Archive for November, 2010
A Crash Course in Congressional Caucuses
What is a congressional caucus? Is it that piece of road kill you had to avoid when driving to work this morning? No — that’s a carcass. Some people might think that it’s the capital of Venezuela. No — that would be Caracas. If you’re thinking that it’s that town in Jersey that you’re not quite sure how to pronounce, you’d be wrong again. That’s Secaucus.
So what is a congressional caucus? We’ve all heard of it before, but if you ask most people outside of Capitol Hill to define what a congressional caucus is, they likely don’t know the answer.
So let’s clear all of that up. A congressional caucus is a coalition of House of Representatives and Senate members that meet to discuss specific legislative priorities and policy issues.
Our nation’s largest caucuses belong to the two major political parties. These are the House Democratic Caucus and House Republican Conference, along with the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Senate Republican Conference. Issue-related or race- or ethnicity-related caucuses also play a large role in defining policy issues by uniting Congressional members of the same ethnicity, such as what is known as the tri-caucuses: Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Staff at Vanguard Communications had the pleasure of speaking with Joseph P. Mais, legislative assistant to Rep. Raul Grijalva, about congressional caucuses. Mais discussed their various elements and dynamics. He mentioned that due to their small size, the vast majority of caucuses do not meet. He also noted that advocacy and non-profit organizations can influence agendas for active caucuses by:
- Working with members to bring forth issues
- Working with caucus chairs or task force chairs to bring forth issues
- Highlighting connections with current issues that are of importance to Congress
These Congressionally-exclusive, closed-door caucus sessions are critical to our nation’s legislative agenda, as caucuses can influence Congressional members’ stance on our nation’s most critical issues. Caucuses allow members to discuss issues frankly with one another, to determine their positions and make sure their votes are both informed and strategic. They can also give advocates a chance for a body of legislators to champion their issue on the Hill.
Top Five Most Engaged Brands in Social Media Prove Interaction is a Key to Success
A recent Mashable.com article listed the top five most engaged brands in social media and provided information about what these companies are doing to drive their success. The top five brands (in order) are: Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Oreo, Skittles and Red Bull.
While all of the brands in the top five are large, successful and well-known companies, a look at their success in the social media world reveals one of the most important elements of their success is something that a company of any size can do with the right resources in place. They are interacting with their customers, meaning that all of these brands are talking with their audience and not at them.
Take a look at Starbucks’ Twitter page to see why they are ranked number one. Starbucks spends an extraordinary amount of time interacting with their followers — whether responding to customer concerns, promoting their latest deal or thanking people for tweeting about their love of Starbucks, it appears that they respond to almost every tweet that comes their way. While it may not always be possible to respond to every message, be sure that you are monitoring all of your social media accounts to identify opportunities for interaction with your audience.
While Starbucks has the most success with its Twitter efforts, the other companies in the top five list are utilizing their Facebook and YouTube pages more. Coca-Cola allows fans to upload pictures and videos to its Facebook page. The company also uses its Facebook page to promote social good initiatives, like its recent “Live Positively” initiative, that allowed Facebook fans to vote for a park to win $100,000 in investment. Oreo fans can visit its Facebook page to view recipes, share pictures of themselves enjoying their favorite cookie, and play games. Skittles allows fans to upload videos of themselves enjoying Skittles and view videos of other fans on its Share Skittles website, used exclusively for displaying these YouTube videos. Energy drink company Red Bull created a “Procrastination Station” on its Facebook games page that features “high quality, engaging and interactive options for procrastinators, including a soapbox car racing game, a rock, paper, scissors game, and ‘Drunkish Dials’ recordings — recordings of Red Bull drinkers who called the company’s toll free number, leaving ‘drunkish’ messages.”
To interact effectively with your audience you must know who they are, where they are and what they want. According to the Mashable article, every aspect of a brand needs to be an “extension of the brand’s core product” and compliment the “consumer’s lifestyle along the way.” All of these top five brands are using social media to interact with their audience in thoughtful and effective ways that make sense for their brand. Each brand knows where its customer is spending time and is focusing its time and energy on meeting their audience there and providing tools, games and apps that further engage their audience in their brand rather than having them simply “like” their Facebook fan page or follow them on Twitter. The more opportunities that you provide your audience to interact and engage with your bramd, the more loyal they are going to be.
