Advice Unlimited

It is no secret that social media has invaded the lives of organizations everywhere. According to a study done in November of 2013 by eMarketer.com, 87% of organizations used social media in 2013 and that percentage is steadily increasing.


Being active with social media reaps many benefits. However, organizations also run the risk of hurting their reputation if they’re not careful. Being aware of the risks of using social media can help prevent misuses.

 

To help prevent any issues, here are a few easy ways to ensure your organization is correctly represented on social media.

 

Implement a policy and train people accordingly

Creating a social media policy is key to managing social media interaction within an organization. Guidelines need to be put into place for employees’ use of social media. This should include both personal social media accounts and business accounts.

 

Every person has a different view of “acceptable” social media behavior. Let your employees know your expectations and make sure they are clear on the rules. Ensure that your social media policy is in your employee handbook – this makes the rules clear for both you and your staff. This will make for a much better understanding if an issue does arise.

 

Ensuring that only approved people post for your organization will also help to keep your organization protected. Implementing a training session for those select individuals helps to solidify strict control of your organization’s identity. Each employee tasked with social media updates should go through a training session before posting anything.

 

Your policy should also include the standard operating procedure to get approval on a post. Ensure that the employees tasked with message approval are able to reply in a timely manner and make sure that your approval process is clear to everyone within the organization. One of the caveats of this approval should include verifying that the post is relevant to your target audience.  

 

Keep an eye out

Monitoring all social media accounts is the only way to ensure your organization is being portrayed the way you want it to be. Having a team or a manager in charge of monitoring these pages can help to prevent mishaps or misrepresentations. There is also social media monitoring software that is available if there is no time for manual check-ups.

 

It is also extremely important to monitor comments or other content that is posted to your pages. Feedback is always important to the success of an organization; it is important to remember to take immediate action if there is an unacceptable post to your page. For example, if a follower posts an inappropriate picture to the organization’s page, this picture should be removed immediately.

 

Be sure to monitor all social media platforms for mentions about your organization. It is important to see what the public is saying about your organization. It can help the organization make adjustments and gather free feedback. It is also important to respond to relevant comments and mentions.

 

Respond Quickly to Followers

In any organization, there will be members of your target audience who are unhappy at times. If these people are posting on your organization’s pages, it’s crucial to be attentive and handle your responses in a sensitive and timely manner. If appropriate, ensure that your response addresses the concern of the individual and offers a solution within a specific timeframe. Take negative conversations off-line as quickly as possible, making sure you demonstrate onsite that you’re working swiftly to resolve the issue. Organizations should not respond to negative comments exclusively – make sure that your social media team also addresses positive feedback as well.

 

There are many risks that organizations face when they’re involved with social media. Developing policies and standard operating procedures that all employees are aware of is an essential element when it comes to social media success. Building a social media presence is a great way to improve your ROI; having well-trained and well-prepared employees managing and monitoring your social media engagement is necessary to reaping these benefits.  

 

Blogging has become an essential part of an organization’s online presence. Blogs can be seen on just about every organization’s site. Although it may seem like a good idea to just jump onto the ever popular bandwagon of blogging, understanding what makes a good blog can make all the difference. Having a blog just to say you have one is not effective and could create a negative perception of the organization. Being able to engage a reader and being consistent are the key aspects to being able to maintain a strong blog. Here are some of my dos and don’ts for successful blogging.

 

Do: Have a clear direction

Many of the negative comments about organizations’ blogs focus on the writers of the blogs. The main issue with poor blogs is that there is no clear objective. This can be a main deterrent that turns readers away. The goal should of course be known to the author of the blog but more importantly, to the reader. If a reader has no idea what to expect from a post, there is a good chance they will not be subscribing to the blog. For example, The Federal Times blog has a clear mission – inform and create brand loyalty. They make it easy to navigate and spark strong interest by using up-to-date posts, topic separation and page interaction.

 

Do: Create order out of chaos

For a blog with multiple writers, it is good to have each writer have their own page that links to the main blog of the organization. On the Office of Management and Budget blog, they feature a main column of blog posts from each of their different writers. On the right side of the page, the reader can easily find past posts of a specific author they might like. There is no clicking from page to page to find the information; it is all in one place. This is a great example of a blog that could have been much more cluttered or chaotic.

