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Posted by: Jane

Last week, I read a posted by Barry Feldman on Social Media Today, and #8 caught my eye:

Fire. Ready. Aim.
Enormous problem: marketers think channel before strategy. Joe says "Stop thinking Facebook. Think about the problem you are solving for your customer." Establish where your customer is, what they're doing there and create your content accordingly.

This evokes a conversation I recently had with the head of a successful nonprofit. It went something like this:

Executive Director: Do you 'do' social media?

Me: Can you be more specific?

Executive Director: I mean, do you know how to Facebook? Can you help us establish a social media presence? I'm not on Facebook myself, but I know it's important.

Me: I can absolutely do those things. But the bigger questions are, 'What are your goals for social media?' and 'How will social media integrate with, and complement, your overall communications plan?'

Executive Director: Yes, I know that's ideal but we really just need more people to Like us.

It was clear he's anxious about being left behind; that if his organization isn't getting enough Facebook fans, if his marketing department isn't Tweeting, then this is somehow a reflection of the organization's effectiveness. Never mind that by all reasonable standards, he's leading a highly performing business with demonstrated annual growth; they've been getting along fine without Facebook and Twitter thus far. Perhaps this is because the majority of his clients are unlikely to be using social media themselves.

Simply, he hasn't thought about his customer(s) and what they need to learn. I also suspect — based on some references to the cost of advertising — that he's lured by the idea of "free" marketing.

The lessons of this exchange are several:

  • If you don't have a clearly articulated reason for being on social media, then it's worth taking a deep breath, sitting back, and evaluating your goals. Increasing your number of followers is a perfectly acceptable goal if you have a plan to engage those followers. For some fun inspiration in this regard, see HubSpot's 5 Awesome Examples of Engaging Social Media Campaigns.
  • Know your audience. This particular nonprofit's client base comprises many individuals with limited English-language skills. Is mono-lingual social media the best way to reach them? On the other hand, social media could be a boon for engaging volunteers and donors (presuming they speak English). It all goes back to a well defined plan—and knowing which channels are most appropriate for each audience. (Did you know that teens are defecting from Facebook? Or that urban, African American women are the most likely to use Twitter?).
  • Related: You don't need to be on every single social media platform. Tumblr, for example, commands only 6% of all internet users, most of them in the 18-29 age range (see the Pew study). If you're just starting out with social media, start small—and confine your efforts to the platforms that will most likely appeal to your customers and prospects.

What are your most pressing social media questions? What lessons would you like to share? Sound off in the comments.
Posted by: Jane

Nearly every day of my career as an in-house writer, someone would invariably burst into my office with an urgent request: "We need a press release!"

Next to "This is a great story—you should get it in the paper!" *, nothing made me stabbier than these five words. Why? Because press releases suck.

Think about it: Press releases are the most over-used, under-effective content "strategies" out there. (For a great perspective on why press releases are spam, read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson). How many times have you slapped together a hastily written announcement of a new product or service and shipped it out on the wire? How many times have you sat back with bated breath, waiting for that editor's call? And how many times did you get one?


The reasons for this are many, but they all boil down to one important tenet that should guide all of your marketing communications strategies: Who cares? Every day, editors of international trade publications and local dailies alike are inundated with press releases--all from well intentioned communicators like you who believe in the promise of what you've described. The only problem is, your press release doesn't make an editor's job easier. It doesn't rise above the noise. And the more you send, the less likely an editor will pay you any attention.

So then, how do you make editors care?

  • Develop relationships with them. I know: this takes time you don't have, and it's much easier and efficient to send a blanket email to tens or hundreds of contacts. Fact is, you'll be wasting more time writing and sending irrelevant press releases that don't get picked up, than you will in cultivating friends in the press that yield results. For ideas on building media relationships, read Abbi Whittaker's post in Ragan's PR Daily.
  • Find the latent story and then pitch it--intentionally and personally. Demonstrate you know an editor's content needs or a reporter's beat, and make their day with an idea that resonates with them. For more on making effective pitches, see Amber Mac's story in Fast Company.
  • For newsworthy events, issue a media advisory instead of a press release--and include specific information about photo and video opportunities, interviews with key personnel, and anything else specifically useful to editors and journalists. You can find lots of decent samples online with a simple Google search.

