Five great tips for dealing with the deluge of news

Someone recently asked me what I thought of BP’s handling of the gulf oil spill, and I had to admit, I didn’t have an opinion. At some point in the news cycle, I simply quit paying attention.

I quit watching television about three years ago. Not for any philosophical reason. I was moving from California to Texas and my TV didn’t fit in my car, so I left it behind. With the sudden absence of raunchy reality TV and sarcastic political pundits, I quickly realized that I wasn’t missing much and never bothered to replace it.

I quit taking a physical paper several years ago as well. I traveled so much for work, they just piled up on my front porch signaling to burglars that I was out of town and making me feel guilty for wasting paper.

That’s not to say I don’t get news. I get more news than I can handle. I simply get it all online.

Between Twitter, Facebook, Google Alerts, my RSS reader, the handful of email newsletters I subscribe to, the regular news sites and blogs I visit each day, the daily monitoring I do for clients and their competitors, podcasts, regular phone calls with my mother, and random online discovery sessions in the evening with a bottle of wine, I’m reasonably aware of what’s going on in the world.

But with so much information and so little time, I make a conscious effort to skim as many headlines as I can and only delve deeper into news that will provide true value for me. At some point, I knew all I really needed to know about the BP oil spill and simply tuned the out.

Coincidentally, as I was jotting down these thoughts, I received my daily email newsletter with an article titled “The Five Stages of Filtering, Relevance, and Curation,” addressing this exact “deluge” of information and our attempts to filter through it.

Our fundamental need to filter information combined with emerging filtration systems like Gmail’snew Priority Inbox should have professional communicators on the edge of their seats.

Clearly, the reach of a traditional media is decreasing. And, as the social media landscape continues to evolve, with the information one sees increasingly being determined by past behavior, organizations will have to continually find new ways to permeate permission-based news streams in order to be heard.

I can’t offer a single solution to the challenge. There is no silver bullet. But I can offer a few simple tips for professional communicators trying to reach someone like me:

1. When a crisis hits, you’ve got one shot to get your message across. Website analytics consistently show that the vast majority of readers rarely come back for the rest of the story. I learned this lesson over and over again during my time managing Southwest Airlines’ blog. News breaks and traffic spikes. But that traffic rapidly declines every day following, barring any shocking revelations. Particularly in a crisis, your first hit is going to go the farthest distance. Make it count. Chances are I’m not coming back for your second swing.

2. Be respectful of my time. Be direct. Don’t make me weed through a bunch of superlatives and jargon to figure out what you’re trying to say. Just spit it out. I’ll decide for myself if it’s “exciting,” “cool” and “fun.”

3. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. I’m sure that 30-second segment you secured on the morning show of your local news station was great, and my grandmother probably thought it was adorable. But I’m not watching local news. If I’m your target market, you’ll need to aim in a different direction.

4. Make it relevant to me. Embrace the Long Tail. Just like a job applicant tailors a resume to each job, tailor your messages to each audience. Your core message may not change, but how and where you deliver it should.

5. Use social media tools for yourself. While I’m sure it makes my boss cringe, the truth is, not watching TV or reading the paper has made me better at my job. If you’re not using these tools yourself, you may not fully understand the revolution that is taking place in the way people find, consume, and share information.

For some, reaching target audiences online will be easy. For others, it will be an ongoing game of cat and mouse. Catch me if you can!

Full Disclosure: I finally bought a TV, but I refuse to plug it into anything other than a DVD player. God bless Netflix.

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