Decorating Your Website or Blog for the Holidays!

After you’ve festively decorated your home and place of business, don’t forget about showing that same holiday spirit with your electronic media.

Start off by downloading a very festive holiday wallpaper to your computer desktop(s). I tend to lean toward the more contemporary wallpapers so here are a few of my favorite resources:

Next, decorate your website or blog to show your spirit and wish your visitors a Happy Holiday. I used to work for a government agency that every Christmas, I would have a snow scene that would replace the header section. On their timekeeping application where I had branded a little man running with a giant clock in his hand, I replace it with a similar image but the little man had a santa hat on. If your website uses a photograph of your city or some other landscape, replace it with a winter scene with the same focal point — unless you live in California or somewhere else where Winter looks like Summer.

Here are a few resources to give your website that extra seasonal flair:

If your website or blog uses the WordPress or Joomla platform, try out one of these Xmas templates to replace your current design during the holiday season:

Wait, what about your social networking site, you definitely have to decorate it as well using these resources:

Perhaps you’d like to make your own holiday design. Here are some tutorials and tools for assisting you in doing so:

Don’t forget about your mobile device. Show your holiday spirit with these mobile wallpaper and themes:

Last, when you’re sending out those Christmas cards through the US Postal Service, don’t forget about sending special holiday wishes via e-mail using some of these resources:

Please SHARE with me your websites and blogs that you’ve decorated for the holiday season, or other holiday resources for web or blog designs. Perhaps you can be an inspiration to others.

Free Twitter Icons

twitter_icon setWe are always looking for ways to make our site stand out. Most websites which have companion social media pages link their users through the traditional social icons. However, if your site heavily makes use of one of the social media pages for customer service, resource listings, or news — why not make your social media link stand out.

For one of my clients I created a unique twitter image link that showed the famous blue Twitter bird, reading a book with a graduate cap on. The website featured college scholarship information.

Check out this website with free Twitter images you can use for your site: http://designrfix.com/freebies/free-twitter-icons-website-design.

The Twitter icon display is availabe for download at: http://weblogs.about.com/od/Social-Media-Icons/ss/Gallery-Of-Free-Social-Media-Icons-For-Thanksgiving-Or-Fall_3.htm. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Creating a Social Media Strategy for Your Government Agency

Before creating a presence on one of the social networking channels, government agencies first should decide why they want the ‘Page’ and what their objectives are. This should be documented as part of their social media strategy. “It’s another vehicle for publicizing what our agency does,” should not be the only objective. It should not be a static “one-way” publishing source, but should support the ideal of social networking itself and engage its audience, especially those the agency is not otherwise reaching, and once the agency has established a presence they have to be committed to keeping the page updated and active. Although daily updates may not be necessary, agencies should try to update the page at least every week, preferably more often. Without frequency of updates, users will eventually stop visiting the page.

For example, Facebook allows an entity to create several different Facebook fan pages. This can allow a single agency to create multiple fan pages that narrow your focusing toward a single audience. A government agency that works with court records and information could have a page aimed at attorneys. Facebook posts could give them guidance to new procedures, fine and fees and information relevant to that group. Officials could monitor conversations on the page and address issues that appear important to members.

Another example, a government agency can establish a campaign-specific Twitter account is the subject matter is niche or specific to a limited number of followers (audience), such as young people, small businesses, or military veterans. Just remember to cross reference or re-tweet to the agency’s main Twitter site when the information is relevant to the larger audience.

Many government agencies use their channels to post about events and share information that otherwise might not be very “press release” worthy. Municipal government agencies can use their page to connect their communities. Although your page has the potential to reach all over the world, doesn’t mean you should post information specific to your community.

There isn’t a template or cookie-cutter document for government agencies to adopt for their social media strategy because agencies are different, their functionality, audience and content all differs, and a strategy should be focused on what makes the individual agency’s institutional network powerful. However, in general, your agency’s strategy should be an initiative designed to promote government participation, increase collaboration and expand your agency’s ability to share information with social media users. It should be a roadmap to use Web 2.0, new media, and social collaborative tools and technologies to improve intergovernmental communications and encourage citizen involvement by initiating conversations to strengthen our communities and government. These technologies should be embraced to interact with citizens, businesses, and employees with increased efficiency, collaboration, transparency, and openness.

Focus on Building Relationships

 Start by defining key audiences and assessing their social media readiness and levels of participation. The more specific you define the different audiences you will improve your chance for your network to engage their common needs and interests.

