Nov 152017
 

A mug WB

In my very little spare time, I’ve been reading an excellent book about writing. One sentence I encountered recently kept me awake for a while. “Your readers don’t know anything.” That’s very good advice to those of us who are trying to communicate. And it is excellent advice to those of us who are involved in organizations that have their own language and vocabulary.

I think this goes beyond the five w’s that should be included in every press release to include making sure we explain things that may seem commonplace to us, but not to our readers who “don’t know anything.” What does it mean, for example, when we describe the Grange as a ‘fraternal’ organization?” Our readers might not know. (Fraternal comes from the word “fraternus” meaning brother. One dictionary defines it as “of or being a society associated in brotherly union, as for mutual aid or benefit.”)

We shouldn’t be condescending, certainly. But in our communication, it does make sense to consider the real possibility our reader or listener doesn’t know much.

I’m pleased to announce that much of the Grange year-end activity required of your Communications Department is nearing completion. We have updated the officer list on the Bulletin sidebar and website, revised the ODD Directory (listing all current officers, directors, and deputies), and posted all program books that have been made available. There’s still some “under the hood” stuff to do, but most people won’t notice it—and don’t need to anyway!

Let me remind folks that for the most part, I don’t generate what’s communicated, I am very dependent on others. I cannot share what I don’t know or don’t have. I wish every Granger in Maine would consider him/herself a reporter. A goal for this year is to increase the number of posts (stories) about Granges that are succeeding either with membership increases or events that are successful. No story is too small for our website. You don’t have to be an award-winning writer—we can use a photo and tell the story in a caption of a few sentences—that’s called a “cutline” in the media business.

While no story is too small for the website another reality is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to capture the attention of traditional media. Even my local reporters are telling me they are covering fewer and fewer events in person. I received some criticism during State Convention for “not having the television people there.” Please understand, media presence at events is getting more and more difficult to achieve. I attempted to explain to my critic that simply holding a convention isn’t newsworthy. I’m not sure I succeeded, so let me remind everyone that it is much easier and effective to make news than it is to write press releases.

The media business is changing in many ways and it’s truly a mixed bag. While the Internet makes sharing information and news relatively easy, traditional media is struggling to find its role in a digital world. I can attest that some reporters subscribe to the Maine State Grange website as a source of news tips and leads. If you want to attract the media, telling your story on it might be a great way to start!

 


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Oct 152017
 

A mug WB

Here are a few excerpts from my Annual Report—you can read the entire report online or, if you are attending State Convention, in your information packet. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know!

During the past year, I published twelve monthly Bulletins without missing a deadline. I am grateful to those directors and officers who regularly submit articles and support improving our internal communication.

The website is now in its seventh full year of operation in its current form. The objectives of the redesign in November 2010 were simple. Some of the more important included:

  • To encourage prompt posting and maintenance of information and resources,
  • To control that posting process with some level of moderation and quality control,
  • To allows users to find basic information and resources (such as applications, manuals, etc.) readily, and
  • To allow users to subscribe to the site and receive email versions of posts.

We continue to achieve those objectives. Site visits are slightly less for the most recent year but are trending up again for the last six months. There have been just over 26,000 site visits from September 1, 2016, through August 13, 2017—an average of over 2,150 per month and over 70 per day…

Looking ahead, there are several areas I recommend for focus next year. One is the “Exciting Granges and Grangers” category. The feedback I receive from you suggests that learning about other Granges and their successes is both motivating and helpful. This past year, some Granges decided to send representatives to other Granges who are reporting success to see first-hand “how they are doing it.” A priority for next year will be to encourage more success stories and contributions. As if to further support this, we’ve had several cases where the media has picked up those success stories from our website. I’ve also been contacted by media representatives in search of successes to report.

A second priority is expanding the “Resources for Grangers” feature of the website. While we don’t want to “clutter” the site, the goal of this feature is to provide Granges and Grangers with resources that may have value personally, provide programming and event ideas, or just be of general value. There are several challenges associated with this, but it does seem to be worthy of pursuit!

