Of Public Engagement and Dan Yankelovich

I often scoff at those who rush to Facebook to tout the death of the latest movie star or musician, cynically believing that they are far more interested in the clicks that come with sharing an obit of a “famous person” than they are in the loss they might feel over the individual’s passing. But over the weekend, I felt a great loss reading of the passing of Daniel Yankelovich. And it is a loss the entire PR, public affairs, and marketing profession should feel.

I’ve often declared that I am a disciple of Yankelovich’s public engagement model, a process developed while he was at the Public Agenda Foundation. In reflection, I realize I am not just a disciple, but I am an evangelist. The Yankelovich model has been a centerpiece for my professional work, a way of thinking that has driven much of what I’ve done since my mentor first taught it to me nearly 20 years ago.

Many in the communications profession may be thinking and doing like Yankelovich without even knowing it. It is based on the premise that effective public – or community – engagement is more than just a one-way information system, one where the communicator continues to push out data, facts, or opinions in hopes that target audiences consume it.

No, the Yankelovich approach requires stakeholders to take specific action. It realizes true success comes by moving from informing the public to building commitment to a solution to finally mobilizing the public around specific actions.

There is a great difference between making stakeholders aware of a concern like the need properly installed car seats or improved public education or taking 10,000 steps a day to the more sophisticated level of informed public opinion necessary to reach consensus on both the problem and the possible solutions, generating a sense of urgency that ultimately leads to the action of adopting a change and integrating it into day-to-day behaviors of all involved.

The Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action process can be broken down to understand the steps necessary to move through this process. Using a seven-stage model developed by Yankelovich and the Public Agenda Foundation, we can analyze the process of engaging a target audience and moving them from uninformed bystander to an action-oriented group. These stages are:

  • Becoming aware of the issues
  • Developing a sense of urgency
  • Looking for answers
  • Managing and persevering through resistance
  • Weighing choices
  • Intellectual acceptance
  • Full acceptance

In applying these seven stages to our key audiences, we must recognize that each stakeholder group may be at a different point along this continuum. Understanding this is critical to designing and implementing the appropriate tactics to move them to action. Many a plan has failed because it was based on the assumption that one size fits all audiences.

As a society, it if often easy for us to recognize there are problems in need of our attention, but many do not agree on what those problems may be or what actions might successfully address them. And, unfortunately, too many people believe that there is nothing that can be done to fix these problems. When a problem has existed for a long period of time, people stop seeing it as a problem and start seeing it as a situation.

Once individuals believe in the interpretation of the problem, they are ready to commit to a solution. That means transforming one’s mission into a call to arms to demonstrate to a variety of audiences, in dramatic and memorable ways, that these solutions are the right ones to improve efficiency and success.

Once people feel that an issue is urgent they begin to demand solutions. If we have been successful in defining the issue in our terms, it will be easier for us to state solutions convincingly. In this stage, people will demand action from a range of stakeholders. This is a good time to organize meetings to introduce specific actions that our audiences can take to help us reach our goal.

Inevitably, some people will reject the proposed solutions. This leads to the most difficult stage of the process. Some audiences will be reluctant to face and accept the trade-offs that come from choosing a specific plan of action and opponents will try to poke holes in our ideas. This resistance may be heightened by misunderstanding, narrow thinking, wishful thinking, or resistance to change. The best way to avoid this resistance is to ensure that everyone is involved in the process and that all of their concerns have been heard.

Only after pushing through this resistance can people begin to weigh their choices rationally and look to a variety of options for moving recommendations into practice. At this stage, stakeholders should feel that they have a range of choices and a reason to make them. As leaders in this process – with a special awareness of how decisions are made – we can clarify the pros and cons of each decision and allow time and opportunity for deliberation.

It is then we can mobilize for action. Changing attitudes and informing the debate is not enough. Just as a politician who has convinced 60 percent of the public to support his/her issues, but who has not succeeded in convincing them to go to the polls on Election Day, will lose the election, advocates for change or improvement cannot accomplish their goals unless supporters move from passive acquiescence to active engagement. We succeed when stakeholders are actively supporting its solutions.

Once our target audiences are engaged because they believe in the merits of our position, they will need to know what we want them to do to help accomplish these goals. So it is important that our communications and organizing efforts include specific actions that supporters can take to help us reach our goals. In addition, we will also need to make it easy and feasible for them to take these actions.

From there, many will agree that our efforts are valid and will produce desired results, but may not be willing to change their behavior or adopt the change. We must recognize that this is a temporary stage and that, with patience and continued effort, they will get there. It is important not to expect too much, too soon. The process of moving from awareness to action takes time.

Given time, incentives, and opportunities to consider their core values in light of challenges and needs, our audiences should reach the final stage of full intellectual and emotional acceptance of the importance of improving their community. Of course, different target audiences will reach these stages at different times and go through them at different rates. We may need to tailor the same event or materials to perform different functions depending on where in these stages specific members of our audience stand.

