marketing tips

How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

I don't know about you, but I love events. I love attending them, of course, but also working on them behind-the-scenes. When I was an event marketing director, I was able to help create a dynamic experience for almost 8,000 people. And with my nonprofit and social enterprise freelance clients, it's still a blast to see an event go from concept to completion, resulting in smiling faces, sales earned, and money raised.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite local organizations, Atlanta Dream Center, on their annual benefit dinner. I had been volunteering with them for three years at that point, and they were Signify's first, official client, so they'll always have a soft spot in my heart. Understandably, I was thrilled to be working with them on a professional level now, too.

At the end of the evening, we had quite a surprise—we had not only met the fundraising goal, but we had quadrupled the previous year's total! High fives all around!

However, I don't think it was an accident. After working on so many events over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.

So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

If you stumbled upon this post looking for the latest event planning tips and tricks, you might be a little disappointed. But, hang with me, I think you'll still learn a really valuable lesson, especially if you're a beginner to the event planning world.

You see, what I've found over and over again, across many contexts, is that while there are always shiny, new ideas to make your event look awesome, there is one element of event planning that should always get the spotlight.

It's the step that should never get skipped.

So, what is it? Strategy.

I truly believe taking a more strategic approach to planning the 2016 Atlanta Dream Center (ADC) annual benefit gala was key to its financial success.

Here's why.

A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

When I first started as a contractor for the benefit dinner, I was mostly working alongside the development director, who had been in the position less than a year. So, we were both newbies to the event. And even though the dinner was entering its fourth year, I felt like the event was still just trying to get off the ground. 

There was no established model to follow. The ADC staff had tried a few different formats, but hadn't really fallen in love with one yet. That gave us a lot of latitude without a tremendous amount of expectations, except for the fact that this was their largest fundraiser of the year. #NoPressure

There were a couple of things we immediately did to start off on the right foot. The first was to get organized. Those who had been in charge of the dinner previously were no longer with the nonprofit, so we had to conduct a treasure hunt for some of the assets because I really wanted to take a look at what had been done before to assess how effective it was, and ways to build on it.

Once we had them collected, my suggestion was that we move everything to Google Drive so all stakeholders would have instant access. This plan worked great, and allowed us to collaborate well. It also solved the problem of keeping everything in a central location should someone else leave in the future.

The other, main thing we did was set up regular planning and check-in meetings leading up to the event, which was about five months away. Some of those were just between the development director and I, and some involved all department heads for the organization that needed to have a say in aspects of the dinner. 

These two choices may seem easy, small, or inconsequential, but I promise you that they made a big difference in the tone and feel of the event right from the start. And everyone could feel it.

Never underestimate the power of being organized!

STRATEGY'S ROLE IN EVENT PLANNING

Now, we were ready to start the event planning process. And this is where strategy became the star player.

During one of our early meetings, the entire team was sitting around a table discussing the format, logistics, and what people liked and didn't like from previous years. I also started asking them more questions about who would be in the seats.

This proved to be a key moment because, not only should you ask this question every time you plan an event, but that year was a turning point for the organization. The goals for this dinner were bigger because costs had risen, of course, but they were also gaining a bigger reputation in the area.

Previously, it had been friends, family, and close partners who attended the event. That year, however, they wanted to target new individuals and corporations. Essentially, they were ready to broaden their reach.

So, we had to start looking at everything fresh for that year's dinner. What had worked in the past might not work for a new crowd.

We revamped the sponsorship package, added a lot of cold leads to the potential sponsor list, and changed the format of the event to be more forward-thinking and informative, rather than using "insider" language as they had done before.

This new group of attendees might not be familiar with the different ministries under ADC's umbrella, or know why the work is important, or understand how their donations can effect people and programs all over the state. It was a big opportunity, and we didn't want to miss it.

I also created::

  • Positioning language for the sponsorship package, instead of it just be a list of benefits, which helped people understand the what and why of their mission.

  • A formal sponsorship letter that anyone on the staff could use as a framework to solicit donations.

  • Talking points so that anyone who spoke about the dinner to a potential sponsor, donor, or ticket buyer could stay "on message," relaying the most important aspects of why the event was being held and what the money would go to.

  • The text for the website and email/print newsletters, so that everything was aligned and on point.

  • A marketing plan for them to see the event strategically from start to finish, even if I wasn't around.

  • A press release to get the word out about the event's success after it was over, which could bring more eyes to their work, resulting in even more new supporters, donors, or partners.

The ministry also began working on ways they could highlight their uniqueness, as well as how it relates to the overall mission of the organization. We needed to clearly communicate how everything worked together. And it turned out to be a very cool, experiential element of the evening that they now improve each year.

