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Podcast: How to Tell Stories of Trauma Survivors

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) posted online a recording of a panel discussion from its 2014 conference on how to tell the stories of trauma survivors with grace and dignity.

It was an interesting panel discussion and I enjoyed hearing the recording even though I could not attend the session. Dave Cullen wrote a book about the Columbine shootings and discussed how he approached people to interview about one of the most deadly mass shootings in history. He noted that sometimes going through an intermediary would help him connect with someone and convey sensitivity to the person he was approaching.

Cullen discussed his personal struggle with post-traumatic stress as a reporter. He talked about reaching out to the families who lost loved ones or survived the massacre and how he approached these grieving and traumatized families. He also talked about what was challenging to write and how it personally affected him to walk through trauma as a storyteller.

Alia Malek is a civil rights lawyer and a journalist with Al-Jazeera who compiled oral history narratives about post-9/11 prejudice and hostility. She notes that you have to understand the communities you are working with and that sometimes giving people the opportunity to be heard is empowering. It lets them know that their stories are documented for posterity and recorded for others to hear – it gives meaning to their suffering. She offers advice about interviewing trauma survivors and forging connections.

Malek also pointed out that when observing journalists overseas working with interpreters as they sought interviews, that a common mistake she saw others make was to make eye contact with the interpreter, and not the actual subject being interviewed. She says it is important to be self-aware of your own biases and challenges in covering the story, especially if you are facing cultural or language barriers.

Amy Dockser Markus, a Pulitzer prize winning staff writer with the Wall Street Journal noted how very hard it is to tell the stories of trauma while on a daily deadline to publish and talked about her work covering people coping with serious or fatal illnesses. She spoke with people over a period of six years for a project dealing with trauma. She notes that trust cannot be built with immediacy.

You can have chemistry with sources, notes Markus. When you are following people for a long time, they may start to see you as a friend and it becomes very complex for the writer and the subject. It’s not a friendship, but calling it a “source” does not seem appropriate or fitting either, especially when sources form a relationship with a reporter that may feel emotional in nature, even though it’s not a personal friendship. Ultimately, the author’s loyalty is to the story, and a writer might end up cutting someone out of the story that he or she really like and who may not be pleased to be removed from the story.

One of the more interesting sections in the recording, is when Markus discusses how to draw boundaries between personal life and work, when the work is emotional and has many parallels to the author’s own life. I also liked her commentary on her feelings about people who complain about minor things. As a trauma survivor myself, I also find it annoying to hear people complain about small struggles in life. My definition of a true struggle or terrible day was dramatically re-calibrated by my own experience, and this is not an uncommon feeling among trauma survivors.

The panelists also discussed the challenges with war reporting and how some of them have approached processing emotions and trauma. The moderator asked for examples of poor news coverage of trauma survivors. It would have been nice to ask trauma survivors their opinions on that one, instead of just journalists.  Someone also might have wanted to point out to the moderator that saying trauma survivors would have been more appropriate, at least in some instances, than trauma victims, which he said repeatedly. The people who have survived trauma have endured, and even speaking to tell a story, can be a rejection of victimhood.

The full MP3 recording is available online

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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PR & Creativity: Nurture It Now, Or We All Go Under

U.S. News & World Report recently named public relations specialist as the best creative job in the United States, with PR beating out architecture and advertising direction for the top spot. It’s great to be number one, but is public relations the best creative job?

U.S. News also noted that PR carries an above average stress load, but emphasized the variety of work done by PR specialists. It also emphasized that the field is dynamically changing with the media environment, evidenced by the rise of social media as an important part of PR work alongside writing, cultivating media relationships and messaging.

But how do you keep your creative edge if you have been in the business of doing PR for several years? And how do you do it if you are working at an organization that may not have a lot of money to support extensive professional development? Here are some ideas to help:

Embrace creativity and seek to be inspired. Many people would argue that creativity is an inherent part of the PR process. If you need a better grounding in the creative process and how it works within public relations, try reading a book like Creativity in Public Relations (PR in Practice).

Connect with a community of people who care about creativity. Even if you don’t have the big bucks to fund a trip out of town for professional development, you can find other ways to nurture your creativity. Read books, meet with other public relations professionals in your community or virtually for coffee to talk shop (and talk specifically about creativity), or just set up your own Twitter feed that follows people you find inspiring.

Embrace change – it keeps you creative. When I started in PR, we used to fax out press releases. I can still remember standing at the fax machine, cranking out news releases with PSAs to help people after a hurricane, or advisories promoting a 4-H youth event.  I was an early adopter of email pitching to journalists and I think you have to recognize that in this business you must embrace change and be willing to learn. If I was still faxing out press releases today, I would be considered an extremely extinct PR dinosaur.

Even though PR has been declared a creative profession, some recent research raises serious concerns about how the organizations and clients we assist view our creativity. Public relations professionals would do well to heed these warning signs.

In its fascinating 2014 study on creativity in PR, the Holmes Report and Now Go Create found that  nearly half of the 600 respondents (49%) surveyed felt that the quality of creativity in PR campaigns had improved over the past year.

While the researchers found some glimmering nuggets of hope in how PR agencies are embracing creativity, compared with research in previous years, they also found concerning information about how clients view their PR firms and their creativity. Client feedback or risk aversion was the number #1 killer of creativity, eclipsing even lack of budget or time. Only 18% of clients surveyed were consistently happy with their PR agency’s creativity (a number that remained unchanged from the previous year). Half are sporadically satisfied with their agency’s creativity, and more than a quarter (29%), believe creativity is a constant challenge for their firm. Nearly one third (32%) of clients are not happy with their firm’s creative capabilities.

And what is even more scary, is that in an age where content creation and marketing are becoming increasingly important parts of PR strategy, nearly 60% of clients felt that their PR agencies need to improve their creativity in content creation and marketing. Nearly half (48.2%) were concerned about creative quality and storytelling. You can see some of their thoughts on where PR firms need to improve creative quality below.

ScreenHunter_1058 Feb. 10 18.25

Only 41% of clients surveyed describe the PR industry’s creative quality as inspirational or good, while almost 60% see it as ordinary or worse. While the authors compare the results with prior years and that seems to moderate some of their opinions, these results should be jarring and deeply concerning to public relations professionals.

As a profession, public relations needs to care about creativity. Not only for our own well-being as communicators, but also because if we do not deliver creative strategies and ideas for the organizations and clients we serve, we will be replaced by others (in advertising, marketing, digital engagement) who will. Our work is integral because it can encompass many moving parts, and nurturing creativity should become a priority. Join me on the journey to a more creative 2015 this year, as I tweet articles and tips and post blog articles about creativity.

Talk to Us: Do you have a tip to share? How do you stay creative in your work? Got any links to suggest?

 Featured image courtesy of Niuton May (licensed under Creative Commons and available here). Holmes Report image can be found here.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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PR Crisis: Nonprofit Makes Up Board of Directors

A nonprofit organization in San Diego, Turn Our Hearts, got itself into  public relations trouble when NBC San Diego investigated its IRS filings and found out that the organization had falsified the list of Board of Directors on its 990 forms. Some of the prominent community leaders listed, had even declined to be on the board when asked, and were not aware of being listed as board members. The falsification led some to speculate that the nonprofit was not handling money well, if it could not manage its board list well.

The executive director left the organization in May and declined to answer any questions about the matter from the media. His departure left the organization’s co-founders and board chairman, to clean up the PR mess.  I was pleased to see him sit down and interview with television station, as sometimes nonprofits make a mistake when handling a situation like this and lockjam.