And please, whatever you do--don't post press releases on your website under "Latest News." ** They're not news. They're tooting your own horn. Audiences see right through this, and then they tune you out. Remember: If you want to be heard, teach your audience something

What's your take on press releases?

*For a delightfully snarky (and local) view on what doesn't make a great story, read Don't Ask, Not Gonna Tell in Seven Days.

**Unless you're looking to boost your SEO, in which case the jury's still out. Read more about that from someone smarter than I am here.




Posted by: Jane

"Do not go gentle into that good night . . . / Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

I will always remember September 30, 2012 as a day of raging.

We awoke that morning with adventure in our hearts and adrenaline in our veins. The day before, Rob and I had arrived at Waterfront Lodge, the gateway to Victoria Falls in Zambia. With three wide open days on our hands—and, presumably, money to spare—our tour group had been ushered into a large on-site amphitheater. There, an impressively produced marketing video teased us with all sorts of once-in-a-lifetime experiences:  Frolic with the lions! Climb atop an elephant! Take a bungee plunge from Victoria Falls Bridge! Soar the skies in a microglider!

The choices were seductive, and somewhat overwhelming. Eventually, however—using an unscientific formula of adventure ( + ) duration ( - ) cost ( + ) gut feel—we were close to settling on a choice or two.

Rafting the Zambezi River topped the list.

“I’m a guide,” offered a 50-ish, wiry, weathered and confident blond to my left. He’d obviously overheard our deliberations. “If you have any questions, I can answer them all.”

- How were the conditions? I asked.

- Superb, he said.

- What class? I wondered. (As if I had a clue).

- Class V. Best in the world. Best time to be here.

“And,” he added, “we’re fully insured. Medical evacuation, all of that.”

Sign us up.

The next morning, September 30, we were back in the same amphitheater, watching a safety demonstration straight out of Laurel and Hardy. Designed, I’m sure, to set us at ease, the performance actually created a false sense of security—a feeling that, despite Mother Nature’s power, nothing could possibly go wrong on the river.

- If you fall out of the boat, we’ll throw you this line, said one guide.

- Don’t wrap it around your neck, quipped another.

- Hahaha! chirped we would-be rafters.

Soon enough, we were on the river. Nervous energy snapped through our systems like electricity crackling through a power line. We were ready. We were adventurers. The pre-rafting video proves it:

“Hoo-ah!” we shout, hoisting our oars overhead.


We launched at The Boiling Pot, just around the bend from the cataract. The name alone should have clued me in: This rafting trip would be no Denali River, no interior Bali. In stark contrast to both—where I’d experienced Class II rapids, believing they were hard core—the Zambezi churned and raged. Still, it was exciting. This river was one of, if not the, best rivers for whitewater rafting. Whatever that meant, Rob and I would bring home a real souvenir:  The knowledge that we’d done something most people hadn’t.

The first rapid was a thrill. We floated under Victoria Falls Bridge, waving to the bungee jumpers high above, right before shooting through the roil and popping out the other side—just enough water in our
faces, just enough jostling through the torrents—to awaken an exhilarating anticipation for the next.

One short run later, we approached our first bona fide Class V: Morning Glory.

“We can go left, or we can go right,” our guide, Voster, offered. “No flipping that way.”

The six of us in the raft looked sideways at each other.

“Or,” he added, “We can go right down the middle. No guarantees then!”

Our raft chose the middle.


