphic design and video production. We have been nominated for more than a dozen regional Emmys and won once. We have also won many awards from the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC), the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC), and from the City-County Communications & Marketing Association (3CMA). These awards, coupled with recent resident quality of life surveys, tell us we are succeeding at our goals of producing high-quality work and keeping residents informed.

For new professionals, recent grads and current students, I encourage you to consider government communications as a career. You’d be surprise how an internship can change your perceptions, and even your career path. I hope that you would find the experience as fulfilling as I have.

The City of Edina offers a communications internship and a video production internship three times a year – winter/spring, summer and fall/winter. Keep an eye on www.EdinaMN.gov/jobs for openings.

InstaGov

This week, NASA launched its Instagram account. But does government have a place on Instagram?

Good question. I think it does. There is always a place for government, on all platforms. Government has a unique story to tell, one that is too often overlooked, especially at the local level. Just the word “government” gets some bad flack (generally thanks to the federal level).

Social media is a great way to show residents how their tax dollars are being used. Just looking around, we’ve got so much opportunity to share the government story. From public works filling potholes and plowing roads, to police and fire doing community outreach, and parks and recreation. And even getting those unusual or “behind the scenes” look at the inner workings of local government. (Most) local governments work very hard to make sure tax dollars are being appropriately, effectively and efficiently used. Let’s show that, not tell it.

I’ve had a hard time finding local/city government who have dabbled on Instagram. The U.S. Department of the Interior is doing an awesome job on Instagram, showcasing the country’s National Parks. Here’s a cool example of “behind the scenes.”

As with adding any new communications platform, government have another conundrum: who will manage the site? Depending on the platform, social media costs time and money. The more you invest in it, I believe the more resident will get out of it. With 150 million active monthly users, I think Instagram is the place to be to share photos.

There is a lot of potential for local governments here. I hope more take advantage of it.

Facebook Promo change? Awesome.

Up until recently, Facebook did not allow pages run promotions by using Facebook’s features as means of entry. A long while ago, we used the “like this post and win” on a few of our brand pages. It definitely helped grow our fan base from  fewer than 900 fans to more than 2,000. Once we realized this was not in compliance, we stopped, fearing the risk of a ban. I’d hate to leave those brand lovers stranded!

Our online promotions quickly died because it simply became a hassle to run a promotion through a third-party application.

With Facebook’s new change in terms, we can now do this once again without worrying about a ban on our pages. This is great news! Our primary marked for several of our pages are families (one page in particular, families with young children). The indoor play park’s page could once again grow in fans, provide great deals or prizes and increase page engagement.

Like the above article states, our brands, and all brand pages, need to use this newly acceptable feature with caution. News feeds could become quickly over saturated with “comment,” “like” and “share to win” promos. We don’t want to run them too often so people get tired of seeing them, and we don’t want to get lost in the internet clutter.

While it might not have as much use in the city government side of social communications, it will play a role in our social media marketing for enterprise facilities, which are meant to run like businesses.

Even with its drawbacks, I’m still pretty excited to add this back in our tool box.

Google vs. Bing

For the last several months, I have put a decent amount of work into optimizing our (my job’s) website for Google searches. Everything from claiming Google+ Local pages, tagging pages with keywords and dealing with incorrect page titles.

All this work may have just been turned upside down with Apple’s recent announcement that Bing will be iOS7’s primary search engine, not Google. Because so much emphasis has been put on Google, I have pretty much ignored Bing, and considered it in the same category I do AOL and Yahoo for search engines.

Now I’m stuck. Do I continue all this work in Google, or set it aside and focus on Bing?

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The Thin Line Between Free Speech and Censorship

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about online public forums, free speech and civility. The gist of the article is that, while providing an online public forum for residents to provide feedback for their City government, the site drew a lot of snarky comments, some of which could be considered uncivil.

As a local government, we always hope online conversations about controversial issues remain respectful, civil and constructive; however, we realize others will use it as a platform on which to rant and complain. With any online forum, I think that’s to be expected. Those who are regular users of the internet expect these kinds of comments, too, classify them as “trolls,” and ignore them. It’s something that often tends to self-moderate from my experience. What we didn’t expect what that a conversation would get out of hand so quickly.

The conversation, which started as civil, was turned upside down by a few people with a multitude of complaints and another hiding behind dozens of aliases to heckle and “gang-up” on others. The comments, most of which were unwelcoming to new visitors, put off those who could have provided good feedback in fear of being mocked or ridiculed.

