Impact statements convey messages used for far more than supervisor evaluations – though that’s one of the important roles of impact statements. The better they are written, the better your supervisor can assess your accomplishments. But they also provide fodder for speeches by President Alexander, and Anita Azarenko, interim vice provost for the Division of Extension and Engagement, uses them for reports and briefing documents and to communicate with elected officials and stakeholders about Extension’s impact in Oregon and beyond. Regional directors and local liaisons turn to impact statements to present Extension’s successes, and Extension Communications uses impact statements to put Extension in a positive light through impact stories, news stories, press releases and more.

The impact statements you enter into Digital Measures can have an effect on promotion and tenure. They are a way for supervisors to get an idea about how your efforts have contributed to Extension’s mission.

In other words, impact statements have a wide reach and are necessary for letting our stakeholders, legislators, partners, current and future customers know the important things Extension accomplishes. They are posted online on the Our Impact webpage, available for anyone to peruse.

Although many of you know about the site, you may wonder how to find stories so that you can better let your fellow Oregonians know about them. There are more than 165 impact stories on the site now. You can find stories that relate to your region by using the “view our impacts in Oregon counties.”

Once you’re familiar with how to find impact stories, you can share them with the public in a variety of ways, most notably: on your social media accounts, in presentations and newsletters, on posters and grant applications and in written and verbal communications with elected officials.

Writing useful impact statements

Impact statements are straightforward, concise reports of your program efforts and impact. Good ones like the one below conveys three things:

  • Problem or issue
  • Efforts or activities to solve it
  • Impact or change it brought

Screenshot of this impact story: https://ourimpact.oregonstate.edu/story/osu-helps-cattle-ranchers-environmentalists-save-sage-grouse

Here, the problem encompasses the management conflict between sage-grouse and cattle grazing.

The action statement is Extension’s efforts to avoid listing the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species List with an information campaign to landowners, which would result in improvements to rangelands to make them more friendly to sage-grouse.

The impact or change was a historic agreement to protect sage-grouse habitat. Along with that are statistics to back it up.

The idea is to get your impact across without dumping all of your information into your statement. Be short. Think of it as an elevator speech. You want the reader to get the idea of your impact in a few paragraphs. If you feel it must be longer, continue to write in a straight-forward manner and keep it as concise as possible. If you need some coaching, contact Kym Pokorny or Chris Branam on the Extension Communications news team. Always keep in mind (from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications and Marketing, Virginia Tech):

An impact statement

  • Briefly summarizes, in lay terms, the difference your teaching/learning, research/discovery, and extension and outreach/engagement efforts have made.
  • States accomplishment and creates strong support for programs.
  • Answers the questions… “So what?” and “Who cares?”
  • Conveys accomplishments in simple language free of technical jargon.
  • Is submitted by faculty for three to five efforts each year.

Who cares?

  • Helps us reflect on and improve our work.
  • Demonstrates the difference we make in people’s lives, communities and the environment.
  • Improves visibility of programs (local, state, national).
  • Generates support.
  • Is a repository of results for speeches and other communication.
  • Helps us focus on issues, initiatives, and program themes.
  • Builds greater understanding of our programs by the public.
  • Illustrates our accountability.

Don’t use jargon. Write as if you are talking to a family member or friend who knows nothing about your topic. You want them to come away thinking, “So that’s what Extension does.” Don’t be vague. Use active verbs. Rather than “She was plowing the wheat field” write “She plowed the wheat field.”

Headlines, subheads, photos and captions grab attention so should be clear and engaging. An example of some good headlines includes:

  • OSU research hooks students on marine science
  • Urban cosmetologists raise money for Hopkins Demonstration Forest
  • 4-H youth sew Stockings for Soldiers
  • Wildfire danger in northeast Oregon ignites action to improve forest health

Be memorable. Be punchy. Be concise. Note all verbs are active. You want it to be informative; it is the gateway to the reader and we want them to open the door.

Impact statements are all about communicating to the public, much of which aren’t familiar with Extension or Extension’s reach throughout the state and beyond, so don’t be humble.

It’s recommended that you start thinking of impact at the beginning of your project. Will you determine impact through interviews? Surveys? Measurable impact? Don’t worry if you don’t have numbers to use for measuring impact. Describing what you have accomplished or think you will accomplish works, too. If your project is ongoing, you should update your impact statement yearly as you gather more information.

Remember, impact statements are just a three-pronged report: problem, what you did to change it, what the change or impact was. It can be written in three paragraphs, but it’s okay if you go over. Just don’t put all the details in. Keep it as short as you can. Along with headlines and photos, conciseness in conveying your message is one of the most important aspects of writing an impact statement. You want to answer “So what?” Your statement should draw people in so that Extension is known throughout the state for the important work we do.

Website updates

We are excited to announce a new feature for the Extension website’s county landing pages later this month. Impact stories related to your county will be featured in the news and impact section. The stories originate from The Statewides: Our Impact website.

As natural disasters affect many communities across Oregon, people contact Extension and search online to get quick answers, to learn more on the subject and to get more expertise in it.

