7 Things I’ve Learned Developing Social Media Content for a Federal Stats Agency

DISCLAIMER: This post first appeared on my employer’s blog. You can read it here at HagerSharp.com.

Admit it: when you log on to your social media every day, the last thing you’re looking forward to is seeing content from a federal statistical agency. And who could blame you? It doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as content from your favorite celebrity, sports team, or public figure.

But look at the Facebook and Twitter pages for our client, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card) and maybe you’ll ask yourself: Why have I not been following NAEP?

Developing the social media content for NAEP has been an interesting experience during my time at Hager Sharp. By setting the groundwork for content monthly and reporting on its metrics, I’ve been able to gather some insights on what works—and what doesn’t. To my surprise, much of what I’ve learned goes against some of the traditional norms preached by social media “experts.” Maybe it’s due to the nature of NAEP’s audience—researchers and educators—but there are some things that could be applied to other types of audiences too.

Here are seven insights you might consider for your own social strategies:

  1. Get clever with memes and GIFs. Sometimes the best way to make a good impression is to make someone smile. With NAEP, we have learned to do this through use of memes and GIFs, which when effective, are great for earning link clicks towards items and results.
  2. Load up on the image text. There’s a familiar saying that “less is more” when it comes to a lot of things; however, for NAEP that’s not always been the case. Twice this year we’ve shared some text-heavy tablescharts, and infographics describing NAEP’s assessment process. The result: image clicks. Of course, we have an audience that’s largely familiar with data and research. It’s all part of our strategy of bringing NAEP item contents in a more visually-appealing way, leading to link clicks which count towards engagement metrics.
  3. Weekends are great for long-form content. If you have a video, lengthy article, or detailed infographic to share, chances are you might get the most value out of it if you post on the weekends. We have learned this by sharing videos from NAEP’s social media accounts on the days where followers may not be as preoccupied and have an extra minute to spare learning more about NAEP’s work.
  4. Don’t underestimate photos of people; they go a long way. While it’s true that livestream videos have been all the rage lately, don’t forget that sometimes pictures will do the trick just the same. The reason for this is two-fold: first, people love seeing people they know; and second, people love putting a face to a brand or organization. Use pictures to help build that personal connection with your followers.
  5. Share other’s content, but don’t forget to tag them. If your organization’s goals include thought leadership, it’s tough to get there by just posting content about yourself. Through managing NAEP’s social media accounts, we have learned that sharing others’ content helps in the long run by increasing our reach to new followers; especially when the content is useful to them. Because when you tag an organization’s social media handle, it appears in their notifications and on their timeline to followers.
  6. Encourage competition. Whether they admit it or not, everyone loves the feeling of being better than someone. The same holds true when sharing NAEP’s state results. Not only do people want to know if their state’s education system is progressing or regressing, they also take pride in knowing whether their state’s results are better than another’s. Share content that affects your audiences in a way that encourages their involvement or engagement.
  7. People value transparency. What each of the previous insights comes down to is being open with your followers. Some of NAEP’s best performing posts are the ones that allow followers to demystify its complex process.

Social media is an important part of a comprehensive communications effort when it’s used to form relationships. Without question, developing content for NAEP’s social media is a never-ending challenge that’s been really enjoyable for me.

Who knew you could have this much fun with a federal statistical agency?

How Nonprofits and Associations Can Thrive in Times of Disruption

The following was originally authored for Hager Sharp’s agency blog. You can read it here.

Every four or eight years, the United States officially swears in a new president—oftentimes bringing a new set of challenges. That’s why as a social-change communicator, I felt it would be beneficial to attend the PRSA National Capital Chapter’s most recent Breakfast Breakthrough titled, “What the (Donald) Trump Administration Means for Associations and Nonprofits.” Attendees kept the discussion lively and came away with expectations, takeaways, and tools for news monitoring.