Obviously, these are both areas where your help is needed. Don’t underestimate the value of the things your Grange does. What may seem commonplace to you may be an exciting, brand new idea needed by another Grange. I admit that I get really excited when I receive an email from someone whose name I don’t recognize because I can’t wait to see what you’ve done. Photos are also great—and a photo or two with what we call a “cutline” can tell a story. (A cutline is media talk for the caption explaining the photo—usually a sentence or two.)

I believe the primary role of any state position or function is to support Subordinate and Pomona Granges. But communication is not a “one-person job.” Individuals, Community/Subordinate and Pomona Granges can best support our communications efforts by providing positive news and information.

I will also continue to encourage more open communication throughout our Order. We must generate interest and excitement among our communities, prospective members, and ourselves.

With that background, our greatest accomplishment in 2016-17 is also our greatest need for the coming year. We must continue to increase participation and information, working to build the Maine State Grange website as a “go to” place for members and friends who wish to learn more about our Order.

If there is anything I can do to help you and your Grange, please let me know.

Thank you for your continued confidence and support.


*For those with additional interest, Stop Teaching Me is an article I wrote on the topic of how today’s learners differ and what it means to real estate educators.

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Sep 152017
 

A mug WB

Every year at this time, I go through a major cleanup of the website, starting with the Program Books and Information Page. One reason for starting there is that the Program Books and Information Page gets over twice the number of visits as any other page on the website. Our Granges want and need information. I encourage and remind state leaders (especially directors and committee chairs) to make certain the information there is current. As we move into a new Grange Year, it’s my hope that each section will have, at a minimum:

  • 2016-2017 Annual Report (due by September 28, 2017) – a summary of committee activities and accomplishments for the Grange that Grange Year.
  • 2017-2018 Information – obviously this will vary by committee but should include any contest information and resources for Subordinate and Pomona Granges, including a program book if appropriate.

I recently have had some interesting discussions with some colleagues in the field of education. A respected company involved in real estate education completed an “in-depth” study that showed (among many other things) over 60% of real estate educators say “decreasing attention spans” is a significant “challenge” for instructors. One colleague and I have concluded that data may be missing the boat.* (Stay with me because this is about communication.)

Look at that “fact.” It is really saying that there is something wrong with the students. When we dig below the obvious, here’s what my colleague and I think is actually happening. (I have the advantage of experience teaching five-year-olds as well as seniors.) Today’s adult students grew up learning very differently than previous generations. There is nothing “wrong” with them—they are just different. The real problem may be that instructors haven’t figured out how to adapt to their new learning habits and experience.

Well, ditto that when it comes to communication. I used to be a prolific letter writer. I now can count on one hand the number of letters I write every year. I am dealing with companies on the internet for whom I only have a phone number and email address; no readily apparent “snail mail” address.

But beyond that, I’m constantly learning that younger people are used to getting information differently—just like they are used to learning differently. There are a lot of people who no longer read newspapers and, as a result, there are many newspapers struggling to survive. Media moguls are increasingly turning to “sound bites” of information that can be digested in a relatively short period of time. When I coach people to prepare for interviews, I encourage them to think in “bites” that are only two or three sentences. I recently worked with some sixth graders at school who were being interviewed by a reporter. They were nervous, but I couldn’t help but notice when the reporter asked a question, they rarely rambled. The responded directly—sometimes bluntly—and succinctly. They have learned to communicate differently. (For example, a text message can only include 140 letters and spaces.) Conversely, I’ve watched reporters interview older folks for the same story. The reporter stops writing notes and I can tell he or she is thinking, “Will you please get to the point?”

As I work with the media, I find they are far more interested in the “hook” than a few years ago. While I don’t have hard data, it also seems to me that articles are generally shorter and tend to include less detail. The pattern is very parallel to what’s happening in the educational environment. People are learning differently; people are digesting information differently and people are communicating differently.

As I sometimes tell my adult learners when they react negatively to a concept, “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to learn and understand it.” I remember fondly picking up the two pound Sunday edition of the local newspaper and engaging in the ritual of a coffee and a leisurely read, sorting sections while nibbling on toast. I can’t, however, remember the last time I did that. I haven’t given up the coffee and toast, but I’m now reading the news on my iPad and completing the process in a lot less time.