During the peak time during recent wildfires, visitors to the Extension website more than doubled to 18,000 daily compared to the usual 7,000 daily in the weeks before and after. It was also a slight increase in those viewing from mobile devices (65% vs. 57%).

The information people needed did not just come from Extension’s Forestry and Natural Resources Fire Program (627 pageviews) and their events, but also content from Extension’s other program areas. Extension Communications worked with Extension leaders, content team leaders and faculty and staff to coordinate coverage online.

Where can we direct people to find current information?

Topic pages

Already having topic pages that curate content in one place on the Extension website helped with timely turnaround needed.

A quick review of existing topic pages helped to add new calls to actions and feature relevant content. New content produced also automatically appeared under latest resources and news. The relevant topic pages included:

  • Fire (1858 pageviews in September)

Fire topic page with Announcement about Post-Fire Webinar Series and below that a call to action box "Learn what is happening in your community" with link to the Fire Program

Family Emergency Preparedness topic page with announcement about community emergency Wi-Fi access and a call to action box for Oregonians to stay safe and informed with link to State of Oregon resource hub

Community Disaster Preparedness topic page with Announcement for Livestock hay and feed donation request at top and a call to action with link to "real-time map of fires in Oregon"

New content related to smoke and ash information also could easily be tagged to show on related livestock, gardening, health outreach, food safety and wine grapes topic pages.

Announcements

Similarly, ways to easily tag announcements to show across the Extension website helped with quick notifications to communities no matter where they enter the site.

Extension Communications coordinated with Extension leaders and county web coordinators on announcements to appear on county pages and any related topic pages. These included:

  • Livestock hay donations (289 pageviews in September)
  • Safety alert closures of offices (198 pageviews)
  • Emergency community wi-fi access (55 pageviews)
  • Disaster relief support and mask distributions (44 pageviews)

Employee intranet

The employee resources website also provided a place to share internal information on administrative and communication questions that arose on the wildfire issue.

Updates to the wildfire information resources for Extension employees webpage had 160 pageviews in September. It offers expense tracking, activity reporting and volunteering information that will be useful to know for any emerging issue.

Top page of the Employee Intranet Wildfire Information - shows smoke image with box with link under heading "Stay safe and informed"

How do we get new content that our audiences need online quickly?

Most visitors to the website arrive directly on our educational content. Extension faculty crafted multiple new articles and answered Ask an Expert questions to publish on the Extension site during the peak of the wildfires.

It’s great when we have original, trusted content to promote and that our educators are taking time to do that. Here’s some of the results for month of September:

  1. What should I do about the wildfire ash covering my yard and garden? | new Featured Ask an Expert question – 45,334 pageviews
  2. Take precautions when wildfire ash falls on fruits and vegetables | new News story – 30,439 pageviews
  3. Is it safe to eat my garden produce affected by wildfires? | new Featured Ask an Expert question – 16,972 pageviews
  4. What effect will the 2020 fires have on bees? | new Web article – 4734 pageviews
  5. After a wildfire | existing Web article – 1671 pageviews
  6. Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes and Fire-Resistant Landscape Plants for the Willamette Valley | existing Catalog publications — 1531 combined pageviews
  7. During a wildfire | existing Web article – 1214 pageviews
  8. The Home Ignition Zone: Protecting Your Property from Wildfire | existing Catalog publication – 1180 pageviews
  9. Fire FAQs—Who owns Oregon’s forests, and how does that matter when it comes to fire? | existing Catalog publication — 977 pageviews
  10. Impact of Smoke Exposure on Wine | existing Catalog publication – 752 pageviews
  11. Animal exposure to wildfire smoke | new Web article – 627 pageviews
  12. Fire FAQs—What is forest fuel, and what are fuel treatments? | existing Catalog publication — 533 pageviews
  13. Improve indoor air quality from wildfire smoke during COVID-19 | new Web article – 512 pageviews
  14. OSU Extension assists with livestock rescue efforts as Oregonians flee fires | new News story – 473 pageviews
  15. Once the smoke clears: A guide to safety start working and riding your horse | new Web article – 403 pageviews

Also added were key “online resources” from government sources or other Extension colleagues, especially bilingual content on evacuation safety, wildfire smoke, and fire prevention.

Where time is of the essence, some of the most timely ways to publish content are:

  • Ask an Expert question/answer (Extension Communications monitors and can add timely, relevant content as “featured questions” to the Extension website.)
  • Publish a new article, or revise an existing one (Post through your content team.)
  • Add an online resource through your content team (Link to a credible outside source.)

You may also be interviewed for news stories published by Extension Communications writers.

Later, your team may also want to revise or create a new peer-reviewed Extension Catalog publication.

People are taking the time to fully read this information too – often spending over five minutes and more on each article. Together all this online content captured ways Extension educates, collaborates and supports efforts in the state when natural disasters happen.

How can we best let people know about our useful resources?