While observing and listening to attendees’ different perspectives, I discovered some helpful tips based on the presentation and my own experience with nonprofits:

  1. Social media is key: now more than ever—From the campaign trail to now, President Trump has never been one to shy away from voicing his opinions on Twitter. Nonprofits and organizations can adapt that same boldness on social media to advocate for their own causes. This may require a change in procedures for some organizations, where the clearance process can slow down their ability to seize the moment. In fact, a key thing about today’s social media is how quickly organizations can get their message out. The Pew Research Center found that Facebook was the third most popular source of news among all voters this past year. Being authentic on your networks is a great way to engage and gain public trust.
  2. Study the media habits of your audience—If you are trying to influence elected officials and their policies, it’s always helpful to understand their media habits. One suggestion for doing this is to utilize Twitter to follow their accounts and the accounts that they follow. Know which media outlets matter to them. For example, this Axios article provides information on President Trump’s daily media diet. For members of Congress, their hometown paper may carry more weight than The Washington Post. Once you understand the “media diet” of your elected official, you can understand how best to target your media messages towards getting his or her attention.
  3. Value insiders’ and outsiders’ opinions—When the breakfast attendees were asked about the last time we analyzed who our audiences are, not many of us raised our hands. Before your organization adapts boldness on social media, it’s important to know who your supporters are—on and offline—and assess how they feel. At the same time, organizations need to assess the sentiment of those outside of their base of supporters to get a sense of what they’re up against and whether there’s an opening to change hearts and minds.
  4. Embrace partnerships with like-minded organizations—Everyone knows the old saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” History has shown this to be true, from the early movements in the 1900s for women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Both events were the result of individuals and organizations with similar beliefs coming together to advocate for the same cause. Even after those events, organizations benefitted by combining their efforts and becoming stronger advocates in the process.
  5. Facts matter, but emotions do too—Many of the great leaders for social change all share one thing in common: each of them successfully gained followers by incorporating facts into their messages along with relentless passion. As organizations seek to become thought leaders for their causes, the importance of using data and emotion to tell a compelling story will be crucial for inspiring current supporters and gaining new advocates.

Nonprofits and associations don’t have to fear the impending changes. Instead, by studying their new landscape and adapting boldness on social media, organizations can take advantage of opportunities to make sure their issues are at the forefront. It’s also important that organizations assess their own supporters and detractors, unite with like-minded groups, and combine emotion with facts to tell a compelling story aimed at securing more advocates. Attending this PRSA Breakfast Breakthrough gave me more confidence that the effective use of communications will serve nonprofits well—even in times of disruption.

Getting Your Facebook Posts to Actually REACH Your Page’s Fans

If you’ve ever been responsible for managing a page on Facebook you’ve likely noticed how difficult it is to get your posts to reach your page’s fans lately.  That’s because Facebook’s algorithms have made it tough for marketers in the past few years to organically reach their audience.

Through my previous experiences and my current internship as the social media director for Student Startup Madness, it seems lately that in order for you to really be effective you’ll have to invest in paid ads.  Sure, $5 every now and then isn’t bad, but if you find yourself spending it daily the cost will really add up.

Luckily, putting money behind your content isn’t the only way to organically reach your audience.  Here are some things I’ve noticed in my own work that allow your Facebook posts to truly reach your fans organically.

Balance – If the saying is true that “marketing speaks to you, while advertising yells at you,” then some organizations’ pages are nothing more than a constant advertisement.  Doing this over time hinders your page’s reach to your audience and Facebook makes it harder for you to reach them when you’re simply selling to them.  Instead, balance your content by sharing outside information that might be related to what your page’s purpose is, but isn’t directly selling something either.

Originality – Facebook’s algorithms are smart enough to recognize when you’re simply stealing content from other sources.  However, too much unoriginal content can work against you and limit your reach to fans.  That’s why Facebook tends to reward content you “create” yourself, whether that’s homemade videos, pictures from your phone, or even memes you generated.  There’s a bevvy of other content creation sources such as Canva, FontStudio  and Font Candy, which allow you to make your materials as well.

Timing – Ensuring your content has balance and originality can only take you so far, but if they say “timing is everything,” then you need to know the best times to post in order to reach the most fans.  But how can you determine the best times to reach them?  This goes back to my posts about using social media analytics – in this case, Facebook Insights – to figure out what times your fans are most online and when you have the most (or maybe even least) traffic to get your message across.

I’d be remiss to tell you that there is an exact science to Facebook posts; because there isn’t (at least one that I know of).  Sure there are a number of “best practices,” and there’s nothing wrong with using them for your page. Ultimately though, posting on Facebook is a matter of initial trial and error, until you figure out what works best for you.  Only once you do that can you really develop a consistent rhythm – which ends up turning into your own best practices.