 

Do: Make your posts social

Writing a blog is pointless unless people read your posts. An extremely easy and effective way to do that is by linking your organization’s social media pages to the blog. Nextgov is a prime example of how to link a blog directly to a story. Every story on this page is linked to Twitter at the beginning of the post. It makes it easy for readers to share the story with as many people as possible and gives the blog a much wider reach.

 

Do: Create interesting content

For every blog, creating a buzz should be a goal. Having a blog that posts content that matters is great. Having a blog that posts that same content but can make it compelling -- that is huge! VMware does this very well. They have many bloggers covering many different topics. The one thing that they all do very well is post stories that capture the attention of the reader instantly because of the uniqueness of the topic and the relevance of the topic to the targeted audience

 

Don’t: Post without purpose

Some people might think that because your organization has a blog that they have to post every day. This is not true at all. Posting regularly is a must; however, doing it just for the sake of frequency is not the best idea. This is what I would call “empty posting”. Empty posting gives the perception that the organization does not put thought into what they are saying. It also can take away from the credibility of the organization if the post is rushed and sloppy. Be sure that you have a purpose with every post.

 

Don’t: Forget about Design

A blog can really lose a reader if they have a hard time navigating the blog. A blog that I really believe captures the audience by design alone is FedScoop. FedScoop has brilliant colors and is easy to navigate. The black and white color scheme with a touch of pink is simple but also catches the reader’s attention. The page is also linked to all of FedScoop’s social media pages in the top right corner. This makes the blog well-rounded as well as well-designed.

 

Don’t: Talk to yourself

Blogs are a great place to spark a conversation. Having a blog that people can respond to and want to comment on is wonderful. This gives the writer a chance to respond to comments and create buzz on their story. All the comments that a story gets can be used for great feedback for future posts and insight on if and how you are reaching your target audience. An organization that has a good blog comment section is the USDA. On their blog they have a large section for commenting and feedback. They also integrate the rest of their brand throughout each post by linking to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and email. 

 

Don’t: Forget to use the power of the internet

For any blogger, this should be an essential element of their blog. The internet has so many connections and can relay a story in a more interactive way than a print copy can. So take full advantage of it. NASA does a great job of using the power of the internet. On their page they have videos, pictures, links and news feeds which can be easily navigated on their homepage. They also include links to their social media pages on the top of the page. This not only looks great on the page, but it keeps the reader on the page longer. Clicking and following a picture to a story and a video creates more time for the reader to connect with the brand.

 

Creating a blog is a great idea for any organization, especially when the blog leverages its platform for optimum communication outreach. Using the power of the internet, social media and strong writing skills, blogs can create good site traffic and brand loyalty – and help you communicate your message directly to your audience in a fun and memorable manner. Maybe it’s time you started blogging?

 

Government organizations’ communications budgets are getting slashed, but they still have to educate their constituents, share information, and provide guidelines and insights about their area of responsibility to support their mission. In addition, they need to keep their message fresh and engaging to reach the new generation. Many programs and messages are targeted to millennials – but how do we ensure they’re actually paying attention and absorbing the information?

 

The good news is that approved social media sites are relatively inexpensive tools, as they really only require the cost of labor – creating the content, vetting it, posting it, monitoring the sites and responding to constituents’ postings. This method of communication is fresh and easy to use, and millennials are very comfortable perusing these sites for information and insights.  

 

The key question then becomes: how do we make our message catch – and keep – their attention?

 

According to a study done in 2010 by the Pew Research center, 90% of millennials use the Internet and 75% of millennials have created a social networking profile. It is important to remember though, that social media users are looking for more than just information when they browse. Several studies have shown that people participate in social media for socializing, entertainment, and self-status seeking, on top of strictly searching for information.

 

Social media is a setting in which two essential processes take place: peer-to-peer influence, and interaction-creating connections. These processes, along with the nearly instantaneous speed of the Internet, make for the perfect vehicle for distributing messages. Government organizations can tap into and creatively utilize this space to generate a “viral” campaign. Package your message in a medium that can be easily distributed from peer-to-peer and dress it up in the latest/dominant trends and fashions of your audience. And enjoy how effectively your constituents will help you share your message.