As soon as I posted a response on all three threads reminding users to “keep this space welcoming to everyone and their ideas,” and to “keep comments respectful, constructive and on-topic,” the conversation was swiftly cut-off.

City government and communicators in the public sector have an interesting dilemma. Where is the line between free speech and censorship? Unfortunately, I don’t think it that easy to identify.

As part of my City’s social media policy, we reserve the right to remove comments for a myriad of reasons, such as offensive or vulgar language, personal attacks on staff members or members of the public, political endorsements or commercial advertisements. Most of those are pretty easy to spot, but not so much offensiveness.

Identifying an offensive post is fairly subjective. I came across this with comment on a City blog. While one staff member thought it was an offensive post and a “clearly pornographic metaphor,” I disagreed. While it was in poor taste, I didn’t particularly think it was offensive. Then the big question — do we remove it or leave it?

I wish there was an easy answer to that question. In an effort to retain transparency, and keep first amendment watch dogs from calling government censorship, I opted to leave the comment. Was that the best decision? I don’t know.

As part of our practice, before a comment or post is removed for any reason, we take a screen shot of the comment and save it so there is record of the comment. A comment is posted in its place once the original has been removed, stating that a comment has been removed and for what reason. Until recently, this hasn’t been much of an issue, nor do I foresee it becoming any larger of one.

But, it’s like I said in my interview. The sentiments of comments received really depend on the topic at hand. If we were asking what a city should do with its parks for example, I think we would get a lot of positive comments. If we ask what a city should do about the huge increase in residential redevelopments, like we did, you could see comments from all points of view.

In the article, the City Manager said, “They were lamenting, ‘Don’t you think the city is obligated to police it a bit so it fulfills the function you set it up for?’ While I’m sympathetic to that opinion, the government telling you that your speech is unwelcome because it is argumentative seems like a slippery slope.” I agree wholeheartedly.

While not necessarily new to my City, Gov 2.0 and social media are still relatively new and scary to many local governments, opting to disengage instead of using it to the best of its abilities.

So what is government’s role in self-created online public forums? I think we are still trying to figure that out. It will be interesting to see how the role of social media and how online communications affects governments over the coming months and years, especially as the public becomes more critical of government spending and staffers are seeing shrinking budgets.

So, what’s the general rule of thumb? I’d leave it unless it explicitly violates the policy, such as threatening or vulgar comments. But that’s just my opinion.

Are other government agencies seeing this problem? What are they doing about it?

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Data Throttling vs. Mobile music streaming

A story on Mashable titled “Your Bandwidth Will Be Throttled: Here’s Why” caught my attention this week. It appears that Verizon and AT&T are to throttle the top five percent of data user’s bandwidth from 3G+ to 2G speeds.

Taking a step back, I have an iPhone with service through AT&T. Thus far, I have been pretty satisfied with it. When I signed up, I felt 2GB of data would be sufficient and that $10 extra to an additional gig of data was reasonable. I have been averaging about 1.5 to 1.8GB of data usage per month.

I was shocked to read that the top five percent of data users are generally those using 2GB or more of mobile data. I don’t consider myself a heavy data user, really. Work email, personal email, Facebook, Foursquare, news apps. Some video and music streaming here and there, but not too often.

Well, I recently began using Spotify, of which I am growing more fond. I cannot, however, see why I would pay $10 per month to allow Spotify streaming on my phone. If I am already reaching my data limits from my every day use, how much overage would I have streaming Spotify? So, $10 per month, plus $10 for an extra 1GB of data? I don’t find that worth it.

Plus, if AT&T and Verizon are throttling users using more than 2GB of data, it seems pointless and would make the apps useless. Obviously, being on wifi doesn’t count toward your monthly data limits, but that’s besides the point. When I am streaming music, it is usually not at home or somewhere with available wifi.

This brings me to my real question: will bandwidth throttling hurt the mobile music and video streaming subscriptions?

I can see it happening. I was considering paying for Spotify simply to have it on my phone. Then I could stream music at work (where there is no wifi yet). But, I am rethinking that now if my data speeds would be throttled.

As the article states, “the days of all-you-can-eat mobile broadband are already ending, and landline broadband could soon follow suit.” This terrifies me.

Our “landline” broadband at home is, first of all, less than landline. We use Clear for internet (I didn’t want to pay for installation of Comcast of Century Link, or outrageous prices for cable). Clear uses Sprint’s mobile broadband 4G networks as another option to in-home high-speed internet.

Frankly, I am not very enthusiastic about them. We stream a lot of Netflix, since we are without cable. We are more often than not throttled to dial-up speeds (less than 500 kbps). This makes experiencing the internet less than desirable.