How PR Pros Can Do Their Research Without Breaking the Bank

Whether you’ve read up on reviews to help make your next car purchase, or simply asked around about gift ideas for your loved ones, on a personal level you are a constantly subconscious researcher.  At the professional level, you likely conduct research to determine your stakeholders’ attitudes towards your organizations’ potential moves.  The same holds true for public relations professionals, who need to have an understanding of their audiences’ attitudes and beliefs before developing messages tailored to their tastes.  Gaining this understanding usually involves more research, which admittedly sounds like a tedious and expensive process at times.  However, there are many tools out there that professionals can use to create a measuring stick of how their target audience feels about something.

Here are three ways to conduct research even when you’re trying to pinch pennies:

  1. Free online survey tools – When done properly, surveys are a great way to identify characteristics about your audience, and there are many great websites which allow you to create them for free.  Some of these sites even include features like skip logic, which allows survey takers to skip certain questions based on their answers, while others let you customize your site with your organization’s colors.  Although the two most popular tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, there are many others out there that could better suit your organization’s needs.
  1. Focus groups – If you work in a professional team environment, chances are that you’ve had a brainstorming session where you bounce around various ideas.  If you have, then you’d also understand the benefits of a focus group and how great they are for gathering a few people to get a general consensus of your target audience’s attitudes.  However, conducting focus groups usually come with a minimal financial cost as you may have to give potential participants some sort of incentive to convince them to participate, such as free food or gift cards.
  1. Social media-based analytics dashboards – Social networks have come to recognize the importance of proving their worth to businesses and their bottom line.  Digital analytics helps professionals by providing data to demonstrate how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics tools for users who are interested in their posts performance.  LinkedIn also comes with an analytics dashboard for managing company pages.  Even websites can be tracked for effectiveness with the use of free analytics tools from Google.

What’s one of the best ways to find out how your audience feels about something? Ask them!  On the surface, utilizing these tools may seem to be overwhelming and complicated.  Luckily, Dr. Ford and I will demonstrate how easy these tools really are to use at the 2015 PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, November 9.  We’ll also provide real-world examples of organizations and businesses who’ve used successfully used these tools even while having little-to-no budget to work with.  Simply put: it’ll be a way to get in touch with your inner-grassroots communications self.

5 MORE Reasons for PR Pros to Embrace Digital Analytics (and the Tools to Help Them Do So)

Last week I gave you reasons why public relations professionals should embrace digital analytics since it was a common theme among my courses and projects.  Another discussion about digital analytics spilled over into the earlier part of this week as my Advanced PR Writing for Digital Platforms class had a speaker presentation.  The assistant director of social media for Syracuse University shared some helpful insights for us as we consider developing social media strategies for our prospective clients or employers.

Hearing our speaker’s presentation gave me additional ideas for reasons why PR professionals should embrace the tools of digital analytics.  As it specifically pertains to social media, gaining knowledge of analytics can be helpful in the following ways:

  1. Determine your audience’s demographics – When developing a communications strategy, it’s usually common practice to know your target audience or primary publics.  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have analytics dashboards that can help you determine if you’re really reaching them or another unintended audience.  Characteristics you can find are average ages, ethnicity, and geographic location among others.
  1. Find out when they’re viewing your posts – There are a ton of articles out there which will tell you that there’s a specific time to post on social media – usually between 1 and 3 p.m. on Facebook.  These articles, however, take a generalist approach and assume that what works for one page works for the other.  Once your communications strategy is implemented, you may find that your target audience requires a different approach.
  1. Uncover their purchasing preferences – What might be creepy to know is that analytics can dig more than just your audience’s demographics.  Analytics uses tracking codes that can tell you where your audience likes to shop and what items they like to buy. That’s when you can use this information to publish social media ads that tie-in to their purchasing habits.
  1. Find out what they’re saying about you – Analytics is useful for finding the conversations which your audience is having about you.  At a basic level, you can use searches on Twitter and Instagram to find almost every post that mentions your brand’s hashtag or name.  At an advanced level though, you can use tools such as Foresee, Ubervu and Meltwater to get a general scope whether those conversations are positive or negative.
  1. Create social media ads geared towards their interests – Once you use analytics to find out the information you need, you can use its many tools to figure out the best way to reach them.  As one example, Facebook allows you to “boost” certain posts beyond those who’ve liked your page. Of course it’ll involve a monetary investment, but you can spend as little as $1 for five days to expand your posts, and your page, to a broader audience.

It’s inevitable that understanding digital analytics will be crucial for public relations professionals going forward.  However, those who understand its tools and tricks sooner will reap the benefits of being able to communicate well-crafted messages that speak exactly to their public’s tastes.

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