As newspapers, educators and other communicators are learning “resistance is futile.” We need to adapt if we expect to be viable in the world as it exists.


*For those with additional interest, Stop Teaching Me is an article I wrote on the topic of how today’s learners differ and what it means to real estate educators.

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Aug 152017
 

A mug WB

I recently encountered two of my little friends from school at the supermarket. They said they were having a great summer but assured me they are ready to return to school. I did not admit I am not so much so… this has been an incredibly short summer! We recently returned from an extended vacation to Canada and I find myself feeling that there is way too much to do before the season’s change. That includes back to school, certainly, but “Grange-wise” we are also in transition with a new Grange year starting soon. That means it’s time to look back at the previous year’s accomplishments and write an annual director’s report. And it means looking ahead to next year and thinking about priorities and objectives for the Communication Department.

The mission doesn’t change—my intention has always been to support Pomona and local Granges with information (communication) that will help you grow your Granges in the ways you deem best. That growth certainly means membership, but it also means programming and the way you “operate” your Grange.

I would dearly love some input from Granges and Grangers—how can I best serve you as Communications Director? What do you like about the website? What would you like see more of…? My current thinking is that I’d like to expand two areas.

One is the “Exciting Granges and Grangers” category. The feedback I receive from you suggests that learning about other Granges and their successes is both motivating and helpful. This past year, some Granges have actually decided to send representatives to other Granges who are reporting success to see first hand “how they are doing it.” That’s pretty cool and it really makes sense. So a priority for next year will be to encourage more success stories and contributions. As if to further support this, we’ve had several cases where the media has picked up those success stories from our website. I’ve also been contacted by media representatives in search of successes to report. As the old saying goes, “Talk is cheap.” And as I have often said, “It really is easier to make news than it is to write press releases.”

A second priority I am considering is expanding the “Resources for Grangers” feature of the website. While we don’t want to “clutter” the site, the goal is to provide Granges and Grangers with resources that may have value personally, provide programming and event ideas, or just be of general value. There are several challenges associated with this, but it does seem to be worthy of pursuit!

Obviously, these are both areas where your help is needed. Don’t underestimate the value of the things your Grange does. Share them! What may seem commonplace to you may be an exciting, brand new idea needed by another Grange. I admit that I get really excited when I receive an email from someone whose name I don’t recognize because I can’t wait to see what you’ve done. Photos are also great—and a photo or two with what we call a “cutline” can tell a story. (A cutline is media talk for the caption explaining the photo—usually a sentence or two.)

In a similar way, you can help with “Resources for Grangers.” If you come across something that you think could be helpful, just submit it! I could be something as simple as a website link. Or it could be an article (I’ll handle the copyright issues) you found beneficial. With our diversity as an organization, there are lots of opportunities! Lecturers–if you conducted a particularly good Lecturer’s Program, share it! Community Service Chairs–if you found a particularly good cause or initiative, pass it on. I could go through the entire list. For example, I recently found a simple checking account program that I am testing and will report on soon—treasurers might be interested! Given the number of Granges and Grangers we have, we have lots of potential for helping each other! I’ll do my best to make that happen!

Another project under consideration is a major revision of the “Communications Handbook.” Some changes are required based on changes made to the website, but it may also be time for a major review and overhaul. If you have some ideas regarding what would be helpful in the handbook, please let me know. I’d like to have it ready for distribution at State Session. I also hope to have a “table” at State Session on Thursday and Friday where you can stop by and chat, subscribe to the website, get help with how to use the website, etc. But you don’t have to wait until then! My preferred method of contact is email, but you can also call or write—just remember that I am still working a “day job,” teaching courses and substituting at school so those methods may be a little slower.

