A Quick Word With… is our ongoing series in which Communications Network members from a range of organizations tell us about themselves, their work and where they draw their inspiration. This installment features Elizabeth Miller, communications associate, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
A recent communications success you are particularly proud of?
We recently announced six winners in the first round of the 2012 Knight News Challenge. The projects, which leverage existing networks, received significant coverage from the tech press, which was in line with our goal of reaching more entrepreneurs and developers. Our online reach was also wide, driven by the press coverage, the live stream of MIT-Knight Civic Media conference where we announced the winners and our social media efforts.
When you were 13 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian. I was fascinated by big cats and animal cognition.
Any special challenges working in the communications department of a foundation so intensely focused on media and communications?
We’re constantly in a state of learning; our partners and those in our professional networks are often out ahead on the curve when it comes to issues around communication and media innovation.
Your hardest target audience to reach?
I think it’s difficult to reach people who are interested in better understanding community engagement, so I’d love to hear from other foundation folks if they have ideas for how to better identify and reach that audience.
What percentage of your communications is new media based?
More than 75 percent for my work. We’ve had a lot of success with Twitter, because it’s a place where people who care a lot about the issues we fund, particularly journalism, media innovation and technology, are really active.
What was your undergraduate major?
My undergraduate degree is in politics and journalism and my master’s is in media, culture and communications.
Knight is doing a lot of communications around social impact games. Are you into gaming yourself?
I’m not into gaming. I’m into knitting, which is kind of similar because they both require a physical connection with what you’re doing, have robust online sites dedicated to the craft and can be very addictive.
Does Knight create an annual communications plan?
Yes, it’s very helpful to map out broad goals and align them with the budget. But there has to be some flexibility. We’re always working with program staff to identify opportunities and needs for announcements or events.
Does Knight evaluate communications efforts?
Yes, both informally on a daily basis and more formally around big events and campaigns. We look at a myriad of analytics to determine how effective we are, including social media stats, press hits, how our targeted e-mail does and anecdotal stories that can show qualitative results.
What was your biggest surprise in your first year at Knight?
How much grantmaking the foundation does in local communities. Most people know Knight for its grantmaking in journalism, but we do great work around informing and engaging people in communities across the country.
Your favorite communications tool that you think more foundation folks should be using?
I’m exploring Sparkwise. It helps the foundation track its metrics across multiple platforms by pulling in data from Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook Insights etc.
Biggest complaint about how Knight’s issues get covered in the media?
Important local news and community information is essential to a healthy democracy, but for a variety of reasons, it’s covered less and less. Some of Knight’s grantmaking focuses on how to combat this problem.
The last nonfiction book you read?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain after watching her TED talk. It definitely helped me understand how to communicate better with people whose personality traits are different from mine.
What’s your personal to professional tweet ratio?
That’s difficult to say. People who follow me at @ElzbthMllr know that my tweets are a mix of what I find interesting, whether it’s personally and professionally, but there’s definitely an overlap.
How would you assess the role of Knight’s blog in your communications efforts?
It’s a core part of our communications. It’s one of our best opportunities to focus on the work of our grantees, both on the impact of their programs and what they’re learning.
Another foundation whose communication work you admire?
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I’ve learned a lot by seeing how they talk about how its engagement with social media is rooted in the context of who they are as an organization. The foundation’s focus on openness, participation and decentralization is very much reflected in its communications efforts.
Your favorite non-professional, non-general news blog?
I love Curbed. It focuses on real estate and neighborhood news in over a dozen cities with pithy yet astute coverage.
A big event you’ve got coming up that you think everyone should know about?
This fall, we’re relaunching BME – a growing movement to recognize and inspire black men’s efforts to do right by their cities – in Detroit, Philadelphia and a third city.
An aspect of your personal life that has the greatest impact on your professional life?
My family. Both my parents dedicated their lives to working in nonprofits and various advocacy efforts.
The last time you learned something important from a communications colleague?
Knight’s Creative Director Eric Schoenborn has been teaching me how hyperlinking directly affects how users experience content (for example, why your links should never say “Click Here”). He taught me how to phrase links correctly and efficiently. It changed how I flesh out blog posts and other types of content.
Do you have a novel deep down inside you?
Yes, I am working on some quirky ideas that are totally unrelated to my professional life.
A Quick Word With… is edited by Michael Hamill Remaley, vice president of communications & public policy, Philanthropy New York, and a frequent Communications Network contributor.
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