He attributed the problem to rapid expansion and poor oversight, and noted that since the NBC San Diego investigation began, the agency has tried to make amends. They sent letters of apology to the people who were wrongly identified as being on the board of directors, they began holding board meetings, instituted a conflict of interest policy, and filed corrected 990 forms with the IRS.

While the agency has made significant headway, they will need to sustain these changes going forward and work to improve how the organization is managed. This episode serves as a lesson to other nonprofits about the importance of paying attention to nonprofit management on multiple fronts.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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PR Executive Ranks #5 Most Stressful Job

According to a CNBC story on Yahoo and a research survey by Harris Interactive, working in public relations (PR) is the fifth most stressful job (last year it was seventh). Here are some tips on how to deal with the stress on nonprofit PR staff.

I’ll agree that there’s lots of stress – we manage how organizations and causes look to the media and the public. We have to keep up with the news constantly and abreast of the latest trends in communications and social media. Breaking news eruptions can make our days turn into non-stop calls, emails, and website uploads.

And many people – even sometimes our own families don’t understand what we do – but seems to think they know how to do it. People ask us at cocktail parties why we haven’t considered going on Oprah to share the story of a cause or approaching the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding – as if they are giving us brilliant advice that no one has ever thought of before.
And it’s often true that when we do something right and a great story runs that raises awareness for a cause or person or organization we care about – our moment of victory can be short-lived.
That’s part of why I think professional connections are so important for PR people – we need a few people – even if they are just at a virtual water cooler – who will cheer for our successes with us – because usually only another PR person can appreciate the 20+ hours of effort that went into the 2 minutes and 19 second story that ran on a national evening news program and how huge it really is that that story aired and happened. Even so, one could argue that I and many other PR people inflict plenty of our own self-induced stress on ourselves.
Those stresses bubble up in our personal and private lives. My family is so attuned to the fact that one phone call can disrupt my day that the first thing my daughter did when she started walking was find my Blackberry and throw it in the trash – convinced that it had the power to take Mommy away.
A few reporters can be grumpy and mean to PR people – but I can’t say I blame some of them – really – for being mean and a bit out of sorts. Newspaper reporting is ranked eighth most stressful job (photojournalism is at #7) on the same list.
Their profession is radically changing. Journalists are under constant deadline pressure and now asked to do more with less – making a print reporter a gatherer of photos, a blogger, and even a video commentator at times (the Washington Post just announced today plans for more politically-focused online video content). Breaking news can sink or swim what they toil over and care about too. And for those covering war, disaster or crime – the beat can be dangerous too.
While it may be stressful – PR, in most cases, is not a life-threatening career. I wouldn’t mind seeing PR slip a few notches down the list. Firefighters were listed at #3 but police officers rated at #10 on the most stressful jobs list, well behind PR people. That seems wrong to me. PR people might get stressed out, but people don’t shoot at us and we don’t usually carry weapons. I’m sure my husband would be a heck of a lot more worried about my safety and stressed out if I were a cop, than if I were running an event at the National Press Club.
I was glad to see the military figured prominently in the list and was not forgotten. Enlisted military personnel rated #1 most stressful job on the list. As rewarding as what I do is – or as stressful it may be – I could never compare my job – not for a second – to what my brother gave our country when he enlisted in the army. He died in combat in Iraq in 2007 during the surge in Baghdad. Nor could I compare what I do to what the thousands of military men and women give this country every day through their service. We all should do more to help military families and service members carrying these stresses.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.
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PR Executive Ranks #7 on Most Stressful Jobs List: Not Surprised

Public relations executive ranked #7 on Careercast’s most stressful jobs list. The authors noted:

This very competitive field, which often includes highly visible, tight deadlines, keeps stress at high-levels for specialists. Some PR executives are required to interact with potentially hostile members of the media, especially after a disaster.

While most nonprofit pr pros probably don’t make a six-figure salary, the stress level in the profession is real. Tight deadlines, media shifts, and demanding jobs can make the profession a pressure cooker. To make media relations even more challenging, newspaper reporter and broadcaster both made the top 10 worst careers list this year.

What do you do to deal with stress in your job?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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PR Genius: Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors Release Video on YouTube

The May rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from years in captivity was miraculous, but it also ignited a media firestorm, with news crews camped outside the house where they were held, and their families shielding them from cameras and onlookers as they returned home as free women – free women who had lost years of their lives and endured horrible brutality.

The release today of a video on YouTube by the three young women – showing them looking well, filled with gratitude for the public’s support for their recovery,  and working toward their new lives was heartwarming.

It was also a stroke of PR genius. By releasing the video, the desire for the media and the public to take photos and videos of the women as they go about rebuilding their lives – was deflated like a balloon. Surely these young women and their families have had hundreds of media requests and have felt pursued by the press. Yet privacy and time are what these young women need, away from the spotlight, to pick up the pieces of their very shattered lives.

Amanda Berry repeats in her segment on the video how important having their privacy has been for their healing. By creating the video, they were able to share the messages they wanted to share, without the pressure of a news camera or someone asking questions about the traumas they have suffered. The young women come across as happy to be home with their families, looking forward in their lives, and even strong. They don’t talk about their captor or the years they suffered. Thanks to the Internet and video technology today, they’ve been able to control their own stories and share the messages they want to share, on their terms. Bravo.

When I have worked with trauma survivors in a difficult situation – I have sometimes recommended they consider sharing their story once with a major media outlet – in order to deflate media interest and put their story on the record once, for all. In a  situation like that, talking to the right reporter at the right news outlet is paramount, and the survivor is still forced to do a media interview and answer potentially wrenching questions. We’ve also sometimes managed a difficult situation by releasing a statement and requesting privacy for a family.

I like this approach using a video, which has made major news today and distributed their voices far and wide, without subjecting these trauma survivors to the stress that a media interview would surely bring. I’m sure we will see more people in difficult circumstances use this type of communications strategy going forward.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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ProPublica’s Nerd Blog: What Does It Mean to You?

The popular ProPublica website recently announced the start of the “Nerd Blog” to explore news applications being used in journalism. The authors write:

So what the heck is a “news application”? It’s an interactive web page that uses software instead of words and pictures to do journalism.

Our team of programmer-journalists makes interactive applications based on data both culled from public sources and collected by ProPublica’s investigative reporters. Some of our work is published alongside stories. Other projects are themselves the main product of an investigation.

What does this mean for nonprofit organizations and media relations? As more media outlets add customized news applications and graphics online to explain stories and allow readers to interact with data, this is an area of journalism we all need to be aware of. As public data is mined and shared, there will be more opportunities to explain important issues and causes to the public.

