Words matter. Articles with a lot of words matter more, at least in terms of engagement, according to Pew. Content with 1,000 or more words have more than twice the engagement over mobile devices versus shorter articles. That's according to Pew Research Center, in this article, "Long-Form Reading Shows Signs of Life in Our Mobile News World."
Chris Christie knows how to tell a story. I make not a comment on his politics or his position on the issues, but rather on his masterful use of storytelling to make a point about policy. Communicators well recognize the power of storytelling to market or to advocate, and here Christie is giving us a great example of how to do it.
If you haven't seen the video, you should watch Christie telling the story of his mother's battle with cancer caused by cigarette smoking. What is most effective here is the way in which Christie weaves together three separate elements: lung cancer caused by nicotine addiction, the stigma of drug use, and a pro-life position. By bringing these three elements together in one personal narrative, Chrisite's story packs a punch. No wonder it's been shared more than 3 million times on Facebook and aired repeatedly on cable news.
Imagine how less compelling this story would have been if Christie had just told a simple, linear narrative...about how his mother battled nicotine addiction, lost a battle with lung cancer and how that has made him compassionate toward drug users. Still a story, just not as good.
It's not the story that gets you noticed or makes for powerful, compelling communication. It's how you tell it. Christie has given us an example of how to do that by weaving seemingly separate elements into one narrative and juxtaposing them to make a powerful point.
What do you think makes a compelling, powerful story?
The people who listen to podcasts really listen -- an average of 110 minutes per day. Compare that to the less than one minute of time most people spend on a web page.
Podcasts have the potential of helping you communicate to your internal audience, especially if you have a large dispersed workforce, a large number of millennials, or just an audience you need to engage effectively! Here's why -- and how.
With a Clinton and a Bush both running for president again we are reminded of that famous Bill Clinton campaign admonition -- "It's the economy, stupid," a simple catch phrase intended to keep the campaign on track with what was really important to voters.
As public affairs practitioners we are often bombarded with the message, "It's the technology, stupid." And that's just, well...stupid.
Austin James has a brilliant essay that sets the record straight about the media's attempts to portray each election as the outcome of successful new technology. The "Facebook" election, the "YouTube" election, the "Spotify" election and so on. He calls it the "Bullshit Shiny Story Syndrome." He writes, "Technology cannot decide the election, because technology doesn't vote." More James:
There is no “old” or “new” media. It evolves and contributes. There isn’t an either/or scenario at play here. Radio did not displace door-to-door and Twitter will not displace phone calls.
And that is not stupid.
Earlier this week, and related, I attended an event hosted by the local Public Relations Society of America chapter here in Seattle. The guest speaker was Alex Thompson, vice president of communication and public affairs for REI. He spoke about the importance of PR helping organizations finding their core values, staying true to that and building communications around that core. This seems related, to me, to James' point. We have to first understand the value we bring to the marketplace -- political or commercial -- and what is really important and unique to us and our audiences. If we can make sure the message is the right one first, the "how" we communicate it will follow.
Make sure your public affairs campaign is keeping that focus, and is not being distracted by the newest bright shiny object.
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Do Grassroots Phone Campaigns Work?
A “call your legislator” campaign can boost the chances of a legislator supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points.
That’s the conclusion of an academic field study from Michigan State University, “A Field Experimental Study of the Impact of Citizen Contacts on Legislative Voting.” The study examined the effectiveness of an organized grassroots phone campaign, where an advocacy organization contacted a legislator’s constituents, informed them about an issue that their legislators would be voting on, and then transferred that constituent directly to the legislator’s office to share their opinions.
This is known as a patch-through phone call. As someone who has created an implemented patch-through phone call campaigns and seen them work, it is gratifying to see that academic research backs this up.
The estimated effect is substantial: being contacted by constituents increases the probability of supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points. -- Michigan State University Study
Patch-through phone calls have been around a long time as an advocacy tool. Many organizations may look past a phone campaign in favor of email-based efforts, where constituents are asked to send an email to their elected officials. I believe there is a place for all forms of contact, but do think phone calls are overlooked. Phone campaigns can be an important tool for amplifying an issue’s importance and for stepping the pressure on an issue that is close.
