Friday, May 22, 2015

When Building a Brand, Trust Your Mission and Your Employees

By Aubrey McMahan, internal communications specialist, U.S. Geological Survey

At first thought, launching a successful branding campaign sounds like a big undertaking: you may ask yourself, would my office require special staff? Special funds? Special resources?

Not necessarily so. A panel of experts in strategic and executive communications sat down with FCN at the Partnership for Public Service to discuss their approach to building a successful branding campaign (as well as defining the audience for their campaign).

The Panelists (l-r): Dave Hebert (U.S. Geological Survey, moderator), Suki Baz (National Park Service), Bill Walsh (AARP), and Dannielle Blumenthal (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
Here's what we uncovered:

Threading your mission throughout your agency’s branding is key. Your agency’s mission should be driving everything you and your employees do. Campaigning a brand is no exception. The first trick to having a brand that will “stick” is developing a message that truly conveys your mission or acts as an extension of it.

For example, AARP’s Director of Strategy, Planning and Executive Communications Bill Walsh shared some of the branding challenges that his company has faced: namely, that AARP is not just for retired people. To help overcome this misconception (largely attributed to the organization’s original name), it has re-branded itself to stress the “RP” in “AARP” as “Real Possibilities.” With products and services that provide benefits to more individuals than just the retired crowd, AARP has been deliberately catering to these larger audiences in its re-branding effort. Advertising things like career assistance, the organization is helping its wider audience see the “real possibilities” AARP’s mission is committed to delivering in people’s lives.

Success is often seen by building your brand from the inside out. Begin your re-branding campaign internally, and your communications team won’t find itself alone in its external outreach efforts. Focus first on getting your employees on board and living by the brand, and they will emulate it through their enthusiasm for the work they do. In short, an agency full of committed employees means a complete cohort of brand ambassadors.

National Park Service (NPS) Employee Communications Specialist Suki Baz describes her agency’s park rangers as a perfect representation of these brand ambassadors. Most of these employees sought employment with NPS because they were so passionate about the lands that they preserve and protect. Often donning the well-recognized Eisner hat, these uniformed rangers have become symbols and ambassadors of NPS’s mission because the delight they feel for the places they share with the public rubs off on the visitors with whom they interact. Which brings me to the last point...

Provide quality service, and this will shape your agency’s brand. This last remark seems to go without saying, but too often it seems an organization can get caught up in developing a clever strategy to sell its brand when the solution may be much simpler: your organization should continue to do what it does well, and do it better. Your customers will appreciate the good experience that your employees provided them, and they’ll remember it.

According to National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Office of Advanced Manufacturing Associate Director for Communication Danielle Blumenthal, “a brand is a living dynamic thing that is changing all the time. It’s a relationship between you and your audience.” Entrust your employees to represent your agency during their interactions with the public (they’re brand ambassadors, remember?). By providing good customer service, your employees are positively influencing your audience’s opinion of your agency, and thereby influencing the brand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sanjay Gupta, MD on Effective Communication: “You do these things because you hope they make a difference”

By Maya Vemuri, bilingual information specialist at JBS International and former communications intern for the Office of Communications and Public Liaison at the National Institute on Aging

Recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, acclaimed neurosurgeon, university professor, and medical correspondent for CNN, led a talk on the subject of medicine and the media at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. Although Dr. Gupta is much admired for his skill in the field of medicine, his talents in the area of journalism and media have also earned him much praise and attention from the public, worldwide. For this reason, Dr. Gupta has proven to not only be an example for those in the medical field, but those in the area of communications, as well.

Throughout the talk, Dr. Gupta emphasized the significant role that communications has in influencing people. He likened the worlds of medicine and media, stating that they are both ways to educate people, there is a tremendous impact to both, and credibility is a big part in both. He stressed how this influence can be especially important when communicators are dealing with facts, as the manner in which a communicator presents such an issue can do a great deal to either reassure or frighten the public- depending on how the material is presented. “You do these things because you hope they make a difference,” he said, emphasizing the enormous influence on the public that a communicator can have. Most of all, Dr. Gupta called attention to the importance of creating knowledge through skillful use of communication.