Later, watching the video, the whole thing was over in 30 seconds; yet it felt like a total loss of time, space, and reference. “Get down!” Voster shouted, and our raft slammed into the central entrance to Morning Glory—a significant pothole topping the longest rapid of the river. Before I could take a breath, I was face down in the raging river, ripped from the safety rope and stripped of my oar. I was vaguely aware our raft had capsized—and acutely aware I was alone. As the roaring fury pushed me under, spat me out, and swept me below again, I did exactly what those of us familiar with the water know not to do:

I panicked.

It’s difficult to describe, even now, the horror of those seconds. I didn’t want to die. Unable to escape the violent surge, I was certain I would. And yet I raged and struggled—to swim, to breathe, to scream.

Succeeding at none, my panic intensified. I can’t do this to Rob, I recall thinking. Where is Rob? Where am I? Will they even find me?


I didn’t sleep for two nights. Closing my eyes, I’d replay the experience over and over, trying to make sense of it, breaking into a cold sweat. This close, my psyche whispered. This close.

The post-traumatic realization was, for some reason, even more chilling than the experience itself. I became somewhat obsessed—talking about it to anyone who would listen, showing the video to anyone who would watch.

Rob was patiently encouraging: Talk it out, he’d say. It’s okay.


Then one Saturday morning, near the height of my preoccupation, I happened to log into Facebook.

There was a message from my college roommate. “I can’t believe it,” she began. “Collette died.”

Collette was a casual but ever-present friend at BC, a best buddy to my roommate and a vibrant presence. I’d lost touch with her after graduation, but had  reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, catching up on her life: A military husband, whom she adored; a beautiful little girl, whom she adored more. The family moved a lot for work, traveled a lot for pleasure, and smiled a lot out of happiness.  Subtle clues pointed to a victorious bout with breast cancer; while keeping her own experience private, she publicly cheered for early detection, research funding, and others facing the same battle.

Collette was 41 when she died. Her daughter was six.


I could say more, could try to analyze the bigger meaning, but that would cheapen the lesson I’m trying to teach myself.

I’m grateful for second chances.
Posted by: Jane

There was nothing remarkable, that Monday morning a few months back, that forever burned an image of the weather into my mind. Was it crisp, cool-but-not-cold, and cheerfully sunny as it had been on September 11, 2001? I don't remember. It could have been; though I think it's more likely to have been overcast and humid—the remnants of a weather system that was supposed to have delivered Tropical Storm Irene to Vermont. What a bust: As I gazed out our front window on my way out the door for work, I couldn't identify a single branch out of place, a single storm drain on the verge of overflowing, not even one wind-blown shingle.

"I'd love to be a meteorologist," I muttered to myself (and not for the first time) as I headed to a job I was sure carried more accountability than yammering in front of a blue screen on camera.  "How can you possibly fumble this one?"

Chatter around the office that morning focused on the Storm that Wasn't. Some co-workers had an annoying commute to work due to a few downed trees; others had a little water in the basement; still others had lost power for an hour or two —but so what? The collective mood was one of palpable disappointment: That after all the adrenaline-fueled trips to the grocery store for batteries and food, Nothing had Actually Happened. No matter that much of the greater Burlington area was still dealing with record flooding from the spring thaw; we craved a little excitement. Irene had failed to deliver, and now, to our dismay, we actually had to get to work.

When the first reports began to trickle in, they seemed . . . if not unreal, then somewhat distant. Some roads were washed out; some basements were flooded; but—as we were learning—certain areas of the state actually had experienced significant rain overnight. In that context, the damages made sense. And while they were unfortunate, we told ourselves, things could have been far worse.

As many of you know from the national reports, they were far worse. But for those of us in Chittenden County who were chained to desk jobs and sequestered in meetings, it took until mid-day that August 29th to actually learn about it. And as powerful as the images must have been for those of you out of state, they were heart-rending for those of us in-state. Completely unpredictable flash-flooding in almost every county meant that neighbors lost homes. Friends lost businesses—some for the second time this year. The farmers we know and love lost crops, animals, and their livelihoods. Entire towns were obliterated.