We had some great experiences during our Canadian Vacation. I was impressed by the fact that we were not often asked, “May I help you?” Well, I was really impressed by the fact that most of the people we encountered were genuinely interested in us and knew how to communicate that. There was no doubt they wanted to help us. When I had a semi-technical difficulty with tickets to a special event, I decided to simply appear at the location in person (a performance center on a small college campus). As I stumbled about looking dazed, I was asked: “How can I help you!” My explanation brought up a pointed finger with the explanation “There’s our summer student who can help you with just about anything.” During our conversation, he asked a ton of questions about things like: where I was from, how I was enjoying the area, etc. Yes, he solved my problem quickly and efficiently, but he also made it clear that he was interested, genuinely interested in not only getting me my tickets by making sure I was enjoying my visit to the area. I ended up with a great dinner recommendation… when I thanked him before the performance and told him how great the entertainment at the restauranthe’d recommended was, he realized I was talking about his cousin. Small world, isn’t it.

Now there’s a resource for us as Grangers—a clear demonstration that our Grange world needs to be about being genuinely interested—in each other for sure, but also in others. When we are tempted to whine that folks aren’t interested in the Grange, that might be a good time to ask ourselves how interested we are in those people.

How may I help you? Please share your thoughts and ideas for how the Communications Department can serve and help you.

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Aug 152017
 

Short messages from your Communications Department

If your Grange participates in the Dictionary Project, you or your Grange Secretary should have recently received their recent newsletter… I believe it is mailed to all supporters and contributors. It’s a great piece because it can be a poster and even doubles as an order form. Well, this issue is of particular interest because it features Danville Junction Grange! You can read the original post here… and notice the fact that the Dictionary Project folks are subscribers to the Maine State Grange website. If you aren’t… what might you be missing!?

Congratulations to Danville Grange and thanks to Glenys Ryder for submitting the article!

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Jul 122017
 

by Walter Boomsma
MSG Communications Director

After Ann’s most recent email, I had to create an award. Ann wrote, in part, “Did you intentionally report that the State Session opens in the 7th degree to see how many of us really read the articles in the monthly Bulletin? If it does I’ve consistently slept through it for years. Just wondering how many more readers noticed the boo boo…”

The answer to the first question is, “No, it was not intentional.” I know in the past I’ve joked that one way to get attention is to make a mistake, but that wasn’t the case this time. My excuse is that I was hurrying to meet my deadline to finish the Bulletin, although that’s really not much of an explanation.

The answer to the second question is, “None!” Or if any others did notice, they didn’t report it.

Ann’s referring to the article in the June Issue introducing the graphic I created for State Session. I erroneously wrote, “Want to help promote State Session? I’ve created the graphic to the right… and can email it to you if you’d like to include it in your local Grange communications. Let’s see if we can increase participation and attendance this year! Remember, you do not have to be a delegate to attend—and you certainly do not have to hold a fifth or sixth degree. While session opens in the seventh, it lowers to fourth almost immediately so any Grange can be part of the convention!” Obviously, that should have read, “While session opens in the sixth,…”

Sorry for the error… although it did demonstrate that at least one person reads the Bulletin closely and it provides an opportunity to have a little fun!

 

Jul 122017
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

I hope you didn’t miss a recent post on the website. Rod Hamel, secretary of East Sangerville Grange #177 described the round-robin weeding program they’ve started, referring to participants as “the fightin’ 177th.” Not only is it a great program, I particularly enjoyed the image of “the fightin’ 177th” battling weeds.

While we might not want to advertise and promote our Grange as a fighting Grange (at least without some explanation), I have often wished more Granges would adopt a nickname or slogan that would communicate what their Grange is all about. There are some resources on the Internet that claim to help with this, but why not make it a project (lecturer’s program?) and have some fun with it? It might take some time—don’t rush into a decision. Just remember to keep the slogan simple. Funny is great as long as it doesn’t cause confusion. You’ll want to think about your Grange’s primary purpose or interest. Focus on what makes you different. If possible, make your slogan timeless… businesses that have succeeded with this include Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (They’re grrrrr-eat!) and Doublemint Gum (Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun). Wendy’s had a good run with “Where’s the beef?” but younger people likely do not remember it. Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” seems less appropriate as cell phone technology has improved.

Slogans are best kept under nine or ten words. Where possible, a slogan should be part of your “branding” program, letting the world know what to expect from you. If you chew Doublemint Gum, you’ll double your pleasure. What will happen if you attend a meeting or program at “Anytown Grange?”