From the initial conversation to the wrap-up meeting, my goal was to bring a new level of professionalism to the event, and a fresh pair of eyes.

Don't get me wrong, their staff is outstanding at what they do, and they are relational to the core. (And a whole lot of fun!) But, like many small nonprofits, they struggled with systems and processes. Strategy wasn't the foundation of the event. 

(Note: Having an annual fundraiser because everyone else does or simple because you need money isn’t a strategy—or even a very good reason. Make sure you truly understand why you want to host the event before you put your staff through the pain of executing it.)

We made a huge amount of progress that year—and it showed. Yes, the final fundraising tally was fantastic, but those who had previously attended their benefit dinners also noted how different everything felt. They could see and feel the shift and intentionality, and they were really looking forward to the next one. That's definitely what you want to hear!

The staff also said that it was the most relaxed they'd felt at the benefit dinner. (<— Also what you want to hear!) Each person knew their role, and were able to connect with sponsors and donors throughout the evening rather than running around putting out fires and pitching in on last-minute logistics. 

One of the other things I suggested to the team was that we not only ask for donations at the end of the event, which was already part of the plan, but we give attendees other ways to stay engaged and build deeper relationships with ADC throughout the year. This was important both for the die-hard fans and the people who were new to the mission.

You don't want to have a great event and captive audience, and then just say you'll see them next year. You want to give them a clear next step, and make it easy to take.

Our answer was to have staffed tables and flyers available in the lobby while people waited in line for valet service. This move gave attendees options for getting more involved with whichever ministry struck a chord with them that night, as well as opportunities to further utilize their time, resources, and funds to support the nonprofit.

DETERMINING SUCCESS

It's absolutely true that sales and donations are important. Those things keep the doors open and the lights on. And it's equally true that people have planned events with far less strategy and still seen great results.

But planning a successful event can be seen so many different ways:

  • Hitting bigger sales and revenue goals

  • Increasing attendance

  • Not driving your staff insane

  • Letting you sleep easier at night

  • Allowing your tribe to take the right, next steps with your organization

That's why I think strategy is the key to making your next event more successful. It certainly worked for Atlanta Dream Center, and I think it will work for you too.

 

“‘Exceed expectations’ is an overused expression with few who can document occasions when they actually did exceed expectations. Kristi Porter is one who can point to the work she did with the Atlanta Dream Center and accurately state that she exceeded all of our expectations. You will be well pleased with the results achieved by bringing Kristi onto your team.” - Mark Northcutt, Atlanta Dream Center

 



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After working on so many  events  over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

Social media is expanding faster than most of us can keep up with it. And just when we feel comfortable with a platform, it seems like we’re presented with a change of some kind. For example, Instagram introduces a new element to their Stories feature every month. And Twitter recently changed its policy and guidelines. Plus, Facebook has already made three, big algorithm changes this year.

Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we maintain an online presence. So, how do we keep up?

Social media allows us to connect with wider audiences, and help us ultimately establish brand awareness and brand loyalty. According the New York Times Business section, “an estimated 81% of Americans have a social media account.” In fact, Facebook is quickly closing in on the two billion (with a B!) user mark. Instagram has 800 million monthly active users, and Twitter has 330 million monthly active users.

These are impressive numbers, but their implications, for our social enterprises and nonprofits especially, should spring us into action! Everyone is looking to connect with something, which is essential to being human. And everyone is also looking for a cause!

Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

You’re cause might just be their life’s calling, but if they’re knocking and you’re not there to answer, how will they connect with you?

It’s intimidating, yet inevitable—to communicate the mission and heartbeat of your organization, you must utilize social media.

Sree Sreenivasan of the New York Times says, “LinkedIn works best when you use it as a career management tool and not just for job hunting.” We have to treat our social media accounts in the same way. They are a year-round tool that builds a community of followers, not just a launching pad for campaign and fundraising season. They are a field that requires cultivation. If we are committed (AHHH! We said the word!) and faithful over time, our use of social media platforms will yield fruit and growth.

So without further ado, let’s dive into some tips that will help your company improve at engaging with social media.

Technical and Practical Advice for Your Social Media

Before we look to specific examples of organizations that utilize social media effectively, let’s think of some practical steps to improve our social media image:

Practice brevity. Keep it simple.

Too much content can overwhelm users. To connect with your audience, be sweet, simple, and to the point with your words. Because posts like this are shorter, it requires more consistency in the amount of times you post weekly, monthly, etc. By having less written content in each individual posts, but posting more frequently over time, you will slowly and steadily build a following and connect your audience to the heart of your mission.

A nice rule of thumb is to keep each post at a one to two sentences max for Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. However, each audience is different, and you can test different lengths to see what your fans like and interact with most.