A ringing phone cannot be ignored. A ringing phone with a voting constituent on the other end of the line is even harder to ignore. The 12 percentage point gain created by phone calls to legislators is proof.
Here are a few tips that I believe can push that 12 percentage point advantage even higher:
1) Constituents only, please: It shouldn’t need to be said, but phone campaigns should only be engaging the constituents of a lawmaker to make the phones calls.
2) To sweeten the pot, making the calls come from registered voters – not just people who live in the appropriate district – is even better.
3) Let’s add more honey – calls from business, civic or local elected officials (like a mayor, city councilman, or county commissioner) can make those calls resonate even further.
4) Use live operators – while there are times when automated phone calls can be effective, as a general rule I think live operators are better, for several reasons. But the primary reason is that nothing is more effective than people talking to people. The personal touch will increase the voter’s comfort, enable him or her to ask questions and get the answers that will lead to a more informed call and better experience for the constituent and legislative office.
Note: If you need to activate more than once on the same issue, you could use the initial patch through call to create a second list, a subset – those most willing to engage – and use a more automated process, either an automated call to the advocate, text message or email, to engage them for the next round.
5) Feedback is critical – Make sure your program has a way to get feedback, from constituents and legislators. Call back a percentage of the constituents who agree to talk with their legislators and ask how it went. What happened when they spoke with their members’ offices? Also, have your lobbyist get feedback from the offices being called. How are the calls being perceived? (Although have your grains of salt ready, it’s natural for staff to grouse a bit about ringing phones). Use the feedback to adjust your campaign as needed to make it more effective.
Grassroots phone campaigns work and can be amazingly effective. What kind of results can you achieve?
Let us know your questions and comments!
The Pew Research Center State of the News Media 2015 report contains the news that podcasting is on an upward trend:
The increased reach and upward trend line of podcast consumption is evident in every available measure – the percentage of Americans who are listening to podcasts, the level of public awareness, and how many podcasts are being hosted and downloaded.
I wanted to narrow in closer on the age demographic breakdown of who is listening to podcasts than that provided by Pew, which is all Americans age 12 and older. Fortunately, Edison Research has a better age breakdown, although the research is a little older (from 2012).
Hikers and climbers are always prepared with the “10 Essentials” – those items deemed so necessary for their journeys that they never step on the trail without them. Equipment included in the 10 essentials cover basics like navigation, food and water, emergency shelter, proper insulation, and so forth. The 10 Essentials help guarantee that the destination is reached and journey is safe and everyone gets home.
Grassroots campaigns seeking to engage in successful advocacy should also adopt a set of essentials. As someone who has created, implemented and managed employee, retiree and member grassroots lobbying programs for more than 20 years, here is my list of 10 essential attributes that should be fundamental to any sustained grassroots advocacy program.
These are general guidelines…like the hiker’s 10 essentials it depends on the journey (goal) and the terrain and environment (political situation) to determine how to specifically deploy the 10 Essentials. But if you follow these guidelines your grassroots campaign will be rewarding for advocates and position you to achieve your goals.
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Are you talking to your audience…or yourself?
Every organization has its own language reflecting its internal culture. Executives are comfortable with the language used within. Lobbyists speak with infinite nuance about the most arcane details of important legislation. Software engineers can write complex programs in multiple programming languages but often lose others when stringing English nouns and verbs together. Each group of experts is masterful in communicating to others within their group. And usually lost when trying to talk outside it.
This creates a failure to communicate. The internal gobbledygook we speak to ourselves obscures our message – even when what we are saying is truly profound. Consider this quote found in a recent news release about a new book on food sustainability:
"Although progress has been made, the prospect of sustainably feeding nine billion people by mid-century can seem incredibly daunting. This book helps meet this critical challenge by breaking solutions down into vital principles and practices, and by providing a combination of practical tools and techniques as well as inspiring examples showing that, with the right approach, we can succeed."
In other words: We can feed nine billion people without damaging the planet!
That’s incredible, but you might have to read that quote twice to grasp the significance of what the speaker is saying. The other information in the paragraph is important and provides details about what the reader will find in the book. But the point of the book itself is buried. The unique value – feeding everyone AND being environmentally responsible – is separated by too many words and becomes obscure.
