Filed from the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, Las Vegas.

Convergence. Multi-platform distribution. Mobile TV. Integration of social media into the viewing experience. These were the buzzwords on the floor and during workshops I’ve both given and attended at NAB this year. The future of broadcast, and all mediums really–whether web or mobile web– is creating dynamic content and interactivity with the user/viewer at the center. For content-creators, the challenge is creating programming that works whether someone is viewing it on an iPhone or a ginormous flatscreen Hi-Def TV, and that has social content that the user can interact with while viewing. For content distributors, the challenge is rethinking broadcast, and creating standards that work for an entirely customized and mobile user experience. For viewers, the opportunity is taking their content with them, on any device, to any location they wish.

What’s the takeaway for the non-broadcast community?

The Consumer is at the Center. For-profit and nonprofit organizations large and small need to ensure that their communications strategies encompass a multi-screen, interactive world. The time for the billboard approach to PR and marketing messages is long since gone. The personal user experience is the focus–whether that means your donors, your association members, or your customers.  If your content is not focused on what the audience wants to take with them, they’ll leave it–and you–behind.

Powerful Stories Matter More than Ever. In a multi-channel, overly-busy world, compelling stories–real people, real issues–are still what is engaging viewers. Authentic stories are what is sticky in social media and in video, in all its formats and delivery devices. It’s true on television. And it’s true for nonprofits and companies who have good stories to tell. And now you have so many tools to tell them, and to distribute them to your audience. So for every new product roll-out, for every fundraising campaign, ask “what is our story?”

Mr. Santorum’s “snob” remark about higher education is getting push back from surprising quarters.  That’s because millions of Americans look to higher education as a way to pull their families forward both economically, and in increased job satisfaction. While fewer than one third of Americans hold a B.A. or higher, 75% of Americans polled believe that a college education is “very important” in today’s economy. And 92 percent of public school parents believe that their children will go to college. (Both stats from Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, September 2010) That’s because they know intuitively the what many of us in my region show students through a program called Achievement Counts (AC), created by the  Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (yup, a group of business executives). That is, that with every year of schooling you get beyond high school, your job opportunities and income level increase. Despite his rhetoric, Mr. Santorum knows this, given the millions he’s made as a Washington, D.C. consultant with his B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.  When I’ve led these brief AC classes at my local high schools, I always poll the kids about what they want to be when they graduate. Many of them plan to play in the NBA or NFL.  “What if you get injured?” I ask, knowing it’s hopeless to make the case that a tiny fraction of American athletes could ever even qualify.  That’s when a light-bulb goes off for a few of the kids. If you like the science of the body and athletics, I say, consider getting trained in Physical Therapy, one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. (This requires a minimum Associates Dgree to be an Assistant, and a full B.A. and post-graduate work to become a PT.) Maybe it’s worth getting an accounting degree (B.A. and CPA license required), so you could help those NFL guys manage their millions. Maybe you might even want to go into business for yourself—so you could buy your own team one day!

Mr. Santorum’s father was an Italian immigrant. My dad’s grandparents immigrated from Italy a generation earlier.  And while my grandmother completed junior high and my grandfather elementary school, it was a point of great pride that they were able to send their son to college. He worked the entire time he attended Fordham University (run by the Jesuits, hardly the bastion of radicalism Santorum paints for campus life), driving a laundry truck to deliver linens to the fancy yachts at the docks on the river.  He told me once that while it was tough to get up so early to make his deliveries and still stay awake for classes, the job reminded him of the tedium he could avoid by getting that college degree. He went on to get a graduate degree from Columbia in Economics and worked as an economist his entire life.

The road through high school is hard for many kids. College is not for everyone. But getting a foothold in 21st century life requires more training than a high school degree can offer. Mr. Santorum knows it. And those of us who care about and work in the education field need to keep reminding Americans that higher education is a brand worth celebrating.

My family and I have come to love Pizza CS (Come Sempre),  a new Neapolitan-style pizza joint in our neighborhood started by a couple of guys who love great ingredients and honor the art of creating a truly Italian crust.  But what I take away from Pizza CS, besides a great food experience, is that a great brand is always about two things: delivering what you promise, and how your people communicate.  This place has both, and that’s why we keep coming back.

