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Have you taken our survey? The UMCF Programs Committee wants to know what kind of programming you would like for 2013-2014. Take our survey today! 

StrengthsFinder: Helpful or not?

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Earlier this week, a few fellow marketing department coworkers and I took the StrengthsFinder test and went to a Human Resources workshop designed to help us understand our results. I tend to reflect a lot about my relationships, whether it be with coworkers, superiors, community members, patrons, or my personal relationships. I found StrengthsFinder to be a good exercise in reflection. None of my top 5 themes surprised me, but I found some of the suggested action items on how to incorporate my strengths into the workplace helpful, although some of them felt a little too much like a zodiac for my comfort, such as "Find someone with strong Command or Activist strengths to pair with." However, what I found to be even more helpful was hearing my coworkers' results, and how they interpreted or explained them. This allowed me insight into our work relationships, and understanding why certain protocols, processes, or environment details are important to different people. 

Do you think personality tests such as this are useful in the work place? If you've taken StrengthsFinder specifically, what did you discover with your results? Have you shared them with your coworkers/superiors? If so, has that affected the way you work together?

The Creative Process

Recently, I've been doing some research on the creative process to help describe to my non-design educated co-workers what it is I actually do all day. I came across this beautiful, informative, and short video of the very talented minds behind MINDCASTLE. 

I would also be remiss to not mention the (presumably) fabulous National Design Week last month in New York at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Launched in 2006, National Design Week is held each year in conjunction with the National Design Awards program. During National Design Week, Cooper-Hewitt's award-winning Education Department hosts a series of free public programs based on the vision and work of the National Design Awards honorees. National Design Week culminates with the National Design Awards gala ceremony. Definitely something to keep in mind for next year. 

Go for the Maroon and Gold: Training Tip

Email marketing. It's a quick and direct way to communicate with your audience. But, when should it be used and what's the messaging like? Integrating email marketing with a broader communications plan (probably including both traditional and new media) is often key to its success. Also, writing engaging and relevant messages is a must for standing out in the flurry of emails.

Check out ten best practices for email marketing.  And, plan to attend the UMCF conference session on email marketing, "Having a Blast: Making Mass Email Work for You," with U of M University Relations' electronic communications specialist Pete Wiringa.

Learn about the conference agenda and session topics. Register by April 23 for the discounted rate.

Confessions of a Copyblogger Junkie

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I'll admit right now that I'm a Copyblogger junkie. Writers, if you don't follow this uber helpful copywriting blog, DO IT NOW. Seriously. Someday, after you've been twirling in your swivel chair for 30 minutes singing "la-la-la-la-la" after hitting writer's block, you'll thank me. Whether it's a headline that isn't packing a punch, an uncooperative blog post, or simply a complete lack of focus due to the unseasonably warm March weather, Copyblogger will pop up in your inbox with an incredibly insightful, clear, and concise article to pull you out of your rut. Here are a few recent articles that I've found incredibly valuable:

The 10-Minute Technique to Becoming a More Productive Writer On the importance of having a personal long-term writing vision in order to help you become more efficient with your daily writing tasks.

3 Simple Storytelling Methods That Can Do Your Selling For You On the power of storytelling in sales copy, broken down into the personal story, the historical story, and the "meet the guru" story.

8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read  On the importance of effective, readable bullet points in a digital, "Twitterized" world.

Enjoy, folks.

Shoestring Events

I stumbled across this piece on planning budgetary-conscious events at the U. I would venture to guess that budget dictates most, if not all, events here on campus, so any tips are always helpful. I especially like the free tools to get the word out on campus, and the emphasis on collaboration. While it may not be ground-breaking, it's a nice reminder that we're all in the same boat- working with a little to create so much more.

The drive behind the Driven to Discover student campaign

Guest blogger: Drew Swain, U Relations marketing coordinator, manages the University's overall brand and assists in the development of the yearly Driven to Discover campaigns. Swain says the focus of this phase of the campaign is on students, and gives some insight at how that came about, and what's coming next.