That’s why I opt to use my phone’s 3G data rather than my MacBook and wifi. It’s faster and more convenient.

Nearly One Year

So, I have become pretty neglectful of my website/blog /social media presence ever since I was landed my full-time gig. But, that’s OK with me. I’d rather be employed than obsessively blogging every day. Long story short, sorry internet. I hope to be back soon.

I am quickly coming up on one full year of being full-time with the City. I couldn’t be more grateful and happy about it, too.

I have done more at my job that I though there was to do. But, don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of work to be done. While I came into this position with good knowledge of how to do things, there was definitely room to grow and learn, and that I did.

One thing I regret doing in college, not doing in college, is taking as many elective courses as I could. For example, I never though I would need to take “Reading & Writing for Broadcast,” because I didn’t want to be a new anchor. Well, here I am interviewing, transcribing, scripting and recording VO for news packages on our government access channel. Some skills I lacked, but am working on. I swear I’m getting better.

“Magazine Article Writing” was another class I regret not taking. Going into PR, I thought it would be more media pitches and press releases. How wrong could I have been. I am writing long-form articles every quarter for our magazine.

While it’s not a class that was offered, I do wish I would have taken more initiative learning about being a public information officer (PIO). I quickly came to learn that being a PIO means more than just writing a press release when the fire department responds to a major fire/emergency event. Media relations is another skill I am working on. So far, all of my media contacts have been pleasant.

Over the past several months, I have been working on reading my mountain of books (I might be losing). The first few I read were on crisis communications. Working as a public safety PIO, seems like it might be a good idea to brush up on my crisis communications skills. Luckily, I haven’t had to employ many of them, but when I do need to, I think I’ll be ready.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had a great education by excellent professional teachers. They and my internships have all been great mentors. Starting school, I was set on working in a PR agency, not government communications. That all changed after my internship with the City.

In government communications, you really do have to be the jack of all trades. I suppose that could be true with most in-house communications departments, but I feel that even more so in government as we work with a wider audience with a much more limited budget and resources.

So far, I am elated with where I am in my career and look forward to continuing my work in the public sector.

Do We Need a Resume Revolution?

Being a recent college graduate, I am doing a lot of applying to jobs. Obviously, each one wants a resume. But, how should you create your resume?

From what I was taught in class, a resume should include your name and contact information on the top, in a larger font than the rest of the document. Then, move into objective, education, work experience, involvement/awards and conclude with references.

Sure, this method works, but what makes you stand out? Doesn’t this just make you a carbon copy? Especially if you just use a template? Sorry to anyone who stands by this method like it’s the bible, but I completely disagree with this approach.

I am currently reading “Content Rules” by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, and they brought up some points I thought were very interesting. Granted, this book is geared toward creating content for business’s blogs, websites, videos, social sites, etc., but I believe the information presented can also be relevant to one’s personal brand and development. See the quotes below:

“If someone lands on your site, or reads your news letter, or whatever, your content shouldn’t sound like your competitor’s — or like anyone else’s, for that matter. It should sound like you.” (Content Rules, page 30).

“Differentiate from the pack of bland … Personality is the key element behind your brand and what it stands for…” (Content Rules, page 39).

I think this should also apply to personal branding, or in this case, resumes. Why would you want your resume to be just like your competitors? Especially aesthetically.

This thinking obviously doesn’t apply across all career fields. A financial analyst will probably want something more clean-cut. But, for me, and others in communications, graphic design or anything relatively creative, why not show off your skills and creativity in your resume design rather than just telling them?

Check out some of these examples of awesome resumes from VizualResume.com and Lava360.com. These are very creative and I think would set them apart from others who make their resume in Word.

Keep in mind, content is usually king. Proof read again and again. Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Those give you a one-way ticket to the trash bin.

What are your thoughts on resumes? Do you prefer black and white or something with color and more aesthetically pleasing?

Work With Google Maps

During my summer internship with the Greater Mankato CVB, I was lucky to be able to assist them in creating some maps for their website.

First, I helped create a map for the restaurants in the Greater Mankato area

I was also able to create the map of all the hotels in Greater Mankato

The Greater Mankato CVB is using Google Maps to its advantage. My giving a map of hotels, potential visitors can see where the hotel is located an, if needed, choose accordingly. In addition, the restaurant map is helpful for them to see what restaurants are where in relation to their hotel.

As part of Multi Media Writing, we were assigned to create a Google Map for ourselves. I chose to create my map based on my previous employment. The blue icons are places I have worked in the past and the green icons are places where I have held an internship.