Last week I wrote about traditional media relations tools – press releases, guest editorials, and so forth. This week let’s catch up to 2018 and talk about some of the digital tools that have emerged in the last two decades.
Again, all of these tools and information are explored more in-depth in NACo’s Media Relations: A Guide for Counties.
Website Contacts and Information
Let’s start with a basic analysis of your county’s website. The number one most important piece of information for reporters is contact information. How easy is it to find names, phone numbers, email addresses, and physical locations? Give it a try, how many clicks away are you from the average visitor?
County websites are one of the first places reporters go to get in touch with you. Make it easy for them – work with your website developer to ensure that information is the easiest of all to find (one or no clicks deep would be ideal).
Likewise, the second most important thing reporters need is information about the county. Since this is basically the rest of the website, make sure you have an intuitive menu and navigation system – one that makes sense to the average citizen. It should incorporate ADA compliance measures, such as “bread crumbs” and other items you can read more about here. These features are not only helpful to those with disabilities, they also lend themselves to creating a site that is user-friendly for everyone.
One key component of all county websites should be news and updated information on the home page. Most of the time this will be for routine information – meetings, deadlines, and other announcements. However, it will come in handy in times of crisis, or when there is an important issue citizens and reporters should be made aware of.
For those still unsure what a “Blog” is, the term is a condensed derivation of the term “Weblog” that was coined by an American blogger in 1997. It took several years and new website technology for the concept to take off, but Blogs are, simply put, editorial content individuals post on their own website or platforms owned by someone else. It’s a type of media and, biased or not, is becoming more and more influential as traditional medias struggle financially.
Do you need to reach out to every blogger out there? No, but you should pay attention to them because some grow to become quite popular and have larger subscription rates and followers than a lot of smaller medias. When you find one in your local community that carries some influence, reach out to them. Share with them your viewpoints and encourage them to help you get the message out about specific issues. A good relationship with a blogger can help strengthen community-wide understanding of things that matter to the county.
Of course, you too can become a blogger – some of you already are. As a county official you have a certain amount of influence and audience already following you (if you are elected, they voted for you). Tap into that opportunity. There are lots of best practices but one of the most challenging is consistency – putting a message out on a regular basis. However, even a short message will help keep your followers engaged and when it comes time to really need to communicate with the public you will have it available AND, most important of all, YOU get to control and decide the message.
If blogging is representative of the written form of content, please know that many have successfully used video for the same basic purpose. In fact, research has show that video is hundreds of times more engaging than photography and written content. So if you are not a fan of producing written information, consider video.
Video can be posted on your own website, given to reporters to help write stories, placed on other platforms with your own “channel” such as YouTube, or posted on social media (I’ll talk about that more in a moment). In the last year live video has become extremely popular and even more engaging with followers.
The whole point behind video and why it’s so much more popular is because the digital age has created a wedge between people. Human connection just doesn’t have the depth and breadth that it used to. And people actually hunger for that – they want to connect, they want to see and be genuine because that’s how bonds of trust are formed. So, video is a fantastic media relations tool to help create a bridge of understanding that has become increasingly difficult to maintain otherwise.
Finally, let me touch on social media as it too has exploded as a form of communication just in the last decade. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others are of course voluntary but because so many have embraced and are using them, they represent amazing opportunities to tell your story, talk about an issue, and get the word out in times of crisis.
Social media is instant and far more efficient at sharing than contacting a reporter, getting an interview, and waiting for it get reported on. And, like blogging and videos, you get to control what is said or shared.
It should be pointed out, however, that the social media itself gets to control WHO sees it and, in fact, do limit the number of eyeballs to your post. They own the platform and have significantly regulated how many people will see your information just in the last few years. Social media real estate is prime and the competition for space is still, so Facebook and others are capitalizing on this and forcing people to “pay to play” when they want to share something.
Just recognize that along with citizens listening in, so too are reporters and they routinely use what you post on social media in their stories. In fact, there’s a certain president whose social media posts ARE the story almost daily.