Expert Columns

Keep an eye on this: Google is testing a new local news service. Bulletin is currently being tested in Nashville, Tennessee, and Oakland, California.
Bulletin bills itself as a “hyperlocal” news service that encourages “citizen journalists” to upload stories on everything from local business events to day-to-day stories that impact their communities. The service claims to be impactful, open and effortless. In other words, it's easy for anyone to contribute.
Google isn't the only online giant testing the waters of local reporting. Facebook is rolling out a similar test app – the Journalism Project initiative -  in six markets.
Why are Google and Facebook trying out this new service? It's primarily a response to the “fake news” charges in the 2016 election cycle. Facebook seems to be taking a tougher approach to screening content providers – screening and vetting local content providers.
Both services are in testing and there's no guarantee either will succeed, but it's important to watch as Google and Facebook are again trying to tap into local content providers.
Why does this matter? If these services gain traction, there's an opportunity for your team to become trusted local experts. Few local radio stations offer in-depth local news. But this may become a way to boost your standing in the community and become more plugged in to local leaders and businesses.
Check out the services. Google Bulletin is accepting names for vetting should the service proceed. Their address is
Again, there's not guarantee that the services will pan out. But the web giants' focus on local is a good reminder that we should be looking at ways to connect with our audiences' day-to-day lives.

The biggest disappointment of Super Bowl LII wasn't Justin Timberlake's half-time show. It was that the “Crocodile Dundee” sequel isn't really a movie sequel. (And it could have been such a fun film.)
But if you watched this year's ads, you might have noticed something different: the tone. There were no stories about immigration, fewer hot babes and not much in the way of politics. Instead, the ads focused upcoming movies, epic face-offs between Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman and Budweiser's “Water” story.
And that was the point: the ads focused more on stories. lays it out in their article, “Super Bowl Ad Review: Why Madison Avenue Chose Pop Over Politics.” The article quotes Andy Goeler, VP of Marketing for Bud Light, “I think people are relaxing and want some good fun. You want to be entertaining. You want to have a good time.”
Goeler captured where we are as a nation. The national conversation has been one of outrage. Anger. Non-stop commentary on the state of our nation. And we can only handle so much negativity before we get tired of it and burn out.
So here's what I learned from watching ads from this year's Big Game: story matters. People crave good stories. They need an escape from the daily grind … not to “run away from it all,” but to cope, to reframe and to step away for a moment before heading back into the fray.
As communicators – Christian communicators – we need to remember the importance of story. We need to incorporate the good and the real. “Whatever is true, whatever is just...lovely...” These are the things we need to share with our audience. And we should never forget that we tell the Greatest Story of All.
As you prep for your show, as you write social media posts and blogs, never forget the power of story … and the impact is has on the lives of our audiences.

What's on your calendar for the next three months? Here's a handy guide to help you plan ahead for February, March and April. Use the opportunities ahead to grow your audience size, encourage audience engagement or find new ways to connect with donors or advertisers. Here's how to get started:
Step One: Lay Out Your Goals
Plan ahead and know what you want to accomplish. Start by answering these three questions:
1) What do you want to accomplish over the next three months?
2) Who do you want to connect with over the next three months?
3) Where do you want your station to be in the next three months?

Step Two: Look for Opportunities to Achieve Your Goals

February Opportunities:
 February 2 – Groundhog Day
 February 4 – Super Bowl Sunday
 February 9 – National Pizza Day
 February 14 – Valentines Day
 February 17 – Random Acts of Kindness Day
 February 19 – President's Day

March Opportunities:
 March 1 – Purim Begins (From the Book of Esther)
 March 4 – The Academy Awards (Oscars)
 March 11 – Daylight Saving Time Begins
 March 17 – St. Patrick's Day
 March 20 – Spring Begins
 March 25 – Palm Sunday
 March 30 – Good Friday

April Opportunities:
 April 1 – Easter
 April 1- April Fool's Day
 April 15 – Tax Day
 April 26 – Take Your Daughter to Work Day
 April 30 – Passover

Step 3: Assign Action Steps to Your Goals and Opportunities
Once you've decided on one or two activities each month (and maybe you have some other, bigger goals that aren't connected to the dates and ideas above), put a plan together. Decide when to start and end your events, what you need to say yes or no to, and who on your team needs to get involved.
Use these ideas to help get started. And as you look ahead to the next three months, be intentional about growing and engaging your audience.