Some examples:
Unemployment Insurance Tracker (ProPublica)
Home and Away (CNN)
Data Desk (LA Times, listing dozens of projects)
US Newspapers Pick the President in the 2008 Election (10,000 Words)


Thanks for the image

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Public Relations Executives Among Most Stressful Occupations, How Nonprofits Can Help

Working as a public relations executive ranks among the most stressful occupations around, says CareerCast in its 2012 ranking. PR executives were ranked as the seventh most stressful profession. CareerCast explains its ranking:

Public Relations Officers are responsible for creating and maintaining a positive image with the public for companies, non-profits and government agencies. They typically are responsible for giving presentations and making speeches, often in front of large crowds. This very competitive field, which often includes highly visible, tight deadlines, keeps stress at high-levels for specialists. Some PR executives are required to interact with potentially hostile members of the media, especially after a disaster.
Are nonprofit PR pros exposed to this level of stress? Yes, quite frequently. Deadlines and visibility can make for a toxic  and stressful cocktail. In smaller nonprofits, PR executives are often solo operators and jacks of all trades – tasked with updating websites, designing publications, and coordinating fundraising or event planning.  The lower salaries at nonprofits also can add to the stress load. What can nonprofits do to alleviate it?
  • Offer help for events. Ask if they need help with an upcoming event, could use some secretarial or set up assistance, or volunteer help. If funds are available, hire a contractor to assist if needed. Independent PR practitioners (like me) area growing phenomenon in the industry and are often willing to assist with an event or on an ongoing basis.
  • Encourage them to join a professional organization (and pay for their membership dues too).  Some of the stress in the nonprofit sector is brought on by isolation. Joining a group like PRSA or a local PR organization can give the PR professioOffer to nal a place to share successes and challenges.
  • Suggest they take a workshop. Learning how to work smarter, not harder, can help reduce stress loads. Improving your personal knowledge base can also be refreshing.
  • Give them a gift certificate and time off (with pay) following a major event. Sometimes PR pros can take the day after an event off, because there are photos to get distributed to the press and donors, or deadlines to deal with. But the gift of a day off, with pay, for overtime is much appreciated. And a gift certificate for a massage, meal out with the family, or gift card show that effort is appreciated.

  • Ask what they are most proud of. What a PR person is proud of, may be very different than what their coworkers notice. The fundraising staff may be thrilled with a donation after an event, but the PR pro may be happy about a news story.
  • Notice when they work late. Sometimes working late goes with the profession – a release must get out or an event must be prepped for. Get them assistance, or buy a cup of coffee and help them get finished up. If you see someone burning the midnight oil, get them out of the office and home.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Public Relations Pro Opens Up about Work, Family: PRSA-NCC Spotlight

The National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America featured Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller in a member spotlight in March 2013. Here are Ami’s answers to some questions about public relations, her greatest career achievement, and work-life balance.

Years as a Member of PRSA-NCC: 9

Why did you join PRSA-NCC?
I wanted to connect with other PR professionals and participate in professional development opportunities. As an independent PR professional, I find it especially important that I be linked with other PR professionals, because they are my “water cooler” community – the people who can swap ideas and rejoice in successes.

What was your first job in the profession?
I joined my first nonprofit Board of Directors (and public relations committee) at age 20 while still in college. My first vote as a board member involved firing our executive director, who had lied about the agency’s finances and hidden $80,000 in unpaid bills in a shoebox under his desk. Needless to say, that was my first experience dealing with a serious potential PR problem – the agency came out OK. I stayed involved in the community and became an op-ed columnist while in graduate school – that led to my first PR job working at a major state university in a publications office.

Tell us about your range of experience and/or your greatest skills.
I help nonprofits and associations take the next step in sharing who they are and what they want to do. Media relations, social media, writing, web content, and strategic communications are daily activities for me. I do some curriculum writing projects, magazine writing, and training too.

I have a lot of variety in my day-to-day work and that’s part of why I like what I do. My practice helps organizations that assist families of fallen service members, that advocate legally for disabled veterans to get the benefit they’re entitled to, and that are helping unemployed baby boomers go to community college to re-train for new careers.

What’s your greatest career achievement?
Memorial Day 2009 – when The Washington Post featured one of my clients in three stories that all ran on the same day: (1) a front page (under the fold) long-length feature with a photo that profiled someone helped by the organization, (2) a story in the A section talking to a group of people helped by the organization but with a very different focus, and (3) a story with a photo on the front of the regional section that continued onto the next page by a columnist exploring one of the more emotional workshops the organization was holding that weekend. I should have retired from PR the day after.

What are your current career/professional goals?
Write another book in 2013.

How would you describe your professional philosophy?
I believe strongly in building relationships with reporters, not just blasting out thousands of press releases – I think those relationships better serve our clients for the long-term. Social media and online publications make it easier than ever to research journalists and understand what they are covering, and the hectic pace of the news cycle has made some of them even more reliant on PR professionals than in the past.

I think you should care about your work and know what motivates you to do it. In 2007, my 22-year-old brother, Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Iraq – and that tragedy changed my perspective and my consulting practice. I do the work I do because I have the same values my brother did – a belief in service to community and for the greater good. I was a community activist and writer before my brother died, but my work became more personal after he died.

Don’t be afraid to be a voice or to help others find their voices and share their stories. And try to get other people to listen. I am known as an advocate in the military family and veteran community, and I don’t mind that label. If it’s appropriate, I am sometimes quoted by the media, because of my personal connection and the tragedy that happened to my family. I think many of us could be better advocates in our communities on issues we care about.

What’s your dream job?
The job I have right now.

Who would you consider to be your mentor, and why?
I have been really blessed with several mentors from our chapter and throughout my career – including PRSA-NCC Board member, Christie Phillips, who hired me to work at National 4-H Council many moons ago, and former PRSA-NCC chapter president, Brigitte Johnson, who also worked with us at 4-H. When I started my independent consulting practice – Heathere Evans-Keenan, Helen Sullivan, and others from the Independent PR Alliance gave me support and advice. I think one of the best things a mentor can give someone is believing that they can do something – and assuring them that they aren’t crazy for trying something new.

Offer any advice you have for maintaining work/life balance.
I don’t think it’s as much a balance, which implies that you are giving up your life for work, or vice versa, as maintaining a work-life flow.

Know what qualifies as urgent for you. Really ask yourself if something is urgent before you dump your personal life out the window and dash off to deal with the latest office crisis. Obviously breaking news and incoming press calls are going to trump a lot – but many of the things we think are urgent – are not.

Schedule time for yourself and pay attention to your personal health and fitness. After many years of neglecting my health and living with a lot of stress, I began a few months ago to focus on nutrition and fitness. So far, I’ve lost 27 pounds and I feel great.

If you have a family– you need a battle plan and preparation is key. Before the work week starts –I like to have meals organized, laundry done, and our home reasonably in order. So if life gets a bit unpredictable that week – I know my family’s needs will still be met.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Family and faith are my anchors. We have an almost three-year-old, so our home life right now is about potty training, play dates and tea parties. Our three older children from my husband’s first marriage are grown, but we love following their lives – which seem much more fascinating than ours. I belong to a book club that meets monthly and being part of our church community is important to us.

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Repeating Tweets: Good Practice or Bad Move?

You may have heard the buzz about repeating tweets from Guy Kawasaki (who chose to re-run tweets 4 times 8 hours apart), or Marketing Land where they view content as running over a lifetime (an interesting approach), or in the New York Times – is it a good practice or a bad move?

What prevents people from re-tweeting is twofold. One, the nature of content sharing is to hit the button, share the blog post we worked on for hours, and then check it off our lists and be done with it. That blog post is out of sight, out of mind. Two, many people worry about being labeled a spammer and avoid sharing content multiple times. Users worry they will degrade their feed if they repeat information.

And there are good and valid reasons to re-tweet. There is tremendous competition for attention on Twitter. Your audience may only be paying attention part of the time and it may be global and scattered across multiple time zones. And if you’re not a news media outlet with breaking news that changes by the minute, and your content is evergreen (or at least has a long shelf life) and it’s useful to your followers, why not re-tweet it?