When a “brand promise” is broken, it is often because an employee doesn’t realize that everything they do communicates your brand.  Or doesn’t. When my husband was on a job search last year, I can’t count the number of institutions that created a bad name for themselves because of how the point person on the search conducted him or herself. Everything they said was a poor reflection on the brand. By contrast, several institutions shined through that process, and presented a unified “face” to their brand for prospective employees and customers alike.

So, what’s the best way to pre-empt the potential brand threat that is your own work force?

  1. Listening. The first tool is teaching good listening skills. Any employee who speaks to clients, staff or prospects in either category—from your receptionist to your HR department—should have training in good listening skills. Learning how to repeat back what the concern is (“I hear you saying you did not receive the package your ordered on time”) is the first step to solving the problem and defending your brand. This is more important than ever in a world where any disgruntled person can start a blog about how they have been wronged (the famous Jeff Jarvis “Dell sucks” blog post as case in point).
  2. Crisis Planning. Another key component to workforce training in a 24/7 media world is crisis response.  That doesn’t mean that every employee is part of your crisis response team. However, every employee should know How to Recognize a problem that has reached crisis level, and What to Do Next when that happens. I often see organizations in melt-down when a crisis occurs because the problem was still being dealt with at a low level, with the back and forth spilling onto Facebook and websites, when it should have been pushed way up the management chain immediately for a more unified and brand-focused response.

You need to be engaged with critics (and lovers) of your brand, at all levels of your organization.  Because, in this world of 24 hour news cycles, social networks and the blogosphere, one unhappy person can be a very powerful voice. And so can one very happy customer who dealt with a well-trained employee.

Amy DeLouise offers staff development workshops in branding and social media.

©2010 B. DeLouiseLast week I conducted a social media workshop at a staff retreat.  Most of the participants were using social media for at least some personal or professional use. A small percentage were very active. A couple abhorred the idea, and thought I was there to force them onto Facebook. Instead, we talked about reaching vital communities of customers and prospects who are using mobile web, various social networks, and  downloadable apps. We discussed how by sharing their expertise and building personal brands in these communities, team members could further the organization’s overall marketing and client retention goals.   Then we did an exercise looking at brands in various unrelated fields to see how they were using social media to engage customers and generate excitement.  Suddenly the room was buzzing with ideas.  The group set aside more time post-workshop for planning and execution.

The takeaway? Staff teams need support–including just plain old brainstorming time–to feel confident in supporting your brand. So, how can you help them do this?

Use the buddy system.

Many executive staff are not digital natives. They’ve heard all the hype about social media. Maybe they are tweeting or on Linked In. But they are not connecting these communities to their day-to-day goals for the company. They need specific, actionable examples of how to use each medium to promote their personal brand, their expertise as it relates to your business, and build their own contacts and communities. After initial training, one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to support this work is by developing an in-house mentoring program, teaming experienced execs with younger staffers. The former understand your brand and customers, but need help leveraging social networks. The latter understand social media but don’t always understand effective networking or customer relations. The two can help each other.

Identify the goalposts.

Everyone loves to talk metrics. I’ve certainly talked about them plenty in other posts on this blog. But the best measurement tools are the ones your own team develops. And good measurement usually starts with good questions. What communications are most valued by current customers? How many contacts does it take to turn a prospect into a client?  What unique expertise can your team offer or curate from other reliable sources? What outcomes will determine your success? If one approach isn’t successful, what’s the next step?

Choose team captains.

To stay with the sports metaphor a moment longer, who will be the key points of contact in the organization for social interactions (and not just online ones)? Are they trained on how to respond to all kinds of feedback and queries? Are they comfortable being the face of your organization in the community? What’s the crisis response plan and what triggers it? These leaders–who by the way aren’t necessarily department heads–can also reward colleagues for innovation and creative thinking (MVP awards).

Review the 50,000 foot objectives.

Key staff are often connected to your organization through only one pathway–their department.  They need to be periodically briefed on new initiatives and the big picture about your brand promise to all of your customers. That includes the experience you promote for your own employees (i.e. the people who report to your key staff).  Everyone on the team needs to be able to easily deliver an “elevator pitch” about your firm and connect it to their own experience–why they like working there, what drew them to the business, etc.  This is where social media really shines, as employees can tweet or post a Facebook update with their own personality and perspectives.

