My small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm, Advice Unlimited, has been serving the Federal government marketplace for nearly 30 years to help companies with innovative technology get their solutions to the government. Every month, I’ll offer unlimited advice on how to work with this unique market. Please email me with questions or comments.

Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Monday, November 29, 2010

Social Media Can Help You Communicate Faster in a Disaster

The following article, written by Sandy Levine, recently appeared in Government Security News. View the article here:

Do you use social media to communicate with your public? Have you updated your disaster preparedness communications plan to include social media? If not, add that to your priority ‘To Do’ list!

Information about practically everything -- both factual and wildly inaccurate -- now travels around the globe literally in minutes, through new communication tools -- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few. In a natural or manmade disaster, if you don’t reach out to the public with the facts quickly, someone else will get there with a rumor -- and as we all know, misinformation can cause havoc, create panic and potentially increase danger to those at risk who we want to protect.

As communication tools change, government communicators have to keep up. This is important always; however, in a disaster, it is critical. How are you going to inform the public about the problem? What tools do you use to make sure they get the crucial instructions they need that could keep them safe? We must not only inform, we must persuade, secure trust, calm, reassure -- and get people to actually follow the procedures we detail -- or lives will be lost. The tools used to reach out in a disaster must integrate today’s communication tools -- you must go where your public is to ensure they get your message. And more and more of your public is online.

A recent national survey from Arbitron and Edison Research, The Infinite Dial 2010, (April 23, 2010) provides insight into some of the changes occurring in communication tools in the U.S. According to this survey, the percentage of Americans age 12-and-older who have a profile on one or more social networking Web sites has reached 48 percent of the population in 2010, double the level from two years ago.

The new study reveals that consumer use of social networking sites is not just a youth phenomenon. Personal profile pages are maintained by:
  • 78% of teens
  • 77% of 18-to-24 year olds
  • 65% of 25-to-34 year olds
  • 51% of 35-to-44 year olds

The study also shows that 30 percent of Americans age 12-and-older, who have a profile on at least one social networking Web site, use those sites "several times a day," compared with only 18 percent one year ago.

Bill Rose, senior vice president of marketing at Arbitron Inc, said, "The use of social networking sites has expanded beyond younger consumers, with substantial numbers of Americans over the age of 35 now using social media.”

Also, for the first time, more Americans say the Internet is "most essential" to their lives when given a choice along with television, radio and newspapers:

  • 42% chose the Internet as "most essential"
  • 37% selected television
  • 14% chose radio
  • 5% said newspapers

While television still leads among those over the age of 45, Internet dominates among younger persons, aged 12-to-44 years old.

The key is to know who your audience is, and to take the time to research what communications tools they use and trust. There are still certain areas where radio is king; other areas where religious centers are going to be the most important communication tool in your arsenal. But, social media cannot be ignored -- especially when speed matters. Integrating the “basics” -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online postings of press releases, online links with appropriate media -- and making sure processes are in place so that these communication tools get accurate information immediately -- will help ensure your public gets the right information as quickly as possible, minimizing confusion and improving understanding in a difficult situation.

Integrating social media into your communications plan ensures you will reach a broader pool of people faster. The flow of accurate information will go more smoothly, the public will be informed appropriately and efficiently, and answers will be delivered swiftly. It can make the difference between a bad situation and a calamity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

3 case studies in social media experimentation -- Federal Computer Week

Interesting article in FCW this week - if you're looking to integrate innovation into your outreach, we can provide proven techniques to engage your audience and boost interest! Contact me at to discuss how we can work together to ensure your venture into social networking and other innovative communication tools deliver the results you want!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Choose Communication Tools Wisely

There are constantly new tools and techniques emerging in the marketplace that can help you communicate with your audience. It’s important to understand what’s out there, and new tools are fun, but you also want to be sure any new tool will actually help you reach your target audience and get your message across. Quick Response (QR) Codes are one of the most recent tools to come into play – following is some basic information on this new tool to help you determine if it’s right for your audience....

Developed by Denso Wave in 1994, a QR Code is a two-dimensional code (meaning it contains information in both the vertical and the horizontal) that is readable by QR scanners, cell phones equipped with cameras, and smartphones. The code is made up of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data. As implied by the name, the information can be decoded at high speed.

QR Codes were initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing. The use of QR Codes has expanded to include commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed at cell phone users – this is known as “mobile tagging.”

The idea behind mobile tagging is that when you see a code, you take a picture of the code with your cell phone. Your phone will decode the information, and you will be automatically directed to, say, a company’s website. These QR Codes can be displayed in a variety of ways, including magazines, signs, buses and business cards.

To be able to scan the codes, users must download an application to their phone. The Android Market and iTunes App Store offer some applications that can decode QR matrices. Decoding can result in the display of contact information, text, connection to a wireless network, or the opening of a web page in the phone’s browser.

QR Codes were widely used at SXSW (a film/music gathering in Austin) in March of this year. They had QR Codes on flyers, postcards, business cards and stickers. One of the more memorable examples was a QR Code embedded in a t-shirt, which directed scanners to a Twitter feed.

QR Codes have been slow to take off in the U.S. market. A recent study showed that less than 10% of consumers know what a QR Code is. Their use is much more common in Japan. Many people in the U.S. seem to think that while they are visually interesting, QR Codes are gimmicky and clumsy. The use of QR Codes does not seem to make sense (at least at this point) for the government marketplace. Many people will feel as though they create an extra step. For example, a QR Code on a panelist card used at SXSW will take you to the SXSW website, which requires login and password information, and then you will eventually reach a small blurb about the panelist. This whole process takes much longer than it would to simply exchange a business card.

There is also the issue of user responsibility. This technology requires people to distinguish between a regular barcode and a QR Code. It is impossible to differentiate with the naked eye. It is also heavily dependent on the user wanting to interact with it. They have to pull out their phone, download an application, scan the code and follow the prompts.

Another problem, especially for use in the government marketplace, is that the QR Code obscures the destination it intends to send the user to. That creates the potential for the user to unknowingly click through to a malicious or unwanted site via QR Code.

Call us at 301-924-0330 or email me at so we can help you wisely choose the communication tools and techniques that best fit your purpose. No gimmicky or clumsy tools here – just tried and true methods, ready to help you on your way to success!