When it comes to public engagement and community change, the issues we often confront are topics as driven by emotion as they are by fact. As a result, too often, stakeholders decide that inaction is the best action, out of fear of taking a wrong step or alienating a specific group. For that reason, the Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action model is one of the most effective methods to educate key audiences on the need for change and the long-term impact such efforts have on strengthening communities and nations across the globe.

Dan Yankelovich taught me all that. I am a better communicator because of it. And the engagement efforts I have led in education, healthcare, and workforce development are better for it as well.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Some Advice for Hope Hicks 

It’s in the best interests of all communications professionals – and the nation – for new White House Communications Director Hope Hicks to succeed in her new role for the Trump Administration.

Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack offers some unsolicited communications advice to Hope Hicks. Hicks can take it or leave it, but it would serve her and the office well to at least consider it. 

Give it a read here

Choosing the Kardashians Over GoT

We’ve reached the point in our society when we want every micro-action we take to have deep socio-political meaning. As Eduflack writes at LinkedIn Pulse, sometimes we need to accept that television viewing is just entertainment, and shouldn’t be seen as anything more.

We are just as guilty of this in the education space, assuming we know what makes someone tick because of their opinions on an issue such as testing, standards, choice, or teachers unions. And we then ascribe that “tick” to everything they do, from raising their kids to voting.

As I write for Pulse:

In the past decade, I’ve watched more episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians than I have segments of 60 Minutes. After reading five newspapers – The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post – each morning, there just isn’t much more I’m going to get from television news magazines.

I’ve yet to make it through an entire Rachel Maddow show, but I’ve watched plenty of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And plenty of UFC Fight Night on Fox. In short, I’m the Neilsen Ratings’ worst demographic nightmare.

Why is this important? At a time when we should be looking for commonalities and ways to bring people together, we are using more and more – including our media consumption – as ways to divide and ascribe potentially mistaken personas.

Give it a read. And if you are up for it, come catch an episode of the Kardashians or a UFC match with me. It’ll be entertaining, I promise.

A “Chicken Little” Political Resistance 

The Resistance is based on a negative frame, standing up against all that it sees as wrong and immoral. But it does so without putting forward a positive vision or an alternate plan. And it does so by insulting those individuals who voted the other way, attacking the very intelligence and morality of the average red voter. The Resistance is a protest movement. It makes no bones about that. But If those issues it pounds away on don’t come to fruition, it appears as much ado about nothing to those not in the protest. It is merely a group of true believers providing comfort to other true believers.

From Eduflack’s latest US News & World Report commentary, The Sky Isn’t Falling

A Personal Dream, Shattered

Those who know Eduflack well know that one of my life dreams is owning and running a small-town weekly newspaper. Perhaps it was having my first written work published in the Sharon (MA) Advocate when I was seven years old. Maybe it was all my dealings with weekly newspapers in West Virginia while working for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Or it could be I just love how newspapers remain a hub of community in small towns across the country.

A few years back, I came really close to buying a weekly pub in Connecticut (after kicking the tires on another one in Tennessee). But the timing just wasn’t right. Don’t you hate when life just gets in the way?

We’ve all seen those contests every few months from someone who is raffling off a bed and breakfast. Write an essay, submit a $200 fee, and you could win your own B&B. I’d look at those ads and wonder, who wants all of the work of actually running a B&B (and having all of those strangers in your house all the time)?

Earlier this year, though, I read an article on a similar contest. Only instead of a B&B, the price was the Hardwick Gazette, a small-town weekly newspaper in northern Vermont. I immediately romanticized the idea of owning the Gazette. I penned  a beautiful essay. I was the next publisher of the Hardwick Gazette.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A few months ago, the owners alerted all contestants that not enough submissions were in to make the contest go. So they extended the deadline. Then they added a Kickstarter campaign to try and add enough charitable contributions to make the deal worthwhile for the family. Today, I got word that none of those worked as intended, and the contest was cancelled.

As they noted in their email, “The quality of essays received to this point is outstanding. I am heartened by them. The essayists have journalistic and business experience. They convey an appreciation for independent, local journalism, an understanding of community and a knowledge that hard work and thick skin go with the territory. Their passion for newspapers shines through.” But it just wanted meant to be.

I wish the Hardwick Gazette the best of luck as they now try to find a traditional buyer for their paper. I hope they get what they are looking for. I just need to see it as a dream deferred. There may still be a newspaper in my future yet.

 

 

Social Media in the Education Space

Eduflack is often fond of saying that the education community is typically one of the last to truly embrace new technologies. We lagged healthcare and other spaces when it came to moving onto the Internet and using websites to improve information sharing. We were slow to platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and some could say we still struggle with maximizing the reach and opportunity they afford, at least compared to other spaces.