And then something remarkable happened: Something you've also likely heard about. These friends, farmers, neighbors and towns stood up, looked around, and said, "What the f*&k can you do?" Then they got to work. Perhaps even more remarkable, people they didn't even know showed up to help. They built websites to organize volunteers. They brought trucks, backhoes, rakes and buckets to muck out homes. They cooked meals for hundreds of people. They offered vacation homes and spare rooms to house the homeless. The list goes on and on; and I know I can speak for more than myself when I say the reponse has been inspiring—and will continue to be for years to come when I remember how Rob's and my adopted state stood together to be Vermont Strong.

So, this Thanksgiving, as I reflect on the hundreds of blessings I have in my life, this one stands out: That in a state where residents can easily view each other through the suspicion of ideology (all of the kale-munching hippies in Burlington can't possibly have anything in common with all the hicks jack-lighting deer in the backwoods), the stereotypes fall away when it really matters. No one cares if you voted for Barack Obama or John McCain; they only care that you're a human being, and that you could use a little help. It gives me hope for the future, and is the lesson I will carry with me. Irene, you've been a royal bi-atch, but I thank you for that, and for the chance to witness, and participate in a very small way, in the resilience of the human spirit.

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, happy Thanksgiving focused on the gift we all are to each other.
Posted by: Jane

A few days ago—when writing a description for MLK Day of Service for a client—I stumbled across this quote from the Reverend himself: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

I’ve been pondering this question all week—and am embarrassed to say that I can’t really answer it. Sure, I’ve always had grand ideas when it comes to volunteering and serving the community—and sometimes I actually do something about it—but for the most part, when it comes to executing those ideas, I fall flat on my face. The reasons are predictable: Work is too stressful. Weekends are too short. I’d rather go for a run. I need to sleep. The reasons are also lame: How much time do I actually spend on the couch, enjoying some wine and watching Anthony Bourdain? If I were to answer that—which I won’t—I would say a lot.   But then I got to thinking: “Doing for others” doesn’t necessarily require a lofty intent. It can be as simple as giving a truffle to a friend who’s having a bad day. It can be as easy as punching a few digits and asking, “Is there anything you need?” of a relative living alone. It can be as fast as carrying an elderly neighbor’s groceries into the house. And yet—as each of you has come to know about me—I still fall flat on my face.

But you don’t.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve each done something for others this year—and I know this because I’ve been one of the lucky recipients. You’ve watched our cats. You’ve bought us dinner. You’ve gone out of your way to serve gluten-free goodies, despite the inconvenience. You’ve helped paint our house. You’ve become foster parents to a 1950s-era stove. You’ve laughed at my juvenile jokes. You’ve shared even more juvenile jokes. You’ve been there. You’ve listened.  You’ve thought of me.

This Thanksgiving, as I contemplate ways I can improve my own “doing for others,” I’m grateful for this: That no matter how self-absorbed I am—no matter how many times I fail at delivering that truffle, picking up that phone, or carrying those groceries—you accept that about me, and expect nothing more. While I don’t say it enough, I am truly fortunate to have you in my life.

May you find yourself surrounded by good family, great friends, and the warmth and comfort of home this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Jane

A few days ago, my grandmother reminded me—via my mother—that it was time for my annual Thanksgiving note. Just back from a quick trip to Denver—and a little stressed about the lack of time to plan, shop for, and prepare tomorrow's dinner—my immediate reaction (in true Christmas Story fashion) was, "Oh . . . FUDGE!"

I hadn't once thought about it. And, perhaps in revenge, my muse went on strike.

It wasn't until about an hour ago, wresting free from what I hope to be my last grocery store experience today, that it struck me. For so many of the last nine years, the inspiration behind this letter was dramatic: September 11th; car accidents; and the hardships, illness, and loss of loved ones among friends and family that remind us all how short life is. Writing my letter had always been simple—precisely because of these events. It's easy to appreciate what and who you have when you've been tested—but perhaps not so easy when things are good.