Wise Metrics analyzed 1 million tweets from 1,500 Twitter accounts and found that 55% of Twitter users are repeating their tweets. Just because the crowd does it, should you?

Wise Metrics found that on average, the second (repeated) Tweet performed 86% as well as the first one. They also found that Tweet performance decreased slowly as the number of repeated Tweets increased. Even after 6 re-tweets though, the (repeated) Tweet performed 67% as well as the original. On average, only 14% of your followers will see the (repeated) Tweet twice.

So what’s the best advice?

Repeating Tweets does not seem to harm you. Yes, it is ok to repeat your Tweets, if you modify or edit them a little bit so they are not verbatim copies of the original. It’s also worth considering stretching them out. If your blog post today is evergreen, could you re-run it 3 months from now, and program that using an editorial calendar or scheduling software like Hootsuite?

Get creative. Copying and pasting the same tweet is against Twitter policy. Edit your copy to be a little different, draw out a different nuance, cite a statistic or anecdote instead of the title, or at least start differently. You can include the same link, but don’t run the same identical copy over and over.

Break it up. Spread out your tweets a little bit from each other and run other content in between. If I am running a blog post on my Twitter feed, I try to break up the tweets a little bit, to ensure that they are not running one after the other and that other content is flowing in my feed.

Thanks to Creative Commons for this image.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Reporters Talk: Media Coverage and Sexual Assualt on College Campuses

Center for Public Integrity writer Kristen Lombardi talks
about interviewing 50 survivors of rape on colleges
campuses and cultivating advocates and intermediaries
to help connect with survivors
.

It’s not easy to report on trauma and intimate partner violence. In this video from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma’s conference to help reporters working on reporting about intimate partner violence. All the reporters who spoke on this panel about interviewing survivors of intimate violence had a lot of interesting things to day, but I found Kristen Lombardi, of the Center for Public Integrity, particularly intriguing. She shared some insights that may be helpful for nonprofits working to support trauma survivors who are sharing their stories in the media.

Transparency and informed consent are critical to an investigative story like this, notes Kristen Lombardi, who was investigating rape on college campuses nationally and how their schools had responded. The judicial process many of them when through was as traumatic as their sexual assault. Time was a critical element in her investigative work, as she was able to do research and talk with survivors over an extensive period of time and build a bond of trust with them.

About 90% of survivors, once you establish a relationship with them, will go on the record, if given the option, said Lombardi. But building a relationship with them and helping them understand the story was critical to gaining consent and often required extensive negotiations and time. Yet when they trusted her and found that her story would potentially expose a large scale system failure on college campuses across the country, they often shared many details. Many of the survivors signed privacy waivers so the reporter could get access to campus records, disciplinary files and other materials.

She talks about allowing survivors control of some aspects of the process – setting up their own location or time for interviews, giving them the space and time they needed to deal with difficult issues, or the option to have someone else with them at the interview who could help them feel comfortable.

The interviews were done in three steps: (1) inviting them to share their story and who they were before the traumatic event, and then discuss the case itself, (2) following up with questions based on the transcript, and (3) coming back to the survivor with any of the more difficult questions. It’s important for journalists to think about how they ask the tough questions when working with survivors of intimate violence, notes Lombardi, because you don’t want to trigger their fears of being disbelieved, as so many survivors of rape are not believed.

Before publication, Lombardi also shared passages of their stories with them, so they could see how their stories were represented, even though that posed serious ethical challenges for her, because the Center has a policy of not sharing drafts of stories, ever, with sources. Read Lombardi’s investigative work.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Saving the Planet Without the NY Times Environment Desk: Is the Media Going to Ignore Climate Change?

Stories like this one on Jan. 11, 2013- showing snow in Jerusalem
– and discussion of global climate change in America’s top newspapers – are what activists are afraid of losing

With the New York Times announcement that it’s going to dis-mantle its environment desk, organizations and activists are worried that we might lose ink and attention on climate change and environmental issues   at a time when our nation could need it the most. 

 
The nine-person reporting team will be dispersed to other news desks, and according to InsideClimateNews, that will leave only a dozen reporters and a handful of editors at the top five newspapers working on the environment beat.

 
The New York Times upped its climate change coverage last year, publishing more than any other outlet, even though the volume of media coverage about climate change declined last year. Others have expressed concern about the NYT change, including:

Michael Mann, a climatologist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said specialized, experienced environment editors and reporters are essential to navigate the escalating politics and complicated science of climate change. “Without properly trained science journalists to serve as honest brokers … the public is increasingly ill-equipped to sift through the cacophony of anti-scientific propaganda that pervades the public discourse and to identify the emerging threats to our health and our environment,” Mann said.

Should environmental activists and scientists be worried? The NY Times says it won’t change its commitment to environmental coverage and that the change is purely structural. I’m not so sure. I think the onus will be put on organizations and their public relations staffs to put more resources into explaining environmental stories and climate change to reporters. And more work will need to be put into pitching these important stories to other journalists too.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Score Better Ink: Get a Reporter’s Inside Scoop on How to Communicate Effectively

Well dear readers, pull up your chairs and take a look – because this is an inside track on how to get PR from a real journalist. The Houston Chronicle’s art and society writer Douglas Britt recently emailed to the art community on his beat a 1,400 word treatise on how to best engage with him, according to Gawker. It’s a great PR primer offering an insightful look on how to effectively engage with a reporter. The full 1,400 word email is available on Gawker, but here’ s a few takeaway princioples:

Press releases are not dead – as a matter of fact – they are even appreciated! Britt wrote, “It IS a good idea to keep spamming me with press releases. They sometimes have useful info and seeing them come in jogs my memory about shows I want to see.”

Good media relations is about making the job of the reporter easier, not harder. That means no ambushing him about an event because you didn’t get it to together to issue a news release sooner. That means no idle chit chat or overblown flattery. That means don’t ask him to solve your computer problem when you can’t email a file the way he needs it. That means don’t mail an invitation to an opening, when the newspaper never has and never will use an invitation to write a review.

Advance notice is appreciated. Reporters are busy – and if they can see an exhibit before it opens or get additional details that are helpful, they will often return the favor in good coverage.

Keep your content substantive. No fluff. Don’t expect a weak story to get prime billing because of a minor detail – focus on the newsworthy-ness of the story. Britt wrote: “If this is one of your biggest shows of the season, tell me why – and make the “why” be about the importance and quality of the work – not the fact that the artist is really old, really sweet, taught at UH for 20 years or was so-and-so’s student. Not about the fact that the consul of Belgium bought one of his pieces or Peter Brown might buy one. Make it about the work. The work. The work. The work” Got it people? Keep it about the work. Not the fluff.

Visuals are king. Especially in the arts community, high-resolution images are paramount, but for most news stories, there is a growing desire for visuals to accompany the piece. In his email, Britt instructed gallery owners to send high-resolution jpeg images with captions for each.

Label the images you submit – all of them. Even if all of the images sent by a gallery are from artwork by the same artist, Britt reminded his readers to include the artist’s name in the caption for every image sent. If you are submitting photos for a community newspaper, the same rules apply. Don’t assume that an editor or intern or whomever, is going to decipher the details from your cryptic email that requires them to remember the news release sent last week. Make it easy.Assume that only one image will be chosen. Include the caption in the email with the image. Don’t make the news staff guess. It’s an easy prescription for deletion. not coverage.