Twitter seems to be a different story. In recent years (and recent months), we have witnessed the enormous education-focused power of Twitter. To get information out to teachers and school leaders and parents. To engage in conversations with individuals and organizations we might not regularly get to spend time with. To spotlight issues and concerns that may not receive the attention of the mainstream media. To raise awareness, understanding, and action on the key policy, research, and instructional issues of the day.
Connected Educators, an effort started by the U.S. Department of Education a few years ago, is the perfect example of the possibility. ESchool News named it one of the top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013. During Connected Educators Month (October 2013), there were more than 600 events and activities, with participation from more than 330 national, state, and local organizations. More than 13 million educators and others were reached via Twitter alone, generating an average of 4.6 million impressions a day. The numbers are more than impressive, but it is aksi a great example of the power of Twitter in advancing important issues, particularly with educators.
The education social media community is a great space to play in. Every summer, Education Next publishes its list of the Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy. Eduflack is always in awe of the folks of this list, and is appreciative that he has been included on it each year. The wide range of voices, experiences, and perspectives one finds on this annual list (and on so many education-focused feeds that aren’t on the list), are just incredible. And some days it almost feels like a family (even if it is a family where you can’t stand that uncle across the country).
Why all the kudos for the education social media space? Next month, PR News magazine is recognizing its inaugural class of “Social Media MVPs,” an honor that will be awarded at its Social Media Icon Awards event in New York City. Eduflack is deeply humbled that he has been included on this list. And with all of the terrific SM voices in the education space, it seems I am the only education-focused voice on the list. I could start a long list of those who are far more worthy.
In announcing the list this morning, PR News noted, “The Social Media MVPs represent the innovators and trendsetters on social media. These professionals were nominated by colleagues and carefully selected by PR News to be part of this esteemed list.”
Now I don’t know about all that. But I do know that on the SM playground, I am so appreciative of all of the reporters and researchers and educators and others who develop the articles and reports and events on which I am so fond of focusing. And I owe big thanks to the 15,500 followers on the @Eduflack Twitter feed, particularly those who like to engage and have a little back and forth with me and to my colleagues at Collaborative Communications, who let me play in this fun space and give me so many great thoughts on issues and ideas to share on SM.
The 2014 class of Social Media MVPs is an impressive one, including:
  • David Armano, Edelman Digital
  • Danielle Brigida, National Wildlife Federation
  • LaSandra Brill, Symantec
  • Amelia Burke-Garcia, Westat
  • Erica Campbell Byrum, For Rent Media Solutions and Homes.com
  • Kevin Dando, PBS
  • Jim Delaney, Activate Sports & Entertainment
  • Scott DeYager, Toyota Motor Sales USA
  • Frank Eliason, Citibank
  • Sam Ford, Peppercomm
  • Joy Hays, AT&T
  • Brett Holland, Pepco Holdings, Inc.
  • Bob Jacobs, NASA
  • Leanne Jakubowski, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Evan Kraus, APCO Worldwide
  • Stacy Martinet, Mashable
  • Christi McNeill, Patron Spirits Company
  • Kristin Montalbano, National Geographic Channel
  • Christopher S. Penn, SHIFT Communications
  • Patrick R. Riccards, Collaborative Communications
  • Jennifer Stalzer, MasterCard
  • Lt. Stephanie M. Young, United States Coast Guard
  • Albe Zakes, TerraCycle
Kudos to all of those on the list. Social media is one of those things that you either love or you don’t. And from following many on this list, these are folks who truly love SM and the engagement that comes from it. 

Apologies for my truancy

My deepest apologies to Eduflack readers for not being active here in the past few weeks.  As I noted last year, dear ol’ Eduflack has been involved in some long-form content creation (meaning book writing).  It took up many months of my time last year (thus the hiatus) and has come back to require my attention over the past few weeks.

The great news is I’ll be able to announce the completion of a very personal and I think important book next week.  As one reviewer already put it, the book “ROCKS!”  So February is going to be a rockin’ good month, with this new book from Yacker Media.
I look forward to sharing the news with y’all next week or so, and will work to share free Kindle copies of the book with loyal Eduflack readers as soon as allowable.
I’m also in the process of wrapping up the second edition of the Why Kids Can’t Read: Challenging the Status Quo in education book that Rowman & Littlefield Education will be publishing later this year.  Back in 2005-06, I was a contributing author to the project.  For this edition, I am the lead editor, working in partnership with longtime colleagues and mentors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein.  
Why Kids Can’t Read is an important story, particularly as we see that nearly 40 percent of the world’s school-age children are unable to read proficiently.  The first edition of the book, out in 2006, looked at the wealth of research we have on literacy instruction and how best to teach our kids to read, while offering practical guidance for parents for how to ensure that “what works” is what is being used in their child’s classrooms.  The second edition builds on that work, incorporating recent developments such as Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards into this important discussion.
So thanks for your patience.  Eduflack will be back to its regular schedule in the coming weeks. Happy reading (post-announcement, I hope!).