Digital Alone is Not the Message

Home screen for niche social media network
For my senior project, I produced an interactive media prototype of a social media network for unpaid caregivers at: http://rmafpf.axshare.com/#p=home
flower store mobile wireframes.
Wireframes are a key step in developing an interactive solution. Effective ‘how it works’ notations are almost more important than well-drawn screens. Here are mobile screen wireframes I developed for a flower store site.

Despite rising focus on STEM skills, effective communications is still the gatekeeper to success. Even the most brilliant discovery or algorithm falls short if its message is missed or skewed.

To start, ‘speak’ like your audience and tell them what they care about — or why they should. Better still, embed a story to draw them in, sustain attention and boost retention.

Some say digital counters this approach. That it distracts and muffles the message. I disagree.

You can effectively integrate digital in traditional PR/MarCom strategies but only IF it brings you closer to meeting your audience and their needs. Online media rooms can help reporters meet tight deadlines with 24/7 access to photos/facts. Links to videos, articles or other sites, give readers the option to learn more, without losing time to search. With mobile, we can reach time-strapped audiences and tap into their up-to-the-moment needs.

But a ‘locked’ media room, mandatory ‘fluff’ video or cut-off text on a smart phone will kill the message before you can say: “The medium is …”

Digital can also enrich stories with its non-linear format, making multiple subplots or endings possible. And interactive media helps reach auditory and kinesthetic, as well as visual learners.

Back to School

Recognizing digital’s rising value, I disappeared for a year to immerse full-time in a post-grad interactive media management program at Centennial College and sharpen my skills.

My goal was to master technology. But the more I learned, the more I realized effective communications and empathy for the audience or end-user, are the life blood of a successful user experience (UX). Website audits and user test analysis drove this home, with rampant examples of dead ends, static buttons and broken links — sometimes on global brand sites.

Most telling was my prototype project for a niche social media network for caregivers. Technically, it works.  But I need to build in steps to reinforce users’ learning and encourage return visits.  I also need clear communications and clutter-free screens. Without these considerations, it’s just empty code.

Sure, I boosted my analytics skills, learned how to create wireframes and prototypes in OmniGraffle/Axure, mark-up HTML5 pages with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and edit video in Premiere Pro.

More important: I learned the value of user testing, how to optimize the UX, efficiently produce software and the necessary trade-offs.

Optimizing the UX

For example, tools like Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics cover broad interactive design principles, such as applying real world images and conventions to interfaces. You can use them as a checklist to objectively assess any UX design and counter subjective arguments about a website or other screen. This way, they help you advocate for the end user’s best interests and set them on a path to purchase, subscribe or ‘convert’ in another desirable way.

Drawing of Agile / scrum process
Most interactive projects are developed via an Agile methodology with an iterative ‘scrum’ process focused on developing an MVP — a radical shift from PR’s typical ‘waterfall’ project management path.

Agile Efficiency

I also learned and practised ‘agile’ project management to efficiently produce software. This methodology is collaborative, fast and means striving for a minimal viable project (MVP) — a tough mandate for perfectionists.

Tough Trade-offs

Achieving an MVP also includes making trade-off decisions between:

  • Responsiveness and Resolution or how many message prompts do you need before the user reaches their goal?
  • Optimization and Ubiquity, such as deciding which screen, tablet or smart phone will offer the best experience and which will be adequate.
  • Customization and Design or drawing the line between the features you’ll let users decide and those you’ll ‘hard code’ in the design.

Turns out, the ‘Medium is the Massage’  typo-hindered phrase may be partly right. That is, the medium must be massaged  into an MVP, injected with content and tested to ensure the audience ‘gets it.’

I’ve graduated, have a part-time contract digging into app analytics and global market research for LongStory — a digital role-play game. Long-term, I’m looking for a content or digital strategy role. In the interim, I’m busy merging the best of digital with my communication skill-sets.

This blog will still focus on my discoveries and how to do the right thing well but with more of a digital twist or ‘interactive for good’ feel.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 11.44.56 PM
My favourite project was a narrative between personas (audience/users) to show how a niche social media network (Senior Care Share) would make caregiving easier for them. Click through to run it.
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When the Message is the Bicycle

Three example bicycles

Summer’s here and we’re scrambling for offline time to enjoy it. From roadside stands to festive events, savvy marketers shift strategies to engage us while we embrace the fleeting warm weather. For many, the season includes cycling on that timeless icon: the bicycle.

From the early posters of the late 19th century, the bicycle has featured in advertising or served as a platform for it.  These days, this bicycle is increasingly used in not-for-profit, advocacy and cause marketing campaigns. In fact, when anthropologist Luis Antonio Vivanco wrote Reconsidering the Bicycle in 2013,  he named one chapter: “Good for the Cause” – The Bike Movement as Social Action and Cultural Politics.