Reaching one’s audience can be, as Dr. Gupta pointed out, tricky at times, but essential in getting one’s message out. Some of the tips for effective reporting he shared were:

  • Make sure you use the right language. Know who your audience is, and don’t go over their heads. If you keep the language simple, you won’t lose any of the people you are trying to reach.
  • Make sure there is a takeaway lesson. You want your audience to feel drawn in by the material you are presenting. When they finish listening to your presentation or reading a report you have written, it is important that they feel it was worth their time.
  • Reports have to be short. Reporting, especially within the scientific field, is difficult, mainly because media is “shrinking”. Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook urge users to share messages in short formats, so often times, you will have to catch the attention of your audience in a few short phrases to get them to read the larger article. 

Dr. Gupta also addressed some questions on important topics in the world of communications. Considering his experience and success as a correspondent, the following ideas Dr. Gupta expressed should certainly be taken by communicators everywhere, regardless of the field they work in:

  • How do you determine what makes a good story? Dr. Gupta’s opinion was that there are three ways you can determine this: if the story affects a large population (in general), if it affects a small population (deeply), or if it has a “gee whiz” quality. If you are still unsure of what makes a “good story”, Dr. Gupta’s recommendation is to go with your gut feeling. Ask yourself if it feels important to you: looking at it as a viewer, not a researcher or scientist, would you be interested? If so, perhaps you should follow it.
  • How has reporting changed? How will it continue to change? Returning to the idea of “shrinking” media, communicators now are often forced to reach out to their audiences through shorter messages, often through social media. Dr. Gupta partially attributes this to shorter attention spans and the barrage of information that exists today. While we don’t know how communication methods will continue to evolve, it appears that it will follow this pattern; thus, conciseness and good word choice are key.
  • Is the desire for knowledge going to be the same in the future? Although the demand for knowledge and the collective IQ of developed nations has increased over time (a phenomenon called the Flynn Effect), it appears to have plateaued recently. Dr. Gupta expressed his fear that the collective IQ of nations such as the U.S. will not only remain at the current level, but indeed, decrease in the future. This could affect the way in which communicators present material, as well as the material that the general public considers “relevant.” For this reason, Dr. Gupta urged communicators to consider the role of influence they have, and try to use their skills to choose topics that would promote an increase in the desire for knowledge again.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Free Training Event: Building an Agency's Brand and Defining the Audience

By Aubrey McMahan, internal communications specialist, U.S. Geological Survey

This month the Federal Communicators Network and the Partnership for Public Service bring a valuable discussion on agency branding and audiences to you, free of charge.

The event will take place on Wednesday, May 20, 8:30-10:30 (EST) at the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C.

Register to attend in person (the event can be viewed via livestream for those outside the D.C. area. Look for link on webpage above).

We are honored to have David Hebert, internal and audiovisual communications chief for the U.S. Geological Survey, moderate a panel of guest speakers who are experts in strategic and executive communications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Park Service, AARP, and more!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Communicators Network and Socialize in Our First “Mix and Mingle” for 2015

By Cori Bassett and Deb Harris, FCN Co-chairs
Thank you to all who came out to the FCN networking and social hour last night at Gordon Biersch Brewery! We had a great turnout with over 100 RSVPs from 40 different government agencies as well as the private sector. 

We enjoyed a cheerful evening as we talked with returned Peace Corps volunteers, members of the Inspector General community, college students and graduates who came out to learn more about the work we do in government, and many, many others.

Thank you all for sharing your backgrounds, work stories, and ideas. We hope you were able to make valuable new connections.

And special thanks to FCN’s External Relations and Outreach Coordinator Bernetta Reese for organizing the event! We hope to see you again at the next one!