Here's Drew:

You've seen professors explain mind control. Professors growing hearts. Professors teaching classes from the Arctic. Professors even lecturing on what makes Superman faster than bullets. So what about the students? Where do they fit into the University's mission to discover?

That's the focus of the new iteration Driven to Discover, the Driven to Discover Student Campaign, which was just released. You might have already seen some of the TV spots.

The inception of the campaign was really a confluence of factors. We wanted to take an uncharted path to further the Driven to Discover brand and one of President Kaler's incoming initiatives centered on students. Meanwhile, the U of M Foundation was starting its new scholarship drive. It was a natural fit to make students the campaign's "heroes."

As higher education communications pros, when you look at Discover Student, you should notice its unique approach. While student related campaigns of other schools are direct recruiting tools, we're telling our audiences how the student experience at the U is unbeatable. There's nowhere else in the state and most of the region where students can be paired up with elite faculty like Andy Van de Ven, one of the world's top minds in managing innovation. Nowhere they have such an array of opportunities to discover their passion and profession through partnerships like the Guthrie BFA Program. And nowhere they can be exposed to such distinct student-related experiences (hello, Sheep, Goat, and Lama Club).

The next step in the student campaign will make it even more focused on students, when it asks them to directly participate in a scholarship video contest. Students will be asked to submit 30-second videos of themselves explaining what they have discovered at the U. Winners will be chosen based on "Likes" on the U's Facebook page, so stay tuned in mid-December when voting begins!

Review: Promoting Strategies on a Budget: Internal PR

*Note: This review will appear in next week's "Preview/Review" column in Brief.

Sometimes when we think about communications we believe them to be the sole job of professionals with focused job titles like "communications specialist." But communications--helping others understand the value and role of an organization--are most effective and persuasive in numbers.

Anna Kucera, director of marketing and public relations with the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, had a clear message for the several dozen attendees at the Oct. 20 UMCF event, "Promoting Strategies on a Budget: Internal PR."

Everyone in your department should be involved in communications, and ultimately, everyone in your organization is anyway, she said. A conversation is happening--online, in coffee shops, and in backyards--people talk about work. Providing the tools to enable employees to lead the conversation, and to advocate on behalf of [the U], is ultimately a communicator's job.

"The people who work for the University need to be able to speak about what they do for the U and why it matters," Kucera said.

At her own organization, Kucera said "A lot of times our employees are the people best connected to the communities we serve. We want to empower them to get the word out about upcoming events, and our agenda."

Her advice was to train everyone, in the key messages (the value) of the University, and in the use of social media (by holding social media brown bags)--an inexpensive way to amplify 20,000 faculty and staff (and 60,000 students) who make up the U.

"Social media policy should be not only a list of what not to do, but "to do's" and "how to's." Facilitate interactions among employees. Empower them to reach out to their own networks in a way that positively represents your organization," she said.

Certainly food for thought as the U approaches another important legislative session, with tens of millions of dollars on the line.
One way to get involved is to join the U's Legislative Network, get informed, and get ready for action at the U's 2012 Legislative Briefing, coming Feb. 1.

Follow the U's new legislative network on its new Facebook page, and continue the conversation online.

Tricks (or Treats) of Volunteer Management

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I love volunteers. They help me set up decorations and signage, greet and check-in guests, and clean-up and bring supplies back to my office. Volunteers are like my extra set of arms carefully helping me execute multiple event tasks expertly.

In this economy, volunteers are highly desirable; therefore, we need to treat them well. It's taken me time to understand how to effectively communicate and treat volunteers in order to best manage them. Below are some tricks of the trade compiled from both my experiences and from the Donor Relations Guru Blog that I follow.

1. Have realistic expectations of your volunteers. Volunteers are donating their time; therefore, don't overload them with several projects or tasks.

2. Clearly define a volunteer's role. Manage their expectations along with your own. Define what the role's tasks are from the beginning and talk to the volunteer prior to your event to make sure they understand of what's being asked of them.

