Writing for Your Audience is the Right Thing to Do.

Another article from copyblogger reminded me of how to use the web to get my information to the public.

In the past, I would always hear about using plenty of key words within your site codes so the search engines will have many ways to find you and bring people to you. The article, called Keyword Research: It’s Not What You Think, in copyblogger gave me a bit more insight.

The article suggested that you need to read (and read and read) what is popular on the web. In our case, we would read all of the environmental health information that our target audience reads. First, it is very important to understand what words grab their attention. Also, what kind of articles are attractive to them and what ways do they get their information. This sounds like a lot of time, but studying your audience puts you in their world and in the long run you will have a much more effective outreach program.

I also found interesting the tools to see what phrases people are using to search for environmental health information.

Keyword research tools like Wordze, Keyword Discovery, and Wordtracker estimate the number of times people search for different phrases. For instance, according to Wordze, approximately 11,222 people search for the term “blogging” each month.

It is a bit of a game, and I love games. It seems like if we combined “environmental health” and “blogging”, we would reach more people. You can also gauge the popularity of a topic relative to other topics. This may give us a better idea of what information the “web” community needs in relation to environmental health.

In relation to using a blog for outreach:

  • Businesses with blogs want to make money. We would want to use a blog to build partnerships, create community, and reach target audiences that go beyond borders. Doing this effectively will lead to successful grant proposals and publications. Most importantly, we will have a greater impact and be sustainable with our community education efforts.
  • Knowing what our target audiences read and using familiar and popular phrases will help us find a niche and social network. We can reach more people, and we can post topics that people want to read about. In relation to Center research, we can examine what about the research will be important and valuable to our target audiences. Can we find a niche that others are not covering on the web?
  • We can connect with community organizations and potential partnerships. Most community groups are using the web and social networks to reach audiences.

Copyblogger suggests that before starting a blog, you carefully decide on a niche and angle.

Ok, so we did all this and people are coming to our blog. We can see the interest by the statistics showing us the number of hits, how they find the site, the links they click, and perhaps comments from the public on the posts. But are we doing effective outreach and education? How do we measure effectiveness? Those are questions for continued discussion.

Keep the Creativity Mojo Going

I came across a web site called copyblogger, which is all about copywriting tips for online marketing success.

In my work of community outreach and education, I don’t think about selling a product or getting more customers, but much of the information on Copyblogger is quite useful and can be adapted.

I think the bottom line is to start with being creative.  The article in copyblogger called,
Do You Recognize These 10 Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking? seems very helpful. I do understand that the scientists that surround me do need to incorporate creativity in their research, but I’m trying to figure out how to be creative in getting their research to the public. The thought that, “creative outreach is an area of less interest” can really ruin my creativity.

The list was a great reminder to keep the creativity mojo going during difficult dips. It doesn’t mention that not exercising and getting the blood flowing through your body can be a mental block, but it is good.

Here is the list from copyblogger:

1. Trying to Find the “Right” Answer

One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a particular question or problem. While this approach helps us function in society, it hurts creative thinking because real-life issues are ambiguous. There’s often more than one “correct” answer, and the second one you come up with might be better than the first.

Many of the following mental blocks can be turned around to reveal ways to find more than one answer to any given problem. Try reframing the issue in several different ways in order to prompt different answers, and embrace answering inherently ambiguous questions in several different ways.

2. Logical Thinking

Not only is real life ambiguous, it’s often illogical to the point of madness. While critical thinking skills based on logic are one of our main strengths in evaluating the feasibility of a creative idea, it’s often the enemy of truly innovative thoughts in the first place.

One of the best ways to escape the constraints of your own logical mind is to think metaphorically. One of the reasons why metaphors work so well in communications is that we accept them as true without thinking about it. When you realize that “truth” is often symbolic, you’ll often find that you are actually free to come up with alternatives.

3. Following Rules

One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever confronted with the way “everyone” does things.

This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules.

4. Being Practical

Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow the editor into the same room with your inner artist.

Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on it’s own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one’s thought of it before.

5. Play is Not Work

Allowing your mind to be at play is perhaps the most effective way to stimulate creative thinking, and yet many people disassociate play from work. These days, the people who can come up with great ideas and solutions are the most economically rewarded, while worker bees are often employed for the benefit of the creative thinkers.

You’ve heard the expression “work hard and play hard.” All you have to realize is that they’re the same thing to a creative thinker.