Some caution is in order before “piggybacking” on an existing slogan. For one thing, it’s a bit lazy. More importantly, we need to sensitive to intellectual property (copyright, trademark, etc.) laws. While it might be tempting, for example, to suggest your Grange Supper’s are “finger lickin’ good,” the folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken may not be pleased.

Brainstorm! Jot down as many ideas and phrases as you can… think about the features and benefits of being part of your Grange. What makes it special? Use a thesaurus or dictionary to explore words and word combinations. Alliterations are wonderful in slogans or mottos. (An alliteration is the same letter or sound at the start of closely connected words—Best Buy, Life Lock are examples of names using alliteration. So is “Communications Column!”) You may have noticed that I’ve been playing with “advocating for agriculture” in one of the banners I developed for the Bulletin and Website.

Companies developing slogans or mottos know the importance of “market testing” their ideas. When you’ve come up with a couple of ideas for your Grange, run them by some folks (Grangers and non-Grangers) for a reaction. (If you come up with several, I can set up a poll for you on the Maine State Grange website to see which people like the best.)

On a different note, I’ve asked Master Rick for a small table space at the Maine State Grange Convention. I’ll try to answer your questions (we’ll call it “semi-technical support”) and you’ll be able to subscribe to the website immediately! I’ll also have some resources for you to take back to your Grange. If you have some ideas for items that would be helpful, let me know and I’ll try to put them together! The Communications Department is here to serve you! (Hey, that sounds like something that could become a slogan… “serving Grangers and Granges…” or how about something like “giving Grangers and Grangers great…gossip? gear?” See how much fun this can be?!)

 

Jun 162017
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

When I sit down to write this column every month, I usually scan back over a previous couple of months to review what I’ve written and posted. (Hint: if you go to the website and type “Communications” in the search box in the upper right corner, you can do the same!) This time I was a bit surprised at the number of posts my search produced. There have been a lot of “Communication Bullets” over the past couple of months.

The reason for those is there’s been a lot happening that deserves communicating! For example, in May we set a record for the number of visitors to our website in one day. That’s exciting stuff! There’s also been a lot of “stuff” added to the site and I wanted to make sure you knew about those resources. As information arrives, I also update the Conferences Page with information and, when I have it, conference packages, applications, etc. When we set the visitor record, I was not surprised to discover that the “Program Books and Information” page is the most visited. Grangers are finding and using the information there!

My goal for the communications department of one has always been to serve the Subordinate and Pomona Granges by communicating information that’s interesting and useful. I was going to include “exciting,” but let’s face it—not everything we do is exciting and fun. (We can, however, try to make it so.)

A recent change that IS exciting was a long time coming. We’ve always given you the opportunity to subscribe to the website—you could get an email when posts are made. Unfortunately, we lost control of that subscription service and, while it still works, we don’t know who our subscribers are and can’t control the process. So I have been looking for a process that is “user-friendly,” compliant with email regulations, and allowed us to do more than the old system. Subscriptions to the site are now being handled through a service provided by MailChimp. And, by the way, the service is costing the Grange nothing.

Initial reports are that it’s working great! There has been some confusion regarding the new versus old. One of the steps I’ve taken to help is to prepare a one-page, illustrated “how to” sheet (available on the website, of course!). If you were subscribed to the “old” system you may want to review it, because you’ll want to “unsubscribe” from the old system so you don’t get two emails every day. (One from the old system and one from the new system.) Because I do not have access to the old system, I cannot do this for you nor can I shut it down.

If you are tempted to just stay on the old system, there are at least two reasons you may not want to do that:

  1. I truly have no idea how long the old system will be maintained and continue to work.
  2. The new system is far more manageable and will allow us some future opportunities—including the fact that I will be able to help those having difficulty with their subscription.

Let me reassure you that you still have control of what happens and can unsubscribe at any time. Also, our privacy policy prevents us from sharing, selling, or renting your information.

If you are currently not subscribed, simply go to the website and click the “Sign me up” link. It’s a two-step process—don’t forget the second step! After you’ve filled out the short form and submitted, you’ll receive an email verifying that you want to subscribe. You’ll need to click the link in that email. (This is for your protection—it means someone else can’t sign you up for email you don’t want!)