3. Appreciate your volunteers. I understand - we're all busy, but taking some time to write a personal note of appreciation and thanks to your volunteers goes a long way and helps to develop a relationship. Remember - a happy volunteer = a repeat volunteer.

To learn more volunteer tricks, go to

Have any volunteer horror stories or best practices (either your own volunteer experiences or managing volunteers)? If so, let us know. 

Robert Sevier's Presentation at "Making Our Case"

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For those of you who wish to revisit Robert Sevier's breakout session on "Developing an Experience Marketing Strategy," please download this attachment.

2011 - Experience Marketing - Final SG.pdf

At this point in the social media game, there's a lot of pontification being pitched about and not whole lot of the Dragnet ethic. It's hard to say what's what about social media at this point, but this analysis gives a few great pointers. Try them out and see for yourself. A few I'm going to try to ride with:

  • Tweet a lot to accumulate as many followers as possible, but if your goal is to drive more traffic to your site, you should show a little more restraint; accounts that share two or more links an hour show a dramatically lower clickthrough rate than those who share no more than one.
  • Reach people when the noise of the crowd has died down. It turns out that time is often the afternoons, when blogs and news sites are slower, and the weekend, when they're all but asleep.
  • Retweet activity is highest late in the work day, between 2 and 5 p.m., and the sweet spot (tweet spot?) is 4 p.m. Late in the week is most retweetable, too.
Use TweetWhen to analyze your Twitter account to see what time days and times yield the most retweets.

Read the full story at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Don't skimp on content strategy

When developing a website, it's tempting to jump right into the fun design phase. But left in its wake is the neglected content strategy.

A website can look pretty, but if the content stinks or it's tough to find--you've lost your audience. If you are driving people to your website, give people a reason to stay and a clear idea of what you want them to do. Do you want people to give? Say so. Do you want them to attend an event? Make that clear--don't hide the info.

A new book out a few months ago, The Elements of Content Strategy, lays the groundwork if you're still having to make the argument of why content strategy matters. Here is a write up about it: Jason Santa Maria.

I plan to pick up this book. Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear what you think--share in the comments field.

I'm catching up on some of my Chronicle of Higher Ed reading today, and I came across a gem of a blog post that gives faculty advice about how to handle disruptive colleagues during meetings.

Turning inspiration into action

If you're like me, attending a conference--be it for the Communicators Forum or other groups--results in a host of new ideas and inspiration. I leave recharged and ready to use my new-found knowledge on the job.

And then I get back to the office.... there are a flurry of emails to catch up on, printer's proofs to review, and--of course--back-to-back meetings. I often struggle to make time to put these new ideas to the test.

When thinking about the fantastic lineup prepared for the Communicators Forum conference on May 12, I decided that I need a new post-conference strategy...

I booked an hour of desk time after the conference to review my notes and think about how I can incorporate what I learned into my upcoming work projects. If my boss reads this, she can hold me to it. :)

Hopefully this will help turn my inspiration into action.

If you've put conference-inspired ideas into action on the job, we'd love to hear about it. Post in the comment field and share your ideas.

And, for those of you who haven't yet--be sure to register for the May 12 Communicators Forum conference BEFORE April 12 for the early bird rate.

Social media: Put a ring on it

Anyone who has managed a social media presence knows that you have to roll with the punches and accept that sometimes you will have no control over what happens. Oftentimes you can only control your response to issues that arise.

But committing to social media strategy can make inevitable challenges easier to deal with and give you the opportunity to have more strategic responses.

So, to quote Beyonce: Put a ring on it.

For example, sometimes a cranky "friend" will dis a professor on your department's Facebook page--this can present an opportunity to engage students on what the department can do better and hopefully cause others to chime in about what they like about the department now.

Or, let's say someone hacks into your account and spams everyone. While that can be embarrassing, it also provides you with an opportunity to show some humor with your audience when notifying them that you are not, in fact, a princess from a small foreign nation looking for help in managing your vast fortune.

This article gives a helpful snapshot of how to establish a successful social media strategy and plan for the unexpected:

Email testing: Which call to action is best?