If you create content based on questions you’re hearing from our audiences or other trends, then there will likely be more interest when you share it. The pieces of content that attracted most pageviews also had about 45% who arrived via Facebook social media referrals.

Sometimes how you present it on social media helps too. One piece of wildfire content had over half its views come from Facebook. This could be because of the post’s creative photo slideshow about 4-H assistance with rescued livestock.

During this time, the most popular Facebook post shared urgent tips right in the message if they clicked to see more.

Post with infographic "When the fire nears you... Anticipating an evacuation? Steps to take now" with steps listed. Shared 747 times and 29 comments.

Direct referrals to the online content, such as from your email distribution lists, also increased. During this wildfire peak time, 34% arrived from a direct URL compared to around 13% other weeks in September.

While we featured this new and timely content each day on the Extension homepage, the OSU Alumni website also featured our information on their site too. What other partners do you know of that highlighted our content on their sites?

When the next natural disaster comes to Oregon, such as a water-related emergency, keep in mind these ways that your content can be nimble and ready to go when needed.

In issues ranging from climate change to public health, scientists have fallen under attack. Science communicators today face a challenge: How do we tell our stories when readers can’t agree on the facts?

Some of the answers may lie in the tools of good communication. Recent research shows us where we may be making missteps in science writing, and lays out some strategies to help us improve.

The jargon trap

Experts in all fields love their jargon. But jargon and unfamiliar words make readers stop reading, even when the word is defined in the text, according to a study at The Ohio State University. What’s more, researchers found that jargon led people to disbelieve in science.

“When you have a difficult time processing the jargon, you start to counter-argue,” says lead author Hillary Schulman. “You don’t like what you’re reading. But when it is easier to read, you are more persuaded and you’re more likely to support these technologies.”

Jargon may be useful in specific circumstances, however, when you are writing for an audience whose members share a common vocabulary. Use caution: If any section of your audience is unfamiliar with your terminology — such as those who are new to the field — you risk alienating them. For more information on science writing for experts, see this short video from user experience firm the Nielsen Norman Group.

More than just the facts

Many times, we’re trying to reach people who may not have much trust in science. That means we have to work hard to engage people with an open communication style, according to a new report in the Journal of Extension. This could include working to make the message relevant and relatable, and including photos and stories of real people.

“Effective science communication involves many more stylistic elements than just using simpler terminology,” the researchers write. “When communicating with the public, it is critical to also consider appropriate framing to bring familiarity to a subject that may seem foreign and intimidating to a general audience.”

For example, you could choose to frame an article in terms of the risks an issue may pose to a community, researchers suggest. Spell out what could happen if people don’t test their soil for nutrient deficiencies, for example. Conversational language is also key.

Use plain language

People are more likely to trust information they can understand. We talked about the importance of plain language in a blog post earlier this year. Here are a few of the main points:

  • Lead with a brief summary.
  • Break up long passages into understandable “chunks” with subheads, bullet points and pull quotes.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Check the reading level of your article. If your text falls above the 12th grade reading level, even experts will find it hard to read. Run your text through a readability app like the Hemingway Editor to help you find areas to improve.

We can’t solve all these issues with our keyboards. But avoiding jargon and following the principles of plain language can bridge the gap between writers and readers, and bring us that much closer to understanding.

Author: Janet Donnelly

A network of information. A world wide web. The interconnectedness of resources on the Internet, and on our Extension website, requires some thought. Do it well and your content is more easily found and keeps people reading. Do it poorly and you may miss opportunities or end up with broken links.

There’s a whole web glossary related to websites and search engines, and jargon related to “links” come up many times. Let’s better understand the value and the practicality of links.

Value of links between Extension and other websites

Oregon State University and the Extension Service are seen as trusted sources on the Internet. When we link to another website or content outside our own (called external links), it signals we vetted this as a good resource to check out. Our “authority links” help those resources to be seen as more valuable by search engines, which helps where they rank in search results.

The same is true when others, especially media or .edu and .gov sites, link to our resources (called backlinks). The best backlink is when a web editor writes a “Top 10” blog post or “Best of” review and includes one of our resources, this is called an “editorial link” and is highly valued.

We have surprisingly low referral traffic to our site (4% of all traffic in the last year) despite how many strong partnerships we have. This is an opportunity to ask our partners to make their web editors aware of all we have to offer their audiences.

It matters what those backlinks say, so they are accurate in conveying what a person would find if they clicked on it. A general link to “check out the Extension Service” isn’t as valuable as a hyperlinked sentence within your partner’s content. For example, their popular article or page on soil health could direct people on “how to test your soil” or “find out when to plant cover crops” linking to a specific resource on our site.

We can also send a feed of our web content to display on their websites, such as events or gardening stories. This can help add visibility for our content with less work on their part since they don’t have to write it and the links update automatically. If partners are interested, our web developers can work to set it up from our content management system.

Practicalities of links between sites

On the Extension website, we have different ways that you can add links to external resources. The main way is for content teams to add an “online resource” content type, or for the volunteer and youth programs to add “program resources”. This has taken some getting used to for people.

