Ensuring Your Messages Get Read Amidst All the Noise

Part II: Social Channels, Cross Promotions and Maximizing your Publications

communication-project-managerAt the Communication’s Table Topic Roundtable offered by the CSAE Trillium Chapter as their last Professional Development session (PDX) of 2016, I facilitated a robust discussion on effective communications in an increasingly noisy world. Four groups of participants took part in half-hour roundtable discussions in search of best practices, solutions and new ideas to tackle the question of how to ensure your association’s message gets read amidst all the communications noise.

The group delved into the expectations we had in using other means to get to members and stakeholders beyond direct inbox email delivery, and the reluctance, both internal and on the part of the recipients, to have messages broadcast in new ways. Familiar themes became clear: the need to know your audiences, using data and feedback to your advantage; and the importance of starting with clear goals on what you’re trying to communicate.

Beyond the email angst explored in Part I of this series, participants identified “pain points” they’ve experienced consistently with their association’s communications. Some of these included: meeting expectations, reluctance to change, the importance of showing the value of membership, and internal competing interests – what to send to whom and at what frequency.

Alternatives to email were identified as solutions to the limits of the technology and of regulation issues. With email being stalled by spam blockers and firewalls – in addition to the tracking needed to be compliant with CASL guidelines – social media and other communications tactics were discussed.

Associations develop content, but what could be done to help them to better share this content with members and stakeholders? Here’s what we heard from our roundtable participants:

Social Media

We could have spent the entire time looking at creative ways to use all the social media platforms available. Being everywhere wasn’t seen as a necessity; it was more important to know why you wanted to use social media in the first place, who you are trying to reach, what you needed to say, and if this was how you could best do it. We delved into the why of the matter, or the ultimate goals of having a presence on social channels:

  • To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of issues in your sector
  • Evidence that you are aware of your members’ interests and their challenges
  • Demonstrates you are connected and provides reassurance in your validity as an authority on your subject matter
  • Shows you are keeping up with current issues that are important in your industry
  • Provides a real-time, and quick response to current issues and events, and gives a platform for member and stakeholder engagement and interaction
  • Gives those not engaged with your association a chance to see the kinds of issues you care about
  • Allows you to be a curator of industry news from your members and related groups in a timely way
  • A way to engage with traditional journalists and trade journalists important to your industry
  • A way to connect with your political stakeholders

Whatever the platform of choice, doing it well and having some thought and strategy on the ‘why’ is not only important, but also essential to getting it right.

Using social media or broader digital marketing campaigns using Google AdWords or other platforms, the roundtables questioned how to return on investment of social media. Much of what you can do is on free platforms, but the human resources needed to manage the work were seen as difficult to communicate internally. Again, setting goals for the campaign, tracking results, evaluating if the ‘spend’ is proportional to the desired results. The question explored was if an organization’s management welcomes testing, experimenting and risk taking, and when to optimize activities and use data to continue or grow a campaign, or when to opt out and try other strategies and tactics that may work better with your audience.

Sharing Success Stories on Social Channels

We looked at successes with small-scale social media campaigns

Using the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday to cover historical images and facts has proven to be successful. If it’s a milestone anniversary of the association, show the history with a consistent format, and the communications take on its own persona.

Celebrate members by sharing success stories they share, and use your association as a platform where members can see their peers in a positive light.

One organization shared that they had had a week with themed, simple and related images and scheduled one message a day at the same time. They were linked together on related topics. They had great engagement and feedback on the simplicity of the campaign and its effectiveness.

Integrate and Cross Promote

Use social communications to promote upcoming events, distribute news releases, and to share small and large successes. Integrate advocacy and government relations’ activities and messages into these member communications. This expands the audience reach of these activities, and gives your members more ways to see and share what you are doing with these files. Developing social media posts about the government news and activity in your sector informs, shows value and engages members. Using a consistent hashtag for the tweets encourages members to share news and use the hashtag as well. For events and advocacy campaigns, remember to have a call-to-action link or directive to participate and engage.

Annual Reports

The trend with annual reports among the group seemed to be delivering top-level information in shorter formats, shared digitally, and with links to more detailed version as opposed to glossy, full printed versions like most associations produced in the past. With interesting infographics on association success and milestones from the past year, the annual report should be used to capture a comprehensive outline member value in the past 12 months and what members can look forward to in the year to come. By distributing across multiple channels, there was quite a lot of value to using the AR for advocacy and other purposes. The key messages in the report are a reflection of the sector, and of membership, and used well, provide a good marketing tool for potential members.