Your communication with a reporter should be concise. Everyone is on email overload these days. Don’t contribute to the delete pile. Reporters don’t have time to trade 400 emails with you to clarify details that could have been covered well in one or two emails. Keep it short and to the point. Yes, good media relations is about building relationships with reporters, but you can’t build a positive relationship with a reporter if you annoy the hell out of him.

Are all reporters like Britt? No. Do they all want everything just like he does? No. But the principles laid out here should be helpful for nonprofits and others trying to understand how to more effectively and successfully engage with the news media.

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Six Ways to Maximize Your YouTube Channel for Nonprofits

I began administering a YouTube channel several years ago for a client – and YouTube provided a way to provide their content that was easy to use, searchable, and affordable. Bandwidth fees to host videos on their website were a concern for them, like many nonprofit organizations. YouTube enabled them to build a library of dozens of videos. Here’s a few tips to help you maximize your YouTube channel:

(1) Create compelling and shareable videos that people want to watch. There is no magic formula for creating a viral video. You want to create videos that are interesting, creative, fulfill some type of need people have, and share stories. Videos that are relevant and relate to every day life get shared – they aren’t just ads for an organization.

(2) Join the YouTube Nonprofit Program. If you are a nonprofit organization, this is a no-brainer. Get your own donate button on YouTube. Add call to action overlays to your videos, and get production resources and live streaming capability.  Sign up now. See YouTube’s 10 Fundamentals of a Creative Strategy on YouTube

(3) Be personal. Share from the heart. It’s not an ad for me, me, me, the nonprofit that needs help. It’s a storytelling platform to share who you really are as an organization, to share the stories within your organization (from the people you help, the people who are doing the work, the people who are supporting the work). Be passionate, be bold, but most of all – be authentic.

(4) Produce quality videos. That doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks hiring a professional video crew if your budget is minimal. But pay attention to production values. HD cameras are now very affordable. One of the best things you can do if you are making your own videos, is buy a table stand or tripod for your camera. If you can afford it, improve the lights and audio for your video equipment. Take your time to get the setup and lighting right before you start recording. Edit the video. Find a volunteer from the community to help you or hire someone if you don’t have good expertise on staff.

(5) Make friends and share your videos. A lot. Fill out the description for your video and tag it well topically so it can be found. Brand your channel with graphics that relate to your organization. Reply to comments on your videos. Create playlists with your videos so they can be organized. Use the embed feature to add videos to your website. Share your videos through your social networks. Ask donors and supporters in an e-newsletter or via Twitter or Facebook to share a video with their friends on social networks.

(6) Use your analytics to learn what works for you. The YouTube Insight program is free and offers great data on audience, length of view, number of views, etc.  Pay attention to what people are watching (popularity) but also how long they watch it.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Sobering Report Issued on Status of Women in the Media

The Women’s Media Center issued a sobering report this week on the status of women in the U.S. media in 2014. This study takes a more comprehensive approach, looking at newsroom staffing, talk shows, radio and film. It summarizes a number of studies to paint a broad picture and also includes studies on social media use, magazine staffing and industry choices for PR grads. Here is a portion of the executive summary:

  • As newsroom staffing declined 6.4 percent from 2011 to 2012, the overall tally of women staffers continued to hover at 36 percent, a figure largely unchanged since 1999. Nevertheless, the count for women of color continued its more extreme fluctuations.
  • A three-month snapshot in 2013 of articles appearing on The New York Times’ front page showed that men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women, though the rate was not as high when women wrote the story.
  • At the nation’s three most prestigious newspapers and four newspaper syndicates, male opinion page writers outnumbered women 4-to-1.
  • The number of women in radio news jumped 8 percent from 2012 to 2013, narrowing one of the historically widest gender gaps in the news industry. Elsewhere in broadcast news, there were, as examples, losses in female on-air talent and broadcast managers.
  • White men continued to dominate the ranks of Sunday morning news talk show guests, except on a single MSNBC show with a black female host.
  • Two women—1.09 percent—were among the 183 sports talks radio hosts on Talkers magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” list. The Top Ten among Talker’s news talk show “Heavy Hundred” included no women.
  • More than 150 print publications and websites covering sports—an arena whose editors are 90 percent white and 90 percent male—were slammed with an “F” in an Associated Press Sports Editors–commissioned study.
  • Over a five-year period ending in 2012, the 500 top-grossing movies had 565 directors, 33 of whom were black and two of that 33 were black women.
  • In the top 100 films of 2012—when women had fewer speaking roles than in any year since 2007—females snagged 28.4 percent of roles with speaking parts.
  • A dozen top decision-makers in the film industry said they perceived the pool of qualified women !lmmakers to be smaller than that of quali!ed men.
  • For production of the 250 top-grossing domestically made films of 2013, women accounted for 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors, slightly lower than the 2012 and 1998 figures.
  • According to a two-month snapshot in 2013, men wrote 82 percent of all film reviews.
  • Women snared 43 percent of speaking parts in prime-time TV, according to the latest study, up from 41 percent previously. Those women, however, tended to be much younger than their male acting counterparts.
  • More white women but fewer women of color have been directing prime-time TV shows but the overall numbers for women has remained virtually unchanged.

Download the report and read more. See coverage by TIME magazine, National Journal, Huffington Post, and Slate.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Social Media Case Study: Goodwill Industries International Discusses Its Approach to Brand-Building

Have you ever wondered how social media policies and engagement could enhance your nonprofit or association? And what others are doing in the field?

Last week I attended a great lunch presentation organized by PRSA-NCC’s Independent Public Relations Alliance, and our guest speaker was Beth Perell from Goodwill Industries International (tweets @GoodwillIntl). Beth  leads Goodwill’s communications and information management efforts and oversees the organization’s web development, media relations, social media and communications strategies. Here are my notes:

Sometimes it takes change to foster growth. Their organization’s social media emergence began after a new CEO arrived who was supportive of embracing new technologies. They took the time to set goals for their social media presence. Their CEO has even embraced Twitter for himself and he tweets personally @jdgibbons. If you’re having trouble getting your nonprofit or association CEO to embrace Twitter – consider what Perell said – he likes the pithiness of the format since it’s only 140 characters, and it gives him a different avenue to talk about what matters.

Going into social media is a lot like setting up a web page – you must post new content regularly. You can slap a page together and get a social media presence set up quickly – but if you don’t keep it current and feed it new content – people won’t come back. Be strategic in crafting goals and making plans to update your social media streams. Be frequent and reliable. They try to have at least one tweet and one Facebook post per day.

Autonomous organizations can face messaging challenges but let your mission guide you. There is a network of 165 independent Goodwills and each has its own Facebook page, Twitter handle and YouTube channel. Goodwill International does not approve or control all of their tweets, posts and videos – there movement is not organized for top-down control. When asked by my fellow PR experts how messaging could be consistent across the movement, Perell was pragmatic. Local Goodwills tend to offer highly localized information with coupons and sales. They will re-tweet some messages from local Goodwills. They focus Goodwill International’s messaging on the mission that drives all Goodwills – to provide job training, employment placement and other services to people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges.She said that they do offer advice and sample messaging to local Goodwills when they are doing a campaign. This lack of top down control might blow the mind of someone who hasn’t worked with an autonomous nonprofit movement, but it can work!

Focus on sharing your organization’s heart – its mission and how it is lived out. They started a “my story” feature on Goodwill.org where people talk about how Goodwill helped them and impacted their lives. They have more than one hundred of these stories now built up on their site that they can utilize.

