Digital Game-Changers

Make your issue-focused websites and online newsrooms snack rooms for viewers who can munch on chunks of information designed to win hearts, quell fears and redirect a public conversation.Websites, microsites and online newsrooms have become ubiquitous, but not always as useful as they could be in helping to manage a tough issue.

Here are six ideas to make your digital platforms matter — with more relevant, engaging and persuasive content: 

Make your site a "linkable asset"

That requires developing content of interest to your target audience. Dense backgrounders or self-serving fluff won't pull viewers or keep them engaged very long. But solid, credible information will — especially if displayed in visually accessible ways with charts, videos and well-packaged text. Providing valuable information, which is updated regularly, will convince people to bookmark your site and return. It even may lead to your site being linked to other sites, expanding your viewership and outreach.

Give viewers "information snacks"

Giving viewers good content doesn't mean trying to tell them everything you know about a subject. The concept of less is better than more prevails. Design your information as if people were eating snacks instead of a 7-course feast. Yes, provide details —in layers that the most interested and devoted readers will click to find without bogging down the more casual, quick readers. Here is a great example of snack-size information in a CNN post about a host of developments in the Boston bombing case.

Turn on YouTube, Dear

When news breaks, people increasingly go to YouTube to see what happened.

YouTube has become the DIY mall for videos, often providing first-eye reports of a natural disaster or a man-made incident, such as the random shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado this week.

Even the news media is putting its video coverage on YouTube. And some of its video is culled from user-generated videos on YouTube.

YouTube has piqued the interest of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which studied videos posted on the social media site from January 2011 to March 2012. It found that the most viewed videos tended to be of disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and events such as the Arab Spring uprising.

Almost 40 percent of the most-viewed videos came from users, with 51 percent from news organizations, which include user-generated video to augment their own coverage.

This is pretty heady stuff for a social media site created in 2005 to make it easier to share personal videos. The first video displayed on YouTube was titled “Me at the zoo,” featuring one of the site's founders. By mid-2006, as many as 65,000 videos were uploaded on the site daily. Earlier this year, Forbes reported there are now 4 billion video views per day on YouTube.

Creating a Crisis with No Upside

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has built a reputation for enlisting volunteers and corporate partners to combat breast cancer. The charitable organization nicked that reputation this week in a baffling self-created crisis.

Komen announced early in the week it would stop funding breast cancer screenings by Planned Parenthood. At first, Komen said the cut-off resulted because of a new policy not to fund organizations under investigation. Later, top Komen officials said there was a shift in funding strategy. By week's end, after angry outcries from women's groups, doctors and influential senators in Congress, Komen backtracked on its decision.

In one short week, Komen guaranteed itself a place as a case study in communications textbooks of what not to do to avoid creating a crisis.

After Komen made its announcement, critics used social media to denounce the decision as bowing to political pressure by anti-abortion forces, which have conducted a campaign, aided by Congressional Republicans, to dry up public and private funding for Planned Parenthood. 

Planned Parenthood says abortions account for 5 percent of its health care activities, which include screening low-income women for breast and cervical cancer. Women's advocates note Planned Parenthood is often the only place where poor women can obtain any form of preventive health care.

Twitter in a Pinch

Joe Paterno's son dealt with the crush of media inquiries following the death of his legendary father over the weekend by sending a tweet. No media filters. No time delay. Just an efficient, effortless and graceful shout-out to the world.

Twitter has emerged as a go-to tool for the news media and crisis communicators. You can tweet from a smartphone or tablet. It's fast. It's direct. And it demands careful word choices to make your point in 140 characters.

Media outlets and individual reporters use Twitter to alert people to breaking news and provide updates. It might be an earthquake or a presidential debate. You can follow the tweets and know what's going on and what's being said in real time.

The same rapid response is essential in crisis communications. Say there is an accident with environmental impacts. Tweets can demonstrate a business is on top of the situation by communicating valuable, accurate information in real time to employees, neighbors, emergency responders and news reporters. Questions can be posed and answered when concerns are at a peak.

Twitter can work in tandem with other social media platforms such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to provide more information, images and video. The immediacy of the information can allay fears and focus attention on remaining serious problems. Twitter can also team up with a website to direct viewers to sources of additional, in-depth information.