Monday, December 30, 2013

CDC Sets a Gold Standard for Communication Measurement in Government

Posted by: Jeff Brooke, Principal Consultant, Organizational Communication & Change Management, The MITRE Corp.* - December 30, 2013

CDC’s anti-smoking campaign last year included stunning vignettes offered as tips to smokers from actual former smokers. My favorite spokesperson was Terrie. She suggested smokers make a recording with their own voice for their grandchildren, maybe “sing them a lullaby, while you still can.” She said this with assistance from an artificial voice box while applying her wig. 

Even more stunning, for a measurement geek like me, is an impressive paper in the September 2013 edition of The Lancet that describes CDC’s effectiveness measures for the campaign—Tips from Former Smokers.  The bottom line measure was that over 100,000 people quit smoking, but the paper reveals many other measures that actually directed the campaign and made it a success. 

A useful way to understand CDC’s accomplishment is to explore what they measured, and then look at how they conducted those measures. A framework I like to use in thinking about what to measure is: activities, reactions, retention, and results. 

1.    Activities:
The number of communication activities and their cost.
2.    Reactions: The communication noticed by the stakeholder and how they reacted to it.
3.    Retention: The knowledge and feelings the stakeholders take away.
4.    Results: The behaviors influenced by the communication, and the resulting business outputs and outcomes. 
Screenshot of the Tips From Former Smokers website. Visible text includes the CDC's logo, with text, "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC 24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People." A header above rotating photos is cut off but reads, "TIPS FROM FORMER SMOKERS: In memory of Nathan Moose, Tips campaign participa... public health hero, who dies of illness caused by seco... smoke on October 17, 2013. He was 54... Learn more ab..." Below, there is a photo of Terrie, mentioned in the blog post.
Screenshot of the CDC's campaign website.

CDC’s study maps perfectly to these four categories. Then they used focus groups, surveys and existing data to measure within this framework.

1. Activities

The $54 million CDC campaign was the first federally funded, national antismoking campaign. Using existing data about local markets allowed CDC to target their ad placements so carefully that they expected to reach four out of five smokers.  Always try to leverage existing data as CDC did in crafting their tactical plans. TV accounted for three-fourths of their tactics, with radio, billboards, internet (banners, displays, Facebook, etc.) and print mainly in supporting roles.

In addition to tracking their exact number of spots they placed they also calculated the number of free placements they received by news organizations covering the campaign.

2. Reactions

Poster reads, "A TIP FROM A FORMER SMOKER. RECORD YOUR VOICE FOR LOVED ONES WHILE YOU STILL CAN. Terrie, Age 52, North Carolina." There is a additional text below, but it is too small to read.
Striking poster from the CDC campaign.
The campaign developers assumed that hard-hitting images of death would motivate smokers to try to quit. Fortunately, they tested this assumption using focus groups of smokers—and proved themselves wrong. Smokers indicated that death is an abstract concept for many and simply didn’t make an impression. But the focus group participants also indicated that the diseases from smoking—long before death—could be quite meaningful. So CDC shifted gears and developed the campaign you’ve probably seen.

Focus groups were the right measurement tool because they provide understanding. The dialogue nature of focus groups allows the researcher to probe and explore.  Measurement before communicating, as CDC accomplished, is called formative research—it helps us adjust our communication plan before launching it.

Did the new message work in reaching people? 78% smokers recalled seeing at least one Tips advertisement on television during the three-month campaign. To determine this, and most of the measures in this study, CDC conducted a survey of a sample of nearly 6,000 smokers and non-smokers before and after the campaign to compare the difference. Since they collected a statistically reliable sample, they were able to generalize their findings to the full U.S. population.

3. Retention

The focus group findings allowed CDC to reset their communication goals—the targets for retained knowledge and feelings. Instead of focusing on the length of life, they now showed how smoking degrades the quality of life and how to access support to quit. For the feelings side, they now targeted empathy for and connection with former smokers. While CDC could have measure this intermediate step of retained knowledge and feelings, they instead cut right to the litmus test—results.

4. Results

As with any good communication plan, CDC’s targeted behaviors that would yield outputs that would in turn yield outcomes. They targeted three major behaviors:

1.    Peer influence: Getting friends and family to talk about the dangers of smoking. 
2.    Seek support: Getting people to seek resources to help them quit.
3.    Attempts to quit: Getting people to actually attempt to stop smoking.

Why these three behaviors? Once again, existing data showed the way. CDC reviewed existing studies of different approaches to influencing people to quit long term, and these three behaviors surfaced as effective. CDC then used their survey to measure whether their campaign influenced these behaviors.  Comparing the pre- and post-survey data, they found:

  • Peer influence: Recommendations by non-smokers to quit doubled.
  • Seek support: There was a dramatic increase in the use of cessation services. For example, calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW increased 132%.
  • Attempts to quit: 12% increase in number of attempts.