It works effectively as a versatile communication ‘vehicle’ that can represent many values, such as: youth, health, fitness, renewable energy, sustainability, environmental care, transportation, even enterprise.

Here are a few examples where the creative core is the bicycle:

  1. Wrapping an value-laden social or political message around a bike to carry it to a broader audience. Examples include one bike I spotted aiming to take its anti-bullying and teen suicide prevention messages over 9,000 miles, as well as another with an anti oil wars message.
  2. Visually driving a safety public service message via stationary bikes. This is something ghost bike memorials have done to a certain extent since they began in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003.
  3. Embedding bicycles in an event, such as the Bicycle Music Festival, held in San Francisco.
  4. Putting a business ‘in the saddle,’ as the Bicycle Opera Project is doing this summer to take its music across Ontario.
  5. Building a cause marketing program around a socially conscious initiative featuring bicycles, such as the Village Bicycle Project.  Since 2009, The Cadbury Bicycle Factory has supported this initiative by providing more than 25,000 bikes to help children in rural Ghana get to school.

I think the bicycle is as an ideal fit for offline ‘grass roots’ initiatives — but do we have to stop there?

Cadbury and Grassroots bikeFull, integrated campaigns supported the Bicycle Opera Project and The Cadbury Bicycle Factory initiatives but others fall short of tapping the full potential. For example, after seeing the anti-bullying bike in Sausalito, California last summer, I searched for online references but found nothing.  I even Googled various combinations of ‘bicycle campaigns’ to no avail. How many more people they could have reached with greater impact if they’d bumped the sign’s quality up a notch and created an online campaign to support it?

Beyond cause marketing, I also wonder: Are there other ways to use this timeless icon in a for profit initiative? Maybe even in a Guerrilla campaign?

How have you seen a bicycle used to effectively drive a message, change an attitude or inspire an action?

To Teach or Not to Teach: 10 Reasons to Consider

TeachingShotEver wonder: “Why didn’t they teach me this in college/university?” Likewise, have you ever asked: “Why can’t new grads come with these skills?”

Addressing these gaps initially piqued my interest but after teaching a mix of communications/marketing/fundraising to international development students for three years, plus PR program courses, I’ve found other benefits. Wealth is however not one of them.

So why teach? Here are my reasons that outlive the pay cheque.

Teaching….

  1. Forces you to re-think the rationale behind the tasks you intuitively do each day. It also motives you to keep current and gives you firsthand knowledge of “gen next” thinking.
  2. Opens access to insights in direct/related fields. While reviewing a paper on skilled migration, I recently learned about the large variance between remittance and foreign aid to developing countries.
  3. Connects you to academia and potentially the opportunity to inform the process. Your proximity and heightened understanding makes you a good candidate for surveys, review audits and panels to develop new curriculum.
  4. Gives you an excuse to expand your own network of experts. Sometimes you invite new contacts as guest speakers who can offer real life examples beyond your own. Down the line, these contacts may prove invaluable to your core work.
  5. Can lead to presentation opportunities and even new business. Last year I moderated a social media panel for a student-run event. The Dean attended and invited us to present to faculty and administrative staff.
  6. Provides an accessible database of talent to fill internships, one-off projects or short-term contracts. What’s a better time saver than having a direct line to emerging talent that you’ve vetted?
  7. Prompts interesting collaborative opportunities. To address the shortage of relevant case studies for the international development niche, I collaborated with an NGO to develop a case study on its challenges.
  8. Nets invitations to innovative initiatives in their infancy. One former student started Canada’s first North Korean Film Festival for Human Rights (now JAYU) and gave comps to his professors. The event has rapidly grown and even secured a space with TIFF.
  9. Delivers the intrinsic value of opening someone’s eyes to a profession you’re passionate about. And many students thank you in their own way. A few even send notes like one student who said: “I have found myself looking back on your slides for insights. ….bringing up our assignments to design strategies and tactics for NGOs has been a real point winner in interviews.”
  10. Offers the ongoing opportunity to “pay it forward.” The commitment doesn’t end with the final marks. I’ve provided a handful of references to commendable people, as well as editing and job hunting support. Hopefully they’ll do the same for others someday.

What have you taken away from teaching? What reasons have I missed?

Note: This post originally appeared in IABC/Toronto’s CommVERSATIONS blog in June 2013, but the messages are still relevant.

