Wednesday, February 27, 2013

You Tell Me: A New FCN Discussion Series

In addition to great tips, tools, and events, the FCN wants to start and facilitate productive communications discussions and debates.

To that end, we will periodically host such exchanges, titled "You Tell Me," on the government social networking site GovLoop. The first installment, "You Tell Me: Why Does Government Brand So Much?" is now up — please take a few minutes to weigh in, and let us know what you think of this approach. Thank you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Measure Campaign Effectiveness with Link Shortening

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Feb. 25, 2013

What Are Shortened Links?

Federal Communicators Network Twitter feed
FCN Twitter feed
bit.ly/xyz, ow.ly/xzy, go.usa.gov/xyz...
Shortened hyperlinks are everywhere these days. They are written as the domain of a link shortening service provider followed by a brief string of alphanumeric characters.

People create shortened links because they are easier to use in places where space is limited, like Twitter. In the past, a full-length hyperlink could consume half or more of the characters available for a tweet. (Now, Twitter will help shorten links, but it can still be a good idea to shorten them yourself, for reasons outlined below.) You can see shortened links in action in the Federal Communicators Network Twitter feed.

Sometimes, shortened links are also easier to remember than the original link. For example, ow.ly/go goes to the Monty Python YouTube channel. For those emergency situations in which only a Monty Python clip will suffice, isn't ow.ly/go easier for you to remember than http://www.youtube.com/user/MontyPython?

How Can Shortened Links Help You Measure Your Campaigns?

You're planning a digital campaign. Maybe you want to get people to check out your agency's online job ad or training program application. Maybe you want to turn the volume up on a particular webpage that's contains high priority information that your organization wants to communicate to the public. When starting a new campaign to push users to a webpage, create a new shortened link. This will allow you to separate campaign-driven traffic to your page from other traffic to that page. It gives you metrics measuring your success: "Look boss, I got 1,000 people to look at our webpage in the last 3 days."

Most link shorteners will tell you the number of users who clicked on your shortened link. Some link shorteners also offer detailed information about the number of clicks over time, the websites users were browsing when they clicked your link, and the geographic locations of the users who clicked. All of this is helpful information that can tell you if you are achieving your campaign goals and reaching your targeted audience.

Asking partners to tweet on your behalf? Create a new shortened link for the campaign, even if your organization won't be doing the outreach itself. If you're asking others to promote your information, request they also use your shortened link, so you can measure the effectiveness of your work together.

Link Shortening Tools for Government Communicators

Screenshot of the go dot usa dot gov website
Screenshot of the go.usa.gov website.
I'm most familiar with go.usa.gov. For those with a verifiable federal, state, or local government email address, it's extremely easy to sign up and use this tool--less than 5 minutes to fill out the registration form, confirm your email address, and start shortening links to government webpages. Go.usa.gov provides some of the helpful metrics described above, including the number of clicks since you created the campaign.

Other tools are also available. Here's a helpful article from HowTo.gov comparing go.usa.gov and 1.usa.gov.

Using one of these tools for government is a great idea, not least because it retains the .gov part of the URL. This helps your audience identify your information as reputable government information. It might give your campaign additional credibility, helping you stand out in the social media cacophony.


Do you use other tools, or do you watch other metrics? Share your insights in the comments, below.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Messaging… Looking In A Bottle Is Not The Best Approach!


Posted by: Linda Austin, Feb. 19, 2013

US Navy 110915-N-YU572-080 Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Jon Moore removes a message from a bottle sent from Kagoshima, Japan more than five years a As federal communicators during tough fiscal times, it is important to keep our strategic vision in focus. We need to support our Agencies by effectively communicating across our own organizations, with external customers and stakeholders. As part of our effort to communicate both externally and internally, let’s take a look at messaging. This entry is adapted from practices used by communicators at the National Ocean Service.

To form a strong presence within your organization and with your external audiences, it is important to have a system of messaging that is routinely used for communications. Picking a short tagline that quickly describes your organization can make a world of difference. One-liners that are compelling, punchy, and message-driven, get people’s attention. Everyone has to communicate in sound bites or you will have lost the audience, with readers moving on to the next website, blog post, or video. There’s no room for verbosity in today’s world.

The following three phrases will help you stay on message, improve your clarity, and grab the attention of others. Use them in meetings, blogs posts, emails, media interviews, and yes, they’ll even work in your personal life. They are simple, but brilliant.

1. The goal is…

When someone in the elevator asks, “What’s your new project about?” You respond: “The goal is…” Then follow with a maximum of one or two sentences. Choose your words carefully. Your goal is to get the other person curious to know more.

