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Posts by: Marissa Higdon

Op-Eds and Public Opinion

photo credit: Street matt via photopin cc

photo credit: Street matt via photopin cc

Op-eds can be tricky; they’re difficult to write and even more difficult to publish. However, they are incredibly valuable to community organizations and leadership voices; op-eds provide an unfiltered public platform where community members and organizations can voice their concerns, perspectives and solutions.

We’re sure you’ve read an op-ed or two in your time, but we figured a mini-refresher can always do some good. In this blog edition we’ll go over how op-eds work and how they can help your organization propel messages into the public eye.

Op-ed is short for opinion editorial, and these public opinions are written by community members and experts and published most often in print media. Op-eds focus on current issues; they allow valuable new voices to enter ongoing debates in the media to offer up new perspectives and/or solutions.

If released in a timely manner—that ties into current news events or trends—an op-ed can bring all the right kinds of attention to the work or messages your organization cares about.

“So…how do you write one of these op-eds you speak of?” you ask.

In theory, writing an op-ed should be easy; you simply express your ideas and opinions, right? Unfortunately it isn’t quite so simple. A lot of strategy and thought is needed to win over the typical journal editor.

There is one golden thing to remember: op-eds are opinion pieces written to introduce new perspectives to an ongoing public dialogue. So, before you begin, take a moment to evaluate your perspective and identify the unique angle or contribution to the conversation you can bring. When you get to writing, your process will be much cleaner and your message will be that much stronger.

Now that you’re pumped up and ready to contribute your two cents to change public opinion, we bring you some MediaDesk NM Tips on crafting an irresistible op-ed:

  1. Get straight to the point: With 600 words or less there’s no time to waste. Make your op-ed lean. Stick to one clear message and be simple and succinct.
  2. Get them hooked: We said it once, but it is worth saying again: Get straight to the point! But don’t just get to the point, be creative about it. Draw readers in with something unexpected and thought provoking early on to capture their attention and get them to read through.
  3. Make it relevant: Op-eds are public conversations, so make sure you’re not talking to yourself. No one will print your op-ed if it covers an issue that isn’t currently in the public eye. Be strategic about releasing your message at a time when it will actually be heard and put to good use.
  4. Don’t put them to sleep: Leave your jargon at the door and write with a strong, decisive and accessible voice.
  5. Give them something to do: People don’t respond well to problems with no solutions. Give your audience reasonable steps to take to make headway on the issue at hand. Ultimately, the whole point of an op-ed is to inform and activate a broader audience.

Op-eds are a way to introduce critical perspectives into public discussion and propose solutions to relevant problems. Here at MediaDesk we’re always ready to help you craft a message, and not just any kind of message, but one that creates ripples that effect change as soon as it hits.

To learn more about getting your message out through op-eds contact us or check out some of the resources below:

http://www.theopedproject.org/

http://newsoffice.duke.edu/duke_resources/oped

 

 

The Best Mix: Politics + Social Media

Vote New MexicoWith Election Day fast approaching (vote!), we thought it timely to talk about politics, and, as communications nerds, we of course are talking about politics in relation to media – social media to be specific.

Now, a lot of you might be cringing at the combination of politics and social media. Social media is abuzz with political messages, and some opinions are shared a little less….delicately than others, one could say. According to a study, about 14 percent of people have unfriended someone on Facebook over “political comments.” But, as it turns out, mixing social media and politics can have some positive outcomes, too.

These days we are always connected; through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, our everyday connections have extended beyond family and close friends to coworkers, friends of friends, and then there are those far-reaching, random acquaintances (I met them in high school… No, wait, I met them on that trip to Florida?…no…). We’ve all been there.

This extended network of broad acquaintances has changed the game for political communications.

Some argue that social media use increases political polarization. The idea being that users seek out and align with other users who have similar worldviews and political opinions. Essentially, the theory is we network solely with people who share our political ideology. This has been supported by a number of studies, like this one from Pew Research, but there’s some new research out there that’s challenging conventional ideas about the impact of social media on political opinion.

A recent study published by New York University researcher Pablo Barberá claims just the opposite; that our increasingly complex (and sometimes random) social media networks reduce political polarization by exposing users to a wider variety of voices and ideologies. Barberá found that our broad collection of acquaintances and friends of friends (the randos) invites more diverse voices into our newsfeed and consciousness, encouraging less polarized political views.