Here are a few questions to ask if you are talking to yourself or to your audience:
1. Can you imagine your target audience using the same language that you are to convey a point they want to make?
2. Could someone in your target audience relate your message to his or her neighbor using your words?
3. Can you make your main points in one sentence in 20 words or less (or 280 characters)?
4. Is your prose sprinkled with acronyms needlessly?
5. Is the information important/useful to the recipient?
6. Which takes up a larger percentage of your paragraphs: your main points, or qualifications and caveats?
One important point: This does not mean we have to “dumb it down.” But if you want people to listen to you then you have to get their focus quickly in a loud and crowded world. This means talking to your audience in their language. Not yours. Stating something simply in plain talk that your audience will relate to is not dumb – it’s communication. After all, the goal isn’t to prove how smart you are to your peer group. Your goal in communicating externally is inform, persuade and engage your audience. Speak their language and you will succeed.
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We live in a 140-character culture. People’s attention spans are famously short. “Doesn’t anyone answer the second question in an email?” a friend of mine recently moaned on Facebook. Yeah, well “who’s got time for that?”
Twitter and Facebook feed our appetites with bite sized morsels of information we can easily digest – while giving us, through links, the opportunity to get more if we want it. Modern communication is all about the art of the appetizer. Just make sure to give your audience the types of appetizer that makes them want to move on to the main course.
When beginning to create content I ask three questions:
1. How can I make a connection to my audience with my opening content?
2. How can I arouse their curiosity?
3. What do I want them to do?
By being able to answer these three questions I can develop content that is useful, meaningful and leads to results.
Connect with Your Audience
Remember your audience – what is the right message that will make an immediate connection that will make them want to know more? The key is to connect with their interests, values, emotions and desires up front. You have to start with something they already care about. It’s no accident that the most powerful word on Twitter is “you.” The 3rd person singular pronoun is a personal bridge between you and your audience.
Figuring out how to connect with your audience depends on that golden rule of communication: The right message to the right audience. You need to know who your audience is, what motivates them, what values and passions you share in common and what your audience can get out of your product or service. If you can’t answer the question “what’s in it for me?” from your audience’s point-of-view, you aren’t ready to communicate.
Create Curiosity then Feed It
The two most important words online may be “Learn more.”
Give them enough information to make them want to know more or to act. Raise questions in your reader’s mind and then give them a way to answer it, further engaging readers and drawing them in.
Once, while reviewing a draft phone script I had created, a client called me. “After hearing that introduction in your script, I’d be asking…” and the client then said the question I wanted the audience to ask.
Yes, I said, we want the audience asking that question, and the script prompts it. Creating curiosity gives the call recipient a reason to ask a question and naturally change the phone call from a monologue from the caller to a dialogue. If the call recipient asks a question, he or she has suddenly become invested in the call, opening their minds to learn more.
This is where your audience research and segmentation becomes valuable – you have to create the questions that the audience wants answered and that will matter to them.
There is an art to this, especially when creating web-based copy. The information you provide has to create the right amount of curiosity while not fragmenting your information into so many pieces that your reader gets lost or loses interest. Analytics will help you determine if you have the right balance, and you can keep tweaking your work until you find it.
Act: Give Your Audience Something to Do
Your audience should be invited (and if you’ve done your job, actually feel compelled) to do something. Maybe it’s simply signing up for your mailing list or to buy your product. Further action could be to contact you or another key decision maker, or to simply follow you on social media. While some of your audience may only be seeking information, you still must provide an avenue for action. Unless you have “college” or “university” as part of your name, you are communicating for a purpose that usually involves getting someone to do something. Remember the fundraising adage: People give money because they were asked. So ask your audience to take action.
At each stage or level or information offer a way for your audience to act. Some may be skimmers and just need the top-level degree of information; others may be scrutinizers who need to dig deep before committing to action. Plan for both types of readers or target audience members.
Asking these three questions and using the answers will help you create content that gets the attention of your audience and results you want.
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Scott Barker has more than 27 years of experience in public affairs communication. He has worked with Fortune 100 companies, senior level government officials, political leaders and candidates to deliver winning communications campaigns.