2. The purpose is…

Follow this expression with one line that describes the purpose of “whatever.” It should be direct, clear, and strong. There’s no room for stumbling or ending on a soft note. When using this tactic in a conversation, be confident and sprinkle in some humility and a smile.

3. The bottom line is…

Leave the sales pitch and fluff for someone else. This phrase is about cutting to the chase and respecting people’s time. It can almost be delivered like it’s on the down low; a prized secret that you’re sharing only with them. When speaking with this person, lower your voice, and speak slowly.

Allow the recipient of your message to feel as though they have been hand-picked to learn the crucial details of “whatever.” Even when writing an email or post that will be seen by multiple people, this phrase is powerful. It allows everyone to feel as if they are the only one on the receiving end. They are the chosen one.

As you put these expressions into practice, you’ll notice that your mind will slow down before you begin your follow-up line. When weaving these phrases into your communication, it cues your reader or listener that they need to pay attention; something important is coming that they simply can’t miss.

Here’s the bottom line:

We exist in a world of sound bites that leaves us little room for long winded and muddied communication. Clarity is a beautiful thing. As federal communicators wanting to keep a sharp edge, we should all give it a try!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

22 Tips for Town Halls in Tough Times - PART 2

Posted by: Dave Hebert, Feb. 14, 2013

Yesterday's Part 1 post covered when to have a town hall, what topics to cover, and who should speak. Today, read about logistics, day-of-event troubleshooting, and things to do before and after the event to help ensure success.


How does this thing work?

Let’s talk logistics; there are so many moving parts to these events, so you’ll want to create a checklist you can reuse and modify in the future. Here are some considerations:
  • What date works best for your speakers and your audience? Consider typical workdays and teleworking patterns. And what about time of day — do you have employees in other time zones?
  • How about the physical location? Is an auditorium available? Book it early, and work out the seating arrangements. Do you have a lot of remote employees? Encourage them to gather locally to “attend,” if possible, and share slides with them via web-based meeting tools like WebEx or GoToMeeting. Or employ something like Google Hangouts, with each large gathering acting as a participant.
  • Speaking of tech, take advantage of cheap web cameras to stream video of the speakers, if not the audience, too. Engagement takes a huge leap when people can see who’s talking. Even laptop cameras can handle this in a pinch. A phone bridge can work for audio, but taking questions this way could get very messy, which leads us to ...
  • Plot out how you’ll take feedback. Auditorium settings could call for cordless mics carried around the room: Who will help with that. You can use the chat feature built into most virtual meeting tools to allow remote questions with some level of anonymity, if preferred.
  • Arrange for sign language interpretation. And record the meeting, whether via video camera or with screen-capture tools that can capture audio, as well.

When do I do this? 2 weeks to 1 month ahead of the event
What does it cost? $0 to $1000+ if you need to invest in tools, equipment, and/or services


Is this thing on?

If you do the rest of this right, the event itself should be a relative snap. HOWEVER, make time several hours before the town hall to check the venue, the technology, and other arrangements. Every time you do a dry run, you’ll likely find a problem that is much better dealt before you go live.

When do I do this? the day of the event
What does it cost? well-timed panic


Can you throw me a bone here?

Success for a town hall is largely defined by what happens before and after the event itself. Here are some things you’ll want to give your audience:
  • Ahead of time — a memo or other notice about the event, with an agenda, the presentations slides, links to background info they can use to brush up on the topic, and those polls we talked about at the top. Prominently post this info to your intranet so folks can refer back to it when needed.
When do I do this? at least 2 weeks ahead, with a reminder the week of the event
What does it cost? $0
  • Afterward — a follow-up message, including any actions that will be taken as a result of the discussion, links to recordings of the event (including transcriptions) and related material, and one more poll to see if the town hall was effective relative to the pre-event poll results. Be sure your host or your speakers mention this follow-up at the town hall itself to show commitment to action.
When do I do this? day of the event to no more than 3 business days after
What does it cost? $0 to ~$500 for aforementioned polling license and transcription services, if needed


What other best practices do you use for your successful town hall meetings? Share them with us in the Comments below.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

22 Tips for Town Halls in Tough Times - PART 1


Posted by: Dave Hebert, Feb. 13, 2013

Open discussions between the leaders and employees of an organization are an excellent way to address concerns about, say, a looming budget crisis. Such a crisis — and the precepts of smart government — would dictate, however, that you don’t spend a fortune on travel, tech, and venue to have such a discussion.

Well, you don’t have to. Town hall meetings can be complicated, but with some smart planning, they can be cheap and (relatively) low-stress affairs.