It’s easy to make party lines feel like battlefields, and combat (or dismiss) those with differing viewpoints or political leanings. However, Barberá argues that on social media, we make contact with other ideas in conversation. And interestingly enough, some human element plays in and we are more willing to listen.

Advocates for intercultural communication have long said that interacting with differing worldviews creates stronger and more meaningful dialogue;. Jessica Carter argues in a blog posting that Twitter is the perfect venue for that interaction because it creates a space for people to come in contact with the unlikely – new cultures and ideas.

The moral of the story: creating real dialogue will eventually bring us to the real solutions. So share away, talk politics, post a photo that says “GO VOTE” (and then go vote) because the ripple effect is real.

Why We’re Wired For Stories

Why We’re Wired for Stories

 

photo credit: UNE Photos via photopin cc

photo credit: UNE Photos via photopin cc

A recent study done by psychologists at Harvard University found that we spend, on average, half of our waking time daydreaming. Our minds wander 47 percent of the time we’re awake, which doesn’t leave us much time to focus.

So, as organizations, how do we capture the ever-wandering attention of our audiences? Well, stories are one of the most effective ways to do it; an engaging story will keep the daydreams at bay. Stories have been around for eons, and while we always need hard facts as back-ups, we often fail to realize that the battle for attention starts with hearts.

Stories activate the emotional centers of our brains. Multiple studies have observed brain activity as it consumes a story, and all have found that the brain responds as if it is living the story. If the protagonist is scared, brain activity mimics real-life fear; if the protagonist is angry, our brain responds as if we are angry, too. Our brains behave as if all stories are real (well, the good stories at least).

This emotional aspect of storytelling allows us to retain information at a much higher rate than simple facts or numbers. A study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University found that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than just statistics. Storytelling is a mnemonic device; it helps information stick in our brains.

In fact, the emotional appeal of storytelling can even change our brain chemistry and, consequently, our behavior. A study done by neuroeconomist Paul Zak showed that participants who were exposed to a sad story experienced a spike in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a chemical related to empathy. Zak found that this spike in oxytocin was directly related to an increased willingness to help or get involved. The moral here is the right story can have material effects.

How to Tell Stories

The best way to impact – and activate – your audience is to tell a good story; the human brain is wired to better retain information when it is activated emotionally.

Fortunately, everyone has a story, and the most successful organizations tell theirs often and well. To help you get started, here are some tips to remember as you craft a narrative:

  • Focus on one protagonist. It’s easiest for us to relate to one single character, and if the audience can identify with a character they are more likely to connect emotionally. Whether it’s someone who has been helped by your organization, someone involved in your organization, or maybe your leadership, it’s best to tell your story using just one strong voice.
  • Speak of the struggle. What good is a story with no conflict? By giving your protagonist plenty of obstacles to overcome, you create a character your audience can relate to and root for.
  • Give details. Any good storyteller will tell you, “show don’t tell,” meaning you should use imagery and description to tell your story. Show the audience what happened and how your protagonist overcame problems by describing situations rather than simply telling them that your character overcame obstacles.
  • Keep it simple. While details are important, make sure your story is clear and straightforward. Your audience doesn’t want to be confused or distracted by unnecessary or unimportant information.
  • Have a moral to the story. What is it you are trying to convey? Why does this story matter? Make sure that you are sending your organization’s message loud and clear. Storytelling is simply a medium used to express what it is your organization needs to say, so make sure the message is the main focus.

Storytelling is an art form that will become easier and easier with more practice, so get started! Spread your work in a way that draws in your audience and encourages them to really listen.

Utilizing Big Data

Utilizing Big Data

What is Big Data?

photo credit: infocux Technologies via photopin cc

photo credit: infocux Technologies via photopin cc

The world is full of data, and, with the invention of technology, almost any type of data can be recorded and quantified. Cars can detect your exact posture when you sit in the drivers seat, Google can track all of your online searches, and, even more uncanny, cell phones can track your location at all times. This means that there are mass quantities of data being stored and recorded all around the world. We know more about people and the world we inhabit than ever before and we have piles and piles of data being added to our store of knowledge every day.

The bad news: most of this data goes unused; the data we collect are left in storage and often never seen again.

The good news: there are many organizations (uncluding SHARE NM and MediaDesk NM) that can help you put data to good use, locally.

Big data is a huge resource; the idea behind big data is that we can collect and analyze information, find overarching patterns and predict behavior and events. Using big data, scientists have been able to predict the development of cancerous cells long before they become dangerous, and researchers in New Jersey have used it to create a survey that can accurately predict the likelihood of an arrested criminal recommitting a crime if released. But, you might be asking, “How can I use this ‘big data’ thing?”

