This past weekend, I presented three workshops at the 2014 North East Regional Volunteer Forum, held at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. Every two years, 300+ enthusiastic 4-H volunteers, known as leaders, travel from as far north as Maine and from as south as West Virginia to the host state to learn new skills – to be better volunteers. It is an embodiment of the 4-H motto: Make the Best Better.
These people Bleed Green! They are heavily invested in 4-H and clearly know the impact of 4-H program curriculum on their communities. So they pay to come, network and learn new skills.
Figuring out social media is a skill they crave. I am happy to get them started!
You see, I am a convert to the cause. My father used to tell me that converts were the most zealous of believers. He was talking about religion, of course. His German Lutheran mother married an Irish Catholic. They had nine children, all raised in the faith. Now that’s conversion put to practice!
I discovered 4-H late in life. I learned about it in 2001, when I accepted a job to work at The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and support the 4-H program. My daughter was already grown. 4-H never factored in to the decisions I had to make about lessons and activities she participated in. 4-H never crossed my radar. The little I knew, and it was little, was that 4-H’ers had something to do with kids who lived on farms and raised puppies for the Seeing Eye program. In fact, that was one of my interview answers, and despite it, got the job.
To make a long story short, I was soon immersed in the 4-H sea of green. I was pleasantly shocked by the diversity of programs which, happily for me, included photography, computer arts and technology. I soon became a leader and a cheerleader for the program. As I earned my journalism degree, I wanted to use those skills to brag about 4-H and Extension. I wanted the world to know what it did not – that 4-H is great.
I’ve taught this workshop many times at other NERVF Conferences, and how to promote 4-H has now evolved well beyond traditional print media. Print is still important. But social media has exploded. It is a force. Don’t ignore it! My presentation was a double session – a total of three hours. And still it wasn’t enough. Comments in the evaluation said so. Three hours just whetted their whistles. (My third presentation was on Healthy Internet Habits and was transmitted as a webinar to those who could not attend in Maryland).
Like a lot of non profits, we don’t always have the big budgets of Starbucks or Oreo and produce a lot of lavish graphics and slick media productions. Extension agents – and trust me on this – have a schedule almost no human could endure – days, nights, weeks and weekends – never a 40-hour week – try 50-60-70 on for size, day in and out, serving children, and always doing it with a smile. What often gets dropped off their To Do list is publicity and marketing. The word of mouth – from clients and volunteers, therefore, carry much of the burden. We need those words in print and on social media. We need to tell our story better. We are so much more than cows and plows!
So here are some tips and tricks – the major take a-ways from the double-session.
- Take better photos. Look ’em in the eye photos. Have your subject wear the brand. Let’s see that 4-H T-shirt front and center. Brand reinforcement!
- Spend a little time composing the photo. Stage it. Does the lectern have a 4-H emblem? How about a flag, poster, banner, or materials on a table? Again: brand reinforcement!
- 4-H youth are wholesome and polite! Have them write thank you letters and letters to the editors thanking anyone who supported the event or program. Who helped you? Make a big deal about it and thank publicly on print and social media.
- Develop a relationship with local reporters. Who does the education beat? Healthy Living? Technology? Follow their work, comment on it, introduce yourself and your connection with 4-H. It might mean a future story.
- Any picture of a 4-H youth or activity should be labeled with keywords before uploading to any website, blog, Flickr or on social media. Title with keywords so the image shows up in Google/Bing image searches!
- Use the right hashtags! The hashtag for 4-H is #4H. No dash. We’re normally sensitive about that middle hyphen. It is part of the registered name, but in social media, no dash!
- While at an event, ask the agent if there is an event hashtag. The NERVF used #NERVF2014. Search it. It’s the first NERVF hashtag!!!
- Pick the right social media platform to brag on. Facebook is for family and friends. Twitter is for reporters, legislators, funders, supporters, companies, other agencies, and future audiences.
Instagram is popular with young people, as is Vine. Kids: If your Instagram feed is set to private, new audiences will not be able to see your #4H tags!
- Know what handles are and how to tag key people. In Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and Vine we use an “at sign” to tag. If you want National 4-H to see your post on social media type @4H (again, no dash).Tag reporters! Find out the handles of other account names that interact or intersect with 4-H. What hashtags and handles are in your county or state? Memorize them!
- Follow and support other counties and other state 4-H social media accounts. Learn from their content and share it. Comment and share. Retweet and reply. It is the single most effective way to broadcast good news about 4-H. It takes a 4-H village to do this right and do it well! We are all in this wonderful program together!
- Attention youth! Create a blog. Google’s eBlogger and WordPress (what this site is) are free and easy to create. Get guidance from your 4-H or Extension office and absolutely check with your parent or guardian first! If they give the okay, keep your blog centered on 4-H topics. Write about your community service, your leadership and citizenship. Introduce your project and state fair stories. Talk about what you do and learn. Share how cool 4-H is. Share pictures. A blog will show off your communication skills, it creates a positive online presence that future employers and college admission officers will notice. You and your blog will also market 4-H better than anyone or anything. There’s nothing quite like an authentic story, and no one can sell 4-H better than a 4-H’er who has lived the Head, Heart, Hands, & Health like you!
- Ditto for YouTube! Do you have a channel? Does your 4-H office or Cooperative Extension have a channel?
- Don’t just market 4-H during National 4-H Week. That’s a start, but don’t forget the other 51 weeks! Here are some great 4-H Marketing Tool Kit resources from National 4-H Council
A thousand words aren’t enough, nor were 3 hours. But it is a start! Social media has arrived. Like it or not (for those traditionalists out there, I know you are there!) social media is where our new audiences are! The 4-H green mountain must move to the social media mountain! The people who know nothing about 4-H ARE on social media. It’s time to reach them and politely knock them on the head with a hashtag and smile as we watch them respond with, “Wow, 4-H does that?”
Tell your 4-H story in images, videos and and words. Show the world what the four H’s mean and celebrate the 4-H power – your power. If you tell it, you will sell it!
Want to learn how to do it better? I am available to 4-H clubs, leaders and 4-H Extension agents via distance technology! Email me for more information!