 

Here are some tips on getting a message to go viral:

 

     - Plug in: Take a look at current dominating mediums that your audience is latching on to. In addition, popular themes can serve as a powerful tool for getting those initial contacts.

 

     - Do something unexpected: Rather than emphasizing what is great about your message or product, do something that draws the attention of your target audience to it. The message promotion should be visible but subtle.

 

     - Follow up: Give your audiences more of what they like. If you have a great idea, play with it and reinvent it for as long as you can. People say millennials have short attention spans, but they also know what they like and will only share brands they trust to deliver.

 

    - Allow and promote sharing: Make your content as accessible as your organization’s guidelines allow. When appropriate, create opportunities for people to participate in your campaign: ask for insights, suggested themes, etc.

 

An example of an organization that has taken these tips to heart can be found in a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention campaign – they pioneered an out-of-the-box, viral campaign with flying colors.

 

In 2011, the “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” campaign swarmed the U.S., inspiring families all over to “get prepared”. Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Dr. Ali Khan, pointed out, "If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack." This campaign creatively provided information on staying safe, outlined how the CDC operates in potentially dangerous situations, and allowed anyone to make their own preparedness videos to share on the site. The campaign was so successful that from it, the CDC developed lesson plans for educators, t-shirts, posters, and even a graphic novella.

 

The government sphere has the power to distribute important messages creatively and effectively.  Government organizations’ passions no longer have to suffer the limitations of yesterday. It's about time we caught on. With the power and accessibility of social media, combined with a little creative fortitude, government organizations can really leave a lasting footprint in the web-space of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) 2013 Spring Symposium yesterday, on the topic of: How to Integrate New Media, Tools and Techniques into your Public Outreach Plan.

 

We had a wonderful group of over 50 government communicators who participated in the symposium. We talked about how to strategically drive public outreach using traditional and new media, reviewing the pros and cons of different communication tools, discussing best practices around leveraging social media to build a community and help drive your mission. The session was dynamic, and I had a great time interacting with the group throughout the presentation, learning as much from my participants as I hope they learned from me!

 

MACo is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that serves Maryland’s counties by articulating the needs of local government to the Maryland General Assembly. The Association’s membership consists of county elected officials and representatives from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City. Yesterday’s symposium was one of the many opportunities offered by the organization to provide government officials and representatives the ability to improve their capacity to serve their residents.

 

The organizers did a great job of keeping the day moving, the discussions lively and the information relevant. This was a great opportunity to talk about specific outreach methods used by various agencies, and to get information firsthand from Maryland PIOs on how they’re using social media now, as well as how they hope to further integrate these tools into their future communication efforts.

 

I appreciate MACo inviting me to speak at this valuable symposium – it’s clear that most government communicators, as I’ve always believed, truly care about doing the best job they can, and understand the importance of the message they are often tasked with communicating. Technology is changing and evolving at a more rapid pace than ever before, which makes it essential to balance the importance of traditional methods of communication with the value of being open to trying new techniques as well. If you’d be interested in my providing this presentation, or this service, to your organization, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

Sequestration has been featured prominently in the headlines, especially since it went into effect on March 1, 2013. Sequestration will consist of $85 billion in government budget cuts in 2013 divided between Defense discretionary (42%), Non-defense discretionary (27%), Interest (16%), Medicare (11%), and other mandatory (4%). Now several agencies have begun to furlough their employees as required, and the public is becoming aware of the real pain of sequestration, and how it will impact their lives. Communicating about sequestration plans is crucially important and in today’s environment, communications are being carefully scrutinized – what programs will be impacted? How is sequestration affecting companies, government organizations, and local economies? It is important that both employees and members of the public know how the plan will affect them. Every word counts. Meanings and nuances matter. This is a perfect opportunity for organizations to sharpen their pencils and clarify, focus, and clearly communicate their message. And leverage this time in the public’s attention to ensure you are also communicating your mission, its value, and how you are ensuring support for your mission even with reduced budgets.

