Imagining a world without words

I’ve grown addicted to WNYC’s ‘Radiolab‘ podcast. With all the time I’ve spent in the car this summer, Radiolab has been a savior, making five-hour trips seem like 30 minutes. The show is similar to Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, but a little less smug and a little more nerdy.

A recent episode on “Words” is nerdtopia for communicators like me. The one-hour show tries to imagine what the world would be like without words, and investigates how language shapes and structures the way we communicate and interpret the world. From looking at turns of phrase coined by Shakespeare, to following a group of deaf children in Nicaragua who created their own language, to studying how babies’ brains make connections between group of words (it happens later than you think) — I was riveted.

Carve out an hour of your day and take a listen here.

Also check out this cool video produced to accompany the episode. It took me until the second watch to “get it”, but it’s clever and beautifully done:

Visualization: Telling your story without words

The number one skill an effective communications professional needs? Writing, of course. It’s no accident that most college public relations programs are housed in the journalism department. Clear, concise, effective writing technique is critical to conveying your organization’s message – to the media, to employees, to investors, to the community.

But as information overload continues to shrink our attention spans, it becomes increasingly important to figure out faster and more compelling ways to tell stories. Written pieces certainly have their place and purpose, but an eye-catching chart, infographic, or photo set may convey your message more memorably and in less time. Presenting information graphically forces us to trim away the superfluous details that can clutter our writing. If you’re pitching a story to a swamped journalist or busy blogger, getting right to the point is always appreciated. Often an infographic can do this better than your writing can.

Two of my favorite “just for fun” blogs are Strange Maps and Flowing Data, which both curate interesting data visualizations from across the Web (I also check out Information Is Beautiful on occasion). One of the primary reasons I keep up with these blogs (other than the fact they’re just plain fascinating) is that I can consume the content pretty quickly. Whereas a 1,000-word blog post requires 20 minutes of my time to get through, I can check out a stunning graphic in just a few minutes. I’m also more likely to share an interesting chart or graphic to Facebook or Twitter.

Need another example? Think about how effective The Oatmeal is at presenting information. Their comics are funny and memorable, but also educational. One of my favorite Oatmeal posts is 20 Things Worth Knowing About Beer (shocker). Sure, this could have been written as a list-style blog post and contained all the same information, but it’s so much richer and more compelling when presented visually (and much more viral).

PR pros, especially those of us who are “classically trained” in journalistic writing, tend to talk (write) too much. I’m certainly guilty (heck, I’ve just devoted 400 words to a post about how we should write less and use data visualization more). We’re verbal people who use words as our go-to tool for telling a story. Often it doesn’t occur to us to present information in a different format.

Sometimes we need to think beyond words on a page or screen. How can we quickly and compellingly convey our stories, in a way that will engage audiences and encourage them to share the information? Try some eye candy. Find a graphic artist (or experiment yourself) and adapt wordy stories to appealing visualizations. Information is indeed beautiful.

Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy

If 2009 was the year we all sat around talking about social media, then 2010 is the year that we start doing it. It’s time to get busy! That’s the subtitle of the third installment of the Age of Conversation, a book that features the collaborative, crowdsourced effort of more than 200 authors, including yours truly.

Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton headed up the project and have assembled quite a group of social media smarties. I’m not sure how I managed to be included with the likes of Joseph Jaffe, Amber Naslund, Jacob Morgan and Karen Swim, but I’m glad to be part of an effort where 100 percent of the profits will be donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The book is broken into several sections with each author contributing a short essay or chapter. My contribution is part of the “corporate conversations” chapter and is an adaptation of a post about enhancing internal communications with social media. Other sections include “conversational branding”, “in the boardroom”, and “innovation and execution”.

Age of Conversation 3 will be available by mid-April in hardback, paperback, Kindle and iPad versions. Purchase details will be posted here.

The book’s contributors span marketing, communications, PR, branding, measurement, HR and community management functions from across the globe and from a variety of different organizations. Check out the list below:

