Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Working for Cooperative Extension's Future

Below is statement (adapted slightly from its original purpose) of some of my views on how Extension should be approaching marketing, communications, and educational efforts. In the spirit of transparency, I am sharing these thoughts and would love to hear from you on these concepts and other ways that we can do a better job of convening education, communications, and marketing in Cooperative Extension.

The flattening of the information flow indicates that communications and marketing methods should take advantage of the knowledge and appreciation of others and engage them. Also online and offline behaviors are becoming less separate. We already see this convergence in those who have never known life without the Internet. Today’s youth do not have separate online and offline lives—they have one life—a concept that most adults have trouble understanding, yet our future depends on our understanding these changes.
While we know that those who use Cooperative Extension are very satisfied with Cooperative Extension, we are not widely known to the public (2008 Copernicus Survey). Only 15% of the U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 have heard of Cooperative Extension, and only 27% of the US adult population knows who we are. A dismal 5% of the younger adults have used Cooperative Extension and 11% of the US adult population has used Cooperative Extension. These findings indicate that we need to do a better job branding Cooperative Extension. Part of the strategy is to blend our educational and marketing efforts—organizationally and individually. Faculty, agents, and staff who represent Extension everyday are our best resource (haven't we said this for decades?) and the best way to develop and deepen our credibility by working differently.

Some concepts and traditional approaches to education and marketing should continue to be the basis of our work, however Extension needs to find ways to reach and scale the effectiveness of our programs and meeting new expectations of the public. This different way of working includes communications, marketing and educational efforts that are merged and building relationships with people who don’t come to our meetings or into our local offices.

Working differently to connect with others includes being open and transparent, learning and sharing simultaneously, and embracing co-learning and contributions outside of land-grant universities. Interestingly, these values are not different from the early days of Cooperative Extension with on-farm research and in-home demonstrations. Today though, we have the ability to scale and spread the interaction and engagement in new ways.

While we want to continue to use some traditional marketing efforts, occasionally we need to jolt audiences or potential audiences with unique and disrupting messaging. Cooperative Extension generally does not want to upset (for good reasons) our existing clientele—clientele who are often like ourselves. Sometimes we have to test the system in order to make progress with clientele who we are not currently reaching by using disruptive messages in education, communications, and marketing. This approach may come with risks but has the opportunity to reach new audiences. These decisions should be considered and weighed.
Some elements of a converged educational and marketing effort:
  • Start with a mindset that marketing is not a separate function than the educational function and that these efforts are everyone's responsibilities--not just those in the communications and marketing units.
  • Make a habit of listening (like any good marketing plan)--listening in communities we are not active in and in communities where we already have relationships. 
  • Think of building online relationshps like we think of building relationships locally.
  • Think about how to share while we are learning. We don't have to wait until published results are available to start discussing what we already know.
  • Develop a plan of work but make sure there is room to adjust. Opportunities may come about in unexpected ways.
  • Plan and develop strategies and tactics for communications, and most importantly, engagement, but be flexible to seek new ways and discard ways that don't work. 
  • Know that community building and participation are works in progress and will grow, but the growth may be more like a curving spiral and less like a line.
  • May need to target certain connections and interests.
  • Be ready to identify new connections because of serendipitous encounters and plan for serendipity.
  • Evaluate based on goals and search for patterns of activities, evaluating each stage and change tactics along the way.
  • Involve more than one person to keep organizational accounts up-to-date as staying consistent is difficult with only one person.
  • Encourage individuals to establish and develop their online reputations.
  • Understand social media is more than Facebook and Twitter and is more than the technology itself. Contributing in collaborative environments maybe the very best way to grow ourselves.
The process of "scaling" ourselves without growing our organization begins with understanding what the challenges, opportunities, and characteristics of the future.

"The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."  Marshall McLuhan


McLuhan discoveries help us understand that failing to interpret how technologies shape us and how we shape technology means failure to be prepared for the the future.

Some of the ideas in this post came in part from some books I have read recently. I found these books particularly useful as we look at Cooperative Extension's future:

The Connected Company by Dave Gray and Thomas Vander Wal

The Race Against Machine by Erik Brynjolfsoon and Andrew McAfee

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

The photo is embedded from Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/67194724@N03/8357047751/


Unknown said...

"Only 15% of the U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 have heard of Cooperative Extension, and only 27% of the US adult population knows who we are. A dismal 5% of the younger adults have used Cooperative Extension and 11% of the US adult population has used Cooperative Extension. These findings indicate that we need to do a better job branding Cooperative Extension."

Sometimes I wonder if branding Cooperative Extension is the answer OR if really looking closely at just who our audience should be is another answer. Are we stretching too thin with limited resources trying to reach too many? Maybe we need to target and curate versus overreach and broadcast. The competing media the world faces every day need sorting. Should Extension be the "sorter" or simply add to the noise?

The fact that we're "America's best kept secret" rankles many...BUT, can we make that a positive? Can we position ourselves in a new way to reach a select audience? Can people seek us out because we're more selective; more targeted?

We often hear that reaching for that lowest common denominator...that audience of all versus the audience of a few...is where we need to be. I wonder if that needs rethinking? If our role needs to be targeted?

Thanks for sharing your ideas Anne!

jheem said...