Balanced Information Distribution

Information and content is being produced at unprecedented levels. Organizations have to manage information sharing, and getting the attention of their members in a space that competes for their attention like never before. Coordinate what is being distributed, and keep your leadership involved in all your communications priorities. Balance and proactively plan your communications to members and stakeholders, and choose your channels wisely, keeping in mind why you’re sharing the information, and where you’ll best reach your key audiences.

If you’d like to discuss any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch with me!

Maureen Shuell

This article was also published by the Canadian Society of Association Executives – Trillium Chapter at http://csae-trillium.tv/ensuring-messages-get-read-amidst-noise-part-ii/



Twitter: @MaureenShuell

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/maureenshuell

Ensuring Your Messages Gets Read Amidst All the Noise

email-marketing2A review of CSAE Trillium Chapter’s Communications Roundtable PDX: A Professional Development Facilitated Discussion

Sometimes the delivery method gets in the way of our message and our messages get lost, ignored and under valued. Those were recurring comments at the Communication’s Table Topic at CSAE Trillium Chapter’s last PDX Professional Development session of 2016 that I facilitated. Four groups of participants took part in half hour roundtable discussions looking for best practices, solutions and new ideas to tackle the associations and not for profit staff concerns on the questions of ensuring your message gets read amidst all the noise; and getting your email read. We delved into the expectations they had in using other means to get to their members and stakeholders beyond direct in-box delivery, and the reluctance, both internal and at the receivers end to have messages broadcast in new ways. There’s a careful line between providing valuable information and spamming members adding to the communications noise we are supposed to be avoiding. Familiar themes became clear: the need to know your audiences; using your data and feedback to your advantage; and, start with clear goals on what you’re trying to communicate in the first place.

Audiences: Members, etc

Do you know whom you’re trying to reach? By using your email distribution system’s IT data, you can see when do your members open emails, the click through rates to the links in your messages, the day of week, or time of day, that works best. Track this, and use this knowledge to change your behaviours based on data that’s available. There’s likely analytical data also available from member surveys to make decisions on what to send when, what’s valued and perhaps also learn what you spend considerable time and effort on developing that members rate as low value. It’s a good thing to assess if you are continuing to do an activity because it’s always been done that way, or if it still has value.

In an effort to know your audiences, internal and external, segregate them. Does it make sense to send the same messages or different messages to your distinct audiences? Try AB testing: Send an email to half a list at different times, or use different subject lines.   Measure the results, and act on what you learn. Do you send members, lapsed and potential members the same email? By tailoring your message, your voice will be seen as more authentic and relevant.

Whatever you do, please do not spam the people most valuable to you, and with whom you have a valued relationship of providing value with valuable content. That being said, you can’t please all your members all the time. Beware of the ‘squeaky wheel’ with many suggesting change for change’s sake. Refer back to your data and your survey responses in decision making what works for your audiences.

The Email Subject Line and Best Practices

The email subject line discussion actually tackled how to get the subject line right to get the email read. To my surprise, the subject line question was a hot topic, and there was a lot of interest in covering what entices a reader to open an email!

Email Best Practices

The subject line is the headline that has to be true to the content of the email. We coined: ‘The Promise of the Subject Line’ for the recipient to know if this is timely, on a project, a newsletter, a call for some action in reply, and simply to know if this is a quick message to read on mobile on the go for a quick reply or will require opening attachments and giving more thoughtful responses. This provides some level of triage of an inbox to prioritize messages. If an email asking for action, say so in subject line.

Using clear subject lines is crucial, and when changing topic during an email thread, change the subject line. If possible for email to be on one topic, have clear subject line. This was noted to not only deal with issues together and see threads, but for easy filing and email recovery. Using the “Rule-of-3” topics in a subject line as a maximum was noted as a key take away: No more than three topics should be introduced in a message.

By having ‘theme’ emails (ex. newsletters, policy updates, advance copies of media announcements, or board reports) in same format for each template subject line and message content, it makes it easier for the reader to know what to expect and if it is to be shared with colleagues, reply with response, etc. Consistency pays off. If members like a newsletter at a regular interval, like every 2 weeks, stick with that. The point is to know that they like it, read it and get value from it.

The word ‘urgent’ and email should be used very carefully, and preferably in a very limited way if at all. It may be important the message be read, but if it truly is urgent, pick up the phone and call.