There are definitely times when longer posts are needed. Or if, for example, your brand revolves around a person, your tribe may be interested in reading longer thoughts.  Instagram allows a lot more text, and people have found success with both short and long posts, so again, experiment! Or at least feel free to vary it as needed, depending on the content.

Hashtags are okay, but don’t use too many! We recommend two for Twitter, but no more than three on occasion. Use hashtags that highlight your brand, attract your tribe, or direct users specifically to the content they are looking for. For example, if your Tweet is about #fundraising, use that, but feel the freedom for your hashtags to vary with content. You can also identify more hashtags using websites like Hashtagify.me. You may even want to create a list of hashtags that work best, and swap them out regularly. (You'll see that we do that on our Twitter account.)

For Instagram, they’ll let you use up to 30 hashtags! Because there is more “room” on Instagram, you can certainly use more here, which will allow you to attract more people at once. You can now also use and search hashtags in Instagram Stories.

And though you can use hashtags for Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s not necessary.

 

Consistency and Frequency

Day to day and week to week, try to find a consistent time that you can post—and stick to that! It can be useful to post during peak times in social media use. Usually there’s a peak from noon to 1:00 p.m. during lunch hours, and another peak posting time at from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. at dinner time. You might look to tools like Hootsuite or SmarterQue to help you schedule postings.

It’s good to find such general rules of time, but they aren’t be-all-end-all guidelines! Have flexibility in your schedule, periodically review it, and be willing to change your patterns to fit your audience. Using business analytics through Google analytics, Facebook analytics and insights, and tools like Hootsuite to track the viewing patterns of your audience. Look at when user activity is the highest, and then cater to those needs.

It can be additionally challenging to discover what frequency should look like for your company—whether that’s twice a week or twice a day find the perfect balance. A quick Google search will give you a lot of answers, but there really is no substitute for experimenting and trial and error. If you’re interacting with Millennials constantly, it might be that more frequent posting is necessary, however, if you targets primarily an older crowd, less postings may be best.

First and foremost, we recommend finding a consistency that you can actually execute, and then building on that along the way. It’s more important to first create the habit rather than getting behind and ditching your plan. For example, a newsletter should go out at least quarterly, a blog post should go up at least monthly, and social media should post at least once per week.

This isn’t ideal, it’s a bare minimum. But if this is all you can do to start—just start. Then form the habit, and create a plan to post more frequently. But if you’re fans, followers, and supporters never hear from you...they will hear from someone else.

Developing an Aesthetic for Your Brand

It may sound cliche, but to ensure that we’re developing a brand image for our social enterprise or nonprofit, it’s necessary that we develop an unchanging and balanced aesthetic. This means that your posts should always look like they came from your organization. It's often helpful to create templates through programs like Canva or Adobe Spark that you can use again and again. (<-- They’re free and easy to use!)

Through the use of similar colors, fonts, and symbols in your graphics, people will start to develop a sense of what is familiar, and yes, even comfortable with your organization.

 

Try Bit.ly

Bit.ly is a website that allows users to create short, trackable links that connect to specific content on your website. (Hint: we use Bit.ly links on social media to track when our blog posts are clicked from other platforms.)

Rather than using super long links that use up half of the real estate on your social media post, use a Bit.ly link—they’re concise and even customizable. Plus, they’re much easier on the eyes! Who wants to look at a social media post that’s mostly a link? Answer: no one.

And not only can you shorten the links to content on your website like blogs, contact pages, social media, you’re also able to track the audience engagement through these links. Tools like Google Analytics are always more reliable, but for quick stats at a glance, this is a simple option.

An Expert Social Media Example

No matter who you are, it’s important to look to examples of companies that are at least one step ahead of you. If you want to get to the place where you're one step ahead as well, surround yourselves with examples of companies more successful than you.

Pastor Andy Stanley, who is widely known for his communication and leadership skills, says, “You are not the smartest person in your organization. You’re just the leader. If you are the smartest person in your organization, you are not a very good leader.” Always look for examples of organizations that seemingly “have it all together” or whom you admire.

And while you may be at a small organization looking to a large or popular organization for inspiration, don’t feel like you have to imitate them exactly. Did TOMS, Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, Project 7, Warby Parker, or the American Cancer Society come to mind?

They may seem to have oodles of manpower, limitless resources, and countless hours of experience, but remember that those organizations started with SMALL means and HUGE dreams. It’s probably a better use of your time to look at a successful company that projects a great online and offline reputation, but is just a little bigger than you. What are they doing on social media that you can do?

Charity: Water is constantly growing and recognized in its uncanny ability to utilize social media platforms and effectively connect with its users. Scott Harrison started Charity: Water in 2006, astounded by the fact that 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water.