Organic growth means embracing social media and engaging followers/likers/fans. They are not focused on pumping up their follower or Facebook fan numbers. Instead they would rather egnage with the advocates that are already out there and build up their brand. There is a consistent population of people out there who just love Goodwill and want to support Goodwill’s efforts.

They encourage their employees to be part of social media conversations. They implemented a social media policy before verging into social media. Perell said that Goodwill International Industries wants for its employees to be on Facebook and Twitter – they remind people to be smart and live the brand – and realize that their employees can be some of the most passionate advocates they have in the twitter-universe and facebook-fiefdoms. They don’t block social media sites at work and have had no serious issues with employees on social media. Spokesperson duties are still handled through the main office, and employees can help push out a campaign through their personal social media accounts so long as they don’t represent that they are “speaking for Goodwill.”

Do things that are fun to engage your followers. It doesn’t always have to be about the mission, but it can be about having fun while fulfilling the organization’s mission. The day before the lunch, they held a Twitter Party on getting organized with Lorie Marrero, a professional organizer @clutterdiet and  #swinglinestaplers. I checked out the stream online and it looked like they had a lot of fun sharing organizing and de-cluttering tips.

The personal connection with your brand that you are building in social media can be carried into other projects. They are doing more with conscientious giving and working to combat the for profit clothing bin industry. They are working with major clothing manufacturers to add a line to clothing tags that encourage wearers to donate their clothing to Goodwill when they are finished with them. They are hoping to create a symbol for donations that will be as ubiquitous as the three triangle R for recycling. Just as there are things you recycle – there should be things you donate.

 

Goodwill Industries International’s website includes social
media sharing features and this great map showing their
“my story” impact

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Social Media for Social Good: Free Webinar for Nonprofits Aug. 23

Heather Mansfield at Diosa Communications is offering a free webinar on August 23rd about her new book, Social Media for Social Good. The webinar will include 11 how-to tips from her book (one from each chapter).

I for one, wish I could attend this webinar (esp. since I will most likely be in an airport with a toddler who needs a nap during this webinar’s time slot), but I am hopeful I can catch it another day. If anyone is live-tweeting from the webinar, please let me know. I’m also looking forward to reading Heather’s book, as she’s always offered great advice and best practices for nonprofits in the social media space.

You can register to attend at: http://nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/free-social-media-for-social-good-a-how-to-webinar-for-nonprofits/

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Speech Writing Tips: Five Points to Remember

Nonprofit and association public relations professionals are often called on to draft speeches for organizational leaders, board members or executives. Here’s a few speech writing tips to consider as you organize a draft:

#1 The Speaker’s Comfort Level – is he or she the type of person who wants a bulleted list with talking points, or a word-by-word double-spaced 18-point font size speech in a three-ring notebook? Is your presenter an accomplished and charismatic public speaker who can appear before a large crowd with ease, or a nervous executive who is being thrust into the limelight? If they are the nervous type, rehearsal may be required to calm jitters and soothe tension.

#2 The Audience – knowing about this audience is critical to structuring remarks that are relevant and connect. Is this a group that knows a lot about the organization or cause? Or a group that knows very little? What is the educational level of the group? Are your goals for the information you want to deliver, matched to the expectations of the audience? What would be an appropriate call to action for the people hearing the speech? To donate time? money? Sign petitions and picket for or against something?

#3 The Time Factors – no audience likes a speaker who stands between them and lunch or a happy hour, especially if the speaker is running over his or her allotted time. Know the amount of time allocated for remarks and what time of day the speech will be delivered.

#4 The Language – remarks should be brief and focused to fit the audience and desired topic. A good speech has an opening, middle and conclusion. An outline can really help a speech writer structure a speech into its basic sections. Cite stories and examples. Realize that one story told well, may have more impact on listeners, than several examples cited hastily. Remember to drive home the key point that you want for the audience to remember when the speaker finishes.

#5 – The Details – include notes on how to pronounce difficult words or names in the copy. Use active voice, not passive. Read the draft out loud to check for awkward phrasing and make improvements.

More Resources Offering Speech Writing Tips

Writing Scripts & Speeches – Grammar Girl

For the Novice: Simple Steps to Writing a Fantastic Speech – Toastmasters International

Speech Writing Articles – Six Minutes Speaking & Presentation Skills

Speech Writing in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective & Persuasive Communication – Congressional Research Service

Talk to Us: What tips do you have to share? What information do you consider when writing a speech? Post your tips and ideas below in the comments area.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Stay on Your Toes: Protecting Your Nonprofit Social Media from Spammers, Inflamers & Overzealous Posters

Today is Labor Day in the U.S., a traditional and paid holiday for millions of workers. But if you’re a consultant like me, the work has to get done whether it’s a holiday or not. And this morning I started my day not with an inspiring post to rally people to action but with a sigh and a move for the delete button.

One of the Facebook walls I manage for a client was spammed in the night by someone selling services for nonprofits, with the icky glaring marketing post right on their wall, inviting a call to their phone number and sign up for an account.

Needless to say, the post got deleted right away, but this is one of the many challenges we face in working in social media with nonprofits. To have real, authentic and open communication with our clients, supporters and staff through social media, we often set permission settings open on Facebook and other venues. It’s also a great example of why you always need to monitor and watch your nonprofit social media accounts – even on a holiday weekend.

We want the comments, questions and engagement in social media, but not the junk. Here’s a few tips to help you stay on your toes and keep your nonprofit’s information stream clear of clutter:

(1) Decide how your organization feels about openness. Make sure your organization understands the pluses and minuses of open permission settings. Open settings allow volunteers to post comments, supporters to share a note of praise, and for clients to ask questions or provide a testimonial.

(2) Designate someone at your nonprofit organization to manage your accounts. Understand that these people sleep, are not available 24-7 most likely, but can deal with spam and junk on the accounts in a timely way. If someone is going out of internet range for more than a day, designate someone else to handle social media curation duties.

(3) Make sure your settings send you an email when posts are made. Whether you are using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, set the admin settings to send you an email when someone posts, mentions your Twitter name, tags you in a Facebook post, posts on your Facebook wall, or puts a comment on your YouTube channel or video. Does this result in a lot of email? If you are getting a lot of good comments, yes, it does. But it also helps you catch a lot of junk too and you can get rid of it quickly. This is one situation where the insurance is worth paying the premium.

(4) Remove spam and commercial solicitations quickly. Remove the post and if you can, ban the user if they seem to be pushing something out of line with your organization and its purpose. Your users want to know what your nonprofit is doing, not what people are trying to sell you. Usually I only ban people who are clearly pushing something that is completely not related to the organization and is clearly spam. Report anyone who is malicious or threatening or illegal.

(5) Deal with inadvertent overzealous posters. Occasionally, someone will come along who just posts over and over – it may be harmless, and may even be about your organization, but it may not be helpful to have your page feed spammed by this stuff all day – it will turn off your other users who want to know what else is going on with your nonproft. Or they tag your organization in posts and post on your wall. Ask them to do one or the other – since both show up in your page’s Facebook stream. Explain to these overzealous posters how often you think it’s appropriate to post, and ask them to stick to a schedule.

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Successful Crowdfunding for Nonprofits: Tips to Help

An article in the Dallas Morning News examines how nonprofits are using crowdfunding to raise needed funds for new projects. The author describes how one nonprofit hoped to raise $50,000 but actually brought in $140,000 for a new restaurant to provide culinary training to young men coming out of juvenile detention.