Think about the social media tools that your audience uses and how they are already using those tools. Meet your audience where they already are to start interacting with and further engaging them in your brand by responding to their tweets, setting up a customized and interactive Facebook page with apps that fit within your brand, or setting up a YouTube channel for your audience to share videos. Keep in mind that these efforts will only be worth your time and energy if you have done your audience research. A cool, interactive Facebook page with lots of apps and games won’t be effective if your audience is only using Twitter.
Like Royal Weddings, Successful Events Reflect Environment's Tone
This guest blog post is from Scott LaLonde, Vanguard Communications’ Event Manager.
Big news from across the pond this week: Prince William, second in line to the British throne, announced his engagement to long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton. Now, the royal wedding planning — and media circus — begins, as experts are projecting that the wedding ceremony will be held in summer 2011 prior to the London Olympic Games and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012.
British royal weddings — the largest being Prince Charles’ wedding to Princess Diana in 1981 — are known for excess and glamour. But the 1980s were a different time in England and lavish ceremonies were welcome and appreciated diversions. However, @JaneOD is pointing out an important difference today in the UK. Like Americans, the British people are dealing with a struggling economy. Brits are watching their budgets and will be expecting Prince William and his bride to do so as well.
This is an important lesson for event planners. When developing events, organizers should always keep in mind the concerns and issues of the attending audience and environment where the event will be held. Failing to reflect these tones and feelings can undermine an event’s success even if other program elements work well. For example:
- If hosting an event in a low-income area, be sure to design and place event décor that is respectful of the economic status of your audience to avoid appearing insensitive to the financial challenges faced by that community. Perhaps a glamorous red carpet entrance would not be appropriate.
- If your event includes or features the military, organizers should make sure to incorporate important military traditions into the program, such as the presentation of colors, singing of the national anthem and displaying the flag on the event stage. Ignoring these military ceremonial customs would be disrespectful to uniformed services members in the audience and on stage.
- If including children as part of the program or inviting them to attend the event, the program and event elements should be kid-friendly and meet their brief attention span. Providing chairs and tables that are size-appropriate for children would also be appropriate and help children feel a part of the festivities. Long speeches or PowerPoint presentations with charts and graphs will only generate squirming and yawning from the youth in the audience and lose their interest for the rest of the event.
Hopefully, the Royal Family will take the hint and find a way to organize a grand wedding fit for a future king, while creating an event respectful of its subjects who are coping with a recession and financial hardship. While Brits and the rest of the world would enjoy a lavish, extravagant event for Prince William and Kate Middleton next year, when all is said and done, they will complain about its excessiveness, further damaging the public image and regard for the wealthy Windsors.
Reminder: Switch Time Zone Abbreviations When Resetting Clocks
When you turn back your clocks because of the end of daylight saving time, remember to also switch your time zone abbreviations in your materials too.
During daylight saving time, time zone abbreviations replace the “S” for standard with the “D” for daylight saving time. For example, PST becomes PDT and CST becomes CDT.
But when time falls back and daylight saving time ends, AP Style dictates that the “D” disappears and is replaced by the “S”. So now, references to the Eastern time zone in press releases, invitations, announcements and/or websites should list it as EST instead of EDT.
But if you’re communicating with audiences in Arizona and Hawaii, use the standard time zone abbreviation. Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii and the territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are the only places in the U.S. that do not observe daylight saving time. Federal law does not require any area to observe daylight saving time and these locales have opted out of an extra hour of sunlight. For more information about who observes daylight saving time domestically and internationally, check out this Infoplease article.
In keeping with our “switching” theme, don’t forget to use daylight saving time ending as a reminder to change the batteries for your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Like the switching of the time zone abbreviations, replacing batteries in these lifesaving devices should be an annual occurrence.