Large amounts of data can help drive decision making processes. MediaDesk is here to help you make data-driven decisions around your outreach and organizational growth through employing big data and community data to better understand the local communities in which you work.

Using Big Data

Big data offers a new perspective on what is happening in the world, and it is more accessible than ever. And, yes, that means your organization should probably jump on the big data bandwagon, too.

There are a few things you need to get started to harness the potential of big data:

  • A Database: This might seem obvious, but before you can analyze data and find patterns, you must have access to data stored somewhere. MediaDesk provides the capability to store and collect data that can then be analyzed or shared with other organizations, partners and clients. The bigger and more complex the storage, the more opportunities for analyzing and interpretation.
  • A Goal: What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? Scientists might be looking for ways to predict the development of cancer, but MediaDesk looks at big data in order to target audiences that will respond best to a certain message. We use data patterns to find who would be most impacted by campaigns and send our message to the people who will really listen and respond.
  • Analysis: Mass quantities of data have no use unless they are analyzed and interpreted. Analysis of data identifies patterns and allows you to predict your audience’s behavior. At MediaDesk we target individuals, businesses, organizations, or even entire communities that are identified by our analysis as the most likely to benefit from your services or respond to your messages.
  • Feedback: It’s also important to track how you campaign is doing on social media and other mediums in case you message needs to be modified to be effective. Maybe a certain demographic isn’t responding the way you thought it would, and by tracking audience response you can know when tweak your message to better suit your audience, which will allow you to tell your story in a way that is impactful to the people that need to hear it.

MediaDesk analyzes big data for a number of clients, and we’re always working to broaden your outreach and strengthen the impact of your message. In the past, we have identified “hotspots” where a target audience tends to be and focused our message to that particular area, we have targeted individuals based on demographics found in our database and mailed information straight to their home, and we are working to create a database that can match individuals with the organizations that can best provide for their needs. The possible applications for big data are vast, and, while we’ve dabbled with many ways of using big data already, here at MediaDesk we’re excited to explore all the ways data can be implemented to benefit you!

Big data is an ever-growing collection of information just waiting to be investigated and interpreted. As Kenneth Cukier says in his TED talk, “More data allows us to see new. It allows us to see better. It allows us to see different.” Utilizing what we learn about the world from big data, we can make decisions that allow us to widen our impact upon our audience and the community as a whole.

 

Check out Cukier’s TED talk for more information on the exciting possibilities of big data:

 

 

Everything You Need to Know About Hashtags

Everything You Need to Know About Hashtags

hashtags

photo credit: oggin via photopin cc

Hashtags are everywhere these days. Probably because they’re so useful. According to studies, social media posts using hashtags get an average twelve percent increase in audience engagement. This tool allows content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google +, Tumblr, and Pinterest to be searchable, categorized, and connected. In this blog we focus on how they can be used to benefit your organization. And yes, hashtags can be #professional.

First things first, what the heck is a hashtag?

Hashtags are like a filing system; they are key words or phrases that follow a pound sign (#) and link words in a tweet/post/photo etc with other content using the same hashtag, or keywords, across the platform in which it is posted. If you search, for example, #education on Twitter, you will find a huge collection of tweets about education, and if you tweet something with #education you become a contributor to the #education conversation.

How to Use The Thing

Stay Informed – It is important to stay abreast of issues important to your organization, and following Twitter hashtags is an efficient way to do just that. You can do a simple search for the hashtag you desire, or use apps like TweetDeck and HootSuite to organize your hashtag searches for you.

Build a Brand – Joining in on a conversation has its benefits, but pioneering the way can also bring value to your organization. Organizational hashtags can serve to highlight a particular cause or campaign, and it allows you to encourage your followers to get involved and share photos, videos, ideas, and stories using the hashtag you created.

Living Conversations – Live tweeting enables you to be actively engaged in a conversation around an event. Use a special event hashtag to pull the audience in and draw attention to the important work that you’re doing. For example, if you’re hosting a forum or public meeting you can craft tweets about the event in real time. This allows your audience to follow the important ideas or happenings of an event if they are unable to attend themselves. Live tweeting can also be used to facilitate a question and answer session with higher ups in your organization. Inform your audience that they can ask questions using a particular hashtag and you can respond using that same hashtag. This is a great way to directly interact with the audience and showcase how much you care about the people involved with your organization.