It requires you to add more context about that link beyond just a URL and title. It includes a short description, image and tagging that helps it display in all the related places across the site. It also helps to avoid a bunch of broken links, since you update it in one place, and it updates everywhere.

This is what an online resource would look like when featured on pages across our site. After people read the short description, they click on the title “Reducing Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke” and it immediately sends them off to the external resource on the Oregon Health Authority’s site.

Content teams generally want to keep online resources to less than 20% of all educational content we create.

Within a web article, you can also add the usual hyperlinked text, such as to a few related resources at the end. Do this when those related resources don’t need to be shared or found in search like an online resource is.

Stuffing an article with a bunch of external links in bulleted lists is not recommended. When other sites change their links or remove a resource, your hyperlinks get broken if those sites don’t bother to set up redirects.

Broken links make for unhappy visitors and can hurt our credibility. We can run reports to show broken links, but it takes work to find the right link again and change it everywhere.

A better approach is to create a “collection” of online resources to manage it. See the recent Processing Meat Animals at Home collection for an example. You can see the many formats that can be used to display online resources that link off to external resources.

Value of links between content within our site

We can also create strong links between content on our site (called internal links), which is helpful for search engines and visitors alike.

Hyperlinked sentences in a web article are useful to bring people to another related article. For example, we did this before a monthly newsletter promoted our August gardening calendar.

When heatmaps showed that people were interested in particular sections, then we found relevant resources to link to for them to read more.

Before

After (900+ clicks)

Before

After (700+ clicks)

As a result, the most popular information on the heat map ended up also being the most popular links to click on once added. Also, people kept exploring many more resources on our site after visiting the initially-linked resources.

Internal links from popular articles help to direct people to more in-depth or less visited but still valuable resources. This process of seeing what else on the site to link to can help you to discover and assess if there’s duplicate or overlapping content too.

Practicalities of internal links

There are different ways on a page to add links beyond hyperlinking a sentence. For example, on the poison hemlock and western waterhemlock article, links were added to the pull quote, the image caption, and as a custom “call to action” field at the end.

You can easily avoid broken internal links by typing the title for the internal page in the URL link field. It should pop up a list of content for you to select the correct one. This way if the URL changes, the internal link won’t get broken.

Here’s more details in the web guide, including a video, on how to do links on the Extension website.

In the future, we will be able to automatically select our content to link in emails and newsletters sent from Salesforce CRM (client relationship management) system too. Stay tuned!

Extension works in so many different fields from public health to forestry to food systems. People either know us or discover us based on our knowledge in these specific areas. So it is not surprising, the topic menu receives the most clicks on the Extension website’s navigation.

Many of these topic pages could use some organizing by subject matter experts. Topic pages can fill the need to show your coordinated efforts. The educational resources you share every day with key audiences can be accessed in one place without needing to create a separate website on the topic. These topic pages will also easily connect visitors with Extension programs, events and experts across the state.

How topic pages are organized

If no one has curated the topic page, then it is automated to show any latest content tagged with the topic. Check out a topic that relates to your work and see if it looks complete or out of date.

If it’s not useful, then it may be time to connect with the point people from the different Extension program areas to help you quickly organize it. The Extension web team can help you get connected.

The point people will give you an excel sheet of the existing content on that topic page, then ask you to identify and mark related categories. This process also helps you catch content that was mistagged or should be archived.

Then using those categories, the point people can add content tags and set the topic page up online for your review. You can also make further changes on your own. Learn more in the web guide on Instructions for Topic Pages, including a how-to video.

Here’s some great examples of curated topic pages:

Next week’s blog post will highlight the best practices that the Youth education resources and Bees and Pollinators topic pages put in place.

New features: Topic categories

Until now, we had to use custom keywords to organize a topic page. Now it is easier with topic categories. The categories help to identify the top tasks that people often come looking for, and show up as main headings down the topic page.

The topic categories also show up as a way to filter “Browse Resources”.

You can add a topic category from your group page if you are a topic page facilitator. Then whenever anyone adds a topic tag to content, the topic category field shows up to fill in. This helps to remember to add these category tags, so any new content shows up in the right place on the topic page.

New features: Opt-in Form for visitors

In the past quarter, visitors to the Extension website has grown 63% in comparison to the same time last year. That’s a lot of people who may be interested to engage with us. A new tool that we are piloting allows people to sign up to get more information.

On the gardening techniques topic page, web visitors can sign up to get a gardening e-newsletter each month. This message “Join our email list for free gardening tips!” pops up from the bottom of the page.

If they decide they want our help for a healthy, beautiful and productive garden and click “Sign me up for the newsletter”, then they can submit their name and email. We assure them we are committed to their privacy and not sharing their information.

If they enter their information, they will get future newsletters.

On the garden vegetable and herb topic page, web visitors see a pop up from the bottom of the screen “Get your free essential guide to gardening!”.

If they click “Download the free guide”, then it gives them an opt-in form to email them the free guide.

If you are interested to learn more, then reach out to us and we can tell you how to try it out on a topic page that you organize.