Know when -and when not to- ‘reply all’

Thinking about ‘replying all’? Think carefully if the response is intended for that one individual sender or if the group needs to hear you wade in on the conversation.

Key takeaways on best practices: Email

In short, the best practices we agreed to were making emails clear, easy to share and file, and with a great subject line as a teaser that drives people to want to read more. Keep messages short and to the point, and potentially with action directives on where to get more information. Know what works for your audience, what they like, what times work for delivery and who they are. Keep you email delivery and style reliable and predictable as far as timing – and keep checking in to see if what you’re doing works for your audience! Be selective and send important information, like call for abstracts, and timely industry information. Most importantly, have a system in place internally -that has leadership backing – on what goes out to members, who sends it, when it’s sent and shows coordination from the association. If each department is competing for the attention of the member, you’ll likely look like your spamming the audience and will drive them away.

Your Brand

All the communications sent from your organization contribute to your brand. Are your mundane and routine emails working in your favour on that front? Perhaps its time to take a look at what your communications say about your association, and if there are ways to refresh what you’re saying, integrate delivery to new methods of delivery – like social media – and renew your offerings.

This review skimmed the surface of what we discussed, and other table topics communications themes will be covered in future articles. Watch for ideas for your association on: using social channels and digital tools to reinforce your messages and reach new audiences; using media relations outreach to traditional journalists, sharing routine publications like annual reports; and, integrating your communications with your government relations and promotional campaigns.

If you’d like to discuss any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch with me!

– Maureen.Shuell@RendezVousCommunications.com

Keeping up with IT

Today’s Dilbert summed it up beautifully.


As a sole proprietor, and consultant, keeping up with IT in an app/cloud/social universe is pretty much part of my job description on a daily basis. I can’t outsource it.  How would I ever find anything? More than that, I need to have tried it in order to demonstrate knowledge to my clients, and be ready when introduced to new project management apps and internal processes. Being inquisitive nature, learning about new tech has become part of my routine.

When first hanging my virtual shingle a few years ago, a consultant friend of mine had warned me of his IT struggles. They were going to drag me down and tie me up. “Wait and see what I mean” he warned me. Ah yes, I see now.

There is no IT department to troubleshoot when a wireless printer goes rogue and no longer speaks to your computer. I cringe and hope to avoid having to call an outside source as hours have been lost in the past. After the tried and true IT solution of shutting everything down and rebooting several times doesn’t work, my call-centre-call-for-help in desperation answer is to “just use the cord and connect the printer to your computer as if it wasn’t wireless”. Ah ha. Old School wins again.

And then there are the backups: clouds, i-clouds, drop boxes (shared, solo, simple?), external drives, google docs, shared project templates and apps to name a few. Each one uses its own short cuts and escapes, and undo options. “It’s very intuitive” they say. “It will only take a few minutes to learn.”

After almost giving up, and putting myself in the ‘I’m too old for this’ category, I spent two hours one morning on the phone with Apple support trying to get my iPhone photos onto my computer. The solution was a six hour Mac upgrade that was only the first step in addressing an ‘unusual glitch’ that must be a communication problem between my phone and computer – both Apple products. Hmmm. I liked the old operating system better, but was beyond the point of return.

When thinking back to the start of my career,  workplace complaints where about the numerous noisy faxes coming in distracting busy office workers. I clearly remember sitting in an all staff meeting to hear about the move to email, and how we were all going to get email addresses and new systems to communicate internally and externally. The discussion was heated with holdouts saying we had enough phone calls and faxes all ready. People knew how to get in touch with us now, why add another way to contact us? How on earth were we going to keep up with all the channels to reach us? The key to all of this was, and continues to be understanding how our customers want to communicate with us, and being available on those channels. Keeping up with customers is about being relevant to them by evolving and learning new ways of meeting their needs. In working with clients and customers, it’s not about you and your convenience, it’s about theirs.

I often think back and wonder if I had any idea how much impact technology would have on me, and how quickly it was going to change during my career. What I do know is there is no stopping it, and I have to continue to evolve along with it. My phone’s buzzing. A new message is coming in…



Insights and Lessons Learned on the Conference Floor

At the 2015 CanSPEP Annual Conference in Saskatoon, I presented a “Talks” style presentation sharing some stories and lessons learned and insights taken from my experiences leading large national conferences. Here is my quick look at what adds value to events, and makes them memorable.