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Email analytics are a beautiful thing. They tell us how many people opened or viewed a message, as well as how many people clicked on different links within the email. This helps inform us, as content creators, on what stories get the most the most attention, guiding future content creation.

For an upcoming email newsletter I'm considering doing some A/B testing--trying out two different versions of the email newsletter, one with a strong giving message "Donate now!" and one with a more passive giving message. I'm hoping that email analytics can advise me on which version is the most effective with my audience.

Here is an example of a similar email "call to action" test.

Has anyone else tried email testing? I'd love to hear what others have found effective.

Internal audience segmentation

In case you don't keep up with the ecommunications blog, they've just posted the next meeting for the group with the strange acronym: MEUG. The Mass Email User Group meeting is Wednesday, October 27 from 3-4 p.m. in Morrill 238A.

The main topic will be internal audience segmentation, and Forum member Matt Sumera, associate director for Internal Communications, will present on Internal Communications' work in selecting and refining audiences on the Twin Cities campus and systemwide. They'll also look at the data available to see how your college or unit can leverage these ideas to select from your own students, staff, or faculty.

Some remote attendance options are available with an RSVP, and you can find out more on that at the ecomm blog.

Email: No Pony Express

Every year on my birthday, my mom sends me a handwritten card. It usually has a bunch of heart stickers stuck all over the envelope, inside and out. There is also often a crisp $5 bill inside, but that's beside the point. I'm sure the post office guy thinks I'm a big wuss, but I don't care. I love these letters from my mom. Plus, my dad worked at the US Post Office for over 30 years, so if the guy has a beef with me, I'll find out where he lives, too. Two can play the game of "I know where you live."

Anyway, what I want to talk about is email, both about how it crushes your soul and clutters your work life. Of course, it also has the potential to do much good, but only if you use it right.

Prof Arthur Hill at the Carlson School of Management has more than 30 years of research, teaching, and consulting in operations management and (quite efficiently) can talk about managing time and work effectively. He says he once spoke with a dean who admitted to having more than 6,000 unopened emails.

For most of us, the barrage of emails is not quite that extreme, but the problem of too much to do contributes to stress, worry, and guilt, says Hill.

Hill says it's important to remember a few simple rules, and some of them, I admit, seem downright foreign. For example, "Never check email in the morning," is one of his most important rules. He says instead that we should start the day with goals and bigger projects--email should not be on a "to-do" list.

Other email advice from Hill:

  • Abide by the two-minute rule--if it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
  • Write short emails with very concise and meaningful subject lines and do not cc unless absolutely necessary--very often, the cc is not necessary and is a waste of many people's time.
  • Reduce the number of emails you write to reduce the number you receive. Do not write a "thank you" email every time you receive a correspondence.
  •  Never have more than one screen of emails open at a time.
  •   Open an email once, and process it right away.
Finally, says Hill, remember that interruptions occur about every 2.5 minutes, and it usually takes about 10 minutes to recover from each interruption. The main source of the interruption? You.

There's also a somewhat academic analysis of email online... Email's Dark Side

A few things it notes:

You check more often than you think: Participants in a study by Renaud et al. (2006) claimed to check their email, on average, once an hour. However when the researchers spied on them, it turned out they checked their email every five minutes.
Email eats a quarter (23%) of the working day
It takes 64 seconds to recover from an email
Email kills sarcasm (and emotional communication)
People feel less co-operative
Email negotiations often feel difficult, especially with people we don't know well.
There's little argument that personal, handwritten letters mean more than an email...some visceral component a computer just hasn't captured yet still tugs at our "aww, mom" heartstrings. But if you use it sparingly and supplement it with face-to-face and the occasional phone call (texting doesn't count), you'll have a more meaningful--and productive--work life. And your mom doesn't want an email anyway.

The Conversation Prism--and bringing social media into our lives

I've had the pleasure of co-hosting two social media brown baggers for Forum members, and the events have been just like I thought they'd be. We have some stellar early adopters here at the U, and they are enormously generous in sharing what they know and how they did it. And we have a lot of people who are wondering where in the world to start. When I look at The Conversation Prism, I can understand why.