They may seem like a huge organization, but they don’t actually have an enormous staff. However, they are known for being brilliant online storytellers.

Through creative engagement on social media, Charity: Water has provided 8 million people around the world access to clean water since their launch! According to CNBC, Charity: Water has funded, “30,000 water projects in 26 countries across the world. Over one million people have donated more than $300 million to its cause.”

So then, how did Harrison do it? There’s many moving parts, but arguably Charity: Water has some of the most effective marketing that a company has to offer—and its strategy is simple: present the problem and provide a simple solution.

1. At Charity: Water, all they ask for is a penny.

Let’s be honest—the world has commitment issues. It’s not easy to get people to commit to relationships, and it’s even harder to contribute our hard-earned money toward campaigns we barely know about. However, here’s the beauty in this example: It’s okay to start small!

The Charity: Water website states, “Every single penny will help bring clean water to communities in need.” In a recent #WorldWaterDay campaign, Charity: water asked children to donate their allowance, or savings, of $8.15. Not only was this a small, manageable, and simple amount, but it also allowed for deep interaction and audience participation. It’s communicating the fact that yes even kids can change the world and the world’s water crisis!

 

2. Their audience is involved.

In line with keeping its mission simple, Charity: Water makes sure that its audience is always engaged. However, it goes one step further. They also make sure that the audience is involved.

Involvement is how we generate deep bonds and ties with our tribe, and ultimately how we develop brand loyalty. Charity: Water’s campaigns are designed for the everyman—and that’s incredible. Often it’s hard to feel invested in an organization when it’s goals feel too lofty.

Under it’s fundraising page you’ll find, “Start Your Campaign.” Every campaign at Charity: Water is for and by the people—that’s powerful. Sometimes the best step in our next campaign is to simply ask, “How we can involve our audience?”

By engaging our audiences and providing them with tangible opportunities to participate in our mission and campaigns, we will build a brand that people not only feel like they can connect with, but rather be a part of.

 

3. Charity: Water uses local partners.

They have developed an extensive portfolio of partners. We might overlook the importance of our partners, clients, or business partners (you name it), however, there is power in association.

By associating ourselves with other companies, we can display a history of our work, our credibility, and our accolades. Never undermine the importance of friendships, partnerships, sponsors, and connections. We are all always just one step away from making a connection with a new client, bridging gaps in communication, or introducing someone to our products or services. Rely on close friendships, clients, key stakeholders, and other partners to bridge those gaps. You just never know who knows who!

 

4. They have consistency in social media and brand image.

We mentioned this under a previous section, however, we’ll drill it again here. Charity: Water has developed powerful imagery that beautifully and effectively communicates its mission.

A yellow water jug, common to poor areas for carrying water, symbolizes the mission of the company: clean water. This bright jug and the use of vibrant colors in general are paired with hand-written text and undersaturated hues with an abundance of blues.

People now automatically associate them with that yellow jerrycan (water jug). Sitting at 331,000 likes on Facebook and 1.5 million followers on Twitter, we’d say Charity: Water is doing something right!

 

So then, let’s start small with these simple, practical steps. As you work on it, you’ll develop your brand image, frequency, and consistency. It doesn’t have to be perfect to start, but you do need to start somewhere.

Look at where you have capability and resources, and jump in. Evaluate brands that inspire you to improve.

And just remember that the first word is social media is still "social." You need to be interacting and engaging with those who love your organization and your cause. Listen to your fans and see what they like. Ask them questions. Show them the perfect and the imperfection of your brand. But you have to talk to them to understand them. And when you start to do that, things get a whole lot easier.

Have any wins on how you improved your own social media strategy? Tell us in the comments!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we  maintain an online presence . So, how do we keep up?

Michael Banks

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.


Advice From The Editors: Avoid These Writing Mistakes

If you've been wondering what makes for great business writing, you're in luck! Based on feedback from the Signifiers Facebook Group, we're focusing on writing tips all month long. But before we talk about how to write an enticing and effective blog post, website, or social media, let's first chat about common writing mistakes. 

I don't know about you, but I see errors on professional websites, blogs, social media, and even national commercials almost daily. And, as someone who can spot them, it makes the brand seem more amateur to me, especially when it's a large company. That's definitely not what I want for your organization. 

So, to kick things off, I asked a few of my favorite #girlboss editors to explain some common writing mistakes, which will allow you to spot any weaknesses you may have, and improve them. (Basically, here's how you can up your writing game in just a few minutes!) Any corrections you can catch now may cause you to retain customers and donors in the future.