The targeted output from these three behaviors was people who quit smoking. Comparing their pre- and post-survey data, they found that the campaign influenced at least 100,000 people to quit smoking.

The outcome CDC targeted was an increase in quality-adjusted life years at a reasonable cost. Quality-adjusted life years is the number of years of life added by an intervention. Each year in perfect health counts for one full year, with partial years added for people in various states of poor health.

CDC’s outcome was almost ½ million life-years added to the US population. Dividing the $54 million cost of the campaign (all costs) by this figure means it cost less than $200 per life-year. Another useful benchmark—the cost represented less than 3 days of the $8 billion the tobacco industry spends annually on promotion and marketing.

What’s the value of your communication efforts? CDC’s approach to measurement represents a gold standard—a level of sophistication that takes time to develop. The trick is to get started with just one or two measures, then slowly build your capacity over time.

Approved for Public Release; Distribution Unlimited. 13-4571
©2014-The MITRE Corporation

* MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers for sponsoring federal agencies. Jeff is also a Senior Lecturer in Organizational Communication at Northeastern University.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including Analytics Is Your Job and Live Tweeting Government Events: DOs and DON'Ts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Congrats FCN 2014 Leadership Team

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, December 24, 2013

The results are in! Please welcome your 2014 Federal Communicators Network leadership team. We’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the coming year. Personally, I’m really excited to work with such an accomplished and enthusiastic group.

Dave Hebert, USGS
Britt Ehrhardt, NIH

Activity Team Leads
Ethan Alpern, USGS
Cori Bassett, DHS/ICE
Sara Crocoll, NIH
Debra Harris, DFAS
Yasmine Kloth, NIH
Lisa Wilcox, USDA

Thanks to all who participated in nominations and voting. The competition for activity lead positions was very close. Our organization is lucky that so many qualified folks were willing to step forward to fill these roles.

And, of course, we’ve all benefited from the service of the 2013 team, who have labored mightily on your behalf over the past months. As the year draws to a close, I’ll send out a note about that, so you can join me in thanking them for their service.

David Hebert

Internal Communications Chief, U.S. Geological Survey
David on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I believe that government at every level employs professional communicators — like those of you in the FCN — who can bring tremendous expertise and creativity to bear on great challenges facing our nation. I want 2014 to be the year that collective potential is realized through our Network. In 2013, we on the FCN board worked to help you do your job through practical blog posts, training, and social events. We also moved to the community, which brought us the listserv where we debated, discussed, and shared training, job announcements, and news in ways we couldn't before. And we are in the midst of a budding relationship with the FCN's counterparts in the Canadian and British governments, which is yielding useful results for you (stay tuned for more). In 2014, I want to help bring you regular training on critical topics (that you can attend from anywhere), more chances outside of work to make valuable connections (that you have to be there for), and more content and problem solving that employ all that formidable skill of yours. In short, I am passionate about the FCN, I want to help it become all that it’s capable of being, and I hope you will give me another chance to serve you in its leadership. I have 10 years of experience in gov. comm., including executive comm. and employee engagement, public affairs, congressional outreach, web, social media, multimedia, publications, and more. I've also been a co-chair for the FCN for the past year. See more at

Britt Ehrhardt

Technical Writer/Editor, National Institutes of Health
Britt on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).  
This is a tough time to be in government communications. We're beset by shrinking budgets, falling morale (in some cases), a low approval rating of the federal workforce, and a rapidly changing media environment with new demands for technical skills. Now, more than ever, we need professional organizations to link us to each other and to training opportunities. FCN has provided some of this over the years, and there are opportunities for so much more. Over the past year, I've done a lot of the small and big things that keep FCN running on a daily basis, from Board meetings to website hosting. Dave and I managed the transition to the GSA listserv, which gives you so much more access to your peers. I also ran the FCN blog and website over the past year, soliciting, editing and laying out more than 40 posts. The FCN Twitter account was me too, where we grew followers from 60 to 1,300, as was some of the LinkedIn and GovLoop activity. And finally, we've opened some great conversations with other GSA Communities of Practice and with international organizations that do the same thing for government communicators in other countries. We hope those conversations will bear great fruit in the coming year.