State Objectives and Metrics for Creating a Social Network Presence

As already stated, it is important to understand why your agency should have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other social networking site. In addition, you have to decide how you will assess the value of being on the site. If there is no true value for your agency using Twitter then it’s a government resource misused to have staff committed to the site’s upkeep.

For many social networking sites, measuring success is fairly easy, due to their interactive nature. Has there been feedback from citizens? Do you see an increase in the number of fans to the page? Are visitors sharing your information through re-tweets? All of these and more techniques can be used to evaluate the success or usefulness of your social networking presence.

In addition, you should have a plan to evaluate the metrics of your objectives on a routine basis. There are many third-party tools for assisting in evaluating the effectiveness of different social networking sites. Tweepler.com and twitterfall.com are for analyzing Twitter pages.

Understand the Risks and Mitigation

With all government sites, reputation and compliance is a must. Before jumping head first into creating any type of social networking page, it is important that you understand the risks to your government agency’s reputation and have a plan for containing them. Most risks can be minimized with an established and clear digital media Policy.

One of the major threats of working with a third-party website is the potential for hacking and vandalism of content. Your policy should enforce the frequent changing of administrative passwords and the use of “strong” passwords, and only select members of your digital media team should have access to the password.

Depending on the resources (staff) that have been committed to working with the social networking site and providing feedback, a successful presence can sometime bring issues of not being able to meet the demands of social users that need your team to contribute to conversations or answer inquires. Expectations can be managed by providing a published policy that establishes a clear understanding to how the agency will respond.

How important is the content generated through shared postings? Is losing this information an established risk for your agency? Use tools to back up your social networking content, such as Tweetake.com for backing up followers and tweets or SocialSafe.net that backs up Facebook Friends, photos, profile and wall status updates.

Establish a Channel Proposition and Management

Establish and document a clear brand for all the agency’s social networking channels. Will the channel be positioned on an organizational or leadership level? Will the avatar used be a photo of your agency’s executive or the seal? What color scheme, background image, profile or informational statement will be used? These elements should be well thought out and consistent your agency’s already established public image.

Establish a tone of voice for posting and inquiry feedback that is “hypothetical” so that input from multiple sources is presented in a consistent tone.

Document the responsibilities of the digital media team as to how they will publish postings, coordinate replies to incoming messages and monitor the accounts. Provision a time expectation for these activities and other established responsibilities. Some input for content may require communications from operational staff. Establish protocols for the identification of content for social networking posts. This should be clearly defined in a digital media policy.

Content principles for the social networking channels

How frequent will posts be added? This could vary for the different types of social networking channels, however be considerate to not “flood” your fans or followers with content streams. For example, for a Twitter channel, a maximum of 10 tweets per working day is acceptable. This does not count @replies to other users or crisis event tweeting.

Don’t dehumanize postings and contributions. The tone of the channel should take on a more informal speech. Don’t simply generate your content from RSS feeds or regurgitate press release headlines, but paraphrase the information. Instead of posting, “Local Police Department Increases Patrol during Christmas Holiday”, try posting “There will be more patrol officers making our community safe during the Christmas holiday”. People like to know that there’s an actual human on the other end! Be conversational by using @replies as much as possible. Social media is a two-way conversation and citizens will be more receptive if their inquiries are responded to.

Make your content relevance for today or upcoming events. Don’t recycle messages about services that were launched last month, or programs established a year ago, unless you can find some sort of current “hook” to it. Perhaps the program was recently updated to include an additional resource, in your posting focus on the new resources not the program as a whole. Don’t play catch-up with your social networking channel – post forward!

Social media is about knowledge sharing. Your agency’s social networking channel shouldn’t be solely about your agency alone, but use it promote other relevant content. Re-tweet messages from other officials or government agencies. Social media is NOT about self-promotion. Establish in your agency’s digital media policy a protocol for re-tweeting (reactive or proactive), following or befriending, liking and performing other social media activities from the agency’s account. Social media etiquette should play a large part in establishing these protocols.

Make your postings easier to share by using condensed URLs when linking to information or limiting your tweets to 130 characters maximum to allow space of RT @[Your agency] to be included as a prefix. These practices, along with the use of Hashtags for Twitters postings should be a part of your agency’s digital media policy to ensure consistency with posting.

Marketing the Agency’s Social Networking Channel

Establish how the channels will be promoted upon first launch and after it has been established. This can be through social media icon links on the agency’s website, a press release, and email to stakeholders or other government officials. Why not encourage employees to add a link to their email signatures?

If you’d like assistance in planning your agency’s social media strategy, please contact me at: lisa@itgeekgurl.com