What are these people thinking?

An issue that requires this sort of discussion is often right in your face. Often it’s not — you might have to dig to see what’s looming beneath the surface of your organization’s culture. Polling is a great way to do that.

You can refer to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for a generalized take on what is and isn’t working for your workforce.

You can also set up your own polling, whether open on the intranet or randomly sampled via email, asking how interested people are in having a discussion with senior leaders on a given topic and how well informed people already feel about that topic.

And take stock of the rumors you hear, the blog comments you see, the complaint emails you get, the topics being debated among senior leaders. These are great leads for topics.

When do I do this? 1 month or more ahead of the event
What does it cost? $0 to less than $500 for a SurveyMonkey annual license or similar that you can use for other polling efforts


Who’s in charge here?

You know what you want to talk about — now, who’s doing the talking? Identify subject matter experts who have a full grasp of the issues at hand and people who are/should be champions on these issues (one person could be both). Find the right mix, and consider the ideal speaking arrangement: single presenter, expert panel, etc..

You’ll also need a host who can engage the audience, moderate questions, and keep things on topic and on time.

When do I do this?
1 month or more ahead of the event
What does it cost? $0, unless you’ve got to pay someone to talk


What are you talking about?

Get your champions/experts together before the event to arrange who will cover what and what the consensus messages will be. Your event will be made or broken on whether you get this part right. Also determine if you need presentations or if you’ll jump right into Q&A. Presentations help set context, but you don’t want to turn a town hall into a lecture. Limit presenting to no more than a third of the total event time.

When do I do this? 2 weeks to 1 month ahead of the event;
What does it cost? $0


Read Part 2 of this post tomorrow, for information on:
  • How does this thing work? - arranging logistics 
  • Is this thing on? - checking the venue, technology, and other arrangements
  • Can you throw me a bone here? - ensuring success with actions before and after the event

Monday, February 11, 2013

Free Trainings & Events for Communicators

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Feb. 11, 2013

Build your skills and your network, without squeezing your office training budget, by making time for these upcoming free events. Who has money for training anymore? The Federal Communicators Network tweets about free events all the time. Follow FCN on Twitter to make sure you don't miss an opportunity.


Free Events for Federal Communicators in February 2013


Feb 12
Social Media - Get Ready to Analyze and Engage - This Adobe Government Assembly at the National Press Club focuses on effective use of social media.

Feb 14
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: 10 Signs It's Time to Break Up with Your Current CMS - Percussion hosts this webinar on web content management systems and product choice.

Feb 18-22
Social Media Week DC - A week-long festival featuring independently curated (and mostly free) speakers, panels, workshops, events, and parties all across the district celebrating tech and social media in the Nation’s Capital.
Feb 21
Drupal4Gov: Theming and Accessibility - The NIH Library in Bethesda, MD will host the quarterly Drupal4Gov event featuring five 30-minute ignite talks and a series of hands-on breakout sessions covering basic to advanced topics in Drupal theming and accessibility.

Feb 21
Section 508 Compliance - Deque Systems is hosting an event at the National Press Club about the Veterans Affairs Section 508 Compliance program, one of the largest in government.

Feb 22
Cybersecurity Symposium 2013 - Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association of Washington, D.C presents this symposium focused on gaps to coordination, collaboration, information sharing, and active threat deterrence across agencies, domains, and private owners of U.S. infrastructure. [NOTE: Free only for GS-8 and below, as well as Chief Warrant Officers and NCOs and below. GS-9 and above, as well as Officers 01 and above, pay $45 to $55, depending on date of registration.]

Feb 27
Mobile User Experience - DigitalGov University presents a webinar about how mobile user experience is different from traditional channels and how to approach user experience during mobile implementations.

Feb 28
Exploring Web Accessibility - This Adobe webinar is an introduction for practitioners on how to create websites and applications that are accessible to people with disabilities and compliant with relevant standards.

Feb 28
FedScoop's 3rd Annual MobileGov Summit - Federal government and industry discuss the latest in mobile government technology at The Newseum in DC.

Throughout February
E-Learning and Digital Cultures - Coursera's free 5-week class aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age.


Anytime Training - Archived Webinars and Resources


YouTube Tips for Government - GovGirl puts up a new video every Wednesday.

Above and Beyond Metrics: Tell a Story with Reports - The great folks at HowTo.gov have archived their February presentation on analytics and metrics. Many other online resources are also available.

Plain Language -  Free online training from NIH.

Understanding Risk: A Primer for Journalists - National Press Foundation program archive might be useful to federal communicators working in public health.

Google Tools for Journalists Hangouts - National Press Foundation program archive.