Ethan Alpern

Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Geological Survey
Ethan on LinkedIn
Ethan on Twitter
Less than 3 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
Though I am a newcomer to the government communications environment, I pride myself on being adventurous and creative. Even while working for the U.S. Geological Survey, a government science agency, I have found ways to integrate popular culture into my writing. For instance, I most recently wrote a feature called "Could Species Conservation be Key to Winning a College Football National Championship", which is a new and innovative approach to science publicity ( I know I can bring that same enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to Federal Communications Network, and I would love the opportunity to do so. Ethan

Cori Bassett

Strategic Communications Branch Chief, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Cori on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
In my 17 years as a public affairs professional, I have led, directed, and administered public affairs communication programs at the national and local levels. I am particularly interested in building on the great work of those before me to make this network an even more valuable resource and to bring more awareness across the federal government of the importance of good communication both internal and external. I would love the opportunity work with other government professionals to share ideas but also to create some new and exciting ways for federal communicators to learn from each other and share best practices. I am most interested in working with any of the social media activities or blog.

Sara Crocoll

Presidential Management Fellow, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Sara on LinkedIn
Less than 3 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I have thoroughly enjoyed being an FCN member and am excited about the opportunity to take on a larger role within FCN. This year, I was happy to contribute a post to the blog and have recommended the group to many fellow government communicators. During my fellowship, I have focused on developing my government communications skills, especially with regard to new media. I would relish the opportunity to use and expand on those skills in support of FCN. I have also developed a knowledge of social media analytics, which I could use to analyze the success of FCN social media and provide recommendations on moving forward. Thank you for considering me for a position as an activity team lead!

Debra Harris

Public Affairs Specialist, Defense Finance and Accounting Agency
Debra on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I have more than five years’ experience leading project teams and creative teams. I bring 16 years design experience in both federal government and corporate environments. I have managed several communication strategies and special projects that required research, planning and evaluation. I serve as traffic manager for the corporate communications organization to provide customer service, project management, mentor visual artists, and run regular reports for agency leadership. I led a complete overhaul of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s website, The project included selecting a new host, purchasing software, creating the design and navigation, migrating content and training team members. I’ve written and executed communication plans for a variety of needs aimed at both the agency’s internal and external audiences. This includes drafting messages, creating designs, defining methods of distribution and measuring success.

Yasmine Kloth

Digital and Social Media Strategist, National Institutes of Health
Yasmine on LinkedIn
Yasmine on Twitter
Yasmine on Instagram
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I am interested in becoming involved in FCN in a leadership role because it would be an opportunity to share my content development and digital and social media communications skills with a group of talented communications individuals from across the government while at the same time allowing me to learn from this team of individuals all they have to offer. Over the past year and a half I have lead the development and growth of the social media program at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). During this time I have led the Center’s monthly Twitter chats and have particularly focused on developing partnerships with other Institutes and Centers as a way to help strengthen internal NIH ties as we share and spread important health information through these chats. FCN would be an opportunity to continue working with individuals in the communications field and I’d love to work on building and strengthening the professional relationships within FCN so that it is a place that can be a truly educational forum as we help each other to succeed in our respective subject areas. While I have spent the last three and a half years working on different communications teams at NCCAM, including content management, media, and product development, I began my career in journalism and believe FCN would be a chance to reconnect to that beginning—an opportunity to write, stay up-to-date on what’s new and exciting in the world of communications, and to remain connected to individuals with common goals and interests. Leading an FCN team would allow me to share what I’ve learned at NCCAM with a great government communications network, but to also learn new skills. For example, I would love to be able to work on the FCN blog, which would allow me to tap in to my writing skills as well as provide me with an opportunity to work on a platform that I haven’t yet had the chance to fully explore at NCCAM. I look forward to learning more about FCN and meeting all those involved.

Lisa Wilcox

Web Designer, USDA
Lisa on LinkedIn
Less than 3 years years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
Current guest blogger for the GSA's Mobile Gov Blog Tuesday Trends section, 12 years in the private sector of Social Media, web and UI design.

This post is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Practices for Graphic Design of a Twitter Profile

By: David Siecker, Communications Specialist, Tax Exempt/Government Entities, Communications & Liaison Office, December 10, 2013

After updating the FCN Twitter profile logo and background recently, I wanted to share some tips to help you start thinking about refreshing your Twitter profiles.

Here is where we started...

Below is the updated profile.

Here are some tips to help you start thinking.

  • Remember your profile picture (logo) is your main identity on Twitter. Use the correct logo or create a new one, then develop a background that supports it.
  • Avoid pictures behind text that you need people to read.
  • Use plain language and delete extra text.
  • Less is more. Consider how minimalist design can be used to its full effect.
  • Consider using words or graphics on left sidebar only that fade to a single background color.
  • Accommodate the 1024px width with a large background image (1600 x 1200px).
  • Ensure important text in the sidebars is visible in multiple screen widths.
  • Consider vertical text written like a book spine.
  • Only use pictures and graphics that are significant to your audience.

