Tag Archives: Strategies

Is the “Hi Howdy” open house the wrong way to go?

The Frontal Cortex has an interesting piece on the “rewarding properties” of information (see below) that suggest all of us might be going the wrong way with the all-too-common introductory – or “hi howdy” – public meeting.

The experiment described in the post suggests that people will respond best to meetings that have more information, particularly information about what’s coming down the pike.

Yet how often as coalitionists have we felt compelled to acquiesce to engagement processes that start with a meeting that is just an aggregation of very little information and a meet-and-greet with a study team – or that have very basic update meetings at milestones.

One interpretation of the experiment, however, is that we would better serve our target audiences’ needs – and information “pleasure zones” – if we ladled on the information ’til they’re overfull, particularly if that information helps them anticipate or predict what’s going to happen next in the engagement process.

Judge for yourself:

“Over at Mind Matters, Chadrick Lane reviews a fascinating experiment that revealed the rewarding properties of information, regardless of whether or not the information actually led to more rewards:

In the experimental design, monkeys were placed in front of a computer screen and were trained to perform a saccade task, in which they learned to direct their gaze at specific areas. The monkeys were first given the option of choosing between one of two colored targets. One of these targets would give the monkey advance information about its future reward. The advance information came in the form of visual cues, one representing a large reward and the other a small reward. Choosing the other initial colored target revealed cues that were randomly associated with reward size, thus possessing no informative value. After only a few days of training, the monkeys showed a clear preference for choosing the informative colored target.

The researchers then tested to see when the monkeys wanted the information. In this scenario, the monkeys were again initially presented with two colored targets. One of these targets had informative value while the other did not. The difference was that the monkeys always received informative cues just before their rewards. The choice each monkey had to make was whether to see an earlier informative cue. Despite always having a delayed informative cue, regardless of which initial target they selected, the monkeys preferred to have advance information as soon as possible. Like high-school seniors waiting on their SAT results, the monkeys wanted to know, and they wanted to know right now.

More via The Frontal Cortex.)

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Sharing shows how you’re faring on the web

How frequently people share content they find on your website, blog or other electronic outreach may ultimately be the most important measure of well you’re building and maintaining your issue or action coalition.

If the people you reach out to are forwarding, Digging, Delicious-ing the content you are generating, then they’re voting with their actions that what you have to say is important because it:

  • Contributes to or furthers a conversation they think matters;
  • Advances their self or civic interest; and/or
  • Confirms their values, beliefs or ideas.

The key, then, is to make sure that the content you’re generating is “share worthy” by concentrating on its:  

  • Trustworthiness – Do you take every step possible to make sure that content is accurate, complete, low on spin and authentic to the style and culture of your organization?
  • Relevance – Do you know in great detail who your coalition partners are, what interests and motivates them, and do you provide them with what they need and want?
  • Immediacy – Is the meaning and value of your content instantly recognizable as valuable without requiring a complicated explanation.
  • Usefulness – More than ever before, content is king, especially well-written, timely and relevant news, how-tos and other material that adds value to everyday life, or at least makes it easier and more productive.  

Bottom line, any time you’re posting information, ask yourself: “Will my partners and audiences use this material and, if so, how will their task/day/life go better?”  If you and your content have an answer, then odds are what you have to say is “share worthy” and thus an Internet success.

Death Of the “Influentials”?

Traditional coalition building or public engagement has always been more than a little hierarchical, driven in great part by the theory and the benefit of using influentials as an organizing and driving principle.

But in the flat world of Web communication networks, where theoretically everyone can be equally informed or engaged – is the old communication strategy of seeking out influential opinion-leaders really dead?

How ’bout if you’re trying to assemble a network or coalition focused on a specific goal?

Beats me, but here’s some (marketedly marketing-centric) food for thought from digital guru Guy Kawasaki that you can read in full here or in the excerpt below:

“Forget the “influentials.” You must buy into the theory that products and services reach critical mass because mere mortals spread the word for you. This defies the common wisdom that a handful of “influentials” shape what the rest of us try and what we adopt. In the online world, these influentials include Mike “I can go a week without Twitter” Arrington, Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, and to some extent me.

Reliance on influentials is flawed because the Internet has flattened and democratized information. Influentials don’t have as much special access, special knowledge, and distribution as you might think because of the growth of websites, blogs, and, of course, Twitter.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about influentials—if nothing else they can help you get to what some consider “nobodies.” But mark my words: (a) Nobodies are the new somebodies, and (b) it’s better to have army of committed nobodies and than a few drive-by somebodies. The most somebodies can usually do for you is a one day bump in traffic.

One more point: if enough nobodies like what you do, the somebodies will have no choice but to write about you. In this way, the buzz of nobodies begets the attention of somebodies and not vice versa.”

Delete all: Seven reasons to use blogs instead of email

As we try to muster an informed, engaged group of groups and individuals in developing successful projects or policies (let alone manage the whole effort), isn’t it time that we delete all email?