Advice From the Editors: Avoid These Common Business Writing Mistakes

Audience

Sara Shelton:

My biggest tip for any and all writers would be to remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, don’t start writing until you figure that out! Identify your primary audience and then write with them in mind. Read everything back through the lens of that audience and ask yourself if it makes sense just for them. Did it communicate specifically to that audience?

As an editor, one the biggest content mistakes I find myself having to correct is a lack of focus on an audience. It’s much easier to make a clear point and deliver a direct message to one, specific audience. When a writer or brand doesn’t know who they’re trying to communicate to, clarity and messaging gets lost and mixed up pretty quickly!

 

Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Related Nonsense

Afton Phillips:

The Oxford Comma Debate

To add the third comma, or not to add the third comma. That is the question. A REAL BIG pet peeve of mine when editing is inconsistent commas. The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list of three or more items just before the "and" or "or." For example, “Johnny, April, and Samantha drove to the store to get Tombstone frozen pizza, which as we all know, is the best kind of pizza.” The comma after "April" is the Oxford comma.

The reason this matters is that sometimes the meaning of the sentence can be misconstrued without the comma. In the above example, it might otherwise seem like we’re telling Johnny that April and Samantha went to get delicious pizza without him, which is very rude. Without the Oxford comma, the last two subjects can sometimes be grouped together separately, leaving the first guy all alone, hungry, and wishing he had pizza. So, my humble opinion is to be kind and add the Oxford comma.

There are a lot of opinions on this topic, but no matter where you fall, my one piece of advice is be consistent. Whether you want to use it or not, whenever you have a list of three or more, make sure you either always or never use your Oxford comma. This will make your editor's life much easier, and it will clear up any misunderstandings in your text by your willy-nilly use of punctuation.

 

Jill Turner:

The number one mistake I have corrected lately (and so many times) is no comma before "and" (or any other conjunction) when marrying two sentences that could stand on their own. For example: Kristi Porter is a friend of mine. She is a talented writer. If I put those two sentences together, I have to say, "Kristi Porter is a friend of mine, and she is a talented writer."

A second thing that bothers me is the very popular use of "based off." A base is something you put something else ON. A base is a launching pad, a setting place. You can only base something ON something else.

A resource Jill recommends:

 

I will also add two of my own here:

First, an ampersand, or the famous "&" character, should not be placed in the middle of a sentence. I think this probably became more popular when people started writing like they text (note: me shaking my head and sighing). Use it for titles, names, and things like that, but if you're using it in a sentence because typing two more characters for "and" is a bit much for you, rethink it. It just leaves me feeling that whatever is written is unprofessional or sloppy. And it drives me insane to see large businesses who can afford proofreaders make this mistake.

Second, and somewhat related, is the use of single and double quotes. I still hold true to what I was taught in school: use double quotes every dang time, unless you are quoting someone within a set of quotes. For example: "I turned to look at a bewildered Samantha who said, 'Oh, no, she didn't!' and then we both burst out laughing."

That latter mention is the only time I believe a single quote should be used. And I really enjoyed this funny, tirade on the subject. Again, I think this leads back to texting being the death of proper writing. (Call me old, I don't care!) Then again, sometime these mistakes keep me in business, so there's that...

Resources I recommend:

  • I admit to Googling these questions now and again, but I only get my answers from reputable sources like AP Stylebook, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl, which you'll also see noted below.

  • Make friends with editors, ha! I'll also admit to texting some of these ladies questions from time-to-time.

  • If you have the budget, hire a proofreader. It may not seem like it should be at the top of your list, but remember, everything you say (including how you say it) conveys something about your organization. If you're asking people to buy something from you, or donate to your organization, you'd better make sure that you look and sound professional. Personally, if I see a lot of errors in a website, email, blog, or social media, that's not where I'm going to send my money.

 

Style

Crystal Chiang:

When writing, nothing is more often overlooked or more impactful than tension. Tension helps the reader answer the question, “why do I care?”. It moves them to feel something, to engage.

The problem is that no one really likes tension, not even the author. We want it to be relieved. We want the reader to know that we know the answer to the questions we’re asking. We want to stop feeling the tension, so we resolve it to quickly. And in doing so, we unknowingly sabotage ourselves.

The truth is, there’s a lot of content out there and our time is limited. So helping a reader know why this topic matters to them is key if we want them to stick around.

A resource Crystal recommends:

 

Leigh Harper:

Don't fall into the trap of foregoing correctness for the sake of being catchy or memorable. Trust me, you'll be remembered—but not for the reasons you'd like! Creativity is great, but keep it professional by using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Playing off of words is welcomed (i.e. naming a boutique "Sew In Style"), but there's no need to get sloppy ("Sew 'N Style" or worse, "Sew-N-Style"). You'll be hurting yourself by appearing amateur. Plus, deviating from traditional spelling, punctuation, or grammar opens the door wide open for vendors, donors, and customers to misspell or confuse your brand. Naming an event, product, or campaign? You guessed it. Same rules apply in order to put your best foot forward.