Crowdfunding is a way to raise funds for a specific cause or project by asking a large number of people to donate money, usually in small amounts, and usually during a relatively short period of time, such as a few months. Crowdfunding has existed for longer in the tech and startup communities, and been used by struggling artists to raise funds for projects or films, but nonprofits are getting involved too.

So how can you be successful with crowdfunding? Here are a few tips:

Be realistic. Too many nonprofit staff think they won’t have to “work” to earn money online. The same rules apply – people have to understand your organization and how their support might make a difference before they open their wallets to donate and ask their friends to help.

Focus on setting up a strong campaign that will appeal to potential donors. Build a great web page for your campaign on a website for crowdfunding. Use great images, video, numbers, etc. Explain the need for the project and how donated funds will help meet the need. Use storytelling techniques and narrative to build the case.

Seed the campaign in advance. Find donors in the community who will contribute when the project opens and supporters who will help publicize the project. Notify the media in advance.

Publicize your crowdfunding campaign. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and others can be used to promote your project. Don’t forget to use an old-fashioned email blast too if you can. Reach out to the news media and tell them about the campaign.

Share the success and build momentum.  Publicly thank donors. Share when the project reaches key milestones through social media.

Resources

Five Best Practices in Nonprofit Crowdfunding (pay attention to the advice on reconsidering freebies and tiered donor levels)

Nonprofit Storytelling for Crowdfunding and Online Fundraising

11 Innovative Crowdfunding Platforms for Social Good

Top Ten Crowdfunding Sites

Thanks to Rocio Lara for the image. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Teen Twitter Flap: A Governor’s PR Staff Learn a Lesson the Hard Way

The blogosphere and media have had a field day lampooning Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s staff for their heavy-handed response to a rude tweet by a teenager. In case you missed the hubbub, Emma Sullivan, an 18-year-old participating in a Youth in Government program, tweeted a rude comment about the governor for her friends, from the back of a pack of youth he was speaking to. The governor’s staff (an assistant scheduling secretary for the governor) saw the tweet and contacted the Youth in Government program to let them know it might have come from one of the students attending the program.

The staff running the program contacted her high school principal, who demanded Sullivan apologize, in writing, to the governor (and offered talking points to help). Sullivan famously refused, and a media firestorm erupted after her older sister alerted the press. The Governor’s spokesperson got sucked into the fray. Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Sullivan’s tweet “wasn’t respectful”, that it takes mutual respect to “really have a constructive dialogue” and “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.” More than one blogger is now calling for Jones-Sontag and others on the governor’s staff to lose their jobs.

Today, the Governor apologized to her and said his staff had overreacted. And her school district said she will not be required to write an apology letter, to boot. After all, there is that pesky thing called freedom of speech out there, that extends, to even teenagers on Youth in Government programs. What exactly did the Governor’s public relations staff do wrong? And what can we learn from their mistakes?

Have the right people keeping an eye on social media and news mentions, and determining responses, if any. As communicators, we all monitor social media and news for information and commentary about the organizations and people we represent. That’s part of the job description these days. The governor’s staff didn’t go wrong in doing monitoring – which is an important part of understanding criticism and dialogue on issues for any elected official – but in how they reacted to what they found.

Why was an assistant scheduling secretary (who should be worrying about meal planning, security details, or calendar management) seizing the reins to do response on a communications issue?!  Why did an assistant scheduling secretary for the governor have so much time on her hands that she could monitor a high schooler’s twitter feed and locate the contact for the Youth in Government program and contact them about that Twitter feed?

There’s no harm in monitoring social media, but this got blown out of proportion right away. The people doing monitoring should be communications staff, who can evaluate what comes in. Not someone who is going to react with emotion or take things into their own hands. If you respond at all to criticism in social media or the press, it should be well thought out and strategic, not haphazard.

Evaluate the situation. This was a snarky teenager being mouthy in front of her 61 followers on Twitter, looking for a grin. This was not a reporter with ethics or a reputation hinging on accuracy. Nor was it a political opponent with an axe to grind. This was a teen who enjoyed tweeting about Twilight way more than spouting negativity about the governor – about whom she sent one tweet.

It was a teenager. Annoying. Yes. Make you wish her mama taught her some manners, or at least to be smart enough to tweet she was mad the Governor took away all public funding for art instead of just tweeting snark? Sure. But a bona fide PR problem to be worried about? No. This was a kid standing at the back of a pack of kids during a speech, who offered a virtual snide side comment – to her friends – the equivalent of an elbow rib cage jab. Any response from a governor’s PR staff to that type of comment – looks petty, bullying and like a lion stomping on a molehill.

Don’t let your response become a PR problem. The heavy-handed response from Brownback’s staff quickly escalated into a full blown crisis. By contacting the program, and also engaging with the school district – both of whom rely on relationships and funding from the state – there’s a sense of “going to teach a lesson to that obnoxious kid” in the staff’s response. Sullivan’s twitter feed now has 12,436 followers.

These were public officials or people acting on behalf of public officials – yet no one seemed to consider how the public might feel about the governor’s staff and educators spending time stifling free expression from a teenager – who was in reality – just mouthing off with her friends. The logical response from the public is – this is what the governor’s staff are spending time worrying about?  Really? This is what educators and school principals are spending their time worrying about? Come on. No wonder the public got mad. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. A good PR person could have spotted this disaster a mile away.

Let go of negative social media comments. Admittedly, “letting go” of a negative comment can be tough to do. But you have to have a thick skin if you are in the social media space, where anyone can say anything, regardless of age, education, position in life, or opinion – it’s the beauty and the disaster of the whole social media enterprise.

“Letting go” of a negative comment can be especially difficult if the comment is tagged to an official Twitter name (which Sullivan didn’t do) and shows up in “mentions” for an official account. But elected officials will have to weather much worse browbeating than a little steam from a teen – that’s a lesson Sam Brownback’s staff have learned all too well.

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Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story: Tips for Nonprofit Videos

Many nonprofit agencies are now investing in digital cameras and making their own video stories to share on their websites and through social media. Understanding storytelling techniques used by journalists can help share your message in a powerful way. This video from the Pulitzer Center offers great tips for assembling your story:

To make a really good piece of video journalism, they recommend:
(1) Make a clear outline of the story you are trying to tell.
(2) Decide what kind of background infroamtion people need to know to understand the story.
(3) Think about characters. You will need strong characters who lead the watcher through the story and help him or her understand. Should it be a person directly affected by the issue being discussed, an outside observer or an expert?
(4) Consider carefully the images and visuals you will use. Don’t just feature a person talking – show us. Avoid talking head syndrome.

The golden rule for video storytelling: you never have enough b-roll.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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The Big Three Shake Things Up: Evening Newscasts Make Changes

Photo by MediaBistro

There was a time when you could predict what the lead story would be on the evening news for the three major networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. But all three networks are mixing things up and making changes to their story lineups to stay competitive with cable and the Internet, and offer content viewers want to watch.

While the different anchors have always brought their own personalities into the mix, ABC is trying to humanize the news, writes New York Times reporter Brian Stelter. CBS is trying to stand out by emphasizing hard news and wooing 60 Minutes viewers to its other newscasts.

