Web and Social

5 Communications Trends to Watch in 2019

If you’ve worked in communications for more than a hot minute, you’ve discovered that technology doesn’t wait for you to catch up.

As soon as you think you’ve figured out how to engage effectively on social media or how to get your website to score well on search, the rules change.

That’s especially true today, as online and mobile technology continues to evolve. If you’re not keeping up with the changes, you’re likely to be falling behind.

Here are 5 trends that we’ve been paying attention to that are likely to impact your communications in 2019:

1. Facebook's Faceplant?

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  www.shopcatalog.com

Flickr Creative Commons photo by www.shopcatalog.com

If you use Facebook Pages as part of your social media marketing strategy, you’ve likely noticed that it’s a lot harder to get people to like, comment, and share your posts.

The reason isn’t you. It’s Facebook. 

study by Buffer found that top Facebook Pages have seen a 50 percent decline in engagement over an 18-month period — despite the fact that most top brands are posting a lot more regularly to their pages.

That alarming decline in engagement is largely the result of changes made by Facebook to its algorithm that gives posts from your friends higher value than posts from brands.

Algorithms aside, though, I see this as just the start of Facebook’s diminishing value to communicators. Facebook is losing trust — and users — and I don’t see that trend reversing itself.

With that in mind, we’re advising many of our clients to put fewer eggs in their Facebook basket and instead place them elsewhere.


2. User-Generated Video for Grownups

Gather Voices is a promising tool for organizations that are looking to create user-generated video.

It’s no secret that authentic, user-generated video is often much more powerful than the big-budget, carefully-created videos that are often created by nonprofits and businesses. 

And it’s getting easier for organizations that don’t appeal to younger audiences to encourage their supporters and customers to create accessible, sharable videos.

New tools such as Gather Voices are helping nonprofits and small businesses encourage their supporters and customers to shoot and publish short videos right from their phones — and you don’t need fancy editing skills to get them processed and posted.

We’re testing Gather Voices as part of a contest for the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum — and we are looking forward to sharing what we've learned later this winter.


3. Livestreaming Goes Mainstream


An estimated 150 million people are using Twitch each month to watch people play video games, make crafts or engage in activities like singing and dancing.

And lest you dismiss Twitch and other live streaming platforms as playgrounds for the young, consider this: nonprofits like Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America are using live streaming to raise millions.

If you aren’t yet exploring live streaming as a communications channel, it might be time to start. It’s a great place for nonprofits and companies alike to build partnerships that can help bolster their bottom lines.

4. The Changing Face of Search

If you’re only using traditional SEO tactics to help drive visitors to your website, you might be missing out a on major shift in how Google is serving up search results.

Google My Business — a free tool that integrates with Google Maps and is responsible for most of the “above the fold” results that are served up to users when they conduct searches.

This shift is especially important for businesses that have physical storefronts and rely on location-based searches to drive customers into their shops.

As you build your online and mobile strategy for 2019, it’s time to assess whether you’re leveraging Google My Business, and whether it might be worth investing some of your resources in building your listing or investing in a service like ASAPMaps.

5. Unlikely Content Marketing Channels

Finally, as we pursue content marketing and earned media strategies for nonprofits and businesses, we’re increasingly finding great opportunities with business-to-consumer and business-to-business web channels.

For instance, a number of national brands such as American Express and Progressive Insurance produce regular, how-to content aimed at small business owners. And they’re regularly looking for expert sources who can provide insights on topics of interest to these markets.

If you’re looking to build your own thought leadership presence, it’s worth going beyond your own channels and traditional media outlets and finding niche channels that might help you connect directly with your target audiences.


What trends are you watching in 2019? I’d love to hear what has you excited as we head into the New Year. Shoot me a note to chat!

The 8-Second Key to Engage Gen Z

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

Can you spare eight seconds?

That’s a question that communicators and marketers of all stripes should be asking themselves these days. 

If you’re still with me (after all, my time is up), I’ll explain. 

So eight seconds is the estimated attention span of Generation Z -- those people born after 1997.

Experts have summed up Gen Z’s approach to processing information as ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget.’ Spend any time with Gen Zer’s ripping through their smartphones, and that description likely resonates. 

And it’s not surprising. Gen Zers have lived their entire lives awash in a flood of information and messaging. In many ways, ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget’ represents the only logical way to process information and navigate through a day. 

Yet what does it mean for someone hoping to capture a bit more than eight seconds of their time?