Hashtags are one of many ways for your audience to get involved and spread the word.

Creating Your Own Hashtag

Hashtags should be simple, short and easy to remember. They should accurately reflect the goals of your hashtag campaign and showcase who you are as an organization. (To be safe, always invest in a little time and energy into searching your hashtag to ensure it doesn’t carry any baggage).

A few basic rules of hashtags:

  • Never use spaces. If your hashtag involves multiple words, use capital letters to differentiate between them. (#EducationReform)
  • Numbers and letters are fair game, but no punctuation marks or special symbols are allowed with hashtags.
  • Try to use between one and three hashtags per tweet/post/photo. Too many hashtags can be distracting.

A note of caution about hashtag campaigns: they are impossible to control. The point of hashtags is to allow the audience to share and build upon your message, and the danger with social media campaigns is that you have very little power over them once they’ve been shared with your audience. Take NYPD’s #myNYPD twitter campaign as an example. They asked followers to tweet photos of them with NYPD officers with the hashtag #myNYPD in the hopes that twitter feeds would be filled with photos of smiling officers and civilians. Twitter users had a different idea. The movement was almost immediately hijacked by users posting photos of police brutality and misconduct with the hashtag #myNYPD. While we’re not worried about something like this with any of our clients, this campaign serves as a reminder about the unpredictability of social media. When creating a hashtag, make sure to think it over fully and carefully before you let your audience take control of your message.

Creating and Tracking Your Hashtag Campaign

Once you’ve decided on a hashtag and campaign, create a unified campaign that spans all of your hashtag-friendly social media platforms.

You can track your progress and impact by using a simple Google search or using applications like Tagboard or Talkwalker. Watching the conversations and ideas that grow from your hashtag is a great way to track audience engagement to inform campaign direction and evolution.

We know the work you do is important to the communities of New Mexico. Hashtags are a way to make sure everyone else knows it, too.

Invest in Kids NOW!

Invest in kids Now! A coalition of over 40 local businesses and organizations, hosted a press conference Sept 24th at Christina Kent Early Childhood Center.

KOAT, Univision, KOB and Telemundo New Mexico covered the story, which underscores the importance of funding early childhood education in New Mexico with money from the state’s land-grant endowment fund. Check out KOB’s in depth coverage. Also check out KRWG and The Santa Fe New Mexican’s reporting on the event.

Invest in kids NOW on KOB

Invest in kids NOW on KOB

Going Viral

photo credit: Mayo Clinic via photopin cc

photo credit: Mayo Clinic via photopin cc

Going Viral

Statistics tell us that out of Internet users, 99 percent have seen a video of somebody, or lots of somebodies, pouring ice water over their heads to support medical research. While absurd, it is in fact true.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, an effort to promote awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), went viral in July-August 2014. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been one of the most wildly successful philanthropic campaigns in Internet history. Since its inception in June, 2014 the campaign has raised over 100 million dollars for research and boasts that “everyone from Ethel Kennedy to Justin Timberlake” have participated.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a prime example of a viral campaign. But why did it compel millions of people to participate, and not only participate but also give their money to a charitable cause?

To give a tiny background, the challenge essentially encourages nominated participants to be filmed as they pour a bucket of ice water over their heads and then egg their friends on to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated participants have 24 hours to dump freezing water on their heads or forfeit by way of a charitable donation for ALS research.

This viral video campaign garnered massive amounts of attention and donations, and we’re here to track some of the conditions that created this perfect viral storm.

  1. Emotion – Viral content can be almost anything – a stunt, a wildly absurd music video, a cat video – but there’s a fundamental rule for viral content: it must provoke emotion. Rosana E. Guadagno, a social psychologist, recently did a study comparing how often videos were shared. She found that emotional videos were shared most often, and videos ranked as funny or cute were shared most compared to those that evoked negative emotions like sadness or anger.
  1. Irony – Audiences respond to videos that are surprising and sometimes a little strange. In a study of the top viral videos of 2011, researchers found that 90% of videos contained what they called “irony.” They defined irony as breaking social norms, and it often appeared in videos that also incorporated surprise. People like content when it’s different and exciting, and by offering something funny or unexpected you up the likelihood of people sharing your content with followers and friends.
  1. Quick Delivery – They get straight to the point. The same study cited above found that 75% of viral videos in 2011 had three words or less in the title, and the majority of viral content was under three minutes. Internet attention spans are short; content that doesn’t waste time wins.
  1. Participation – Another facet of viral campaigns, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, is that they encourage the audience to participate and become part of the movement themselves through creating their own content. Viral content encourages parodies, comments, or original videos as a way to get an audience invested in the campaign.

