Tuesday, January 29, 2013

5 Tips to Revamp Your Electronic Publications

Posted by: Yvette Grimes, Jan. 29, 2013

Use these tips to improve your electronic publications. These days, federal communicators often write materials that will be distributed electronically - on a website, by email, or some other type of digital distribution.

1.  Analyze your audience.

Tailor publications to your audience. Are your publications up to date and relevant for your audience? Information can change quickly, so make sure your publications are current and pertinent to the questions and concerns of your target audience. Your reader will connect to the key messages if those messages are the relevant ones.

2.  Strengthen content strategy and make better use of your budget.

Combine publications that overlap and duplicate information. It makes sense to combine publications that are about the same topics.

3. Keep the layout simple, with plenty of space.

Readers appreciate white space, especially when reading an online or digital document. It makes huge difference when readers can read about a topic in a format that’s easy on the eyes.

4.  Use Plain Language.

You have heard more and more about this, so there is definitely something to it. Clear communication is the key to a satisfied audience. Readers stay engaged in your publication when they understand it. Visit www.plainlanguage.gov for tips, tools, and best practices.

5.  Double-check the contact information.

There is nothing worse than incorrect contact information. A question or comment may arise, so make sure the email, phone number, and other contact details are accurate. Your reader may have some significant information or feedback.

What other tricks do you use to make your electronic publications the best they can be? Share them in below.

Monday, January 28, 2013

To the Limit – Lessons from Rock Climbing for Federal Communicators

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Jan. 28, 2013

This weekend, I watched a movie about two German guys trying to set the speed rock climbing record on El Capitan in Yosemite. Most experienced climbers still take days to climb The Nose. These guys – the Huber brothers – eventually did it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. It got me thinking about the lessons that rock climbing adventure movies have to offer us communicators.

1. Love what you do (or at least really like it).

People are more compelling when they love what they do. The climbers in the movie told the camera that they lived to climb. They couldn’t have imagined life without it, and they seemed willing to bear any hardship to do what they liked most. Federal communicators need passion too. Does anyone doubt that these folks love working for NASA? It shows in everything they do, and it makes their message far more compelling. Not just the people on camera, but those off camera, as well, put a passion into this YouTube video that made it popular.

2. Even failure makes an interesting story and builds relationships.

The movie ends with the two climbers falling short of their goal, both injured in falls in the attempt. But that doesn’t make the story any less interesting. If anything, the climbers’ reaction to failure is more interesting than their success might have been. Government communicators should take note. Especially in social media and digital communication, where content can move extremely quickly, mistakes happen. Your agency might be the next one to experience an errant tweet. There are things you can do now to prepare to capitalize on that opportunity. Here’s my all-time favorite fail smart example from the American Red Cross. We could all learn from their good humor and transparency, which arguably strengthened their relationships with their online communities.

The movie is called Am Limit, in German, also listed as To the Limit, in English (IMDb). The climbers fell short on camera but eventually beat the record off camera, the year after the filming.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fix Your LinkedIn Profile – 7 tips for federal government communicators

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Jan. 22, 2013

More and more feds are on LinkedIn these days. You probably already have a profile. But is it a GREAT profile? A great profile reflects your skill as a communicator. When hiring managers search for you, a great profile helps you get that interview, and that next promotion. Use these 7 tips to make sure you stand out

1. Write a brief, catchy Summary.

The Summary section appears immediately below your picture. It’s your chance to describe what you want from LinkedIn – Job opportunities? Connections to new people in the federal web managers community? Be brief and interesting.

2. You’d better have a good picture.

Really, you must have a good picture. It should be fairly professional: no spaghetti-strap tank tops or ties with cartoon characters. It should be a picture of you looking at the camera, and it should be a picture of your head or head and shoulders: no selfies from crazy angles. I don’t think you have to be in a suit, but you should look polished.

3. Include the appropriate disclaimer on your personal account.

Federal agencies often require that employees add disclaimers to their personal social media accounts. This protects you, and it might help the public understand that you are not communicating officially on behalf of your agency. Read your agency’s social media policy to find out if this is required for you. One way to do this is to insert language like this:
“This is a personal account, and any opinions expressed are mine alone, not those of the federal government, <insert name of your agency>, or the <insert name of your division/sub-agency>.”

4.       Use words that everyone will understand.

Plain language is important. Not only do acronyms and abbreviations make it hard for people to understand what you have accomplished, they also limit your searchability. People simply won’t be able to find you and your special skill set if you clutter your profile with federal alphabet soup. This is especially important when you describe your current and previous jobs in the Experience section.

5.       Join Groups and be active in them.

There are lots of Groups for federal communicators on LinkedIn. FCN operates an active one, and you can ask to join. Look at the profiles of prominent people in your sub-field to identify which Groups are most important. Join those Groups and actively contribute by posting items and commenting on the things others post.

6.       Add contacts.

Your LinkedIn profile will be more helpful to you when you are linked to many people. Just like a Rolodex, it’s more useful full than empty. A few dozen contacts are not enough; shoot for a few hundred. Search for people you work with regularly, and hit that Connect button. Add contacts from your personal email address book, by selecting Add Connections under the Contacts tab. (In my experience, LinkedIn is responsible about how they use the access to your email account that you will grant them.) When you have meaningful interactions with people in real life, note their names and add them on LinkedIn, as well. When you ask to connect to someone, personalize the request with a message relevant to your relationship with that person rather than using the default LinkedIn language. Just don’t spam people you’ve never met by trying to add them to your contacts. That’s frowned on.