6. That’s Not My Job

In an era of hyper-specialization, it’s those who happily explore completely unrelated areas of life and knowledge who best see that everything is related. This goes back to what ad man Carl Ally said about creative persons—they want to be know-it-alls.

Sure, you’ve got to know the specialized stuff in your field, but if you view yourself as an explorer rather than a highly-specialized cog in the machine, you’ll run circles around the technical master in the success department.

7. Being a “Serious” Person

Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can mentally accept that it’s actually nothing more than groupthink that helps a society function, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that’s accepted upside down and shake out the illusions.

Leaders from Egyptian pharaohs to Chinese emperors and European royalty have consulted with fools, or court jesters, when faced with tough problems. The persona of the fool allowed the truth to be told, without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking blasphemy or challenging ingrained social conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things for what they really are.

8. Avoiding Ambiguity

We rationally realize that most every situation is ambiguous to some degree. And although dividing complex situations into black and white boxes can lead to disaster, we still do it. It’s an innate characteristic of human psychology to desire certainty, but it’s the creative thinker who rejects the false comfort of clarity when it’s not really appropriate.

Ambiguity is your friend if you’re looking to innovate. The fact that most people are uncomfortable exploring uncertainty gives you an advantage, as long as you can embrace ambiguity rather than run from it.

9. Being Wrong is Bad

We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Edison’s greatest strength was that he was not afraid to be wrong.

The best thing we do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong? You’ll often find the benefits of being wrong greatly outweigh the ramifications.

10. I’m Not Creative

Denying your own creativity is like denying you’re a human being. We’re all limitlessly creative, but only to the extent that we realize that we create our own limits with the way we think. If you tell yourself you’re not creative, it becomes true. Stop that.

In that sense, awakening your own creativity is similar to the path reported by those who seek spiritual enlightenment. You’re already enlightened, just like you’re already creative, but you have to strip away all of your delusions before you can see it. Acknowledge that you’re inherently creative, and then start tearing down the other barriers you’ve allowed to be created in your mind.

Environmental Health Community Blog?

I think about new and innovative ways to build community with opportunities for people to share and discuss topics of interest coming out of the Environmental Health Sciences Center.

One way to do that is to build a blog that has many authors/contributors. I have been creating blogs that have me as the single author. For this topic, I think it would be much more interesting to get individuals who can share not just their expertise, but their perspective on the topic. Environmental health is a complex topic. Adding audio and video to the blog will create an educational experience with the opportunity to comment and add your own voice, while asking questions that most likely are valuable to others.

It can get a bit lonesome within the walls of the university. How can we really make a difference to communities? What can we offer them that will provide them a connection into the world of research and how the research relates to their health? We must use a platform that puts them in the driver’s seat helping them make decisions of how their own choices make a difference to their health and the health of others.

Multimedia and Science Education

Our outreach program with the Environmental Health Sciences Center has always focused on integrating 21st century learning skills into the education. I found information from Quest, a production of KQED Public Broadcasting in the California Bay Area. I think it is a valuable reminder of why it is important to examine how to best do our outreach to benefit society.

As science educators, we know how important critical thinking and new technology skills are in the scientific community. The ability to question and make sense of the world around us is a skill we value highly in the scientific world. We recognize that if our students are going to become the next scientific innovators and responsible citizens, they need, more than ever, skills to gather and evaluate data, make informed decisions, and communicate their ideas to others. As with scientific literacy, media literacy and other 21st century skills are grounded in inquiry, critical thinking, evaluation and communication. We also understand that our students are growing up in a world increasingly saturated with information and media messages. Our students will need to become media literate and well versed in the many modes of
communication that surround them if they are to sort through this information. There is no better place to learn these skills than in the science classroom.

Although multimedia as a tool cannot replace hands-on learning, it can enhance and strengthen the impact of activities in the field and in the science classroom. We can use new information tools, such as podcasts, blogs, and streaming video and audio, to engage our students and effectively demonstrate science concepts as well as to reinforce media literacy

technologies. We can also engage students with digital media tools, such as photo-sharing, video-publishing and mapmaking programs, to give them opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of a concept and simultaneously reinforce their literacy skills by having them create their own content.

The use of multimedia resources as part of a core science curriculum can:

  • Visually demonstrate scientific ideas and concepts
  • Instill a sense of wonder and excitement in students about the world around them
  • Present local, relevant case studies
  • Provide examples of real people practicing science
  • Generate student interest in science careers
  • Offer current research, theories and perspectives on a topic
  • Connect students with faraway or inaccessible places
  • Promote 21st century skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills
  • Provide a common experience shared by all students

As we adapt our teaching strategies to better replicate the tools used by the scientific community, we enhance our students’ ability to envision themselves within it and nurture the skills they will need to be active participants in their own lifelong learning.