Offer recognition.

Staff need more than their names on the masthead or business cards. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When staff receive recognition for bringing their own brand to bear on yours, then others are more inclined to invest more of their time and talents connecting to the wider community.

Helping your team use new tools can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they feel supported, the customer and the company wins.

This year I attended major milestone reunions for both college and high school.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Almost all the women look really good and have clearly been working hard at it. You go, girls.

2. Some of my classmates do really interesting things. Shout-outs to David Pogue, the tech guru for the New York Times who keeps the world informed and amused about the ever-changing landscape of new gadgets, Lydia Vagts, who conserves some of humanity’s most important paintings for future generations to enjoy, and Barney Schecter, whose new book on George Washington’s travels is just plain awesome.

3. Facebook has been an amazing tool for re-uniting and updating a dispersed set of classmates, and bringing together people who never would have hung out in the lunchroom or the dorm.

4. The most important thing we learned how to do in high school was write.

5. The most important thing we learned how to do in college was research.

6. I don’t know how we could have done items 4 and 5 if item 3 had existed when we were in school. I pity the kids who are now managing their Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds while trying to do real thinking.

7. Luckily, they can get caught up on the latest tools or gather a new artistic perspective or get a totally new insight into our first president thanks to the people in item 2.

8. And if they are women, they will look great when they’re my age.

I was thrilled that The Social Network won Oscars for original music score and editing. Both of these crafts are essential, in my view, to successful narrative film.  And they are critical elements to my most successful online and event video productions, too.

So often, I find that music and editing get short-changed.  Clients want fast turnarounds–to get something on YouTube or their website–and these crafts get left by the wayside. But the projects that are most effective–whether for issue advocacy, education, or fundraising–are almost always those in which I’ve been able to spend the time crafting the edit and working with a composer on an original score.

What makes the difference?

On the editing side, it’s having time for multiple refinements. Not those that just wear down the original concept and don’t improve it. But those that are significant stylistic approaches–montage sequences, transitions, pacing–that result in better impact of the visuals.  An edit that I’ve been able to spend time designing, and my editor and I have had the time to evolve creatively, is one that will be stronger for that collaboration.  At a bare minimum, one should budget one edit day for every finished minute of end-product.

On the music side, a composed score matches the nuances of emotion and picture perfectly.  So often, clients want to rely on stock music for budget reasons. And yet, it often takes more editing time to make stock music support the images, pacing and emotional content without seeming to be overbearing or inappropriate.  Often stock music cuts have just one set of instrumentation per cut, for example. Whereas in a composed score, I can create a transition from a powerful, fast-paced montage to a slower-paced sequence by using different instruments but maintaining the same musical theme, for continuity.  I’ve been very effective with library music, too, but it takes significant time to search for the right cuts, with the right pacing and instrumentation, and having a specific (editing) game-plan for weaving them all together. Whether using stock audio or custom, having time to properly mix it–along with nterviews, narration, and “natural sound”–also helps keep distractions to a minimum and reinforces a production’s goals.

So if your story has an emotional component–as every good narrative should–then you need to strongly consider adding the time and budget for effective editing and music scoring.  Your show will have added impact, which can change bottom-line results from a “nice video” to something that changes minds, or opens checkbooks.

In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the teachers who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. You also want the video to be the entrance point to engage them with other content, either on your web page, Facebook page, etc.  So be sure you provide that option in your web video interface.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

As a parent, I know that cyber-bullying has been a hot topic lately.  It seems everywhere we look there’s a PTA meeting about it, or consultant being hired to give us tips. And the most extreme cases have led victimized kids to suicide. Yesterday’s New York Times carried yet another wake-up call article for parents.  Among many frightening stories, it discussed a child who had no presence on Facebook, but whose peers had created a page using his name and images and were posting nasty comments, as if by him, about other kids. As a result, this child was shunned, taunted and ultimately physically threatened.

The idea that your child has a brand online is hard for some of us parents to imagine.  We have a hard enough time managing our own online brands, both personal and professional. Now, we are told, we should have Google Alerts set up for our kids. (It’s a good idea, when you think about it.)