We write so that others will read.

No matter what we write — an email, a newsletter article, a research paper — we want people to read it and understand.

The key to understanding isn’t some complex formula. It’s actually quite simple: a form of writing called “plain language.” Plain language conveys meaning in short, spare sentences and simple words. Plain language is:

  • Accessible. Plain language helps us reach everyone, including people with learning or other disabilities, people whose first language is not English, and people who may be reading online while feeding a toddler and waiting on hold with the cable company.
  • Active. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action: “The mouse ate the cookie,” not “it is believed the cookie was consumed by the mouse.”
  • The law. Government agencies like the IRS and the state of Oregon have adopted plain language guidelines. OSU websites should follow web accessibility guidelines, including those on readability.

There’s an app for that

Oddly, it’s hard to write simply.

Thankfully, some great new tools can help us measure and improve the readability of our text. One we like is called Hemingway Editor.

Start with a rough draft. Call up Hemingway in your browser, and copy and paste your text into the home screen. You’ll see a screen like this:

Zero in on the figure that denotes the reading level of your text. If it’s ninth grade or higher, start working your way up the Hemingway rainbow:

  • Clean up everything in light red. Cut unnecessary words. Divide complex sentences in two. Sub in some active verbs.
  • After pink, tackle yellow.
  • Re-check the reading level. Is it lower? Good job.
  • If the reading level is nine or above, keep working. Most audiences — including academics — prefer to read at an eighth grade level or below. Great writers like Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and J.R.R. Tolkien all wrote at the seventh grade level or below.

Make reading easy

Many readers today don’t read but instead scan written material. They’re looking for solutions in a hurry. Here are some ways to help these readers out:

  • Avoid long paragraphs. Long blocks of gray text turn readers off. Limit your paragraphs to one topic — about three sentences.
  • Use bulleted lists instead of long sentences filled with commas.
  • Use bold-faced lead-ins and subheads to help readers scan your text to find what they are looking for.
  • Read it out aloud. Before turning in anything to an editor or colleague, read it out aloud. You’ll be surprised how many awkward phrases you’ll find to revise.

Writing is hard, but reading doesn’t have to be. Use the tools of plain language to tell your story, and your readers will thank you.

Editor’s note: This article is written at a fifth-grade level.

More blog posts to come:

  • Science writing simplified: improving the readability of complex topics
  • The ABCs of acronyms
  • Tempting titles that click with readers

Authors: Janet Donnelly and Jim Sloan

Add a new “RFI” form to web pages

RFI stands for a Request For Information. A RFI form is a simple way for an organization to give constituents a chance to ask questions or otherwise reach out to us to learn more about an event, topic, etc. Soon as someone reaches a spot in our website where they’re interested in something but need to learn more about it, a button click pops open a simple web form (see the example later in this post).

It’s here they enter their personal information and that is saved into our system. That activity is accompanied by an automated email notice that arrives to the right person in Extension. For example, users can provide their name and email address and the process will add them as a new subscriber to one of your newsletters.

How is this useful?

A web form allows us to collect and manage information from constituents easily and efficiently. The forms are embedded right into relevant places on your website, which makes it easy for your audience to provide their information.

As soon as somone completes the RFI form, their information is stored until it’s ready for analysis.

Meanwhile, in the same step we are able to offer a chance to subscribe to some type of digital communications, such as newsletters. This can become a crucial tool for you to obtain new audience members eager to hear what you have to say.

What we’re poised to learn about our audiences

We can use the Extension website as a quick case study for how to employ RFI forms, however the premise works similarly on other websites.

When a visitor to this Oregon Master Beekeeper Program page stops and takes the time to fill out our RFI form on this specific page, we consider it an opportunity to infer some small bits of information about this person.

In the actual, real-life implementation of this premise, we would in fact engage directly with the right people inside each program to actually be very thoughtful about what inferences we’d plan to make about any one visit to any one particular page—for example, an analysis of the content of the page will support being able to draw certain conclusions or not.

For example, if the page content includes info on bee colony health, but does not have any info at all on honey production, we would want to consider if the visitor’s interest in this page revolves around bee colonies due to the ability to produce honey or, rather, in terms of bees as pollinators.

Clearly, we want to consider our options very carefully when forming these types of conclusions.

 

AND… What about a page that has a specific call to action?

Well, I am so glad you asked! 🙂  Let’s look at a page that’s aimed at cultivating interest in a specific thing—like an event.

To the right, you see a page I navigated to from the Events tab on the Master Beekeeper program page. If a normal website visitor made their way to this page, we can begin to make inferences about them at another level of specificity and accuracy.

We know the ultimate goal of this event’s organizers is to have viewers click on the “Register” button, but what about anyone who is feeling interested in the event while still not being quite ready to register? What can we do for that person?

The answer would be to provide an RFI form—simply a second button which would allow them to ask any question about the event for which they don’t already have an available answer.

After submitting this RFI form, the inferences we can make about their interests are far more specific. We know they want to attend an event. And not just any event, but this particular event with this event’s specific content. Arguably, there’s a lot to work with in this use case.