 

Sequestration is now starting to become more ‘real,’ as government organizations implement the required changes. Employees are being furloughed and already reduced resources are being further squeezed or eliminated. It is more important than ever to get the facts right the first time. Sequestration budget cuts are sporadic, so the lines of communication need to be open among agencies, their employees, and their constituents. Communicating incorrect information confuses agency employees and the public, requires a correction notice to be published and undermines the efficiency of the agency. It is crucial to release the correct information the first time, and communicate it in a concise manner, through appropriate communication channels that will be easily understood and accessed by agency employees and members of the public. Especially in the current environment,  make sure your  public outreach plan  integrates new and traditional media to reach your audience where they go for information, and through a channel that’s most appealing and accessible to them  – this is the single most powerful tool in any agency’s communications tool kit.

 

There is a great deal of confusion about sequestration, so clear communication is crucially important to both government employees and members of the public that rely on your agency. The FAA’s sequester budget cuts went into effect last week via furloughs of 10% of its workforce, and the number of flight delays quickly piled up due to the lack of air traffic controllers available to monitor busy air corridors. This is a situation where the FAA should be openly communicating their issues to members of the public so people who are flying will be aware of the increased likelihood that their flight could be delayed. According to an article on Yahoo! News, “Airline and airport officials say they didn’t receive specific information from the FAA about how the furloughs might affect air traffic until a meeting called by the agency on April 16, six days before the furlough took affect.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA officials have provided warning since February that the furloughs were coming and major airports such as Los Angeles International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport could see delays due to furloughed workers, but they did not give specific notice of the trickle-down effects that would spread to other airports nation wide, even though they had that information on hand before the furloughs were implemented. Due to the lack of communication about specific towers/towns where staff would be reduced, and how the public would be affected, travelers were left stranded for hours. After a Senate meeting on Wednesday, LaHood told reporters, “We offered our apologies to them for the fact that we had not kept them informed about all of the things that we had been discussing.” The employees need to understand how their job will be affected and the public needs to know how the agency’s budget cuts will affect their lives. Getting your message out to your public speedily, concisely, and with as much detail as possible is always the best approach. Provide updates as needed, to ensure the public is well informed and has the information they need when they need it (or before!).

 

Many people have questions about sequestration. The government is the largest employer in the United States, so communicating with its many employees is no small feat, in addition to keeping the public informed about the changes that will impact constituent services. Agencies are feeling the impact of furloughs and other reductions in their resources, so efficiency is key.

 

Implementing clear and concise communication tactics will cut down on confusion, misinformation, and time spent apologizing and correcting errors. One suggestion for improving inter-agency communications would be creating an interactive digital communication channel where employees are given a forum to voice their concerns, ask questions, and make suggestions. Internally, agencies could create a private and secure forum for employees only, using the agency Intranet. The forum would create a place for general discussion, information sharing, questions, and suggestions. According to an article on govdelivery.com, “by using a collaborative forum, you might be able to strengthen your relationship with employees by being able to gather feedback and create dialogue with your coworkers in an environment that’s more secure than a social network but more open than a typical intranet.” The public could participate in the sequester discussion through a “question and answer” forum connected to the agency’s website or Facebook page. A public relations firm can be a great asset when creating new communication channels and spreading news to your target audience. For additional information about improving communication during sequestration and developing communication strategies, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , check out our website at www.adviceunlimited.net, and follow us on twitter www.twitter.com/AdviceUnlim.

 

 

I had the honor of presenting a session at last week’s 2013 NAGC Communications School, held April 17-19 in Arlington, VA. My topic was: How to Use Social Media in a Disaster.

 

An organization of government Public Information Officers and Communications professionals, the NAGC (National Association of Government Communicators) Communications School provided three days of practical educational sessions to help government communicators increase their skills.

 

The standing-room only session I led included a great group of government communicators from a wonderful mix of organizations, across civilian, Defense, and state and local organizations. The focus of the session was on how to effectively use social media in a disaster, and we discussed real-world scenarios where social media played a crucial role, including the Boston Marathon bombings.

 

The session was interactive and dynamic, and I learned just as much from my participants as I hope they learned from me. We discussed specific outreach methods used by various agencies, and covered the pros and cons of each. We talked about the challenges of effective communication outreach in today’s 24/7 world, and the importance of still ‘getting it right,’ while ensuring continuous updates and information were getting out in a responsible manner to our constituents.

 

With the rapid pace of technology innovations, it’s essential that we balance the importance of traditional methods of communication with the value of being open to learning and trying new approaches and tools. The driver must always be our mission, our message, and our audience – what will help us communicate better with our constituents – during a disaster, and every day. If you’d be interested in my providing this presentation, or this service, to your organization, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

 

From the blog of Thomas Moylan, Advice Unlimited's Social Media Specialist.