Resources Leigh recommends:

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

Jennifer Bradley Franklin:

Effective writing is the foundation of successful messaging—in public relations and beyond. It can communicate the strengths of a brand to virtually any targeted audience, convert skeptics into evangelists, and it can make the journalist receiving it say, “Yes! I want to write a story about that!” Bad, boring, or unclear writing will make many people ignore the potentially terrific information you have to share.

What Makes Bad Writing?

  • Too much "puffery" such as: "It will be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, with each hilarious performance starting promptly at 8 p.m.”

  • Empty/meaningless language: there is, amazing, actually, basically, really, charming, fantastic, wonderful, etc. Use concrete adjectives that convey what you want to say.

  • Cramming in too many big words, just for the sake of, well, using big words.

  • Being unclear. Don’t make assumptions about your reader’s knowledge of a subject.

What Makes Good Writing?

  • Master the basics (grammar, structure, format) and then build in personality and “punch” from that strong foundation.

  • Write for clarity. Read your work with a critical eye, asking the question, “If I weren’t close to this project, would this paragraph make sense?”

  • Be concise, but include interesting details that entice the recipient to read on. Think like a journalist.

Resources Jennifer recommends:

  • Grammarly

  • "In general, I think the best way to become a better writer is to be a voracious reader. Reading good writing hones those skills!"

 

Jennifer Wilder:

I have two pieces of advice. First, no matter how well you write, you can still make spelling errors on words like here and hear, or they're and their, or your and you're. Often, these spelling errors elude us even after reading it twice. That's why it's important to have a second set of eyes read your article. This person could be your spouse, your business partner, a professional editor, or a virtual assistant. The second person will often catch things that you didn't.

If you're unable to locate someone to read things twice, then read it yourself, out loud, a third time. Pretend that you are reading it to someone who is looking over your shoulder at the document. You'll likely find that spelling errors jump out at you when taking this perspective.

Second, write as if your article or communication was going to be read by a group of fifth-grade students. Are your ideas clearly thought out and linked together? Are your sentences less than 20 words? Check to make sure you limit the use of pronouns or referring words. Mix in the proper names of things among those referring pronouns to ensure that readers follow your thought process through complex ideas about multiple subject matters.

Resources Jen recommends:

 

Patti Townley-Covert:

  • If a nonprofit does not have an experienced communications department, I highly recommend they hire someone to come in and do a seminar about writing tips. (Or if you have someone experienced, it's worth making the time for that person to share writing info with whatever staff personnel might write for the organization. It's amazing how few editors/marketing people/human resources personnel and others have any kind of training in effective communications. The authors I worked with at a nonprofit hated the writing/editorial process until I did a two-hour seminar correcting some misperceptions that even those designated as editors had. Articles/books/brochures and donor letters became far more engaging as a result. It's well-worth the cost.

  • Ledes (leads) should hook the reader into the material. Using a story, an outrageous or little known fact, or other compelling approaches will help readers take time to read the rest.

  • Writing is a team sport. It takes good communication and working together to get high-quality documents. Too many times authors and editors do not explain problems, they just try to fix them in isolation. That does not work well.

  • The worst problem I see, even with experienced writers, is passive or boring verbs—were, was, are, have, is. Verbs should be powerful, action words. That's fine for a first draft, but then substitute action words.

  • Another problem is over-using the word "I" in your writing. The article/missive/web piece is not about "you." Keep it focused on the audience, even when describing how you feel about it.

  • That said, when you're writing—just write. Let the words flow. Then go back and edit. The two processes use opposite sides of the brain, and trying to edit as you go makes a writer miserable. That was the number one reason the authors I worked with hated the process. They were trying to be creative and analytical at the same time.

 

Great information, right? These are smart, successful women who know their stuff. Take my advice: take their advice! These writing mistakes may be common, but they're easy to fix. Make these changes, and pretty soon, you'll be a more powerful writer who can help others rally around your cause.

And let us know in the comments which tips were most helpful for you!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



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These common writing mistakes could be costing your nonprofit or social enterprise customers and donors! Listen to what our favorite editors had to say.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How To Improve Public Relations Through Social Media

Over the last decade, the lines between all forms of business communications have become blurred. It's no longer just marketing or public relations or advertising. They're all intertwined, and for that reason, I think you should have a good understanding of each.

So, today I've brought in my friend, Meleah Smith, to talk to you about public relations. PR seems to be a little more mysterious than its other communications cousins, but because it's often free, I think you'll be eager to learn more about it. And better yet, Meleah will put public relations in the context of social media to make it even easier to understand.

