Tag Archives: best practices

Don’t forget to update your calendar!

One of the easiest and most effective ways that Extension faculty and staff members can promote their programs and events is by posting them on their local calendar. Each local unit office and Agricultural Research and Extension Center has a calendar. For a complete listing of VCE calendars, visit the calendar page on the VCE website.

There are many benefits to using the your VCE calendar.

  1. Your calendar provides a central location to post event details and contact information.
  2. Information can be easily added and updated by using the Web-based interface.
  3. Viewers can download individual calendar items directly to their own calendars and mobile devices.
  4. Information can be shared easily on other unit calendars, helping to promote your programming to neighboring communities.
  5. Calendar items can be put on a topic calendar, making it easy for viewers to find similar events.
  6. Having events on your calendar allows other faculty members to see what is planned so they do not schedule similar events on the same day.
  7. Calendar events can be easily promoted on other websites and through social media.
  8. Having complete information easily accessible on your calendar should reduce the number of emails and phone calls you receive with questions about events.

Putting an item on the calendar is as easy as filling out an online form. For more information on how to use the VCE calendars, visit our online training.

example of calendar

Make sure to include as much information as possible, including a link to a website that has additional details, links to paperwork, and registration information. If clients know that they can rely on the information to be accurate and helpful, they will review the calendar on a regular basis, making your job all that much easier.

Remember, people won’t participate if they don’t know what is going on. The first step to promoting your program is to post it on your calendar!

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Want to reach more people? Figure out what content works best on your accounts

Social media accounts are not all the same. Twitter is vastly different than Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. No account is ever the same, and their purposes and audiences are all different, as well.

Some content lends itself better to certain networks, but as long as you’re paying attention to what does well on each account, you’ll be able to reach your audience more effectively.

Can you share your same blog post or article on multiple networks? Yes, definitely! Just make sure your social media messages fit with each account and audience.

  • Twitter is a great place to share useful tips, tricks, and visual content. Because text is limited to 140 characters, you’re forced to get to the point. It’s also a great place to engage people in conversation and answer questions.
  • Facebook has turned into more of an entertainment sharing network, where the most popular posts are the ones that are easily shared between friends and family. If people aren’t liking or sharing your post, there’s a good chance that most of your fans or friends won’t see it at all. Adding images and videos to your posts almost always ensures a wider reach.
  • LinkedIn is a great place to share business and industry news, as well as job openings. Things like how-to posts, case studies, and other content that helps your audience grow professionally should do well on this network.
  • Google+ is a space that easily combines personal and professional content. Since you can set up different circles of people, it offers you multiple spaces to share content between either friends and family or professional contacts.
  • Pinterest is all about the images. The best way to use Pinterest is to share great visual content. This can be info-images, infographics, comics, custom photography, and memes.

For more inspiration, check out Virginia Cooperative Extension’s social media directory.

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Website Best Practices: With great power comes great responsbility

In the spring 2015 semester, the websites hosted at Virginia Tech will be moved from the old content management system (CMS) into a new one. With this change, there will be a greater opportunity for you to manage your own webpages and content because the new CMS will be much more user-friendly!

Once you’ve learned the new CMS, it may be tempting to try all the cool stuff one can do with websites. Some people have been able to figure out how to apply different styles to text on a page, but when they do, it breaks the cohesive look and feel that a template offers.

So how do you know if you’re creating a good looking page without going off on a design tangent? By following Web best practices! Continue reading

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Know your audience

We all have to write material to influence and inform people, but before doing anything, it behooves us to think about who our audience is and what we want the take-away message to be.

For example, if you are writing a business memo, your intended audience is probably people with whom you work. What and how you report information should vary depending on the reader. When we talk to people face-to-face we adjust our speech to be sure we are communicating our message but many people don’t think about this when writing. Different audiences have different levels of understanding based on age, level of experience with a given subject, education, and interest.

The importance of your audience

Understanding your audience is important when making decisions about what information you should include, what kind of supporting details the reader needs to understand about your topic, and how you should structure the hierarchy of information. If you are writing to persuade, you need to be able to appeal to and address a specific group of people. Continue reading

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Using social media to drive web traffic back to unit office websites

Social media drives traffic to your website and helps unit offices connect with and retain existing clients while winning new clients through word of mouth. Search engines like Google use social media signals including likes, shares, and engagement as indicators to move your unit office website higher in search rankings.