Why does this matter to PR professionals working with nonprofit organizations and associations? If you are pitching reporters at these networks – notice their nuances. Watch a few newscasts before you pitch a reporter, so you understand what he or she is covering and the angle they are trying to define. And take heart – the changes in the evening network news casts bode well for many human interest stories – for the stories we are building movements around.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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The Culture of Victim-Blaming Assaults Lara Logan Again, Discourages Trauma Survivors From Speaking Out

CBS reporter Lara Logan is barely out of the hospital after surviving being sexually assaulted and beaten  in Cairo last Friday, and already the victim-blaming and bashing have begun on media discussion boards and public forums.

An NYU fellow and author of a book about the Iraq war resigned his post earlier today over tweeting crude remarks when news of the attack broke.

I was horrified to read comments earlier today on the Wall Street Journal’s website about the attack on Logan that represented attitudes that one could only describe as Neanderthal, misogynistic, racist, bigoted and victim-blaming at their finest:

And what was a woman journalist — really, ANY journalist — doing in a sea of drunken, lawless people reveling in an overthrow of a 30 year dictatorship, in a third-world country, AFTER DARK?

Shame on CBS for allowing a (attractive) woman to travel to a nearly-like war zone in which women are 2nd class citizens! All for ratings.

Ms. Logan and CBS : What did you expect where entire families live on garbage landfills and women are considered chattel? That they were going to play by our American standards? What were you thinking sending a white woman into that situation? Would you have sent your daughter? I don’t think so. Your judgement and your rationale is entirely suspect.

And there is plenty more that’s way worse. What’s even crazier – is the Wall Street Journal actually requires people using its discussion forums to use their real names. So real people actually own up to making these horrific remarks posted above.

Bravo to NPR for deleting posts on npr.org about Logan and the attack that violated its community discussion rules. One can hope that the Wall Street Journal will follow suit.

Unfortunately, Logan is now getting dragged into the murky pool of commentary assault that some survivors of traumatic personal violence who speak out (or whose experiences are publicized) may be forced to endure.

This seems to occur more often to survivors of suicide, sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence. When survivors left behind after a suicide talk to the media about the warning signs they saw in their loved one in the hopes of preventing another death – internet trolls go on media discussion boards and anonymously post vile comments. Domestic violence victims who speak out after leaving a batterer and rebuilding their lives are blamed for tolerating abuse for “too many” years. A survivor of sexual trauma and gang rape testifies before a legislative body about her experience and changes needed, and she is called a slut, a whore and worse on public websites read by thousands of people. She finds the public commentary to be so vicious, that she later says she will advise other survivors to not speak out in public forums or to the media.

What these attacks on Logan and other survivors demonstrate – is that our society is often incapable of engaging in a dialogue that is respectful and appropriate when it comes to personal trauma violence. Even turning off the anonymous comment feature on media discussion boards, can’t prevent our dialogue from descending into a quagmire of victim-blaming and worse. Survivors of trauma are encouraged instead to hide their experiences behind cloaks of silence.

Yet many don’t get that option. Few trauma survivors, like Logan, have an assault announced to the world by their employer. CBS likely went public with news of the assault in a pre-emptive move. Perhaps Logan glimpsed cell phone cameras in the crowd during the assault. It was likely only a matter of time until news of the assault was publicized.

It’s a situation with no good decision: either wait until the shoe drops and news of the attack is announced by someone else, or pre-emptively make a statement with the minimal information you can tolerate. Unfortunately, that’s often the case when working with trauma survivors – we are trying to resurrect the best situation we can for a survivor from a crumbling nightmare. It’s an “all rocks” scenario – no choice that preserves privacy is even able to get onto the table.

As a public relations practitioner who has spent years working with organizations that provide services to help trauma survivors, the issues of victim-blaming and public reaction to a survivor’s story – cross my desk on a regular basis.

The thing I try to give survivors the most in working with them on media coverage issues- is the feeling of control of their own voice and their own story. It is their story. It is their life. They can make decisions about what is shared, how much is shared, and what they will talk about – from that moment forward. We can’t undo what’s already happened. We can’t control what other people – the public, the media, their attackers, will do.

The impact of public exposure on the trauma survivor – and the possibility of public ridicule after a media report for survivors of suicide, sexual assault and domestic violence – should be talked about up front with survivors and reporters as much as possible. When I meet someone who has been hurt by that exposure, we talk about ways to deal with it and cope with the aftermath.

Things can be done to minimize public exposure for survivors, but often only on the front end before a story is reported. I’ve requested anonymity for trauma survivors, put grief counselors in interviews to offer support, and asked media websites to remove comments that attacked survivors and went beyond the bounds of human decency.

I’ll be speaking for PRSA-NCC’s Nonprofit PR Day on March 9 on “We’re Not Victims, We’re Survivors: Lessons in Using Survivor Stories.” If you have suggestions or ideas for me to consider, please feel free to drop me a note or post a comment.

Today’s vicious commentaries about Lara Logan illustrate the problems faced by many survivors of trauma violence when their stories are aired in the media. News organizations offering public comment forums could crack down like NPR and enforce their terms of use and remove inappropriate remarks. People posting in these forums, might consider how they would write if they knew the person involved. Instead of blaming the survivor, they could offer up their concern and contribute to a meaningful dialogue.

If we learn nothing from this hubbub about a terrible trauma that happened to a respected journalist – then it’s truly a sad day.

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The Gates Foundation and Its Impact on Philanthropy: Free Dec. 14 Webinar & Alliance Magazine Issue

If you work in the nonprofit world, you’ve probably had more than one person naively and kindly suggest that all your funding worries would be solved, if only you could get a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While often these people have a very limited knowledge of what it takes to get a grant – knowing little about the applications involved and the fact that your proposed project must align with the foundation’s funding priorities – the heft and influence of the Gates Foundation is significant. 

It is the world’s largest foundation. But the Gates Foundation also “differs from the institutional norm in almost every way: in size, ambition, high-level connections, proactivity, long-term commitment, operational engagement, and public leadership,” says Ed Skloot, with the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society at Duke University.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) notes that the Gates Foundation is tredding new ground, changing expectations and the policy environment of philanthropy by its very existence. As a result the foundation carries tremendous influence that impacts philanthropy and nonprofits around the globe.

You can join moderator Tim Ogden and a distinguished group of panelists for an in-depth and extended discussion on the Gates Foundation on Wednesday, December 14 at 11 am PST/2 pm EST. The live webinar is jointly sponsored by SSIR and Alliance magazine. Panelists will discuss the import of the Gates Foundation, based on their articles in a recent Alliance magazine.

  • Ed Skloot will discuss his view that the “foundation’s behavior will have consequences that will be felt for years to come.” Skloot is director, Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, Duke University, and former president of the Surdna Foundation.
  • Megan Tompkins-Stange will share her perspective that the greatest impact of the foundation may be reinvigorating discussion about foundations’ role in society. Tompkins-Stange is lecturer, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.
  •  Laura Freschi will discuss her concerns that the foundation could become a “benevolent dictator” in global public health. Freschi is associate director, Development Research Institute, New York University.
  • Bruce Sievers will examine what such a large institution means for democracy. Sievers is visiting scholar, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and former executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.
  • Moderator Tim Ogden is the guest editor of the special Alliance issue, a frequent contributor to Stanford Social Innovation Review, and editor-in-chief of the Philanthropy Action blog.

Webinar participants will be able to ask questions and voice opinions about the influence of the Gates Foundation and how it is and isn’t changing the world. Participants will receive electronic access to the special issue of Alliance magazine upon registration.

Register here for the webinar

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