The magic word--listening. After listening, we need to take action and not just analyze or point fingers and say --do you know what they are saying over there?

Unknown said...

@Unknown. I think it is a good point that we may need to target our efforts and curate more. I think curate and work in niches should be added to the element list.

I would hope that if we curate and build relationships in targeted areas then we take advantage of others who can and should contribute --thus growing ourselves without growing our organization.

Thank you for your comments--good points.

Bob Bertsch said...

Anne, great post. I want to echo some of what "Unknown" shared in the comments.
I think a lot of our Extension colleagues equate marketing with advertising and/or promotion, but I think we need to look back to the business definition of marketing to fully address Extension's challenges.
The business definition of marketing is the "through which goods and services move from concept to the customer" (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/marketing.html). It includes product, price, place and promotion.
Extension needs to address the product and the place (distribution channels), not just the promotion, if we are going to change our future.

Unknown said...

@jheem Definitely. Listening is not an exclusive act.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Bob Bertsch said...

The business definition of marketing is the "process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer"

Unknown said...

Excellent point +Bob Bertsch to really define marketing which is not necessarily advertising.

Understanding that marketing is from concepts to product makes it even more important to merge educational and marketing functions.

If we have really done "market research" then we would increase the possibility of spending our time and efforts in the most "right" places--this is not an exact science. Thanks for sharing your thought @Bob.

Susan Crowell said...

"Unknown" raises some excellent questions, regarding targeting Extension vs. broadcasting broadly. As an invested outside stakeholder (by jove, I hate that word), I sure don't have any answers.

I do think that individual Extension professionals, from the county on up, need to work harder at becoming "known' as a thought leader or expert in their particular specialty (even county educators/agents can be experts in agronomy or food safety or whatever), and mingle with those other key experts in that realm, and become known as another go-to person for objective, research-based information. No agenda.

"Who can I call for timber management resources?" Google "woodland management" and it would be great if at least 10 Extension folks/sites pop up, if we do it right. People Google everything, and we probably need to spend more time playing the SEO game to elevate Extension in those searches.

This was a great post, Anne. But bottom line is, we need to move from the conversation into action, or we'll talk ourselves into irrelevance.

Unknown said...

@Susan You are absolutely right. It is time for more action. I would love for all educators to be found easily on the Internet and be known as a go-to person in any particular topic area.

@Susan I want to thank you for support and giving honest assessments about Cooperative Extension. We certainly appreciate your time and efforts on Cooperative Extension's behalf.

And, I never really liked that stakeholder word either :)

Peg Boyles said...

Hear, hear! Good job, Anne.

I'd suggest that one of the best ways to both listen and build the Extension brand, is to join the action in local and regional online communities already in full gear.

In my neck of the woods, quite a few well-organized online communities plan, organize & promote events, bring in speakers, assess needs, evaluate projects, host demonstrations/celebrations, work on local job development, and more...ALL traditional Extension roles--without a single Extension voice in the mix.

People are going about solving local problems with local collaborations, often among, gasp!, amateurs.

Many Extension folks still seem wedded to the one-way expert(read: academically credentialed) model of information development, curation, and distribution.

They fail to understand that the new, networked problem-solving paradigm honors robust community participation among networked people interested in solving a similar problem--each of whom will bring some kind and level of experience or expertise. Expertise emerges within and is attracted to these communities from a wide variety of sources.3204

The early Extension model should adapt well to this new disruption, but it will take enormous changes in mind and method.

Unknown said...

+Peg Thanks for offering a much better description of participation and collaboration. We need to shake things up a bit and understand we are not like we were and neither is the rest of society. There are a lot of do-it-yourselfers and motivated people to improve our communities...Today they can do this much easier than 10 and 20 years ago.

Like @Susan said we need to stop talking and start doing.

Thanks Peg for your thoughts so eloquently written.

Unknown said...

Anne - what a great post - as realized by the fantastic comments below.

There is so much great information in your post. I would like to take a deeper look at the scaling concepts/theme you've talked about, similarly to what Peg discusses with already existing communities.

When we think scale - I think people think mass, similarly to what you and Bob discuss about advertising.

We need to realize or perhaps communicate more fully what type of scale we are meaning and how that translates to tangible ideas we can implement with both local communities (geographically bound) and interest communities (may or may not be geographically bound), and really how the two types of communities can enhance and overlap (not replace) each other.

This tweet by Bob Bertsch seems to embody this concept well.

"Roni Zeiger MD :: Networks of Microexperts http://t.co/tA8uLkc2 #netlit"

Last but not least, I agree with @unknown about audience. Working on understanding audience better in recent years, I see that being specific about attracting a group of people is really necessary today.

Jakob Nielson talks about value proposition. We have less than about 10 seconds (I bet less than that now) to offer a value proposition to them when someone enters the site or blog. Thus, we must find some idea of a group/audience/individual that will be attracted by our message. This does not mean that you can't be inclusive to other audiences at all, but in my experience being for everybody dilutes the message and ultimately can make it about being for nobody.

Unknown said...

Great comments Karen.

By scale I mean that others help us do our work. Viral videos could be thought of as scaling however, viral products usually have a very short shelf life.

Scaling in education is where we (Extension individuals) are nodes with network and that engagement, conversation, and sharing enhance and grow our work.

Thanks for pointing out the differences.