Mark Your Calendars for Free Events for Communicators Later this Year


June 1-2, 2013
National Day of Civic Hacking

Sept 23-27, 2013
Social Media Week DC


If you know about a free or inexpensive event open to other communicators, especially those organized by not-for-profit organizations, please let us know, and we'll promote it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do You HowTo?


Posted by: Rachel Flagg, Feb 6., 2013

Have you heard about HowTo.gov? It’s a federal government resource to help agencies improve digital services and deliver a better customer experience to citizens. It consolidates government-wide requirements, training, best practices and shared solutions in a “how to” format.

Many FCN members use digital services to improve government programs, and many are already using HowTo.gov. The website is managed by GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and supported by the Federal Web Managers Council and other communities of practice. Content is developed collaboratively by GSA, subject matter experts, and practitioners from across government.

What’s Available on HowTo.gov?

Examples include:
  • Best practices and guidance to help agencies manage all their digital services, including web, mobile, and social media
  • Step-by-step instructions to create and manage specific tools such as blogs or user testing programs
  • Guidance on opening and sharing government information and data
  • Support for government-wide communities of practice in all areas of digital services
  • Instruction on using 3rd-party social tools in compliance with government laws and regulations
  • Information on Shared Solutions such as FedRAMP/Cloud Computing
  • Guidance on how to write in plain language, and ensure your agency is in compliance with the Plain Language Act of 2010
  • Examples of how agencies have used Challenges and Contests to engage the public to develop innovative solutions to government problems
  • Models and principles of good customer service in government, and tips for collecting useful customer feedback

People deserve government information and services that are helpful, quick, cost-effective, and accurate, and delivered via their channel of choice. People should also have an opportunity to easily provide feedback and contribute solutions to improve government operations and programs. HowTo.gov has resources and tools to help federal employees and agencies meet these needs.

The HowTo team wants to connect with FCN members. They're seeking feedback, including feedback on their website. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Employee Communications and Engagement


Posted by: Larry Orluskie, Feb. 4, 2013

When it comes to communications teams, the employee communications function is often at the low end of the totem pole. To work in employee communications is often to be in a junior role, away from the important stuff and disconnected from where the real action takes place.

More and more, employee communications and engagement is being recognized as a critical function. It is not only vital to any successful communications or marketing campaign; it is also fundamental to organizational performance. Some best practices for employee communications and engagement are:

1. Develop a strategy

Employee communications can’t be left to chance. It’s important to develop a strategy to focus internal communications activities by setting clear objectives that track to measurable, observable outcomes. When planning, consider how internal communication will integrate with external communications and branding.

2. Have leadership buy-in

Engagement at the top is essential. Ensure that the head of your organization is fully briefed on internal communications, has an opportunity to shape the strategy and is front and center in outreach activities. Leadership’s behavior will help set expectations for transparency and authenticity. Plan opportunities to demonstrate a real commitment to information sharing, in order to show that information hoarding is not acceptable within your organization’s performance or culture.

3. Have the resources

External communications often trumps internal communication when it comes to budgeting and staff resources. You must make a case to your leadership that there is a real cost to this pattern – it costs your organization every day in lost productivity that your team is not clear on its direction. The only way to excel at the employee communication function is to resource it appropriately.

4. Avoid the vacuum

Don’t be na├»ve and think that if you don’t communicate, nothing will be said. Quite the contrary – internal communication grows negative engagement in a vacuum. If there is change afoot or a challenge coming, the grapevine will be abuzz. The longer you leave the informal channels to be the only viable source of information, the harder it will be to establish relevance and trust.

5. Focus on face‐to‐face

In‐person exchanges are the most effective and trusted forms of internal communication. Design communication strategies and tactics around meaningful opportunities for face‐to‐face exchange. If distance is a challenge, explore the use of web conferences as a means of bridging that geographical gap rather than relying on the passive and cold medium of email.

6. Technology isn’t the only answer

There is a universal belief that the Intranet is a solution any internal communications problem. That is a false and a dangerous assumption – effective employee communication cannot be based on any single tactic. An Intranet can and should be a powerful tool in consolidating business resources and information; however, the Intranet must be integrated within a broader tactical mix, which includes channels such as face‐to-face opportunities, communication via managers as well as informal avenues for information and exchange.

7. Measure, learn, refine

Measurement is always important in strategic communications, but it may be especially relevant in the case of employee communication. Setting up clear indicators of performance will be vital in calibrating the strategy and tactics with appropriate precision. One of our best tools is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.


Do you use other best practices? Tell us about them by leaving a comment, below.