I spent a number of years in PR, and know the value it can bring your organization. And after she explains it, I think you'll see its worth too.

By the way, this kicks off an entire month dedicated to public relations strategy, so prepare to become a PR expert!

How To Improve Public Relations Through Social Media

By some miracle, I’ve been doing freelance public relations for almost 12 years now. The year I started, 2006, just so happened to have been the first year that Facebook was opened up beyond the world of college students.

Gradually over time, my clients began requesting more and more help with social media. Though I grew up entirely without it, social media has been present throughout my entire career. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don't love social media, but it is the single largest space where the public exists. So for the time being, PR and social media are irrevocably linked.

So, here are some big picture things about public relations with a few, specific steps you can take to apply them to the world of social media.

 

Real Life Connection

My passion for public relations comes from a heart to let people know that they are seen, that they are heard, and that they have a place in your space. Good PR creates spaces for people, welcomes them in for conversations, and invites them to come back.

Conversations and real life connections are critical on social media, and even more so now with the recent changes in algorithms. If you aren’t creating content that is engaging people in conversations, Facebook will not show your posts to people.

Social Media Tip: Test asking questions and Facebook Live. These are generating comments and conversations with the current algorithm.

Maintain Positive Communication

Good public relations maintains a positive flow of communication. Open up the channels of communication to foster real life connections and trust. In the face of anything negative, you shouldn't remain silent. You positively state what you can, while not affirming what you can’t, all while remaining honest.

No news is assumed to be bad news…or even, the worst news possible. So say something! If you’re the one who puts your message out there first, then others don’t get first dibs to spin it against you. Good PR is not afraid of a conversation.

Social Media Tip: Allow reviews, allow direct messages, etc. Communicate positively immediately on social media any time there are changes happening.

 

Answer Everything

Maintaining a favorable image in the public is closely tied to letting that public know that you like them. Think about it, if you know that someone likes you, you’re probably going to like them in return. And if you know that someone listens to you, you’ll want to talk to them. It's also possible that you'll go to them when you need something. Public relations is no different. Show the public that you like them and they’re more likely to think favorably of you.

On social media, one of the biggest ways that you can let people know that you like them is to engage with them.

Social Media Tip: Like every comment or mention. Reply to every comment and directly mention that person. Respond to every direct message.

Listen

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—we should listen twice as much as we speak. Excellent PR specialists understand and know their public. You can’t relate with a public that you don’t take the time to know. This does not mean that you sacrifice who you are, but present who you are in a way that is meaningful to them. This is to tie things together and make connections.

Social Media Tip: Post less this week and engage with your followers more. Respond specifically to their post, story, latest blog, bio, etc. If you dare, spend half as much time posting as you do engaging and listening.

 

Feed Your Creative Soul

Take time to feed your creative soul. Read something not related to work like a classic novel or a young adult fiction book. Go to a concert, gallery, or play. Pay attention to what is resonating more than just what’s merely popular.

Social Media Tip: Post something to inspire your audience this week. Don’t sell anything, just add value, beauty, or humor to their lives.

 

Be A Learner

What makes public relations impactful will never change, but the world in which we do it constantly changes. People are people, are people…the world over, for all time. But the tools and contexts in which we can reach them are continually ebbing and flowing. So be a learner. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that you think you should already know the answer to.

Social Media Tip: Read reliable blogs such as SproutSocial or get in touch with us at SocialLion.

 

Read all posts in this PR series:


Meleah Smith, public relations and social media expert

Meleah Smith loves making space for people. She does freelance public relations mostly in social media through SocialLion, manages her brother’s band called As Isaac at home and on the road, and volunteers mentoring students and youth leaders through her church.

She grew up in South Carolina, but has called Chattanooga, TN, home for 16 years.



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How To Improve Public Relations Through Social Media

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

It’s the final week of our “business resolutions series,” and I hope you’re already making big progress on your goals this year! Before we dive into today’s topic, let’s recap, shall we? First, we talked about seven simple tools that build a strong small business foundation. Then, we talked about how to gain authority and trust at your organization through internal communication. To wrap up, we’ll discuss wooing your fans and supporters—and those who could be—through external communication.

You have to actually talk to the people who support you, right? Yes, of course, you do. However, too many small businesses that I speak with know that they should communicate with their customers and donors, but they don’t actually do it.

Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the back burner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

So, while there are undoubtedly lots of ways to communicate with your customers, donors, and the people who could be, I’ll just highlight three areas that I think you should focus on for maximum impact.

How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

Email Should Be Your Top Priority

Email, email, email. I can’t stress this enough. For talking to your previous and current customers and donors, this needs to be your top priority. Unless you’re sitting down over coffee with these lovely people, there’s no better way to communicate with your fans.

