Like most Emergency Management departments, the City of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is committed to raising awareness about disaster preparedness. We are constantly trying to find more effective ways to reach a larger and more diverse audience. And, naturally we don’t want to spend any money to do it.
Social media and open source applications have offered us some pretty creative outlets that might work for your organization:
We have to begin with Facebook. Your agency is already on Facebook so you may think that you’re already doing all you can. But remember Facebook regularly changes the way it does things, from privacy to cookies. Also, Facebook now allows users to easily create their own mini-site. landing pages. Anyone can write their own code, pop it into a free app, and have something like this.
Here’s one of my favorite finds. Write and distribute your own ebook (kindle, nook, ipad, android phone or online viewing) for the low, low price of FREE. Smashwords will take your MS Word document and turn it into an ebook and distribute it to a number of retail outlets including Barnes & Noble and iBooks app. Most users are up-and-coming authors looking to earn income from their offerings. But you can also provide your book for free. The site gives you all the information you need to get started, and easy-to-follow (yet quite long) PDF instructions on how to set-up your word doc. In order to be distributed, you’ll need to include a cover image for your book (I pulled together something in Photoshop). And their insights page track of how many copies have been downloaded. Here’s a look at what we did: Austin Disaster Preparedness Guide and without killing any trees.
For those with a little more time to invest. Here’s a creative project using YouTube. Rather than expecting to engage your audience by posting a passive video, create something viewers can interact with while they learn. By linking together a series of videos we created an interactive Flash Flood Quiz. You will need a professional videographer to shoot the green screen, and we produced our backgrounds and animations in Adobe Flash, but it was all done inhouse with no additional costs.Want to go beyond point-and-shoot, talking heads video, but don’t have multimedia folks on staff, try creating a PowerPoint presentation and export it as a movie that can be uploaded to YouTube. Play these sorts of video at Open Houses, community events – you can even use them as PSAs for television. You may never reach LOL cat status, but you never know.
How about you? How has your department or agency learned how to do more with less?
Very valuable! Thank you!
Thanks Sharon: Interesting concept. Best, Len.
Sharon, thanks for this tip. I may use this site in the future!
Thanks! This is great information 🙂
I published The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development on Smashwords. It’s an excellent vehicle for someone who isn’t necessarily in the writing game, but has a product to make available. This is a terrifically, green idea and I love it. For me, it was a matter of branding myself and formatting the book, but it was selecting the blog articles I would include that helped me do that. Smashwords gives a lot of help in the formatting process and it is not that difficult. My cover I designed in PowerPoint and saved it as a jpg. It seemed to do the trick. For pubs that include charts and graphs or photography, it’s best to read closely the free format book or consult the formatting experts (Smashwords gives you a list free) to see how to import and embed those aspects of the book. Shorter length is better with an e-book. My experience so far has been wonderful. Obviously who your audience is and why you are doing it are considerations to be made at the beginning, but the Smashwords’ site is very helpful. If you are going to distribute the book yourself through the Smashwords site, you don’t have to have premium distribution status, but that’s free anyway if your formatting and subject matter make the cut.
Robert, thanks for your thoughts. I can understand how traditional publishing professionals may have a different opinion of the ease and effectiveness of DIY publishing. Sure, there are limits, but my experience seems to be quite different from yours.
Smashwords does provide an insights page that provides the number of books downloads as well as how the user found the ebook, ie, google, link.. And it is true that our ebook will not likely be a blockbuster, I am fairly confident that the person who downloads the ebook will actually look at it. (We can handout truck loads of free paper products and watch 95% of them end up in the trash.)
And yes, yes, yes, we prefer people download this to their phone – a device they always have on hand, and hopefully their reading material while waiting for a flight or needing to kill some time.
Smashwords has an adult filter. The filter prevents first time visitors and others from viewing content rated adult by the author/publisher unless the visitor specifically asks to see adult content. It filters out such content from the home page, search results, category listings and tag queries.
Perhaps Smashwords has improved their process since you last used it. I simply had to upload a Word doc.and jpg. image for the cover. Smashwords did all the conversion and distribution. I downloaded from iBook to my iPad and iPhone and was truly impressed with the quality. I can understand that it’s not going to offer every feature that McGraw-Hill could provide to its clients. But I would encourage you to give it another shot.
Thanks for the tip about In Print via Createspace. If it’s free, I’m going to use it too. We want to explore every avenue that can help distribute information to our community.
I can totally understand the trepidation about Facebook. But if someone decides not to use Facebook doesn’t mean the rest of the world won’t be using social media to tell your story. Every agency isn’t the same, but for us, Facebook has been a powerful way to raise awareness, control rumors, get feedback and provide accurate, immediate information. As with most technology, it can be used for good or for evil — but it will be used 🙂
Robert, Your comment about Facebook: “…Of course we don’t really know how many people use it and read it, but life is like that.” is not accurate. Go to your Facebook page. Go to right sidebar. Click “View insights.” You can see something like this. Pretty cool, eh?
We’re clearly are on different sides of the fence when pondering the value of social media and open source applications, but, if you like wonky analytics, (I do) facebook will give you that data.
Thanks Robert, you bring up some very good points that deserve discussion.
Hi all, I’m Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords.
Sharon, thanks for this post, and thanks also for your forward-looking perspective.
I see Mr. Bacal posted a counterpoint over at https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/do-you-really-want-to-use-smashwords-to-publish-your-government which I just responded to.
If you walk into a Barnes & Noble bookstore, or visit any reputable online ebook store, you will find traditionally published books from crackpots (Ann Coulter and Adolf Hitler come to mind for me, though we all have different opinions about who’s a wing nut and who’s respectable) alongside books by Snookie, Justin Bieber and others. Should government not distribute their information to constituents via leading ebook stores for fear that these less-than-respectable authors might sully your reputation if your book appears alongside their’s?
Smashwords is an ebook distributor. We distribute ebooks to most of the largest ebook stores including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo.
Free speech is a double-edged sword. We live in a marketplace of competing ideas, information, opinions and ideologies. If government doesn’t publish and doesn’t participate in this marketplace of ideas and information, then government leaves it to the crackpots to define the message and potentially lead constituents astray.
My advice: go forth and publish. Distribute your content as an ebook. This is an exciting time. Ebooks make your information more accessible, more discoverable and more available than ever before.