Have you rebranded/redesigned your social media accounts lately? What other tips can you share?

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including Live Tweeting Government Events: DOs and DON'Ts and How To Be A Fly On The Wall: The Dos and Don'ts of Sharing Executive Discussions.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Live Tweeting Government Events - DOs and DON'Ts

Photo of the author seated at a desk
By: Sara Harris Smith, Management Analyst and contractor supporting the Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, December 4, 2013

In this time of tight travel budgets, not everyone can make it to every event or conference they’d like to attend. Luckily, Twitter has made it easier to share events through live tweeting.

Live tweeting is using Twitter to report on an event, speech, or presentation as it is happening.

When done right, live tweeting can help followers feel like they’re actually a part of the event. When done wrong, live tweeting can be an annoyance and deterrent to your followers. In our office, as I’m sure is true with others, the person attending a conference or meeting is not necessarily always the person who regularly tweets on behalf of the office. Not wanting our followers to miss the opportunity to follow along, I began providing coworkers with some basic instructions on live tweeting whenever they headed to a conference. To help make sure you’re providing your followers with the best information and getting the most out of your effort I’ve pulled together these instructions into a simple list of DOs and DON’Ts for live tweeting.



- If you’re organizing the event, agree on an event hashtag in advance with your partners. Do outreach in advance of the event to encourage attendees to use the hashtag. Put it on meeting materials and slides.

- Include an introductory tweet about the conference. This initial tweet lets your followers know where you are and what you will be tweeting about for the upcoming hour or days. If you’ll be publishing tweets later when you report on the event (for example, on your website using Storify or some other tool), be sure to notify your followers of that too.

- Use and follow the conference/meeting hashtag. Using the conference or meeting hashtag allows followers to easily track the entire conference conversation. Following the conference hashtag allows you to make sure your tweets are findable and contribute to the conversation.

- Introduce the presentation you will be live tweeting from. If you are tweeting from a conference and will be attending multiple presentations be sure to keep your followers in the loop with a quick introductory tweet.
- Tweet direct quotes/concepts from presentations. Use short concise quotes to convey the presenters overall idea. Pictures of presenters or slides are a great way to grab attention too.

- Find Twitter handles of presenters and the handles of the organizations with which presenters are affiliated and use those in your tweets. If you know what presentations you will be attending ahead of time make a list of Twitter handles for presenters and their organizations. This is a great way to interact with presenters and will increase retweets. It will also link your followers to more information on the presenters without having to tweet a biography.

- Link to interesting programs discussed in presentations. When you want to provide more information on a program or presentation, but don’t want to send a flood of back-to-back tweets, look for an informative website to point followers to.

- Send a Thank You tweet at the end of the conference. Sending a “Thank you” tweet at the end of conference is both polite and signals to your followers, “that’s a wrap!”

- Measure your success. Be sure you’re using an analytics tool to measure how far your messages travelled. Capture and report this data to key people, especially decision-makers who aren’t that familiar with live tweeting.



- Tweet for the sake of tweeting. Be picky about what you send out. Try setting a limit for the number of tweets you send per presentation. You don't want to overwhelm people's twitter streams. If a presentation is going too fast to keep up wait until the end and tweet one or two takeaways.

- Link to things that require some sort of payment to participate. All links should be purely about providing more information, not people having to open their wallets. This include articles behind paywalls, unfortunately.

- Get engaged in a back and forth with other Twitter users. If a follower asks a simple question about a presentation that would benefit other followers to answer then absolutely answer. If a follower has a more in depth question that you’d like to address but not have to send it out to your entire Twitter following ask them to DM you. However, if someone is clearly trying to pick an argument do not engage them.

- Use a bunch of abbreviations or slang. Yes, that pesky 140-character limit can be quite frustrating sometimes! However, when possible do not overuse slang or abbreviations such as 2 for to or too, or b4 for before.

- Directly criticize any presentation. If you were tweeting from your personal account then you should feel free to share your opinions, but when representing a federal Twitter account keep your personal opinions to yourself. Think of the old saying: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all."

I hope this list helps make your next live-tweeting experience a little easier! Do you have other tips and tricks? Please get in touch by commenting below.

Sara Harris Smith tweets about the environment, public health, social media, and emergency response from @saramhsmith.

This discussion is brought to you by the FederalCommunicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including How To Be A Fly On The Wall: The Dos and Don'ts of Sharing Executive Discussions and How You Can Use Google Plus To Boost Your Message: 10 Tips You Can Put To Use Now.