12 Visual Resume Tools and Ways to Depict Your Expertise

Spurred by inspiring convocation addresses, a slew of new grads are hitting the streets and competing with seasoned professionals. More than ever, the push is on to stand out from the crowd and boost your appeal to prospective employers. Many hiring managers are among 65 per cent of the population classified as “visual” learners. Why not visually profile your brand to catch their attention? You’ll still likely need traditional tools but there are several ways to also visually depict your expertise.

I created this personal branding wordle from references on my LinkedIn profile.
I created this personal branding wordle from references on my LinkedIn profile.

Choose from a wealth of free or nominally priced do-it-yourself (DIY) infographic tools, follow a template or adapt an application/social media platform to meet your needs or combine several tactics.

Below are some options, with examples and links to start. (If you’re not looking for a new role, maybe you can share this post and links with someone who is.)

Infographic Resume Tools –

1. ResumUp.comProvides a template for you to create a comprehensive profile with a: work timeline, skills chart, personality profiles, skills and education summary and preferences.

2. Re.Vu – Enables you to auto create a visual resume with a photo backdrop from your LinkedIn profile. Comes with timeline, stats  (revenue generated, events implemented..), and other mix & match options that you can edit, customize or skip. Includes options to upload portfolio/work samples.

3. Vizualize.me (Beta version) – Enables you to create a visual resume from your LinkedIn profile, with a timeline, references, stats and various other mix & match options to edit, customize or skip.

4. Nuzume – This service creates a custom visual resume for $69 and within four business days.

5. About.Me Page: Use this free, intuitive tool, to quickly create a personalized, single page site as a central anchor for your online profile. It can showcase your text bio, photo, social media and other contact links and a range of other plug-ins that tell your story.

Other DIY Options & Ideas:

6. Personal Website: Showcase your skills in several pages, with portfolio samples and video links, by creating a website using WordPress or a similar platform.

7. Présumé (with Slide Rocket): Select one of Slide Rocket’s “Présumé” templates and customize it to create your own combo presentation and resume. For a basic Presume, just change the text and photo to make it your own, or take it further by embedding photos, video, charts or plug-ins for word definitions and quotes.

8. SlideShare Presentation:  Start from scratch to tell your story and value proposition (i.e. how you can uniquely address a potential employer’s pain points) in a PowerPoint presentation. Then post it on SlideShare, a growing social media platform that plugs into LinkedIn and others.  Check these innovative SlideShare resume examples from workawesome, many for non-creative roles.

9. Pinterest Resumes: Use this rising social media star as a base to create an innovative resume.

10. Word Graphics: Create a word graphic using Wordle or  Tagxedo to depict your breadth of expertise or what others say about you. Copy references from LinkedIn (as I did) by stripping out article words (the, a, in…) and using what’s left as a base. Alternatively, review your past jobs and type the key single word skills used in each, with repetition as required.  The resulting graphic shows your more finely-tuned skills/attributes larger than the others.

11. Video: If video is your forte, profile yourself in this medium, as these job seekers have done. You may however want to include a link to a PDF with summary details, as well.

12. Hire a Pro: You can of course always hire a professional like Christopher J. Spurlock to create a resume like his.

What have I missed? What’s worked for you or someone you know?

How to Communicate a Workplace Tragedy

Frontcover_April29As we approach International Day of Mourning on April 28, I recall a quick lesson in PR school on how to manage an employee’s death on the work site and how I hoped it was something I never had to do. So far, I haven’t.

A couple of years ago however, I learned much more about how best to deal with tragedy in the workplace,  from Shirley Hickman, a woman (and former client), who exemplifies the “integrity2impact” theme of this blog — out of a tragic loss.

In 1996, Shirley and her family’s lives changed forever when their son Tim perished after a traumatic workplace explosion. After the initial shock, the family looked for answers about what occurred and why. Beyond their own needs, they wanted to find out so they could help prevent a similar incident from happening to someone else. Sadly, they learned the explosion was predictable and preventable, if everyone had followed a series of safety rules.

Since then, Shirley has focused on making a difference in workplace health and safety through her own initiatives and Threads of Life – Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, a national registered charity, which she co-founded in 2003.

I met Shirley when I managed the PR launch of Forget Me Not, a book this charity produced to promote safer work environments through true stories of Canadian workplace tragedies. While doing background research, I found a noteworthy article entitled “Dealing with Affected Families,”  which appeared in Accident Prevention magazine. It outlines Shirley’s recommendations for communicating with this audience after a workplace tragedy/critical injury, as told to an interviewer.  Initially targeted at occupational health experts, I think these recommendations are also particularly pertinent to internal communicators and HR folks:

