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The headline is an allusion to a Soviet bloc-produced film I saw in an international film class in journalism school in Ann Arbor. Its title was an allusion to the Communist Party, depicting picnickers seemingly obliviously enjoying a spring outing.

Aside from these overt social-engineering aspects, I bring this up because the movie title had a certain ring to it, and a simple party invitation is yet another analogy for community moderation:

The invitation tells the guest where to attend, starting and stopping times, what to wear, what to bring, and whether to RSVP.

Likewise, community moderation can let people know in advance a code of conduct, or how a community will be moderated. The goal is to keep to established and agreed-upon norms while facilitating trust and open dialogue among members.

A colleague I met through a training offered by PBS Engage adds another suggestion. When community sponsors try new approaches in their social media offerings, he says, alert the community about that and ask for their feedback. In his experience, setting ground rules and not just making a change has been important.

Along the lines of feedback, today I close with the concept of listening and responding to community members’ comments in social media as being not too different from an old-fashioned suggestion board, from the days when a company might post suggestions, comments and questions, along with responses. The tone and transparency and sense of concern and consideration are all similar.

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In working with interactive folks to craft Google AdWords, I saw the advantage of merging some skills. Tips from traditional media apply, combined with some added dimensions that take into account how viewers find and interact with your announcement.

Generally, it seems helpful to consider AdWords as more like a freeway billboard than a sign outside your shop. The ads are geared toward having someone stumble upon it, then decide to stick around. (This is why there’s no added benefit to naming your company in the verbiage or keywords, since you are trying to widen your net to find potential customers who don’t already know that name.)

That leads to an initial universal point of writing – consider your audience. Imagine someone, sitting at a keyboard, who wants something, and may act on what you have crafted once it appears on his or her screen.

With limited space, a second basic precept also applies, which is to get to the point – you have perhaps 30-odd characters per line (roughly) to say what you need to say. Clarity will trump cleverness here.

Using an analogy from old media, there is a standard in writing headlines in which it is important for each deck to be able to almost stand alone, or to capture a complete phrase, for ease of scanning.

The best lexicon is pithy and unambiguous, and appeals to what may capture a casual browser’s interest, while authentically representing the site.

Your promotional goal is to have viewers click the site and stick around. You ad will appear at times that search words and terms you’ve identified (and bid upon) are used. For these paid search terms, that operate like unseen tags, I believe a simple rule of thumb is to combine a common term with a specific one, to generate having the ad be likely to appear often, while narrowing that occurrence to instances in which the searcher is likely to be particularly interested in your specific content.

(As an aside, I think beyond being authentic, the AdWords don’t have as much influence on bounce rate – people backing out quickly – as does information architecture or ease of navigation.)

For being found through free keywords in the ad, working in search terms and phrases is great as long as the result is not awkward and polished.

Finally, those visible URLs provide some room for branding. Try to designate a window-dressing type display link while employing an underlying destination link, whose address may be less eye-catching or memorable.

With headlines in mind, I’ll close with a couple that have stayed in mind for either succeeding or being unwittingly confusing. Space was tight when a layout only allowed a single column width to announce a new ordinance against inebriated pedestrians. These four simple words worked:

Drinking,
walking
don’t mix

Next, the following headline stayed in mind since it was initially puzzling because of its ambiguity. I misread it to mean that creatures had interned their benefactor, Diann Fossey, the slain naturalist who was profiled in Gorillas in the Mist:

Woman buried by her beloved gorillas

(It turns out she was buried beside them.)

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Or, online content can’t replace an interview per se

We came across an occasion recently in which the convenience of uploaded background information seemed to become a crutch when a reporter was gathering information from an agency.

The message is that online links or emailed attachments should supplement interview material, not supplant it.

The experience seems relevant in a day when there is a certain degree of hype about creating web-friendly media material. The material is useful, but reporters still need to have a conversation to gather information that will help craft the story.

In this case, the agency requested questions be emailed. The reporter in question then received multiple emails over several days with links to sites, a pasted table with acronyms, and a lack of pithy original sentences that fully addressed the questions.

Ideally, questions will be answered with sentences suitable for direct quotes or, at the least, paraphrased attribution. Disjointed links alone make it harder to ascertain what the real answers are.

Hopefully, this experience isn’t widespread and most agencies are still providing conversational interviews. Any previously prepared material that has been posted online can, and should, certainly be offered to the reporter as additional background information.

It might take longer for the agency responding to the request to massage its data into appropriate answers, but the results will be beneficial, both from creating a reputation for responsiveness and candor, and from facilitating clear and accurate coverage, too.

Some of our communications tools may have changed, but the value of an informative conversation has not.

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Lately I’ve been thinking. I drew up a generic social media marketing approach for adapting and integrating into outreach efforts. (more…)

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The care and feeding of your new, ongoing social media program includes a few buckets of activities. (more…)

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