Don’t believe me? Think social media should be your numero uno? Did someone tell you email is dead? Consider two arguments.

First, how many companies, either for- or non-profit, do you readily give your email to? And how many more do you follow on social media? Yep, there’s no comparison. We’re all getting more and more stingy with our emails, so when someone willingly hands over their email, you should treat it as precious. You have a direct line to their hearts and minds.

Second, think about it this way: you own your email list. With social media, we’re all at the mercy of the ever-changing algorithms. The majority of our posts are filtered out, meaning only a fraction of the people that follow you see what you post. And even if you do get the hang of it, the algorithm will change again in a few months. Plus, we all know that some platforms are here today, but gone tomorrow. MySpace anyone? However, for better or worse, email has been our constant companion the last few decades.

As a marketer, this is frustrating, but as a human, I have to remember the “social” aspect of social media.

So, now that you’re thinking email might be a good idea, here are two ways to handle it:

  1. If you don’t already have an opt-in on your website, you need to think about adding one. An opt-in is simply something you give your list in exchange for their email. Examples include e-courses, lists, e-books, insider access, coupons, and more. This tactic will help you build your list, drawing in potential customers and donors.

  2. I’d like you to email your list at least once a month, and be consistent. We’re all creatures of the out of sight, out of mind variety, so you need to remind people that you’re still here and open for business. You may want to email them more frequently, which is sometimes recommended, but it sort of depends on your organization and other factors. Most people, though, send emails every couple of months, and only when they need something. Yuck! This is not the way to treat those precious emails and the people they represent. So, aim for monthly communication.

Social Media is Important, But Not Everything

People online are currently freaking out over the new Facebook changes that were recently announced, stating that content by companies will be less visible in news feeds. And, I agree, it’s a little scary. I also just dinged social media in the section above. But, no matter how you feel about social media (I have mixed feelings myself), it’s still important and necessary.

So, while I think you should focus on your email list, that won’t always help you reach those who don’t yet know about you. And you probably don’t want to email those who already love you every day and get a bunch of unsubscribes. Enter social media. It’s still an effective way to get your name out and keep it out there, but we’ll all have to try a little harder. But who has the time? This is why I switched to a social media scheduler.

While it’s true that posts sent by schedulers get less play than real-time, “native” posts (typed straight into the platform), for me, it was a matter of what would actually happen. I could have great intentions about getting on social media every day with new content, but the reality is that may not happen. I have too many other things to do, and so do you. This is why I went with a social media scheduling tool, and you can read all the details, as well as my review of 13 popular platforms, right here.

Definitely jump on social media and post in real time, interact with people, share pictures, and generally live it up when you can. But for those times you can’t, consider a scheduling tool. I’m glad to know that if my head is down, and I’m working on a writing project for a few days, my social media posts are still going out the door without me having to press any buttons. I’d rather have a few people seeing my posts than none at all.

Another social media option to consider is Facebook groups. There are millions of them out there, for everything under the sun. My suggestion would be to find a few that contain your target audience, and get active. Be helpful, make connections, and follow their rules for self-promotion. They definitely take time, but are a great and personalized way to build new relationships.

By the way, my friend Jennifer, who is a social media manager, will be talking all about these new Facebook changes, how to stay in front of your audience, and alternatives worth pursuing in my Facebook Group tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. EST. Join us!

Networking and Events Never Go Out of Style

We’ve covered a couple of online options, but you already know there’s no replacement for good, old fashioned face-to-face connection. So, it’s time to get outside your office and shake a few hands. This is still a terrific way to meet potential customers and donors, or even make deeper connections with those who already know and love you. (Bonus: It's also a great way to invest in yourself!)

For us introverts, this may or may not be a welcome suggestion. Me? I love being at home, but I also love attending events. But if you’re the kind of guy or gal who would rather have an email exchange than coffee with someone, then I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to push yourself for the good of your organization. #sorrynotsorry

You may choose to be an exhibitor, an attendee, or even a speaker, and all can be effective. You’ll likely need a combination over time. Obviously, you’ll get the most attention from a larger audience by speaking, but exhibiting and attending can allow you to have more meaningful and personal conversations.

But before you show up, I suggest doing a little event prep work:

  1. Follow the event’s social media or hashtag to start making connections ahead of time.

  2. Make sure your social profiles and website are updated.

  3. Don’t forget to bring business cards or handouts about your org.

(You can read more about each of these items here.)

The important thing is to make the most of the event. Of course, you’re probably showing up to learn, but if you can snag a few more fans, even better! Oh, and in case you’re looking for some cool, cause-focused events to attend, check out this list by Cause Artist.

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the backburner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.