The Power of Hashtagging
I’m an avid Twitter user. While I use Twitter for news monitoring and information gathering, I also use it as an engagement tool — sending messages directly targeting Tweeters or adding hashtags, a word or phrase prefixed with a hash sign and without spaces, occurring within a tweet.
It’s surprising how many organizations and spokespeople on Twitter miss the opportunity to target their messages and boost visibility by not including relevant hashtags in their tweets. Each hashtag on Twitter automatically becomes a link to all posts that have recently used that hashtag. Via hashtags, Tweeters can isolate tweets regarding a specific topic or discussion area.
According to TweeSpeed, more than 80,000 tweets are sent per minute. That’s a lot of content to wade through. Searching by hashtag helps Twitter users zero in on the right tweets and cut Twitter noise and distractions. Often, communities and ongoing conversations are built around hashtags and understanding and engaging with these communities can help Twitter campaigns.
Ready to start adding hashtags to your tweets? Here are some tips to keep in mind when harnessing the power of Twitter hashtags.
- Check hashtags before you use them. Search Twitter using your desired hashtags and follow the existing conversation. Is it the right audience and appropriate for your organization or campaign? Think of it as audience research; listen to how people are using the hashtag before jumping into the fray.
- Search your message for hashtag opportunities. Sometimes you don’t have to add words in order to create a hashtag. Just use the words in your message strategically. Hashtags can appear at the end or within the message you’re sending. When you only have 140 characters, you need to make every character count.
- Be selective and join the right conversations. Don’t go overboard and add lots of hashtags to your message. Evaluate the conversations and then pick the best ones to include in your Twitter message.
- Highlight Twitter users in your message. Identifying Twitter user names in a message is like a hashtag that targets people instead of topics or subjects. People track conversations in Twitter by users’ names as well.
- Spelling counts. Be responsive, but double-check what you send out before you click the “tweet” button. A spelling mistake in a hashtag puts your message in a different conversation.
- Experiment with different hashtags for different results. After you identify some potential hashtags for your campaign, cycle the hashtags through varying messages and track results, such as click-thrus and retweets. Variation and monitoring results can help you focus in on the best hashtags to meet your campaign goals.
- Check out your followers and other organizations’ favorite hashtags. See what hashtags Twitter users with similar messages are using in their tweets. Perhaps another user or organizations created a conversation already that you can also benefit from joining.
If you’re looking for good hashtags to start communicating for #socialgood on #Twitter, check out this great flyer featuring 40 hashtags for #socialgood or read this great post by @Socialbrite regarding how #nonprofits can facilitate a #conversation using hashtags. You see, finding and creating #hashtags in your messages can be very #easy. You just start by adding the hash sign.
Peter LaFarge: Tribal Troubadour
“Gather ’round me, people, there’s a story I would tell,
About a brave young Indian you should remember well;
From the land of the Pima Indians, a proud and noble band,
Who farmed the Phoenix Valley in Arizona land.”
―Chorus: “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” by Peter LaFarge
Peter LaFarge was a singer and songwriter known for bringing Native American issues into the public spotlight in the 1950s and 1960s through contemporary folk music.
As a youth, LaFarge competed as a rodeo rider. After serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War, he worked as a rodeo cowboy where an accident almost cost him a leg. After recuperating, he relocated to New York City, where he became increasingly interested in music, particularly songwriting. As a singer-songwriter, he became well-known as a folk music singer in Greenwich Village, along with Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and Pete Seeger.
As a result of his performances in Greenwich Village, he was signed to Folkways Records and recorded five albums devoted to Native American themes between 1962 and 1965.
His most famous song, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” tells the story of a Pima Indian who became a hero as one of five United States Marines who raised the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, but later experienced prejudice and became an alcoholic after his return to civilian life. This song was made popular by Johnny Cash, who covered the song in his 1964 album, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It would reach No. 3 on the Billboard country music chart.
Tragically, LaFarge died on October 27, 1965, in his New York City apartment. With his powerful lyrics and messages, LaFarge is widely considered a pioneer in the Native American rights movement and is known for being one of the first politically aware Native American musical artists.