  1. Establish a communications link with the family as soon as possible – Contact the family as soon as the crisis communications team has assessed the situation and devised an action plan. Ideally assign one person to liaise with the family and keep them updated. The worst thing  Shirley said “is to leave the family to others, such as the Ministry of Labour….when that happens, the family becomes bitter towards the employer before they even know the facts.”
  2. Build compassion into crisis communications – Check what support services are available for employees and their families in advance and include these details in your corporate communications and crisis planning. Then, if a tragedy occurs, you can ask the family what they need, describe available services, such as grief counselling, employee assistance programs or media interview support, and connect them with the needed help.  In some scenarios, staff might also help with practical needs, such as arranging childcare or transportation, immediately after an incident.
  3. Manage the information flow – Screen new information, as it becomes available but maintain a sense of openness and transparency by not withholding critical information, including answers to tough questions. If however information can’t be released for legal reasons, then tell the family this.
  4. Establish a legacy, after the crisis passes – “Talk about who the person was, the loss to the family and the loss to the community, and how valued the person was as a worker,” Shirley recommends.  Positive gestures can range from a phone call to say “we’re thinking of your family right now” or a card to establishing a scholarship or post-secondary occupational or public health and safety program.

Shirley believes good crisis communications helps the company and those left behind by “reducing the psychological problems and absenteeism rates that go with extreme emotional stress.” She suggests a critical incident or fatality is not just about one family but the families of all their coworkers too.  “They’re watching how the company is responding to the family of the worker because it could have been them, and their families,” she cautions.

Granted each organization has its own challenges and limitations but these points provide a good starting place for how to enhance internal crisis communications, from the unique perspective of those directly affected for the long-term.

Inspiring Comfort from Boston Bombing Heroes – Round-up

A small voice interrupted our horrified silence with “Daddy, change the channel, I don’t want to watch this movie.”  How we wished it was a movie. How could we tell our four-year-old it wasn’t? How could we believe the carnage of 9/11 was deliberate?

From my childhood, I remember the morning they found Pierre Laporte’s slain body —a day after my parents assured me the FLQ were merely trying to make a political point but wouldn’t hurt anyone.

How do you explain evil to a child and reassure them of their safety? How do we recover from these events that erode our basic sense of security?

Even though we’ve all aged since 9/11 and perhaps grown more jaded, the past week’s Boston bombings and destroyed lives are no less jarring.

Gandi QuoteA recent post from Sesame Street recommends reassuring children that parents, teachers, law enforcers, and members of their community are doing everything possible to keep them safe from harm.  Likewise, Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.’” 

After the shock and prayers for those affected, I think many adults took a similar route and searched for stories of incredible goodness rising from horrific acts.BananaQuote

I searched for comforting quotes from Gandhi and others. A “When Life Makes You Think” post from Digital Strategist Hessie Jones took a similar approach.

RedCrossTweetJust as I thought nothing quite fit the moment, the news feed began to fill with on-the-scene accounts of selfless kindness, often at great risk.  Here are links to a few of these stories:

Thank-you to all those who showed us the very best we can be, amid the very worst.

Sixty-five Can’t be the New Forty-five — Until Respect for Time Aligns

ClockMix2From our mother’s first contraction and throughout our working lives, time is sacrosanct. Weekdays are a series of tightly coiled con calls and meetings with minimal buffers for overage or bio breaks. We even send our spouse outlook invites to book date nights, as we may never see them without the electronic reminder.

But when we cross the abyss at 65, we’re supposed to drop all these conventions. You see, time shouldn’t matter to seniors. At least I think that’s what service providers and our culture leads us to believe.

For example, when my active 88-year-old mother had a tumble, I learned:

  • The physiotherapist assigned to her senior’s complex would “show up” randomly for her  appointments with no advance notice. (Aside from the inconvenience, this could be privately disruptive should she feel under the weather or have company.)
  • The personal support worker might show up a half hour late for her scheduled home visit and expect mom to wait without being advised of the delay. (Mom waited 25 minutes once and then, thinking she’d been forgotten, left for her scheduled art class.)

I’ve also seen a wheel trans service show up and cart a devoted gentleman off midway through his Sunday church service. This happened on several occasions even though service times were carefully communicated at the time of booking, which was days in advance.

With scenarios like these, how can a fit 65-year-old live a 45-year-old lifestyle? How can they plan ahead or commit to any set time with confidence?

Certainly I’m grateful for the tightly stretched, high quality of care available in Ontario (and elsewhere) for an aging population and others with healthcare challenges. Asking for seniors and their time to also be given the same respect as others may be a luxury — or is it?

If we want to strive for fulfilling and productive lives well into our golden years, we need more than good health and marketing. Likely it will take more funding, resources and innovation to bring timing for seniors more in line with the rest of the world.

For those of us at the end of the baby boom, now may be the time to change perceptions and address challenges because arriving late for your performance, plane or sky diving class just won’t work in a 24/7 world.