 

In American society, there are advertisements in your face everywhere you look. There are ads on billboards, television, radio, social media, automobiles painted as advertisements, pop ups and ad banners on every website and even people dancing with signs on street corners. With so many advertising strategies to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one is right for you and your company. In a society so full of advertisements, we have to question whether the targeted audience is even seeing the message in the ad, or if they’ve become so saturated with in-your-face advertisements that they simply avert their gaze. I have been looking into the facts about push (or outbound) advertising strategies and the general consensus is that while useful for major corporations that can spend the money on huge advertising campaigns, outbound advertising is not well accepted and, quite frankly, is perceived as annoying and invasive by  members of the public. In the government market, sequestration has significantly curtailed outbound advertising and large scale trade shows. One advertising/marketing strategy that has been getting a lot of buzz is inbound marketing, and this can dovetail nicely with a focused public relations program – still the best bang for the buck in your marketing communications toolbox. 

 

The pioneers of inbound marketing at Hubspot.com define it as marketing focused on getting found by customers. Traditional outbound marketing uses cold-calling, television ads, blast emails, print ads and trade shows. These strategies still can be used today, of course, but with the advancements in technology and the prevalence of social media, people are changing how they absorb their information. Inbound marketing is all about creating great content that will attract customers in a targeted market to your company’s services. The idea is to create incredible content, make the content available to the public in as many relevant places as possible, gather customers and leads from the distribution of your content and gather analytics on your content distribution to stay on top of productivity and efficiency. Public relations/marketing firms are devoting more time and energy to this way of thinking in the current climate.

 

Content is the most important element of inbound marketing.  It is essentially the lure on a fishing line and you need to make it the most appealing and interesting looking lure in order to attract the best fish in the market. The content should include pictures, videos or a fun interactive display that really catches the viewer’s attention. A public relations firm can be an amazing asset when creating content because that is what they excel at. Public relations specialists are trained to create content that is so interesting and insightful it will appeal to and be used by reputable and relevant publications. As with any aspect of public relations, knowing where to find the targeted audience is key. Once the content is created, the content is posted on as many blogs and social media websites as possible. This increases SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and creates a large funnel or hub for people searching your industry to find you and get enticed into visiting your website.

 

Once you have lured the public in with your immediate content, it is time to convert these people into customers. The immediate content should contain lots of photos, visually-stimulating media and short taglines about the product or service in order to catch your audience’s attention. Now you need to transform the public visitors into customers with your informative content. This information should show off the best features of your company. The public visitor needs to believe that you are the absolute best choice for what they need. The informative content should be strong at its basic level – this includes who you are, what you do, how you do it and why they should choose you over anyone else in the industry. We know that the public does not always have a lengthy attention span, so the content should be very informative in a concise package.

 

There are many inbound marketing strategies available to reach your potential customer through different communication channels to strengthen the relationship and help transform the visitor into a customer. It is important to remember the target audience, and leverage the tools and approaches that are most effective with that audience. For example, for consumer-facing products and services, a combination of email and social media marketing can be extremely effective.  According to Rob Zazueta, technology Evangelist at VerticalResponse, it is critical to combine email marketing and social media.  He states that, “companies that combine email and social media marketing have a 27% higher open rate than those who use email alone.” The first step is to acquire the customer’s email address in order to send out updates and promotional incentives. Advise them to follow your social media outlets but more importantly, encourage them to join an email list with exclusive incentives that will not be advertised through social media. Getting their email gives you a direct advertising channel to stimulate return sales. To develop the process and increase the reach of your company’s inbound marketing campaign, you should get your customers to share their successful experience with your company through their own social media outlets. This can be done by giving incentives or special offers to customers who do share your company with their network. This tactic can significantly increase your reach with very minimal cost to your business. The cost of the special offer will most often be paid for with new business from the customer’s social media sharing.

 

If you work with the government marketplace, particularly if you’re selling complex IT solutions, you would use a different approach that’s more focused on building long-term relationships and providing education and information to help the government make informed decisions around your solution. Always be respectful of the specific parameters you need to follow when reaching out to government customers. Many government employees won’t feel comfortable giving out their email, and cannot accept special incentive offers.  Still, there are creative and effective ways to use inbound marketing with this unique customer, to build awareness, relationships, and understanding of your solutions and services.