The impact on newsletter subscriptions

The question, then, is how does this help to build up our list of subscribers? The exact details of the plan continue to be sorted out, but the goal is to begin to understand how the inferences we were just talking about can help us point people to digital communication options—newsletters being one of those options—that are of significant interest to them.

Soon as the data lands in our database from the successful processing of an RFI form, we know for certain we want to send that person an email with a simple “thank you” message, because we want to provide an immediate reward to them for taking the time to fill that thing out. It’s important to do this.

In addition to our “thanks” message, there’s room in the body of that same email to appeal to them with a subscription (opt in) opportunity to newsletters. Thus, taking into account the opt-in opportunities that already exist, then adding in all of those people who submit RFI forms, we can see that as a pathway to adding more contacts to our lists.

Example of an RFI form

Check out this straightforward example of an effective web form.

It is true that the form can be designed to ask additional questions, however we know from numerous usability studies that the shorter a web form is the more likely our average website visitors will actually stop and fill them out.

Our #1 goal will be to increase our ability to engage with our target audiences, which means that simply garnering their direct email address—thus facilitating being able to digitally communicate with them—is our top priority.

Conclusion

An RFI web form will help you add new contacts to your contact lists, track topics in which people are interested, follow up with constituents, enhance users’ experience, and provide Oregonians with the information and expertise for which they are searching.

A web forms should be straightforward, simple, and visually appealing. And it should communicate to the viewer exactly what they can expect to receive in exchange for their valuable time they will spend filling it out. This is how you will ensure a professional, user-friendly experience on your website.

A successful RFI form will lead to an increase in your number of contacts and engagements. So, why not get started working with the Navigator team to help you grow and expand your network today?

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.

Extension website updates.

  • People in county and program groups can tag or untag themselves from events entered through other groups. Go to the event page and go to the “Modify tags” tab at the top of the page.
  • All users can now tag themselves with languages they speak and have it shown on their profile. The language options are fairly limited right now initially, but you can submit a support ticket to get other ones added.
Posted in CRM.

In Extension we work in a variety of fields and with many great folks all over Oregon and worldwide. If you’re looking to reach people where they are at, video is an excellent medium to consider. YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine(1), and an excellent way to reach 18-49 year-olds. 80-90% of that age range uses YouTube monthly(2)!

With all of these billions of questions being asked on a regular basis, we need some help to find out what those questions are and how to best address them. We are regularly looking at the analytics from our Extension YouTube channel to harness our past data to help inform a better future.

Knowing how people search

If you’re curious about what the world is looking and searching for check out Google Trends. This is a great place to start when thinking about creating a video. You can break things down by region, look at related terms or topics, view seasonal popularity, and more. It’s useful to think about the terms that your audience will be using and not what you might use in academia.

Here are some of the search terms that have brought viewers to our YouTube channel recently:

 

  • Blue: how to get rid of moss in your lawn (and other variations)
  • Light Green: insect collection (and other variations)
  • Purple: plant pathology (and other variations), quinoa (and other variations)
  • Dark Green: small farm (and other variations)

All of these are terms and phrases used to search on YouTube. These are just for videos we currently have, there are many search terms where we have either no videos or we could use something more recent. Consider entering some search terms your audience would be looking for into YouTube, Google, or Google Trends. You very well could find some gaps in relevant content or perhaps a topic that needs refreshing.

Some of the most popular uses of video, in the case of YouTube, is for How-Tos and trying understand the world or products(3). This is right in Extension’s wheelhouse! Here are some videos that are currently harnessing curiosity well on YouTube:

From left to right:

  • Pinning Butterflies and Moths,
  • How to Identify a Plant or Weed
  • Collecting Insects with Traps and Lights
  • Collecting Insects: Tools and Supplies
  • Sweep Net Technique
  • Using A Plant Press.

All of these were in the top 12 for views in 2019, and as you’ll see below they are also some of the best at holding the audience’s attention.

Holding the audience’s attention

Think about your current audience. What are the questions that are being asked on a regular basis? What kinds of skills or procedures could you show through video?

While explaining the research and science behind topics are great, most viewers are looking for a solution to a problem. Get to the point and then explain the reason behind the solution. Looking for the “I-want-to-do ___” moments in your area of expertise is a great place to start.

We use the Audience Retention metric to see how a video is doing at getting to the point and meeting the viewer’s needs. Views tend to have a steep drop-off after the beginning. It’s important to hook the viewer in right away and prove that the video will meet their expectations. The first 15 seconds are the most crucial. These videos are doing well at holding viewers’ attention:

From left to right:

  • Scotch Broom Removal
  • Income Opportunities from Logs
  • How to Make a Trap to Catch the Spotted Wing Drosophila Fly
  • Sampling for Varroa Mites from a Honey Bee Brood Nest
  • Sweep Net Technique
  • How to sample a lot of hay
  • Collecting Insects with Traps and Lights
  • Managing Moss in Lawns.