Keeping your social media profiles updated with fresh content will help you increase followers, increase referral traffic to your website, and promote upcoming events, promotions, camps, etc.

Following and engaging with other strategic social media accounts will increase your reach and follower counts as well as generate valuable “social signals” that correlate to higher search engine rankings for your unit office website.

When clients love your events, they want to tell their friends about them. With social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, customer opinions can be heard louder than ever, and they drive traffic back to your website.

Here are some great tips from an article on socialmediaexaminer.com about how to drive more Facebook traffic to your website.

  1. Make sure you have a steady stream of shareable content on your website.
  2. Make it easy to share the content on your website to Facebook.
  3. Optimize how you post your content to Facebook.
  4. Optimize other places on Facebook to add links to your website.
  5. Advertise.

Visit socialmediaexaminer.com to read the entire article.

If you need help with or would like to add links to your social media pages from your unit office websites, please contact Constance Moulder, VCE Web publishing assistant, at 540-231-9495.


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Graphic design: Designing by the golden rule

With everyone having the desktop computer with various design or page layout apps at their fingertips these days, designing a perfect layout, photograph, webpage or logo should be easy, right?

Good design doesn’t just happen or appear before your eyes when you open up your desktop design application. There is a Golden Rule that should apply to that great design. When you start out with your idea and you apply the Golden Ratio (figure A) or Golden Spiral (figure B) to it and then that the design will begin to unfold like a masterpiece on a canvas.

But what is this Golden Rule? Simply put, it is the Greek letter phi, the ratio that rules the relations between two sections in a design.

By dividing section A by section B, the result should be 1.618033987 (phi) or by adding A+B and dividing it by A you will get the same ratio. This gives you good balance within the layout. Figure A gives you a better idea of this principle.


Figure A

Continue reading

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Providing the right artwork to vendors

At some point, many of you will have to order t-shirts, stickers, brochures, or posters from a local or online vendor, and you will need to submit artwork for the project. The first step is to get a quote specifying the details, price, and scope of the project to prevent a misunderstanding should the finished product be incorrect.

Once you have agreed on the quote, the next step is to provide artwork to the vendor. The best way to ensure a successful project is to know what file format your vendor needs for the artwork.

There are two basic types of digital art files: bitmapped and vector art.

1. A bitmapped file (for example, JPEG, PNG, or GIF) is composed of a matrix of dots. Each dot can be assigned a color and combined with other dots to create shapes. When you zoom in on a bitmapped image, you will see the individual dots, which make it look blocky. The quality of a bitmapped file is indicated by its resolution (dots per square inch or dpi.) As a general rule, 72 dpi is suitable for the Web, while 300 dpi and above is required for print. It is important to consult with the vendor if these files are being used in a project.

2. Vector art is any digital artwork in which the shapes are represented by mathematical equations within a computer. This allows the art to be scaled to any size without increasing the file size or losing picture quality. The most popular software programs used to create vector images are Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Files created using these programs are popular with screen printers and sign companies.

The key to working with any vendor is communicating and asking the right questions.

Read more at www.ehow.com/info_10030697_bitmapped-graphics-definition.html and www.ehow.com/about_5043089_definition-vector-art.html.