So what can we do to protect our childrens’ good names?

We can teach them to be cautious about what they put online, including texts and IM messages, and consider it public.  We all know college admissions staff, as well as HR personnel, regularly look at websites and social media to do background checks. Which leads to my next point…

Let your kids know you watch what they do (and then actually watch). Some parents are putting keystroke capturing software on their kids’ computers so they can see where they’ve been.  I periodically review texts.  Kids should know that we’re paying attention to what they say and do in cyberspace, just like we do anywhere else.

Teach a healthy skepticism about both what and who is online. In a media literacy classes I teach in schools, I talk about how what you see isn’t exactly always what you get in terms of sources of content.  But we can extend this to the home communications environment. Kids need to know that every avatar isn’t necessarily who they say they are. And that any given text or Facebook post may not be from the person listed.  Impersonation is one a common occurrence in cyber-bullying. The lure of online postings–for both bullies and victims–is the anonymity. Dealing with someone directly, in person or over the phone, can take away some of that power.

Finally, we need to get digi-literate. I teach classes in online brand management and social media for professionals, and I’d say a good majority of my attendees have kids. Yet most are only touching the surface of social networking and online engagement. I’m starting to think I need to add a new call to action: If you don’t want to deal with Twitter, Facebook, IM, interactive tools, and texting for you, do it for your kids.

The following is a guest post from one of my favorite people–Katherine James, Founder of ACT Communications, who shares a unique understanding of how to communicate effectively.

Back to school. It conjures up feelings and memories for everyone – many of them less than thrilling.  When I suggest that you conjure up your worst school memory, chances are it has something to do with feeling “stupid” in class.  That time the teacher pointed out that you were twelve different kinds of an idiot for not “getting” her point.

Notice how it doesn’t get any better if I ask you to conjure up a bad time while learning something at work?  The time that boss or colleague made you feel like a dolt because you just couldn’t get the concept or the process?

Now I want you to think of the last time you were explaining a concept or teaching a process to someone as a part of your work life – and that person just “didn’t get it”. Didn’t it seem obvious to you?  Wasn’t that person ridiculous for not understanding your clear and expert demonstration and/or explanation?

Why does this happen?  Why do we believe that we teach perfectly and yet sometimes people don’t understand what we are teaching?  Why do we believe that we learn perfectly, and yet some teachers leave us feeling like idiots?

The answer is simple: because different people have different learning styles. And if you want to communicate information as well as you can to the people you meet in business and in life, you need to learn about the different ways in which people learn.

There are many learning theory gurus in the world of Education.  The one that I find the most useful in my work is Bernice McCarthy whose 4-Mat System of Learning is easily adaptable to communicating in business and life.  I have been using her shorthand system for years, with great success in my business as a litigation consultant.  I use it when teaching attorneys a new concept, when working with witnesses, when “selling” a new lawyer on my business, when creating a presentation at a national conference – I am even known to use it with friends and family members.

McCarthy divides the world into four different learning styles (1, 2, 3 and 4).  It doesn’t matter what makes up the person’s culture, age, religion, socio-economic status, level of education, or life experience. This is very helpful because it allows you to put aside your own prejudices about the person in front of you and listen for the clues that will tell you how this person will learn best what you have to teach.  Why is this important?  You, too, fall into one of the four categories – which means about three-fourths of the time you are going to have to adjust the way you teach, since you are probably used to teaching to the “perfect” learner – yourself!

Let me give you an example of how I use this system in my work as a litigation consultant. I am working with a witness who I am meeting for the first time.  An attorney and I are in a session to prepare this witness to give testimony in court. I ask the witness one question, “What concerns do you have about testifying in court?” I will get one of four answers:

1.      “I am afraid that no one will believe me. That they’ll think I’m lying when I’m telling the truth.”

2.      “I am really nervous that the footnote in the contract on the bottom of page 45 is confusing.”

3.      “How is this going to work?  Where do I sit? How long is this going to take?”

4.      “I’m not really worried.  I’m just going to say whatever comes to me off the top of my head. I find things work out best if I just ‘wing it’, you know?”

