The West region San Angelo training by request of Marvin Ensor, Regional Program Director for the West Region of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service was a great step in developing 18 agents and 2 specialists in understanding some of the techniques that can help do our jobs in different ways considering the audiences we serve as an agency. We started off by looking at some of the changing demographics of clients both nationally and also specifically to Texas. Some of the high points we discussed were:
- Reviewed a few slides from my colleague Anne Adrian on findings related to Cooperative Extension from her slides Not your Grandparents or Great-Grandparents Extension
- Four generations in the workforce and what that means to how people want to connect with others
- The rise of both the Gen XY and Millennials in the workforce
- High rates of mobility in populations
- Urbanization of clientele (spatially – as they move inward, and outward
- Texas Centric issues such as – various types of landowners, changing age of land inheritance, more women in Agriculture, and general influences of age/gender/demographics that change the way we look at outreach
The key things we talked about and discussed were some of the challenges in light of these changes. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has always been able to utilize tools best suited for the client and the technology available, and the use of social networking tools while seemingly different, was not really different when we considered communication is one of primary focus’ we have always excelled at.
We moved onto the concept that one of the roles we play as agents and specialists is sense-makers. This role is uniquely suited to the Cooperative Extension model because it does just what we’ve always done! Sense-makers take relevant and timely information and adapt it to local needs. Some of the opportunities for Cooperative Extension are to fill that role of the sense-maker, especially with the multitude of information available. Who is going to curate that and cultivate it down to application? Local experts of course!
Finally, we took a look at our own websites and programs. How discoverable were we in-light of the topics we have programs for or that we excel at? If someone doesn’t have a relationship with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, how well will they be able to find out what our local county offices or our program units specialize in? Is it easy to find? If you can’t find it on our websites, where can you find it? We found that sometimes we can find some of the information a client might be looking for, but what we are not able to find it a better understanding or feel for what we do. We talked about some simple fixes on our own websites that can help with that. Some of the fixes might include:
- Listing or describing our LAB objectives for that year
- Listing or describing what we as agents and specialists do (in detail – not just in general) on our pages
- Ability to blog is built into our sites through our Texas A&M AgriLife options
One of the areas we concentrated on was Twitter for this training. We went over the basics, but we concentrated on one unique option of Twitter. The option we looked at was the use of Twitter to deliver text messages (SMS messaging) to our clients. In short, if clients were interested in connecting we us (or we wanted a low entry input way to connect), texting was a great option. Normally, you are limited to sending out messages to groups with only 10 people in them (depending on your device), but that also means having to manage phone numbers or addresses, or some other way to create a contact. The Twitter 40404 SMS solution was discussed as an option. For more information, refer to my blog post Twitter and SMS – Ways to Remove Barriers to Adoption of Social Media.
Writing for the Web
We were quickly running of of time but wanted to get in a few best practices for writing for the web. I wanted to emphasize that how you write (even if you are writing an email) is really important when the opportunity exists to have that shared on the web. It is a good idea to PLAN for things to eventually make it to the web. Therefore, we looked at a few things that make up a quality posting (or blog, or microblog, or email). You want to make sure that what you write is flexible even if you never intended to post it yourself to the web. Ideally, those who share your program goals will participate in sharing your information in their networks. We briefly covered:
- How people visually read (what elements in your test and pictures help people read)
- Using bolding and emphasis within your writing to help scanning
- Use inbound links (links back to your parent organization)
- Use outbound links (links to credible sources outside your .edu domain)
- Pictures and visuals
We ended up running out of time to practice planning our strategies from putting some of the writing skills into practice.
As a side note, I am planning a short-trip over to Taylor county Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to get some help with building a rain-water barrel in return for help setting up some Twitter channels. See you soon Robert!