7.       Request Recommendations and use other options.

LinkedIn may have added new features since you first signed up. You can now request Recommendations from your contacts, add searchable Skills & Expertise for your contacts to endorse, and add other options. Take advantage of these. A few glowing, one-paragraph recommendations make you seem like a real person. Your viewers will stop scrolling when they are no longer interested: a very long profile is just fine.

What other tricks do you use to make sure your profile is worth finding? Let us know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Win a Plain Language Award - Apply by January 31

Posted by: Dave Hebert, Jan. 16, 2013

Plain language — it means communicating clearly to the audience you intend to communicate with.

Are you a Fed who did a great job of just that during the past year? Then it's time to put your work (and your entry fee) where your mouth is in the 2013 ClearMark awards.

Award Nominations Due January 31

The ClearMark awards, given by the non-profit Center for Plain Language, "celebrate the best in clear communication and plain language from government, non-profits, and private companies." Simply put, this is what government communication should be.

The nomination form is online, and the deadline is January 31, so act quickly! Applicants should consider this an opportunity to demonstrate the viability, clarity, and lucidity of Federally appropriated outreach activities and responsibilities. This is your chance to prove that Feds can put a message right on target.

Learn More about Plain Language

The National Center for Education Statistics won the grand prize last year with their National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Tools on the Web. See what they did right. You can also read more about best practices at www.plainlanguage.gov, the Federal Government's site for training, tips, tools, and information about the plain language law.

Monday, January 14, 2013

6 tips to fine-tune your search for a fed communications job on USAJOBS

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Jan. 14, 2013

Looking for a promotion so you can move up? Trying to get into communications from another federal job? You’ve probably already looked at USAJOBS. But are you using USAJOBS to its full extent? It has a learning curve, like any other job search tool. Use these tips to get the most out of USAJOBS.

1. Set up automatic email notifications.

These days, a USAJOBS job announcement can be open for as few as 3 to 5 days. OPM’s recent hiring reform has shortened the hiring process, sometimes reducing the number of days an announcement is available for application. A brief window of opportunity does NOT mean that they have someone in mind for the job. Don’t miss jobs that might be a fit for you. The USAJOBS Saved Searches feature will automatically search for jobs based on your criteria, and then email you when there are new jobs entered into the database that meet your specifications. Set up a couple of these automatic searches, so that you don’t have to visit USAJOBS every day.

2. Consider more job series.

Federal communicators have a range of job titles and job series, often a four-digit numeric code that identifies the exact type of job. You might be interested in searching for the following job series:

  • 1001 – General Arts and Information (Communications Specialist, etc)
  • 1035 – Public Affairs
  • 1082 – Writer/Editor
  • 1083 – Technical Writer/Editor
  • 0301 – Miscellaneous Administration
  • 0343 – Management and Program Analysis
Are there other series that you use in searches? Please share them in the Comments, below!

3. Build your resume in USAJOBS.

The USAJOBS Resume Builder feature is optional, but you should use it. This online tool will help you ensure that your resume contains every piece of information that’s required for your application to be considered, and none of the information that will cause your application to be disqualified—like a photo. Some have complained that the USAJOBS resume is very long and not formatted as well as a communications professional might desire. You can bring a different, one-page, beautifully formatted resume to your interview, when you get one. But for the USAJOBS application, use their resume builder.

4. Tailor every resume.

With saved resumes in USAJOBS, you might be tempted to send the same resume in response to every job. Don’t. Review every job announcement, and spend a few minutes editing your resume so that it best highlights your relevant experience. Use the words and phrases from the Duties and Qualifications Required sections of the job announcement in your own resume, if indeed you have that experience. This will help the HR Specialist reviewing your application (and the hiring manager, when you get that far) see at a glance that indeed, you are qualified for the opportunity.

5. Check out the associated questionnaire in advance of applying.

Relatively few agencies still use KSAs, brief written responses describing your relevant Knowledge, Skills and Abilities. Instead, you will be asked to complete an online questionnaire about your experience at the time you apply, in addition to submitting a resume. The answers are generally multiple choice. Look at this questionnaire before submitting your resume. If you can’t score yourself very highly (a score of 4 or 5, on a 5-point scale) on almost every question, maybe this is not the job for you. These questionnaires are not stored in USAJOBS. To look at the questionnaire associated with a job announcement, you must log-in to the questionnaire system. Many agencies use ApplicationManager.gov. In the ApplicationManager.gov Main screen, you can search for the job using the Vacancy Identification Number search field. The Vacancy Identification Number is the 6-digit number at the end of the USAJOBS Job Announcement Number.

6. Send every required document and nothing more.

Generally, USAJOBS applications for federal communications jobs require a resume and completion of an online questionnaire about your experience. Don’t waste time writing a cover letter if the job announcement does not specifically require one. But read the announcement carefully, as different agencies require different documents. You may need to submit a copy of your most recent performance review, a school transcript, or other documents at the time of application.