All of these have over 60% viewer retention (very good), and you’ll notice that each one does a good job at directly addressing a problem or showing how to do something.

Audience Retention is also important for another reason: Google uses this in their algorithm when showing related videos at the end of a video. Having a high retention rate increases your chances of showing up in viewers’ feeds.

How to approach creating your video

Video is an amazing tool at reaching audiences, but because it is so widely used, it’s important to approach creating a video with a strategic plan otherwise you risk being drowned out. Here are some questions to ask if you’re thinking of getting into video:

  • Who is my audience (both existing ones and new ones you hope to attract)?
  • What kinds of questions are you hearing regularly, and what does data from sources like Google Trends say about your topic?
  • Do any of these questions work well as a How-To or to help someone in that “I-want-to-do ___” moment?
  • Is this a topic that can be shown well visually?

Something else to consider is to use YouTube as a social media platform. If you are willing to check the comments and to make your video interactive, it can be a good space to have conversation and address other questions that might come up. These interactions can also inspire future video topics.

Author: Stephen Ward

 

(1) 54 Fascinating and Incredible YouTube Statistics

(2) The latest video trends: Where your audience is watching

(3) Many Turn to YouTube for Children’s Content, News, How-To Lessons

Occasionally, we still hear from Extension faculty or staff worried about people not being able to find things on the website. Extension does have a lot of content on the site, and we do care what audiences think. This year EESC will continue our work on website usability and use analytics to help improve the visitor experience. Yet, the design solutions may not be what you thought, and focusing on content may be a better approach.

Where you can worry less: the changing design trends

Forget the “three-click rule.” The idea that web visitors will get frustrated if they have to click more than three times to find a piece of content has been around for the last couple of decades. Logically, it makes sense, but how many times they click doesn’t matter(1) and can make for unruly menus. What matters is each time they click, the page should deliver something to get them closer to an intended goal.

Also, our home page isn’t as important as you think. Visitors to our website are less likely to land on our home page than in the past – approximately 3% of visitors. This is a common trend happening across all websites. Search engines and social media are a big factor, as they will link to whatever page is relevant on our site. People go to a page of interest and don’t see the homepage.

A greater focus on organized, well-titled content and landing pages (vs. home page and navigation) can give you more visitor retention opportunities.

What to focus on: the content most asked for or that meets your goals

Give people the good stuff upfront when it comes to landing pages. What do they often ask about? Feature it prominently anywhere on the page, and then direct them to related content that may be less intriguing but still critical information. EESC can work with you on how to surface these top tasks.

One Nielsen Norman Group study(2) found that, like general web readers, the professionals we serve want content easy to scan and digest. They differ in that most are looking for detailed facts, verifying the credibility, and comparing data or related findings. Overstating outcomes or having out-of-date content diminishes credibility.

Two types of information particularly attract their attention:

  1. New information that they haven’t considered or heard of
  2. Contradictory information that is contrary to their existing knowledge or beliefs

This may be one reason a web article, Branding: OSU working to settle the debate of the ages, surpassed others in the high number of pageviews recently.

Do you have emerging research to share on a long-standing issue or trending topic? Share with your content team to get their input and then add as an article online. Web visitors can leave you feedback on the article, and then you could potentially develop the article further into a catalog publication or journal submission.

After reading these popular articles on the Extension website, the majority of people then leave the site. What action would you want visitors to take or what could they read next to further their engagement? How can we work together to improve that?

If you find when looking at the new analytics dashboards that a piece of your content does not reach people as hoped, then let’s look into it. What can we try with the content or on the landing pages, or in the promotion of it, to help? Also, assess your goals (e.g. attracting new participants) and ask how your online content can help to better meet them.

These actions keep content, and the related strategy, at the center of what we should be worrying about on the website, and helps us to better support people in our online communities.

 


Extension website updates

Are people still having trouble finding information online? Tell us on our beav.es/extension-support form (click the last option).

Newsletters now have a button link that goes to a “past issues” page, so the list on the main page only shows the 6 most recent issues. This will happen automatically once you reach more than six back issues.

Want to see who all the members are of a specific content team? What about contacting all web group leaders, or reaching out to a specific member of your web group? You will be able to do this now through the content management system when logged into the website. Just look for the link to this on your My Groups page.


(1) The Three-Click Rule for Navigation is False, Nielsen Norman Group 2019

(2) Writing Digital Copy for Domain Audiences Nielsen Norman Group 2017

Hoping to avoid accessibility mistakes? Check out our top 10 things to avoid.

Accessibility means all visitors can access and use content regardless of disability. As a federally-funded institution, it is legally required that all our web content be fully accessible. We all have a part to play in fulfilling this obligation. These are the top ten mistakes we see on the Extension website that hurt accessibility.

10: Writing with the assumption visitors are using a certain device

Examples: Instructing users to right click on a link, scroll down a page, press a specific key on a keyboard, etc.

Why this is a problem: You can never know what kind of device visitors will be using to access your content. Many will not be using a mouse or keyboard because they are on mobile devices. Others will be using screen readers or voice commands.