Today, as I sit facing another glorious Vermont sunset, this is what I'm thankful for: I have no story to tell because it's been a good year. Rob and I are healthy; our friends and family (despite a few scares here and there) are healthy; we've had the resources—and great fortune—to resume our traveling; we've met some wonderful new friends and reconnected with others. Truly, there's little more I could ask.
I know that some of you aren't in a similarly good place this year. Please know that— even though I'm a shit friend when it comes to keeping in touch (props to John for that one)—I'm thinking of you. I may forget to say it, but if you're getting this note, you're one of the many, many people I'm grateful to have in my life.

May you find yourself surrounded by good family, great friends, and the
> warmth and comfort of home this year. Happy Thanksgiving!
Posted by: Jane

This week, as I sat contemplating my annual Thanksgiving message—and wondering, due to lack of inspiration, how I might weasel out of it—something remarkable occurred. I received an email. Then I received a phone call. Then I received another email. All from different people; all with the same general theme: "I really hope you send your note this year; my Thanksgiving won't be the same without it."   For someone who's well aware of my poorly developed keeping-in-touch gene, this was truly humbling. And it got me to thinking about one of my favorite quotes:

"To know that just one life has breathed easier because you have lived--that is to know success."

I've always loved this quote. This year in particular, however—for so many different reasons—it seems to resonate especially loudly, reminding me that amid the furor and sometimes sheer unfairness of daily life, each of us really does make a difference. There are many examples I could use—like my friends Sarah and Jeff, both of whom suffered a common and devastating loss this past summer; both of whom persevered in the face of the pain, making a difference just by being there for each other, for their families, and most of all, for their sister and wife, respectively. Or, like members of my immediate and extended family, who stepped up to the plate during my 88-year-young grandmother's surgery—making a difference by scheduling doctor's appointments, shopping for groceries, and honoring her wishes to remain independent. And most importantly, like my unsung hero and partner Rob, who dealt quietly and rationally with my own little brush with the medical establishment—making a difference by keeping me on an even keel when I was at high risk for capsizing. Most of all, what I want to say this year is that—despite your own trials and tribulations, self-doubts and daily challenges—you have also succeeded.

Each of you, in your own unique way, has made a difference.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me breathe easier. I appreciate it more than I could ever adequately express.

May you have a happy Thanksgiving marked by a meal filled with comfort, the comfort of a warm home, and the warmth of people who love you.
Posted by: Jane

One Sunday morning, toward the end of the summer, I got the call I'd been subconsciously dreading for quite some time:

"Your grandmother is in the hospital."

I shouldn't have been surprised; isn't a healthy 87-year-old an anomaly? But thanks to her fierce independent streak (which has fueled her ability to live in her own home), her extensive network of friends (whom, for the longest time, she has referred to as "the old ladies"), and her sharp wit and intellect (which has kept her up well into the midnight hour doing crosswords most nights), I never considered her old. Thanks to my grandmother, I believed 87 was the new 67— so in fact, when the call came, I was shocked.

What followed were several tenuous days of waiting, at her side, for some definitive answers from doctors who had none to offer. With each whispered speculation of "brain tumor" and each request for yet another test, I selfishly worried my time with her was slipping away.

The good news arrived, finally, a few weeks later: The small seizures she'd been experiencing, and the suspicious shadows on her MRI, were due to tiny—and reversible —seepages from the capillaries in her brain. So long as she adhered to her new blood pressure medication, my grandmother would be fine. Contrary to her worst fears, she could return home, re-commence her daily routine, and even manage "a little" driving (if, by "a little," you mean "all over creation.")