 

The most important element of inbound marketing is the content. A public relations firm can be a great asset when creating and spreading your company’s content for your audience to find. For additional information on inbound marketing and help developing an inbound marketing campaign, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , check out our website at www.adviceunlimited.net, and follow us on twitter www.twitter.com/AdviceUnlim.

 

 

Last night, the USO of Metropolitan Washington (USO-Metro) hosted its 31st Annual Awards Dinner at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Crystal City. We attended the dinner, providing PR support, as we have for the past 17 years, and were reminded why we got involved – and stay involved – with this exceptional organization!

 

The evening was devoted to honoring outstanding individuals from each branch of service, as well as the phenomenal people who support our nation’s service members through volunteerism and USO-Metro’s countless charitable programs, with a special emphasis on the military families served. Attended by senior government and military leaders, celebrities, business and community leaders, more than 600 guests joined with USO-Metro last night to honor our nation’s heroes and their families.  This year also included a Special Salute to honor military medical professionals.

 

Mr. Lou Diamond Phillips, host of the Military Channel’s An Officer and a Movie, was honored with the Legacy of Achievement Award for his deep commitment to our men and women in uniform, and General Peter Pace USMC (Ret.) presented the annual Merit Award to Mr. Joe Mantegna. This year’s COL John Gioia Patriot Award was presented to Mrs. Kathleen “Kat” Causey to recognize her tireless dedication to soldiers’ welfare, especially her work advocating for proper mental healthcare for combat veterans.

 

The entire night was an extremely touching tribute to our service members and their families, and we were honored to be a part of it. The night reminded us all how crucial it is to give back to the community we serve. During this time of transition, supporting our nation’s heroes is more important than ever. Advice Unlimited’s involvement with USO-Metro allows us to give back and pay tribute, and is a constant reminder of the sacrifices these heroes make for us each and every day. If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved in this outstanding organization please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

As seen in Washington Technology

As government organizations continue to slash spending and cut budgets, it gets harder and more imperative to stand out and clearly communicate how you help your customer meet their mission while reducing costs.

Public relations and marketing initiatives can help you make sure your prospects hear you, see you, and understand why they need you. Here are five tips to consider that can help you revitalize your image this year.

1. Fine tune your message to resonate with 2013 priorities. Think strategically and focus on how you help your customers solve real problems.

2. Deliver this message consistently through all of your materials. Maybe it’s time for a new brochure or marketing materials, a website facelift, a new blog page from your executives, a new tag line or mission statement. Make sure your message is relevant and your communication educates your audience on how you can help them meet their very tough and very real challenges of today.

3. If you don’t have consistent public relations efforts in place, that should be a priority for 2013. Tell your story through the publications your customers read and trust. Educate them on how you can help solve their problems. Provide examples of success stories in the government marketplace. This is an excellent tool to establish your executives as thought leaders in their area of expertise, as well.

4. Initiate PR and marketing campaigns with the publications and events that are most relevant for your customers, to communicate your message and integrate your brand with a trusted resource. Stay true to your trusted publications that you’ve used in the past, but branch out in search of new publications and new opportunities for your clients that align with their mission and their needs.

5. Be present. Attend networking events, visit customers; face-to-face interaction is really important in these challenging times. Your customers need to know you and know they can trust you. Virtual interaction is not enough.

From the blog of Thomas Moylan, Advice Unlimited's Social Media Specialist.

 

There is a lot of talk about Generation Y and the quality of their writing skills. The talk is mostly bad.  Teachers and business organizations claim that the writing skills of young adults today have significantly deteriorated from previous generations. The claim is that technology and a fast-paced lifestyle in the United States is to blame.  Spellcheck and other programs on the computer will fix small and potentially embarrassing spelling and grammatical errors, allowing students to rely on the technology and not their own knowledge of the English language when proofreading their work.  Fast-paced life in the United States has also been blamed, with many stating that young adults have shorter attention spans and are less interested in fully analyzing and creating in depth writing explanations.  Is this true?  What kind of impact does this have on the communications industry?  It is important to look at both sides of the argument before drawing a conclusion.