How to fix: Use more generic terms for actions you want visitors to take. For example:

  • Instead of “click on the x option”, use “select the x option”
  • Instead of “right click on the file name and select ‘save’”, use “download the file”

9: Referring to the appearance or position of elements on the page

Examples: “Use the gray links to the left to explore options”, “click the orange button above to register”.

Why this is a problem: Elements on the page appear in different places depending on the type of device the visitor is using. Some visitors will not be able to see them at all.

How to fix: Avoid referencing other elements on the page. For example, include a link instead of pointing visitors to where it is already on the page. If this isn’t possible, use a label that doesn’t rely on appearance or position.

8: Writing in all-caps

Examples: “This event is FREE to the public”, “ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES WHEN DOING THIS”

Why this is a problem: Screen readers may assume a word in all-caps is an acronym and read each letter individually.

How to fix: Don’t type words in all-caps unless it is actually an acronym. To emphasize text, make it bold.

7: Relying on YouTube’s automatic captioning for videos

Why this is a problem: YouTube’s automatic captioning does not include capitalization or punctuation. Remember, many people using captions can’t hear the pauses where punctuation would be. They also can’t tell when a new speaker starts talking. YouTube also has trouble recognizing proper nouns and specialized terms (such as “agritourism”). 

How to fix: Use YouTube’s automatic captioning for a starting point, but be sure to check them and clean up as needed.

6: Opening links in new windows/tabs

Why this is a problem: Screen magnifiers are some of the most common assistive technology used on line. People with low-vision use these to zoom in very closely on a small section of the screen. In these situations, it is difficult to determine when a new window/tab opens. They may think they are still in the same tab and be confused why they can’t use the back button. It also takes more time for them to close out of the new tab/window and get back to where they were. 

How to fix: Avoid creating links that cause new windows/tabs to open (the most common are file download links).

5: Uploading content as a PDF when not necessary

Why this is a problem: Web browsers include accessibility features which programs that open files often lack. It requires more training to create accessible PDFs than web pages. Additionally, PDF files are generally larger than web pages. They are often slower to download, especially on a slow connection.

How to fix: Whenever possible, enter content into the website as text instead of (or in addition to) a file upload. E.g. articles instead of educational documents, subpages instead of program resources.

4: Using unclear link labels

Examples: “click here to register”, “download the paper here: https://oregonstate.box.com/s/jwq15kn7d5swzfma564ggzvk55cqhudg

Why this is a problem: Almost all visitors to a website will prefer to scan rather than reading everything on the page in order. Sighted people do this by looking at headings or section breaks. People using screen readers have other methods. They often have the screen reader pull out all the links on the page so they read through only those initially. If the links that get pulled out only say “click here”, “learn more”, or a raw URL, this functionality isn’t useful. Additionally, voice command software may allow people to “click” on a link by saying the label. If there are links that are unpronounceable, this functionality doesn’t work.

How to fix: Use link labels that describe what the visitor will go to if they click that link. For example, a link saying “download registration form” makes it clear what you’ll get when you click. On the other hand “click here” doesn’t provide any context for the link.

3: Not providing alternative text for images

Why this is a problem: Screen readers can only read “true text” (i.e. text you can highlight with a mouse). Therefore, any text included in an image is invisible to screen readers and the people who use them.

How to fix: When you upload an image on the Extension website, there is an “Alternative text” field. You should include all text and other content in the image in this field. If an image contains a significant amount of text, it is better to convert it to an accessible PDF or web page.

2: Not checking the reading level of content

Why this is a problem: Hard-to-understand text content is the #1 accessibility problem over the entire internet. It affects everyone who accesses web content. This includes:

  • people with learning or other disabilities
  • people who don’t primarily speak English
  • young people
  • people with low literacy
  • people in stressful or frustrating situations which may impair their reading comprehension temporarily.

How to fix: Put all your content through a reading level checker such as Hemingway Editor. You should aim for a level of 6-8. It is, generally, a myth that more complex subjects require a higher reading level. There are two methods that can improve readability without changing the actual contents.

  • Shorter/simpler sentences: Avoid run-on sentences at all costs. Every comma can be a point to at least consider splitting one sentence into multiple.
  • Breaking up chunks of text: Use headings, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, etc. to break up longer chunks of text. This makes the content easier to read and helps people skim to find what they need more quickly.

1: Using (or not using) headings appropriately

Examples: Using the “Format” dropdown on entire paragraphs. Separating sections of text with bold section titles without using the “Format” dropdown.

Why this is a problem: Incorrect use of headings is a huge accessibility issue for screen readers. More often than not, visitors using screen readers will pull out all the headings from a page first thing. This allows them to skim rather than read everything on the page in order. Formatting text as a heading when it isn’t gets in the way of this technique. Not formatting text as a heading when it is one will cause the technique not to work.

How to fix: Only use the heading options in the “Format” dropdown of the text editor for actual headings. However, be sure you do use them for all actual headings in the text.


For help implementing any of the fixes described above, submit a support request with the EESC web team.