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for my grandmother's return to health; but more than that, I'm grateful for the opportunities her (albeit brief) illness granted—to me, and the entire extended family. I'm grateful for the three straight days of heart-to-heart talks, playful reminiscing, and stories of her childhood that my grandmother shared while I sat with her in the hospital. I'm grateful to be in a line of work where I can drop everything, with no worries or regrets, to attend to the things in life that really matter. I'm grateful to have (re)-connected with family members I haven't seen, and in some cases even thought about, in a very long time; and to have learned, and laughed about, that sometimes-distant history that binds us all together. And I'm grateful, once again, for an event that reminded me how fleeting life is—and that I need to continue working on my tendency to take so many things for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you, whom I've undoubtedly neglected over the past year as I've allowed myself to get wrapped up in the minutiae of moving, househunting, and home improvement. I'd like to think I'll do better because of this summer's experience; but in case I forget to say it later, thank you for being in my life.

Also, in case I forget to mention it later, I'm grateful for the 2007 Red Sox. ;-)
Posted by: Jane

As some of you may know, I ran my first marathon just over two years ago in Anchorage, Alaska for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.  Recently, I’ve found myself thinking of that experience—and in particular, one specific moment that I’d like to share:

“Then—without warning —The Wall. I’ve just passed the 19-mile mark and, suddenly, I’m struggling to advance. What’s this? I wonder, incredulously. It’s as if a random stranger sprang from the crowd, handed me an SUV, and asked me to carry it on my back. The crushing weight of fatigue seizes the muscles of my legs; they rebel against my intent to move forward. Physically spent, my finish depends upon mental grit—and I’m not convinced I have it. For an hour, I push against the miles, walking more than running, maintaining a constant internal monologue: Don’t stop. You can do this. You came to finish this marathon, and you’re going to finish, dammit. At mile 23, I’m demoralized and on the verge of quitting. Runner after runner has passed me. My four-hour time goal is about to topple. A stinging layer of salt has formed on my face from all the perspiration, and my calves are so tightly coiled that I worry one will burst from beneath the skin. Why the hell am I here?

And then I see her: A single woman, alone, perched on a small hill to my right. She’s holding a sign. I look around to discover the runners have thinned, and I, too, am alone. Limping toward her, I squint to read her scrawl. I’m a leukemia survivor, the sign reads, simply. Thank you.

Even now, I’m overcome with the emotion of what that moment meant—that a woman who’d endured so much could thank me, and thousands of other runners she’d never met—for doing something that had seemed so insignificant outside the boundaries of my personal goal. Each time I think of her, this anonymous woman, I’m reminded that we all have something to be thankful for—and that life is often too short to express it.

And so I want to thank each of you, for all the ways you enrich my life—even when I forget to tell you exactly how much I appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Posted by: Jane

It amazes me each year how quickly this holiday rolls around—how much it seems like I *just* sent what's become my usual Thanksgiving note. And I guess, for me, that underscores how easy it is to get caught up in the routine and forget to acknowledge the people who have made a difference in my life—and how important it is for me to send this note year after year, despite how bored you might be with receiving it.

As I was thinking about what to be grateful for this year (while on my way home last night, which is when I usually have my best ideas ... if you don't count when I'm brushing my teeth, that is), a car passed me in the opposite lane, proudly flying two American flags on either side of its hood. Two things came to mind: First, in this time of war in Iraq, we all have our own ideas about what those flags mean—and occasionally (or often) argue with each other over which idea is "right." Patriotism? Paternalism? Love of country? Criticism of country?

I don't pretend to know which, if any, of these is "right;" I have my own opinion, of course, but that's likely not worth much, nor is it the real point. The point is that despite our opinions, we live in a country where it's possible, and acceptable, to express them. Sometimes I think about what it would be like if that weren't
the case, and I realize how thankful I am to have that freedom. Second, despite what our opinions are about the war, there are thousands of American citizens away from their families this holiday season for no
reason other than they were asked to serve. I'm thankful to their families for lending them to the rest of us, and thankful to the soldiers themselves for being willing to do something I never would.

Wishing you all another wonderful day on Thursday, filled with plenty of
food, family, football (of course!), and your own special reasons to be