In my view, the key is to find a way to flip ‘forget’ to ‘remember.’ The best way to achieve that: Tell a compelling story. 

“This generation loves story,” Marcie Merriman, executive director, cultural relevancy and brand strategy, Ernst & Young, told me during an interview last year. “What’s the history behind it? Why is it relevant? What does it mean to me?”

It makes sense. Stories are a way to differentiate your content from all that other information that Gen Z quickly forgets. Even better, a good story works for people of any generation.  

So whatever your mission, look for the story—something that provide context and meaning. 

Then find the best way – and medium – to tell it. 

But make sure you lead with a strong hook. You have eight seconds to make the sale.

6 Alternative Narrative Formats for a 'TL:DR' World

Are your communications burdened with too much text?

As a writer, I understand the urge to use the written word to engage readers and convey information.

But in a TL;DR world (shorthand for “too long; didn’t read”), you stand to lose attention if you rely only on narrative pieces to spread your message.

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Oralle Todorovic

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Oralle Todorovic

When readers see long blocks of text, they tune out.

But even if you lean heavily on the written word in your communications, you can still keep your audience's attention if you mix things up a bit.

Sometimes, a long article or report is necessary.

The rest of the time, though, think about how to pivot toward formats that will provide your audiences with something different.

Replace the walls of text with some creative narrative styles and you’ll see greater engagement (and you’ll have a lot more fun creating the content, as well).

Here are six alternatives to traditional narratives that you can employ with your nonprofit’s content:

1. The format: Q & A

An alternative to: Profiles

Many organizations use profiles to help put a face on their work. Education nonprofits often profile graduates or teachers. Foundations profile grantees.

And while profiles can humanize your work and provide readers with an easy way to see your organization’s impact, you don’t have to rely on a narrative structure to tell these stories.

Consider instead a Q & A (or question-and-answer) format. Q & A’s offer readers an accessible way to learn about a person and his or her opinions.

Paired with a strong photograph, they can help you tell a story quickly — and they are often easier to put together than a long narrative.

This can help you cover more ground — all while giving your readers something easy to digest.

Example: Teach for America’s profile of Ankur Arya

2. The format: Timeline

An alternative to: About Us/History

Your nonprofit or company likely devotes a page on its website and a section of its annual report to share information about its history. And, often, you need to tell stories about the evolution of a program or idea.

Rather than telling that (sometimes long) story in a narrative, share it in a timeline.

You can find a number of easy-to-use timeline creation tools online if you don’t have a designer at the ready — and you’ll make it much easier for your key audiences to digest and understand your story.

3. The format: Case Study

An alternative to: Impact stories

When it’s time to celebrate an accomplishment — or discuss how your nonprofit overcame an important challenge — consider doing it as a case study rather than as a simple article.

Case studies can be presented as short, bite-sized pieces or long, downloadable whitepapers. But however you decide to present them, they offer a great alternative to an article or blog post — and they make it easy for readers to understand the impact of your work.

4. The format: Quiz

An alternative to: Articles

The American Red Cross isn’t just about disaster response. Part of its mission is to help the public prevent and prepare for emergencies.

Often, that means it needs to provide information about topics such as how to prevent a home fire or and how to make sure your family is safe during a tornado or hurricane.

Rather than simply providing written guides and articles about these topics, the organization has developed a series of online quizzes that give readers a way to think about and digest information that will help them prepare for emergencies.

By giving them a tool that allows them to engage with the information, readers are more likely to access and retain the information.

Example: Are You Prepared for a Home Fire?

5. The format: Checklists

An alternative to: Articles

Similar to a quiz, a checklist gives readers of informational content something to do. Rather than simply writing about how to prepare for or accomplish something, break it into a list and present it as something readers can use.

6. The format: Alternative Listicles

An alternative to: Listicles

Buzzfeed — the purveyor of online gems such as 10 Important Life Lessons You Can Learn from Cats — has spawned a form of content commonly referred to as the listicle.

Listicles are essentially articles that are repackaged as lists — and many nonprofits have joined the growing legion of content creators who already use listicles as an alternative to the basic article.

The problem is that listicles are now so common that they have become a bit trite (even though we all know you’re dying to click on that link about cats and life lessons).

Consider instead the alternative listicle. This is a listicle that doesn’t just present a list, it offers an alternative to each item on that list.

This blog post is actually an example of an alternative listicle, since each item on the list is actually an alternative to something else.

Be Creative

And that brings me to my final point — which is simply to be creative when you think about your content.