A new month … and new conversation starters! Use this list of topics to start your daily prep, blog posts and social media comments. And don't forget to ask the all-important question, “What is the most important thing my audience wants to hear/read/talk about today?”

Topics/Conversation Starters
• Groundhog Day – Agree or Disagree with Punxsutawney Phil?
• How to beat the flu. (This year's strain has resulted in school closures.)
• Make simple, quick and cheap – but nice-looking – Valentine's Day cards for your child's class.
• Share your love story – in honor of Valentine's Day
• Simple date night ideas
• Super Bowl Ads – What's your favorite?

Holidays/Key Dates
• February is Black History Month
• February 1 – Freedom Day (Honoring the signing of the 13th Amendment on February 1, 1865 – which outlawed slavery in the U.S.)
• February 2 – Groundhog Day
• February 4 – Super Bowl Sunday
• February 13 – Shrove Tuesday … also known as Pancake Day!
• February 14 – Valentine's Day/Ash Wednesday
• February 19 – President's Day
• February 20 – Hoodie Hoo Day – the only holiday dedicated to stepping outside and yelling “Hoodie Hoo!” (Yes, it's real.)
• February 22 – National Chili Day

Online Topics
• Six more weeks of winter? Six weeks 'til spring? How do you cope?
• Local events for kids – especially indoor activities
• Valentine's Day crafts and creatives
• Fun Valentine's Day ideas
• President's Day – Presidential facts and noteworthy stories
Again, as you consider these – and many other topics – always remember to ask “What is the most important thing my audience wants to talk about today?”

How long should your communications take? Is there a special length, character count or video time?
The answer is both “yes” and “no.” Here's why: Your communication (whether an on-air break, a blog post, Facebook update, Tweet or video) should last just long enough to get your audience to understand your message and take action. Any longer … and they'll lose interest. So, no. There is no “special length” for communications.
However, the reality is that we have limits to communications. Whether on air or online, we are restricted by our audience's attention span and our platform's settings. With that in mind, here are some industry standards that will help you shape your message and help your audiences understand your message and take action.
• Facebook videos – Two minutes. Unless you're livestreaming or producing a show, the recommended length for an online video is two minutes.
• Facebook posts – 40 characters. Social media specialist Jeff Bullas finds that 40 characters is the ideal length for engagement. That doesn't give you a lot of space with which to work, but it does give you the ideal length to capture someone's interest and send them to a news article, blog post or video.
• Twitter – 120 - 130 characters. Yes, you can now post 280 characters, but the ideal length is still less than half the allowed limit. It allows a concise thought and space to add your handle or hashtag.
• Instagram Captions – 120 characters. Instagram is all about photos, and a picture is worth a thousand words...
• Blog posts – 2,100 words or seven minutes of “read time.” Blogs or web posts offer space to unpack an idea, but people will only commit limited time to reading your thoughts. Seven minutes give you enough time to explain your point, but doesn't leave a lot of room for fluff. If you want to write more, expand your thoughts over several posts ... or write a book.
• Paragraphs – 3-4 sentences. It's a lot more room than you think. In fact, the average paragraph in this article is only three sentences.
• Headlines – 6 words. Keep headlines punchy and powerful. No wasted space.
Are you noticing a theme? Here is is: Keep it simple. Platforms have space limitations. Audiences have short attention spans. But a good communicator can work within those limitations and unleash a powerful message.
It takes a lot of work. But it's worth it. People will notice when you speak their language in a way that invites them to listen.
Oh … and one more thought about effective communications: Don't be boring.
Keep it simple. Keep it interesting. It will make a difference.

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