As with anything related to the website, bulletin, or communications in general, if you have any questions, ideas, or concerns, I want to hear from you!

May 232017
 

Communication Bullets are short but big news!

by Walter Boomsma
Communications Director

Some important changes and notes:

The ODD (Officers, Directors, and Deputies) Directory has been updated… a current copy is available for downloading: ODD-Directory-05-17. There has been a minor change in deputy assignments to reflect recent changes in Pomona alignments and two positions are now listed as “TBD” (to be determined)–the chairperson of the Ag Ed Committee and a Youth Director.

The Journal of Proceedings 2016 has been updated with a minor correction at the request of MSG Secretary Sharon. Action on Resolution #12 was missing from the original copy posted. A corrected copy is available for downloading: Journal-of-Proceedings-2016-Convention

Several “In search of…” requests have been added recently… please check the page and see if you can help!

Over the next few days, I will be testing a new method for subscribing to the website and you may notice some “weirdness” at the tope of the home page. Once testing is complete, I hope to announce a major change that will be of great benefit to everyone!

Remember to check the Conferences Page occasionally for information about upcoming national, regional, and state events. Those responsible for events should especially check the page when scheduling events to avoid conflicts. Also, those responsible please make sure you email me information about the events you are planning.

May 142017
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

Are you ready for some great news? Your Maine State Grange Website hit a new record in May – in terms of visits to the site, the best day ever (since October 2010) was May 6, 2017, when there were 257 site visits! This record day also means that as of this writing, May 2017 is the month with the highest daily average of site visits – 114 per day. Naturally, I could resist a quick look at what might have caused this. (My experience suggests that data often raises more questions than it answers.) So I took a look at which pages/posts were the most popular in the last thirty days. In descending order:

  1. Program Books and Information Page (forms, books, etc. organized by function)
  2. Our History (a short history of the Grange)
  3. 2017 Directory of Granges (a recently published directory/list of active Granges in Maine)
  4. Update on LD 725 and LD 835 (information provided by the Ag Education Committee regarding bills under consideration)
  5. Our Officers (a “who’s who” list of state officers)
  6. Joining the Grange (includes a link to a membership brochure and application)
  7. Bangor Daily News Article About Exciting Granges (article headline: Maine Granges Are Making a Comeback!)
  8. About (a general page with links to other pages)
  9. I’m seeking… (a page where people can post requests for information about Granges and Grangers)
  10. Conferences (a list of state and regional Grange conferences and meetings)

Since the best day record was set the same day the Bangor Daily News Article was posted, there might be a correlation. The tempting conclusion is that folks are hungry for good news about the Grange. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that other highly visited pages and posts are reference pages with officer, membership, and Grange location information.

How do they find it? Well, the data suggests that most of our “referrals” are coming from search engines. In other words, people are searching for information using Google and other search engines and the Maine State Grange website comes up in the results.

While it’s important to stay focused, one undeniable conclusion we can draw from this is that we attract people to the Maine State Grange Website by making information readily available. This is one of the reasons I’ve started the “Resources for Grangers” posts—obviously, those resources are not just for Grangers. They are also for people who should become Grangers!

I’ve recently become interested in a communication phenomena called the “echo effect.” An echo chamber is “a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system.” In short, repeated messages sometimes take on a life of their own and get reinforced by nature of the fact they are heard often. Another term we can apply is “tunnel vision.” We become so subconsciously focused on something we are hearing constantly we only see what’s at the end of the tunnel.

That’s one reason I believe we need to stop analyzing and discussing why getting members is hard. I do not deny it is challenging. But I also know that the more we talk about how hard it is, the more firmly we will believe it can’t be done.

On May 6, 2017, at least 257 people were interested in the Grange: our programs, our beliefs, our halls, and our events. Did we give them enough information to at least maintain their interest?

After the Bangor Daily News article, one person emailed me and said that she and her husband plan to join the Grange when they retire. What do you think of that? I know several Grangers I told replied, “How old are they? Will I live long enough to see it?” I wish more people had just said, “Wow! That’s great!”