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Top 10 email best practices

  1. Get to the point. If action is required, say so at the start of the email. Don’t tell a long story with the requested action at the end.
  2. Keep it short. Break up your text into short paragraphs or bullets. If there’s a shorter way to say it, use it. Remember what we already know—people get too many emails.
  3. Put important information in bold so it’s easier to scan. If you’ve addressed an email to several people with an action for certain person, bold that person’s name.
  4. Assume it’s public. If people want to read your email and share it with others, they will.
  5. Refrain from using colored text, background images, sounds, or animation. Your emails will be hard to read, difficult to reply to without converting to plain text, clog up email storage because of file size, and are just plain irritating.
  6. Proofread it and check your spelling. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m talking about” than misusing and misspelling words. Bad grammar can lead to confusion. Here’s a Grammar checker.
  7. Use Bcc: for group emails. When sending group emails, list the recipients in the Bcc: field. The recipient will get a copy of the email but the others are protected from the view of the other recipient – some of whom they may or may not know.
  8. Never expose your contact’s addresses to strangers. Long lists of email addresses at the beginning of an email is an immediate sign that the sender is either a novice or doesn’t care or respect other’s privacy.
  9. Do not type in all caps. Typing in all caps is yelling. Also, studies* have shown that it takes longer to read text typed in all caps. *More info on reading paper vs. online.
  10. Don’t send emails when you are angry. If you receive a nasty email, do not respond immediately—if at all. If you don’t have something constructive or nice to say or at the very least sternly professional, just hit delete.

Words of Advice
Think twice about adding an inspirational quote at the end of your emails, especially one with religious overtones. What is inspirational to you may not be inspirational to your recipient. Better safe than sorry.

Forwarding political, humorous, or religious emails has no place in business communication. Create a general message that you are not a forwarder of jokes or inspirational messages and you don’t open attachments in order to protect your computer. They’ll get the message.

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Effective emails: From subject lines to signatures

Since we retain so little of what we read it’s especially important to communicate effectively when we send emails. There is a lot that can be misinterpreted, especially when people are busy.

Subject Lines
People who get a lot of email scan the subject line to decide whether to open, forward, file, or trash a message. If your subject line is vague—or even worse, if it’s blank—you’ve missed your opportunity to inform or persuade your reader.

If you don’t put a subject line, you’re sending the message that your name in the “From” line is all your recipient should need to make it a top priority. This is arrogant and thoughtless. Take advantage of the opportunity to get your recipient thinking about your message before even opening it.

Over 35% of SPAM is detected from an email’s subject line. The definition of SPAM is irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent to large numbers of users. How much of your email that gets through SPAM filters is SPAM? A lot! How much of daily office email is irrelevant? A lot! Be considerate.

  • Subject Line: Important!  What is important to you may not be important to your reader. Rather than announcing that the secret contents of your message are important, write a headline that communicates the message: “Emergency: Cars in lower lot will be towed in 1 hour.”
  • Subject Line: Quick question  If the question is quick, why not ask it in the subject line?
  • Subject Line: Quick question  Particularly irritating is the email where the sender has left the subject line from an earlier email but the contents now have entirely changed to something new. It doesn’t help anyone to have a subject line that doesn’t relate to the message.
  • Subject Line: Follow up about Friday  Fractionally better—provided that the recipient remembers why a follow-up is necessary.
  • Subject Line: File you requested  If you’re confident that the recipient will recognize your email address and is really expecting a file, this would be fine. But remember, many people get virus-laden spam with titles like this. The more specific you are the more likely a spam-blocker will let your message through.

The general rule of thumb in email marketing is to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less. BUT, what if it’s being read on a smart phone? They get cut off at 20-25 characters. And it could be embarrassing. Test your subject lines.

There are online tools to check your subject lines on various email clients. Your emails and subject lines look different in Outlook on a desktop vs. Gmail vs. Yahoo! Mail, vs. on a Blackberry.

Here’s what the results of a subject line tester look like:subject line tester example

Greetings and Salutations
Email greetings and salutations matter. They are the bookends of what you want to communicate. Start and end your emails professionally. Be polite without being too familiar.

Greetings to avoid:
• Hey there,
• What’s up,
• To whom it may concern,

Better options:
• Dear,
• Greetings,
• Good morning,

Salutations to avoid:
• Cordially,
• Yours truly,
•  xoxo (and all derivatives)
• (none)

Better options:
• Kind regards,
• Sincerely,
• Thanks,

More on email sign-offs and etiquette can be found online, as well.

Email Signatures
Give the recipient information to contact you without having to look it up.
Sometimes a return phone call is warranted—or a visit to your office. Include phone, fax, physical address—whatever would be included on your business card.

Email signatures: Virginia Tech Style
The Virginia Tech Brand Guide specifies a preferred email signature. The font should be Ariel or Franklin Gothic and your title should be in bold.

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