“The convergence of media and technology in a global culture is changing the way we learn about the world and challenging the very foundations of education. No longer is it enough to be able to read the printed word; children, youth and adults, too, need the ability to both critically interpret the powerful images of a multimedia culture and express themselves in multiple media forms. Media literacy education provides a framework and a pedagogy for the new literacy needed for living, working and citizenship in the 21st century. Moreover it paves the way to mastering the skills required for lifelong learning in a constantly changing world.”
Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls
Media Literacy: A National Priority for a Changing World
American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 48, No. 1, 18-29 (2004)

Podcasting in Plain English

I love this fun and simple intro to podcasting from Common Craft.

Using Social Media to Improve Outreach Efforts

OSU Marketing sent out an article called, “50 Ways Marketers Can use Social Media to Improve Their Marketing” from the blog of Chris Brogan.  I have adapted it to what I think would be useful for environmental health community outreach.

35 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Outreach Programs

  1. Add social bookmark links to your most important web pages and/or blog posts to improve sharing.
  2. Build blogs and teach relationship building techniques.
  3. For every video project make sure there’s an embeddable web version for improved sharing.
  4. Learn how tagging and other metadata improve your ability to search and measure the spread of information.
  5. Create educational podcasts and podcasts that market the research and university/program.  Be sure to include an introduction and closing that share the web site address for more information.
  6. Build community platforms around real communities of shared interest.
  7. Help stakeholders participate in existing social networks, and build relationships on their turf.
  8. Couple your email newsletter content with additional website content on a blog for improved commenting.
  9. Learn which bloggers are providing information about environmental health to the public or other stakeholders. Learn how to measure their influence. Could they write a story about your program?
  10. Experiment with Flickr and/or YouTube groups to build media for specific events.
  11. Recommend that staff/colleagues start personal blogs on their personal interests, and learn first hand what it feels like, including managing comments, wanting promotion, etc.
  12. Map out an integrated project that incorporates a blog, use of social networks, and a face-to-face event to build relationships and market your program or .
  13. Start a community outreach and education group on Facebook.
  14. Attend a conference dealing with social media like New Media Expo, BlogWorld Expo, New Marketing Summit.
  15. Collect case studies of social media success. Tag them “socialmediacasestudy” in del.icio.us.
  16. Interview current social media practitioners. Look for bridges between your methods and theirs.
  17. Explore distribution. Can you reach more potential partners, collaborators, and partcipants of your program on social networks?
  18. Don’t forget to market events on early social sites like Yahoogroups and Craigslist. They still work remarkably well.
  19. Practice delivering quality content on your blogs, such that customers feel educated / equipped / informed.
  20. Turn your blog into a mobile blog site with Mofuse. Free.
  21. Learn what other free tools might work for community building, like MyBlogLog.
  22. Ensure you offer the basics on your site, like an email alternative to an RSS subscription. In fact, the more ways you can spread and distribute your content, the better.
  23. Make WebsiteGrader.com your first stop for understanding the technical quality of a website.
  24. Make Compete.com your next stop for understanding a site’s traffic. Then, mash it against competitors’ sites.
  25. Remember that the people on social networks are all people, have likely been there a while, might know each other, and know that you’re new. Tread gently into new territories. Don’t NOT go. Just go gently.
  26. Voting mechanisms like those used on Digg.com show your stakeholders you care about which information is useful to them.
  27. Track your inbound links and when they come from blogs, be sure to comment on a few posts and build a relationship with the blogger.
  28. Find a bunch of bloggers and podcasters whose work you admire, and ask them for opinions on your social media projects. See if you can give them a free sneak peek at something, or some other “you’re special” reward for their time and effort (if it’s material, ask them to disclose it).
  29. Experiment with different lengths and forms of video.
  30. Work with practitioners and media makers to see how they can use their skills to solve your problems. Don’t be afraid to set up pilot programs, instead of diving in head first.
  31. People power social media. Learn to believe in the value of people.
  32. Spread good ideas far. Reblog them. Bookmark them. Vote them up at social sites. Be a good citizen.
  33. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be ready to apologize. Admit when you’ve made a mistake.
  34. Re-examine who in the organization might benefit from your social media efforts. Help equip them to learn from your project.
  35. Use the same tools you’re trying out externally for internal uses and learn about how this technology empowers collaboration.

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