1. Provide a boutique experience, even if the event is large.

Treat your event like your own dinner party. Be the person that sees who is new, who is on their own and introduce them to others to break the ice and get conversation started. Have staff and volunteers greet people and say hello at the entrance. This is appreciated!

2. Location, location, location.

Use your location and know your audience: Find something very ‘cool’ to include in the program that will make that city memorable, and make them want to go in the first place. With Windsor Ontario, I brought 493 delegates (80% male) across the border to the USA for a Detroit Red Wings VS Pittsburg Penguins hockey game. For $45 per delegate in 2008, they had a ticket, a slice of pizza and a pop and a seat at a game with Sidney Crosby on ice. It was the first match up since the Stanley Cup final that spring where the two had played against each other. Manifested buses with international delegates moving across the Canada USA border wasn’t easy, but it was very memorable and registration expectations were significantly exceeded! Find ‘Coolness Factor’ in your events. It keeps conference fresh, and that ‘wow’ made for happy return customers in future years.

3. In dealing with Security Detail for VIPs…

In Edmonton, we had Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s police escort opened an alarmed door during a pre-event walk through, and left me dealing with 3 concurrent sessions with about 500 delegates flooding out of session rooms.

4. Be prepared for emergencies on site and off site

Having a delegate faint at a cocktail reception at the Quebec National Assembly during a cocktail reception was not something you could anticipate. How it was handled, and how tricky it was to get into a historical building (with high security) with EMS (and protocol on security heirarchy) in Canada’s other official language was a lesson in working under pressure.

6. Working with others

Be nice to all the suppliers. “A-person-who-is-nice-to-you-but-is-not-nice-to-the-waiter-is-not-a-nice-person” Know that you need all the service staff to be on your side. Be genuine.

7. When working with a national, bilingual crowd, be careful with humour, language, and nuance in comedy

Working for a national association, the chair was a francophone from Montreal and we were at an evening comedy performance in Vancouver…a “who’s line it anyways” style skit comedy. I had seated him at the front for the show and had planned some jokes with the comedians prior to the show. He was to be called on to be central to the main skit. He hadn’t thought the show was funny and left without me noticing. When the comedians called on him, he was nowhere to be seen. They called someone random onto the stage and all the planned jokes were never used. The show must go on, and things just don’t work out as you plan sometimes.

8. When the event looks too fun, you may be your own worst enemy

If it looks like there’s too much fun to be had the people who have to authorize the expense might think it’s not professional development, but a junket. Be careful in what photographers get photos of…. You need those shots for next year’s brochures and for your industry magazine.

9. FEEDBACK: Give it and ask for it.

I think using evaluations wisely to improve events time over time is extremely important. Input on timing, content, focus, networking social events gives delegates what they want, not what you think they want. Read every item! I also think it’s crucial to provide constructive feedback to venues, sub-contractors, etc., for the purpose of improvement to their future offerings, and also to help your industry colleagues grow from what was learned and can be improved. Continuous learning is important for everyone.

10. Say THANK YOU.

Often. So….thank you for reading what I shared with CanSPEP members!

Ways to win in Canadian Politics – Vancouver Style

When Gregor Robertson and his municipal party won the mayoral race in Vancouver this fall, it showed the story of the value of an authentic apology and of positive campaigning. Ah, so Canadian. Excuse me, pardon me… if it’s not too much to ask, sorry for being too aggressive with the urbanism and density things. It’s going to slow down. Will you’ll trust me if I show that I’m listening to you? Vancouverites said yes, they would. With a little help from a strong political team with help from non other than Ontario’s master, Don Guy, Robertson looked to inspire the electorate to not only show up to vote, but to vote for him.

The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason sums it up for the political watchers in this article with his look at taking the risk of the political apology, and dropping the negative ads in favour of taking the high road.

Ah, the possibility or impossibility of getting work done at meetings

Where does work happen, he asks in the video. I have lived through the half day meetings where we had to “fill the time” because “the time had been booked”, only to have the participants attend with very different goals: Some reported on the past, some shared ideas for the future, others digressed into minutia on updates that should have been left to one on one meetings. In my facilitator training, I learned this is all too common. I wish I knew then what I know now about setting clear objectives, meeting expectations, and moving forward.

I don’t agree with all in this video shared from a TedTalk, and believe that meetings and events can be a dynamic way to bring out the best ideas, engage and inspire. “Bringing people and ideas together” is my tagline. Yes, sometimes you have to quiet down and do the work, but when you get a dynamic conversation going with a variety of perspectives, great things often happen.