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Changing the Conversation: Conference Recap

Changing the ConversationA panel of award-winning public relations professionals shared proven techniques recycling coordinators can use to shift attitudes and behavior among their community citizens, legislators and the next generation.

David Harrison, President of Harrison Communications, began this session of the conference by stressing the importance of the “citizen’s perspective.” He asserted that the success of recycling is largely dependent on citizen’s perceptions of the ease and effectiveness of recycling. Thus, to promote recycling among regular people, a communications strategy is essential.

Courtney Benhoff, Account Manager at Abel Communications, emphasized the need for an organization to create a communications strategy that aligns with its business goals. To develop an effective communications strategy that will inform, influence, and motivate citizens, you must follow four key steps.

  • Do research to identify your target audiences and discover the attitudes you want to change.
  • Plan: determine your objectives and produce strategies with specific activities, called tactics, for implementation.
  • Decide what messages to convey and when to implement your plan. Additionally, choose whether you want to use paid advertising, owned websites, or earned media, meaning recognition by a credible third party, to spread your message.
  • Evaluate the progress of your communications strategy in order to make changes as necessary.

According to Benhoff, social media websites are valuable spaces that allow you to engage directly with your target audience. Jeffrey A. Davis, Managing Director of Van Eperen, a public relations firm, presented tips to use and improve your organization’s social media presence. Before launching a social media account, said Davis, it’s important to establish a social media policy. Davis recommended checking out socialmediagovernance.com to see examples of policies that encourage social media use instead of restricting it. When it comes to posting, Davis warned “don’t be boring.” Be creative in your posts, and don’t be afraid to use humor. Live video can be a great way to engage social media users, according to Davis. To avoid being “blissfully unaware,” pay attention to what others are saying about your organization on social media, and use features such as Facebook insights or Google analytics to track your account’s progress. Davis’ final tip reiterated his number one rule: keep the content fun and interesting, and avoid posting too many promotional messages.

Overall, social media is on the rise as companies decrease their print budgets in favor of increasing electronic advertising. While social media is considered “owned” or “paid,” David Harrison argued that there is still a lot of value in what is known as “traditional” or “earned media.” Earned media is different from marketing in that it is unprompted and unpaid; when a reliable news source posts about your organization, thereby informing audiences from a neutral point of view and establishing third party credibility, it is called “earned media.”

MessageTo convey the benefits of “earned media,” Harrison told the story of Warby Parker, an independent online glasses company. Soon after Warby Parker launched, GQ Magazine called the company “the Netflix of eyewear.” According to Harrison, the orders never stopped coming after this endorsement. In any communications, Harrison emphasized the need to craft messages that strike a good balance between what the organization wants to express and what the audience wants to hear. “People are self-interested,” said Harrison, so it may be a good idea to connect recycling and the environment to something they care about, like personal health. 

The three panelists agreed that trying to be on every social media platform is a mistake. Benhoff recommended choosing one to two platforms, perhaps Facebook and Twitter, then working to make them successful. Davis noted that organizations often go social-media crazy, mistakenly making pages for every subdivision of an organization. This becomes confusing for social media users, said Davis, so it is more effective to maintain a solid core account and segment parts of the organization using hashtags or another distinguishable notation. When asked how to increase followers, Davis’ number one rule returned; including “good, fun content” and responding to those who comment on your page is key in engaging citizens. With engaged citizens, we can improve the environment we leave for future generations (see full slide deck).

Recap courtesy of Ruth Checknoff, Baltimore County