Viral campaigns are relevant in today’s interconnected world because social sharing has enabled information to reach vast audiences. If you key into that perfect viral storm the friends of friends of friends of people who follow you might just stumble upon your organization on their feed and become your most avid supporter. Viral content is a tool to reach out to a broader audience that would never connect with you in any other way.

If you can tell a story that matters and creates an emotional response, get people involved in an easy and social way, and make a simple ask, you can create a viral campaign. We all seek validation, after all.

If you want to further explore going viral, watch these TED talks about viral content:

The Interconnected World of Social Media

photo credit: Jason A. Howie via photopin cc

photo credit: Jason A. Howie via photopin cc

The Interconnected World of Social Media

The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate. Accessing and sharing information has never been easier; the challenge is that this accessibility has made the Internet into a very, very big place. There are all kinds of platforms used to send messages, and it seems, as organizations, we’re expected to use almost every one of them.

An organization might have a Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr, and even a Google Plus account. There’s a lot to choose from. We’re here to help sift through these multiple platforms and provide a window into how each can be used to build relationships around your work.

Using multiple platforms allows your organization to communicate in a wide variety of ways with audiences seeking different kinds of information and ways to engage. Different online platforms show different facets of your organization’s personality. Websites are a more serious, straight-to-business face, while Twitter sheds light on a more chatty, social side. If coordinated correctly, different platforms can be woven together to tell your story and promote your organization by actively engaging targeted audiences in ways that build your presence and support.

Websites:

Websites are your foundational starting point and are often the pivotal platform that unites all others. Websites are the most formal platform; they should provide all the information your supporters, “consumers,” funders or partners might need to understand the work you do. It is a great place to seek donations, and also a key location to provide links to any and all other platforms you’re using to share your work. Other platforms should link, in turn, to your website to ensure any curiosity about the foundation of your work is satiated within a few clicks.      Learn more about websites and social media in our Social Media Guide

Blogs:

If you do a blog correctly, you can shine light on more of your organizational personality than your website is designed for; website content is not typically updated very often, however, your blog creates a sustained, albeit formal, conversation, and keeps your audience coming back for more. Blogs are a great way to interact with those you are collaborating with because they showcase steady updates on what you are up to most currently.

Social Media:

Now that your organizational message has a foundation on your website and blog, it’s time to reach out to “the consumers”; social networking is a great way to do just that and Facebook is a good first stop. This platform is designed to build a community of people who share your goals and ideas, and best of all, on Facebook you can interact directly with your audience and engage folks (and partners) in conversation around the work you do – in real time. Social networking has the same goals as traditional networking, but now you have a wider pool of people right at your fingertips. The information you put up on Facebook notifies your friends about what you are up to and, most importantly, your Facebook page serves as a way for others involved or interested in similar work to find out about you and your organization.

Microblogs:

Use microblogs (literally mini blogs), like Twitter, to put out small pieces of information on a regular basis. Microblogs are a way to share the essence of you message in small posts that are 140 characters or less. Users won’t often visit your profile page on a microblog like Twitter; instead the short message you send out will go straight to personal newsfeeds. Microblogs are a more individualized and real-time platform that is best used to directly interact with those interested in your work. This type of platform is quick and easy, and if you pique peoples’ interest enough (through your witty, relevant posts), they will take your lead and follow you to your website or other platforms (because you’re doing a pro job interconnecting all your organizational platforms, right?).

Sharing Visual Content:

The internet offers a wide variety of content options, so take advantage! Videos and photos are eye-catching ways to pull folks into learning more about you. Platforms like YouTube, Pintrest, and Instagram are great for collecting visual content. And they also make it possible for your audience to create content for you (this is great because not only does it diversify your content, but it also communicates you have folks that LOVE what you do)! Don’t forget, videos and photos should link to your other platforms, like your website, blog, social media, and your microblog.

 

Social media platforms are a way to branch out and pull a new audience into your website. Remember, your website is the beating heart of your online presence. It’s the source of the most important information for your audience and partners. Nothing functions without the website, and the whole point of all other social media platforms is to funnel users to it.

Think of your website as the hub of a wheel, and all of your social media platforms are spokes leading your audience back to the hub. Everything leads back to your website because Social Media, no matter the platform, is simply another way to get down to business and really impact the community.

 

For more information take a look at our social media guide:

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