Each of the answers puts the witness into his or her learning category.  Let me break it down for you into the 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The first group of folks I call “Emotional”. They are often fearful of new experience. They often need to know “why” they are being asked to learn something new – what it has to do with them.  Once they are on board, they learn more quickly than anyone else.  They do not respond well to being told “just do this and you’ll be fine.”  Slow down.  Be patient.  Take your time. If you rush teaching, not only will no learning take place, you are establishing that they will never be able to learn – especially not from you.

The second group of folks are “Fact Based”. They believe that the answers to everything in life are in the details.  They will often ask you to “just show me what you want me to do.” They aren’t lazy. They aren’t going to do it exactly the way that you do it – but they really benefit from demonstration. Teach them first through detail – they aren’t going to learn from you if they don’t believe you “know your stuff”.

The third group of folks are “How Does It Work?”. They learn best through doing.  They love agendas.  When they say, “How long is this going to take?” and you think, “That’s an insulting question!” think again.  They just need to know how the next minutes or hours of their life are supposed to unfold.  If you teach them what you want them to learn as a “system” they will embrace it.

The fourth group of folks are “Rule Breakers.” They don’t like it if things have been done this way a million times over a million years – they need it to be brand new in order to respect it.  I find it best to emphasize the uniqueness of the situation: “I have never had a case exactly like this before!  This is going to be really interesting for us to figure out together just how to put your testimony together!” It doesn’t matter that the situation and case are far from unique – I know that this is how this kind of learner best gets information.

Good luck in your journey back to school – it will really pay off as you learn how to communicate and teach “perfectly” to the learning style of everyone you meet.

Katherine James is the founder of ACT of Communications a litigation consulting firm in California.  She can be reached by emailing katherine[at]actofcommunication[dot]com.

I’ve got a client who has been unable to find key video interviews and archival photos for an important history video project.  These content elements were created with multiple staff and vendors during varioover many years, but were never catalogued into a central indexing system. As a result, the client will spend significant amounts of money either looking for them, recreating them, or working around the missing elements.

This situation has reminded me once again how vital a media library is in a digital age, when content is king.   Whether you invest in content for marketing, donor relations, education or outreach, it’s vital to invest just as much in content management once these elements are created. And yet this is generally where organizations miss the mark.  Understandably, the immediate focus is on the finished product and the deadlines at hand.  And it’s hard to explain an expense line-item for content management. But if you can show it as an asset—as a plus to the bottom line—it may be more clear why it’s so vital.

Here are some key ways to save thousands of dollars with a solid content management system, regardless of which software you use to help you:

  1. Assign a central content manager.  Depending on how many photos and videos you produce every month, this person may need help to get it all indexed, but there should be one point person in the organization who reviews every piece of new content and directs the catalogueing process.
  2. Treat all elements and departments as equally vital to your content mission. For example, if photos are taken of your summer interns, don’t forget to catalogue them just the way you would your board photo. One day you may do a student outreach piece and need to find them, stat!
  3. Let others know when you are investing in new content, in case you can cover additional material that will help their departments or initiatives.  So, for example, if you are taping interviews, you may ask a couple of additional questions that will prompt answers usable for another video.
  4. Advertise your content within the organization. Sometimes the right hand doesn’t have time to know what the left is doing, so be sure people know what content you have acquired that might be useful to their efforts–perhaps in a quarterly internal content update.
  5. Keep track of rights and permissions. For example, for video, make sure you get signed release forms from interviewees and keep PDF’s of these filed digitally along side any video clips from those interviews. For photographs, be sure to keep track of copyright or photographer information, as well as who is pictured.
  6. Keep a master file of all interview transcripts. So many times when producing videos, I rely on sound-bites from a prior interview. This saves my clients time and money.
  7. Use library science standards to create your indexing system. It’s great to have interns and vendors handle your content management work, but be sure they understand the proper way to identify photos or clips. A misfiled piece of content is essentially a lost piece of content.
  8. Get source files/photos/video from vendors as soon as a project is complete! I can’t tell you how many times I have to call around to vendors to see if they still have the masters from XYZ project. Be sure you get this material into your system promptly, while you can still remember who and what it represents.

Video and photos assets are vital tools for organizations to convey what they do, how they do it, and how successful they are. Treat this like the gold mine it is, and you’ll maximize your impact and reduce your costs.