Monday, April 6, 2015

FCN Networking and Social Hour Wednesday, April 22, 2015

By Bernetta Reese, events and outreach coordinator, Department of Agriculture

The FCN leadership team would like to invite you to a networking and social hour from 5:30–7:30 PM at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (900 F St NW in Washington, DC) on Wednesday, April 22! This event is for socialgov, opengov, digitalgov, PR – all things communications – to get together for an informal and fun evening! We will have a private space at the Brewers Table to mix and mingle where beverages, drinks, and food can be purchased.

Please RSVP by April 20, so that we’ll know how many folks will be joining us and feel free to share this invitation.

Who Should Attend?
  • Communications professionals -- new and experienced -- all are welcome. 
  • Those looking to network with fellow communicators and govies. 
  • FCN members and anyone who would like to join. 
  • Fun people!
See you there!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media is Customer Service

By Joe Flood, communications manager, National Weather Service

Social media is more than just sharing news. Social media is social. That means engaging with the public and answering their questions. Social media is customer service.

That was one of the interesting points brought up in the recent FCN forum, “Social Media: What’s the Right Strategy for Your Agency?” Social media managers from the VA, USGS, CIA and ICE discussed the challenges and opportunities of this medium in a panel discussion at the Partnership for Public Service.

Federal communicators probably never imagined that they would one day be in customer service. But, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, then you’ve received questions from the public that need answering. How do agencies respond to this never-ending stream of inquiries?

Megan Moloney, Director of Digital Media Engagement, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, highlighted the work her agency has done with #VetQ/Veteran Question, a hashtag where veterans can get their questions answered on Twitter.  To get answers, all veterans need to do is tweet their question with the hashtag #VetQ.

And it’s not just the VA that responds. Other organizations such as Women Vets Connect respond to questions, typically on the same day. As one commenter stated, “The Vetwitter-verse out there can help!”

In addition, these questions are captured in Storify pages on frequently asked subjects such as benefits, jobs and insurance coverage. This web archive serves as a useful reference for veterans who aren’t on Twitter.

The U.S. Geological Service has a sense of humor, according to Scott Horvath, Bureau Lead for Social Media. He stressed the importance of having a human voice in social media (they make jokes about rocks) and employing a customer service team to answer questions from the public. Social media is not a one-person job. Nor is it a 9-5 occupation – he is on call 24/7 in case of emergencies (like an earthquake).

The moderator of the panel, GSA’s Justin Herman, pointed out that doing social media correctly could mean less traffic to your website – a good thing. Answering questions on Twitter (or, even better, having other organizations do it for you) means fewer calls and emails to your agency.

In summary, while you may not view your mission as customer service, you’re going to get questions from the public on social media.  Have a plan in place to answer them. Identify people in your agency who can help – or enlist your partners, like the VA does. Speak in a human voice, like USGS. Increase engagement and support for your agency by responding to the public.

Friday, February 20, 2015

FCN and Partnership for Public Services' Social Media Training Event Yesterday!

By Lisa Chesnel, writer/editor, Peace Corps Office of Inspector General

Thanks to all who participated in yesterday’s free training event (either in person on via the web) on social media, which was co-hosted by FCN and the Partnership for Public Service. The topic was Social Media: What’s the Right Strategy for Your Agency?

The panelists pictured below (l-r): Justin Herman (GSA), Carolyn Reams (CIA), Megan Moloney (VA), Kevin Downey (ICE), and Scott Horvath (U.S. Geological Survey). We’re incredibly thankful to the government’s best moderator, Justin Herman, whose thought provoking questions and dad jokes were worth braving the cold for.

The panelists answered questions about when their agencies decided to step into the online world, how they chose their social media, and why it was the right move. We also learned how they use their various outlets, including mistakes they’ve made, clever ideas for engaging with the online community, and what the future holds for their agencies in terms of social media.

If you enjoyed yesterday's event—spread the word! FCN and the Partnership for Public Service will be hosting another free training event in May, also at the Partnership for Public Service.

Stay warm.