The Conversation Prism was designed by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas in 2008 to "provide a visual representation of the true expansiveness of the Social Web and the conversations that define it." They've since updated their graphic, and one look at their beautiful, rainbow flower of possibilities can strike fear into the heart of the part-time communicator who has, like, five minutes a week to focus on social media for her program.

A repeating question at the brown bags has been, if you think you need social media, "what do you want to get out of it?" And the Conversation Prism does a nice job of ordering our communications methods and priorities, placing Brand at the center.

Social media can be intimidating, and as the Prism so clearly shows us, the possibilities are endless and astounding--blog? Facebook? Flickr? Why? And as long as new sites and services are created and old ones fall out of favor (Friendster, anyone?) this will continue to be a fluid subject. Luckily, with a little guidance from the Conversation Prism and a lot of advice from your fellow communicators, we have the means to wrestle social media to the ground and make it do our bidding.

The next social media brown bag will be on Friday, May 21 in 202 Johnston Hall.

Monday link roundup: 3.29.10

404 pageThese are some articles that caught my eye lately. What links do you recommend to fellow Forum members?

Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback :: "Negative refers to how the client perceives your work. Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work."

QA on Higher Education Web sites. How to do it and what to look for. :: "Tools and people will come and go, quality on the other hand is the one thing in a web office that is a constant."

The i, b, em, & strong elements :: "While many HTML4 elements have been brought into HTML5 essentially unchanged, several historically presentational ones have been given semantic meanings."

The 100 most funny and unusual 404 error pages :: I have a strong preference for the ones that don't blame the user or use the word oops.

Which leads me to... Avoid this common error :: "I'll be the first to admit planning for and writing error messages is not the sexiest of web writing tasks. But it can be one of the most important."

Internal communications planning template

The University's internal communications team has developed a template you can use to create an internal communications plan. It walks you through the considerations for goals/objectives, audiences, key messages, strategies/tactics, feedback and multi-way communications, timeline/work plan, budget, and measurement/follow up.

Go to the internal communications planning template

Does your unit have an internal communications plan?

Link roundup

Every week we post a roundup of interesting articles, links, etc..., relating to communications-focused topics. What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.


Here are a few ideas:

E-mail sign-up done right

Brain Traffic's blog talks a lot about content and the Web.

Check out slides from a Mima social media presentation:

Monday link roundup, 11.23.09

Every Monday we'll post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

Inviting 3-year-olds to strategy meetings

111009.jpgThis post by Seth Godin on "The why imperative" got me thinking about the power of that little word why.

The university environment is a fascinating mix of innovation and entrenchment, of cutting-edge ideas and slow-moving systems. University researchers grew a beating heart in a lab, yet a unit's Web site redesign can get stuck in committee for years.

Each unit and department has its own view of "the way we do things." That is important, and I am not advocating change for change's sake. We are lucky to work within a trusted and established brand, and decisions on communications strategy need to be well thought out and supported by research.

I am, however, advocating for us to make sure we have a good answer to why we do the things we do. (And "because that's how we've always done it" is not a good enough answer.)

I'm also proposing we embrace that other favorite question of children: So what?

What would happen if your department's communications decisions had to go through a stubborn three-year-old?

"We need a brochure for our program."
"Because our program is new."
"So what?"
"So we want people to know we exist."
"Because we think the information we have will help them."
"Because it's information we haven't seen anywhere else."
"So what?"
"So we need to get the information to our audience so they can use it."

Now our hypothetical three-year-old has gotten to the real goal. Programs often request an end product without thinking through the problem they want to solve. Our three-year-old has helped us find the objective, so we can work with the program to determine whether a brochure is the best way to achieve this goal.

Now, let's discuss nap time...

At last week's Web 2.0 presentation, Cari Hatcher offered lots of tips for getting started with social media. Here is her list of online resources.

Thanks, Cari!

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