It’s easy to revert to traditional styles and approaches when you’re presenting information. But take some time to think about how you can present that story in another format — or even how you might twist a popular format for your own devices.

Your readers will thank you for it.

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Get Your Story Told

Creative Commons image courtesy of startbloggingonline.com

Creative Commons image courtesy of startbloggingonline.com

During my days as a newspaper reporter and editor, I was always on the lookout for story ideas.

More often than not, these ideas didn’t come through news releases or pitches.

They came through something I observed. Through a conversation with a neighbor. Or through something I overheard in the checkout line at the grocery store.

More recently, these ideas came through my Twitter feed, a conversation on LinkedIn or a message on Facebook.

And I wasn’t alone.

According to Cision’s 2015 Global Social Journalism Study, 94 percent of journalists use social media daily  — with 67 percent spending up to two hours a day. In the U.S., 25 percent of journalists report that they use social media to make new contacts and 12 percent report that they have published stories based on information found on social media.

Social media provides reporters with an always-updating stream of potential story ideas — and many journalists rely on their feeds on Twitter and Facebook as a way to connect with concepts and trends that shape their reporting.

As a result, social media is an important tool for savvy media-relations professionals who are looking to get their organizations and their work in front of reporters and editors.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should instantly start tweeting story pitches at reporters.

Instead, your best path is to use social media to develop relationships with journalists that are of high value to your nonprofit. As you do so, you’ll build a level of credibility that can help you get contacted and — later — pitch ideas.

Below are five strategies for using social media to your advantage in media relations.

Gather Intelligence

Want to pitch a story idea to a reporter? It helps to understand his or her interests.

Social media offers you an opportunity to learn about what makes that reporter tick.

Many reporters are regular users of Twitter. In fact, the Cision study found that 71 percent of U.S. journalists are using the platform.

And they don’t just Tweet about what they’ve written or reported. Often, they will share stories or ideas from others that offer a window into topics and issues that they find interesting or newsworthy.

As a result, if there are specific journalists or bloggers who are important targets, it’s useful to follow them on Twitter, on their professional Facebook pages, on Instagram or through LinkedIn.

These networks can offer a great window into their work — and provide you with insights that can help you with your next pitch.

Build Relationships

Journalists have been facing a lot of heat lately. But, believe it or not, many of them are approachable.

This is especially true on social media. More than two-fifths of journalists in the Cision study say they reply to comments on social media sites.

Don’t be afraid to post thoughtful replies or comments to Tweets and posts from journalists. They might not always reply back, but well-placed comments can lead to conversations. And those conversations can ultimately lead to relationships.

Respond to Breaking Events

When news breaks, many news organizations will deploy a reporter to follow what’s happening on social media to gauge reactions and gather information.

If a breaking story relates to your mission, you stand a good chance of attracting the attention of journalists if your organization is sharing information and facts that can help put the situation into context.

If conversations about that story are getting organized around a specific hashtag, be sure to use that tag on any content you share. Posting facts, insights and links will not only help the public understand what’s happening, it can send a signal to journalists that your organization knows its stuff and is worth contacting for an interview.

And even if it doesn’t lead to an interview, it could lead to a spot in their news coverage. A growing number of news organizations publish tweets as they are covering events. If your organization’s tweet gets picked up, it could help position you as a thoughtful voice.

Promote Your Thought Leadership

If your organization has a blog or produces regular online content, it should already be sharing that content on social media.

But if it isn’t, here’s an argument for changing that practice — it can get the attention of journalists.

Reporters and editors will often read blogs from thought leaders in their coverage areas. And they’re more likely to be finding those blogs if they see them in their social feeds.

Make Your Pitch

It’s not out of bounds to use a social networking site to pitch a reporter directly.

Usually, the best avenue for making a pitch to a reporter on social media is to do it privately — through a direct message on Twitter or through Facebook Messenger. This is not only more likely to get the reporter’s attention, but it also makes it easier to have a conversation, since it’s not being broadcast to every one of your friends and followers.

Such pitches can be effective. Antionette Kerr — who writes regularly for her local newspaper in North Carolina — told me that she wrote a recent column after receiving a note through Facebook Messenger. The person who made the pitch worked for a local library and noted in her pitch that she noticed Antionette’s fondness for posting items on Facebook about books and reading.

The pitch worked, in part, because it directly tied to Antionette’s interests.

The person who made the pitch took the time to get to know Antionette and follow her before making her move.

The lesson: social media can be effective if you use it smartly and tactfully.