Adam Joseph Priyanka Sachar Mark Earls
Cory Coley-Christakos Stefan Erschwendner Paul Hebert
Jeff De Cagna Thomas Clifford Phil Gerbyshak
Jon Burg Toby Bloomberg Shambhu Neil Vineberg
Joseph Jaffe Uwe Hook Steve Roesler
Michael E. Rubin anibal casso Steve Woodruff
Steve Sponder Becky Carroll Tim Tyler
Chris Wilson Beth Harte Tinu Abayomi-Paul
Dan Schawbel Carol Bodensteiner Trey Pennington
David Weinfeld Dan Sitter Vanessa DiMauro
Ed Brenegar David Zinger Brett T. T. Macfarlane
Efrain Mendicuti Deb Brown Brian Reich
Gaurav Mishra Dennis Deery C.B. Whittemore
Gordon Whitehead Heather Rast Cam Beck
Hajj E. Flemings Joan Endicott Cathryn Hrudicka
Jeroen Verkroost Karen D. Swim Christopher Morris
Joe Pulizzi Leah Otto Corentin Monot
Karalee Evans Leigh Durst David Berkowitz
Kevin Jessop Lesley Lambert Duane Brown
Peter Korchnak Mark Price Dustin Jacobsen
Piet Wulleman Mike Maddaloni Ernie Mosteller
Scott Townsend Nick Burcher Frank Stiefler
Steve Olenski Rich Nadworny John Rosen
Tim Jackson Suzanne Hull Len Kendall
Amber Naslund Wayne Buckhanan Mark McGuinness
Caroline Melberg Andy Drish Oleksandr Skorokhod
Claire Grinton Angela Maiers Paul Williams
Gary Cohen Armando Alves Sam Ismail
Gautam Ramdurai B.J. Smith Tamera Kremer
Eaon Pritchard Brendan Tripp Adelino de Almeida
Jacob Morgan Casey Hibbard Andy Hunter
Julian Cole Debra Helwig Anjali Ramachandran
Jye Smith Drew McLellan Craig Wilson
Karin Hermans Emily Reed David Petherick
Katie Harris Gavin Heaton Dennis Price
Mark Levy George Jenkins Doug Mitchell
Mark W. Schaefer Helge Tenno Douglas Hanna
Marshall Sponder James Stevens Ian Lurie
Ryan Hanser Jenny Meade Jeff Larche
Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher David Svet Jessica Hagy
Simon Payn Joanne Austin-Olsen Mark Avnet
Stanley Johnson Marilyn Pratt Mark Hancock
Steve Kellogg Michelle Beckham-Corbin Michelle Chmielewski
Amy Mengel Veronique Rabuteau Peter Komendowski
Andrea Vascellari Timothy L Johnson Phil Osborne
Beth Wampler Amy Jussel Rick Liebling
Eric Brody Arun Rajagopal Dr Letitia Wright
Hugh de Winton David Koopmans Aki Spicer
Jeff Wallace Don Frederiksen Charles Sipe
Katie McIntyre James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw David Reich
Lynae Johnson Jasmin Tragas Deborah Chaddock Brown
Mike O’Toole Jeanne Dininni Iqbal Mohammed
Morriss M. Partee Katie Chatfield Jeff Cutler
Pete Jones Riku Vassinen Jeff Garrison
Kevin Dugan Tiphereth Gloria Mike Sansone
Lori Magno Valerie Simon Nettie Hartsock
Mark Goren Peter Salvitti

A pretty impressive collection. Don’t miss out on your chance to own Age of Conversation 3 and support a great charity.

Luring ‘Specialized’ candidates through social HR

I’m really fortunate to be in a job that I love at a company that’s a great fit for me. But so many people in a variety of industries and careers are struggling right now to find a job — and they also want to make sure it’s the right job. Likewise, companies want to hire the best candidates who can get the work done but who also fit in with the company culture. Often this matchmaking is difficult because each side doesn’t effectively articulate what it’s looking for — especially on the company side.

Sure, plenty of corporate sites have dry and bland “Careers” sections that give a few paragraphs on the company environment with (sometimes stock) photos of happy looking people in generic conference rooms. Then they dump the job seeker into a dizzying maze of job search queries (function, business unit, department, location, etc.).

If finding the right talent is so important to companies, why are so few taking advantage of social media and other avenues to help them communicate to job seekers what they’re looking for? It’s fairly quick and easy these days to add context to a careers Web site and give candidates a lot more information about what to expect.

One company that is doing it right is Specialized (Disclaimer 1: I’m a loyal Jamis rider. But the Tarmac is one sexy bike. Disclaimer 2: Team Saxo Bank rides Specialized and I love Frank Schleck). The most prominent feature on the Careers section of its Web site? Videos. Embedded from YouTube, these videos interview employees and describe some of the interesting benefits Specialized employees receive. You get a nice sense of not only what the company offers, but also what the people who work there are like.

What’s most impressive is this video interview with Specialized’s director of HR. She tells candidates exactly what the company is looking for and what job seekers need to do to land a gig there:

She answers the real questions that most job seekers want to know. What kind of people are you looking for? What do you want to see in a cover letter? What are the steps in the hiring process? How can I impress you in the interview?

Specialized could have easily listed out this information on its site, but the video interview makes a much greater impact. What’s more, the videos on the site can be easily shared and linked to. Maybe a job seeker realizes that the company isn’t a good fit for him or her, but knows of someone who would be great at Specialized. A few clicks and that person can post a link to the YouTube video to a friend’s Facebook page.

Companies don’t have to dive headlong into a social media strategy before they’re ready, but quick hits like this are a relatively easy way to connect with an audience in a more personal and engaging way.

Social media for military communication

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking at the New York National Guard Public Affairs Conference in Saratoga Springs. Public affairs officers from Niagara Falls to Long Island and points in between gathered to discuss military communication, public affairs and social media.

Below are the slides from my presentation. I generally prefer to keep slides simple and visual and support them with story and commentary, versus trying to pack a lot on the page. But hopefully you can still get the gist of what I shared with them.

I stuck around the conference for a bit after my presentation and heard Stephanie Gaskell, reporter for the New York Daily News and author of the paper’s “War Zone” blog, discuss her experiences as an embedded reporter, first as a freelance journalist in Iraq and then later in Afghanistan on assignment for the Daily News. Her anecdotes reiterated how reporters are continually under pressure to produce more stories with fewer resources and that being on-target, relevant and timely with pitches is of primary importance for public relations and public affairs professionals.

Thanks to LTC Richard Goldenberg and Eric Durr for inviting me today.