 

In my analysis of the situation, I found that there has indeed been some decline in writing quality from Generation Y.  If there was no decline in the writing ability of young adults today, there wouldn’t be so many articles and blogs discussing the issue. I can also say that as a recent college graduate from a top level University, I was astonished at the  poor quality of some people’s writing skills, which I discovered during peer review exercises  in my freshman, sophomore, junior and even senior-level writing courses.  Some were very good, but there were some that made me think, “How did this person get admitted to this University?” There were grammatical errors, run-on sentences that looked like paragraphs, paragraphs that were over a page long and quite frankly, writing that made no sense at all.

 

Teachers in a recent Pew research study are agreeing with the noted decline in writing quality, as one experienced English teacher states that she “teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work.” The teachers surveyed claimed that their students don’t understand how to pull useful information from their research to put into their writing, resulting in surface content that is useless.  

 

Something I found interesting while doing research on this topic is that Generation Y writes more than any previous generation.  However, the style of writing they are doing has changed.  I discovered that while this group might not be writing essays or novels, they are great at writing in social media form and blog posts, and they do it all the time.  In a 2009 article by Kaila Krayewski, a writer for suite101.com, she states, “Ninety percent of Gen Yers in the US own a PC, while 82 percent own a mobile. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they spend more time online than they do watching TV.”  According to a 2012 Forrester survey, the percentage of Generation Y that owns a mobile has skyrocketed to 97% -- Generation Y is also far more likely than any other age category to own a Smartphone.   It’s quite common for Generation Y to prefer to do their social media writing directly from their Smartphone, rather than using a PC.

 

Contrary to some opinions, there is evidence that Gen Y frequently uses online writing for intense, thoughtful debate – not meaningless, lazy rants filled with grammatical errors. Prime examples are political opinions during the 2012 Presidential election, the current economic crisis, environmental issues, and general online debate.  Many of these arguments are articulate and well written, using correct grammar. Their writing does not mimic that of short hand text messages with no structure, which is a common misperception.

 

Popular blog writer Penelope Trunk has stated that Generation Y is comprised of great writers. She argues in favor of the new generation when she states, “Information is changing, the flow of ideas is changing, and written communication is changing with it. Information overload is the feeling of not being able to deal with this change. Young people do not feel information overload, which is another sign that they are excellent writers for the new millennium: They can process and communicate new ideas at the new pace.”  Trunk makes a good point that Generation Y does not get as stressed because of rapid changes, since they grew up in the online culture that moves at a fast pace.  I agree with Trunk’s opinion that the new generation has the advantage of being used to the fast pace of the communications industry, but I still have mixed feelings overall -- there is a lot more to writing in the communications industry than the pace at which you can write.

 

There are really two questions to be answered: what is the quality of Generation Y’s writing overall, and what is the quality of Generation Y’s writing in terms of the communications industry?  On the one hand, they are significantly better at writing for social media, blogs, and debates, and seem comfortable in engaging in this type of writing.  All of these styles of writing require attention to detail and correct grammar.  Where there seems to be a gap is when the writer needs to  slow down and do the quality research and critical thinking that is needed to write articles, white papers, and other in depth writing projects, including the types of writing demanded from communications professionals that would best serve their clients.   A Pew research study discussed in The New York Times article “Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say” stated that, “Adding to this problem is what is called a ‘Wikipedia problem’ where students become accustomed to finding quick answers on the internet and 76 percent of teachers believed students had been conditioned by the internet to find quick answers.”  If you are a journalist for a major publication, you must have high quality writing skills -- those in the communications industry who are writing feature articles, press releases or even pitching stories to reporters need to also have quality writing skills to gain the attention of these journalists and editors.  This requires patience and attention to detail as well as the ability to work at a fast pace and absorb new information easily and quickly.

 

To sum this all up, Generation Y has the advantage of being accustomed to writing at a fast pace, which is needed in the communications industry, but they should improve upon their in depth analysis skills and research to ensure they integrate the content and thoughtfulness needed for effective professional writing.  

 

I would love to hear the opinions of PR professionals and Human Resource professionals  on the quality of the writing they are seeing from entry level applicants over the last five or so years.  For more information on this topic, and to discover how we can leverage our team’s expert writing skills to help you capture the attention of your target audience, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

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