There’s a real case to be made that blogs are a far superior tool for administering, managing, cajoling and empowering any group of people united in pursuit of a common goal because they:

  1. Highlight truly engaged, productive participants by shifting communication and education responsibilities to individual members.
  2. Give equal and open access to all available information, feedback and decision documentation.
  3. Provide a permanent, easily searchable archive of every topic relating to the project.
  4. Organize content chronologically (posts and comments) so there is no uncertain about what is the latest and greatest information or decision.
  5. Can force project to individuals’ top priority by having them set the blog as their browsers‘ home page.
  6. Eliminate lost messages by cutting email clutter and avoiding spam filter hang-ups.
  7. Heighten urgency and sensitivity of information that is conveyed by email when email is only used to communicate politically sensitive information to “need-to-know” individuals.

Bottom line, using a blog can provide a great opportunity for introducing openness and efficiency into an organization and a project when used properly.

See the hill. Take the hill.

In the midst of particularly brutal jargon-and-posturing project planning sessions, one especially talented public involvement expert I know (tip of the hat to Betty Burry) is prone to utter: “See the hill.  Take the hill.”

In six simple words, she manages to summarize the importance and the power of simple, direct actions and strategies.

She also underlines the rapidly increasing importance in a Web 2.0 world of taking a “Saving Private Ryan” approach to any kind of communication planning, whether public involvement, public relations or public anything.

Traditional communications planning in many organizations is being rendered obsolete by the speed and complexity of the environments in which most of us operate. Long, complex planning processes followed by lots of top-down direction and second-guessing is no longer sustainable when 24 hours may be all you have to win the hearts and minds of a skeptical audience or constituency.

Better to maximize the time, thought and resources spent in developing clear goals and performance measures (“we will not risk all her sons”/”bring Private Ryan back alive”). Then trust your best-qualified people to achieve the goal as they see fit and conditions dictate. (This approach has the added benefit of helping successful organizations engage and motivate staff when smaller, flatter hierarchies limit title/pay/resource rewards.)

Admittedly,  it’s a scarier approach to take as a manager and as someone who has to report to others who may not be so comfortable with speed and ambiguity as a communications initiative unfolds. But it is an approach that seems to reflect today’s realities and produces better results.

KDOT explores online possibilities

There are lots of obstacles that limit an organization’s engagement and communication opportunities:  lack of time or budget;  “inside the box” thinking from the usual suspects; reduced or non-existent media forums for reaching key audiences;  and much, much more.

Smart organizations are end-running these obstacles by exploring the problem-solving – and coalition-building – possibilities presented by creating their own online communities.

The State of Kansas has just launched one of the latest examples.  The Kansas Dept. of Transportation has launched its Kansas Transportation Online Community – one of the very first state government-sponsored online communities in the nation.

K-TOC is a virtual meeting place and conversation center for transportation-minded professionals and citizens. It provides a real-time forum in which KDOT professionals, local public works directors, city and county engineers and road supervisors, economic development professionals, community leaders and private citizens can share transportation-related information, questions and answers, and insights.

Jennifer’s holiday newsletter – networking masterpiece.

Each year, my holiday newsletter is a small publication written by an international cast of characters gerbil-herded by Jennifer Wilding, my good friend and stakeholder engagement goddess.

In a moment, there will be important networking lessons for us all. But first, some background.

Jennifer has been producing this annual 32- to 40-page opus for so long that I can’t remember when it started or how/why/if I know everyone represented in its pages.

I’m sure the same is true for everyone else who contributes to the newsletter.  Yet, like me, with more or less nagging, each Yuletide they crank out poems, short stories, reportage from the fields of broken and unbroken dreams and, when all else fails, detailed answerage to a personal/cultural survey that Jennifer gives us to keep us involved even when we’re pressed for time, out of the holiday mood or convinced that everyone else has a more interesting life than we do.

Jennifer would argue that the key reason we snap to is her innate charisma, and I’m sure that accounts for some of our collective dedication.  

But I think her success also illuminates some key lessons regarding how to organize and motivate networks to help you achieve your goals (in her case, the opportunity to mock and contradict our writing in various parentheticals and marginalia):

  • Have a central purpose for your network, but don’t be afraid to let that purpose shift or evolve over time. In the case of this newsletter, it began with a core group of people primarily from college wanting to keep up with each other.  Over time, it has become an annual Newsweek (Newsyear?) for a weird and wonderful collection of many people on many paths.
  • Provide your network(s) with understandable, doable tasks or responsibilities – and what the reward is for coming through. In this case, I have to turn out a piece of copy once a year or face Jennifer’s relentless editorial pursuit.  In return, I get peace of mind, some ego gratification, an entertaining read and membership in an interesting club. In other words, I can easily assess the cost/benefit ratio of network membership and specifically what I must do to be an active member.
  • Don’t over-burden your network with demands; call on it commensurate with the engagement of its members and in line with their assessment of what’s important to them. I suspect (or perhaps am merely projecting my  own misanthropic tendencies) that the group of contributors to Jennifer’s newsletter would rapidly dwindle if it went to a quarterly or monthly publication schedule.

Most importantly, the key lesson to take away from this holiday newsletter is that successful networks are ones in which every member is made to feel that his or her role and contribution is important.  

In our case, continued participation over a number of years has swung into play a powerful sense of tradition.  I’ve got to confess, a creeping sense of mortality seems to have made us a tighter band of brothers and sisters when it comes to cranking this out.

And when all else fails, there’s always Jennifer there telling the reluctant among us that it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t represented. And you know, we believe here.