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Friday, April 26, 2013

Support Your Local Library

Did you know that your local library has a lot more to offer than just books? We in Contra Costa County are fortunate to have a remarkable library system that serves not only as a learning center but as a social center as well.
Throughout the Contra Costa Library system, you’ll find not only books and reference services but author talks, book discussions and special events. I recently attended a delightful talk by Alexander McCall Smith, author of “The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” sponsored by the Lafayette Library. And the Walnut Creek Library is hosting Michael Polan, author of “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on June 20th. Special events such as these provide excellent opportunities to learn more about the people who write the books we read and care about.

Check out some of the other things you can find either at the libraries or on their website:
  • An online Virtual Reference Library with topics approved by teachers, i.e. a series of eBooks dedicated to the California Missions for all you history buffs.
  • A Tumble Book Library – online picture books your kids can either read or listen to.
  • The Walnut Creek Library sponsors a citywide book club called One City, One Book; Live! From the Library – a free speaker series; and an annual Student Poetry Celebration.
  • Under “Find Books” online, there’s a “Kid’s View” section with a revolving wheel of topics that allows kids to select books about things that interest them.
  • For all readers, there is a “Read Alikes” section with suggestions for books that are similar to ones you’ve already enjoyed.
  • Online tutorials to help you connect your Nook, Kindle or iPad to the library.
  • Information about Project Second Chance – a one-on-one tutoring program that offers free and confidential literacy instruction to adults.
  • And I saved the best for last – Discover & Go, a program where the library has paired with over 40 museums in the Bay Area to provide free tickets. Though the tickets are limited and on a first-come, first-served basis, they afford you a chance to visit such places as the Aquarium of the Bay, the Asian Art Museum, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the California Academy of Science, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, the Oakland Museum of California to name but a few. What an incredible opportunity to explore the Bay Area and learn something new.
Have I piqued your interest? If so, take a moment to check out the Contra Costa County website at You’ll be amazed by what you find there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Happened to Menu Labeling??

That’s very a good question.

You may recall that a few years ago California passed a law requiring calorie counts on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants. (A law Brown-Miller Communications was instrumental in getting passed.) This happened in spite of the dire predictions from the National Restaurant Association that it would lead to the end of civilization as we know it and cause the earth to spin off its axis. (Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea.)

Calorie counts began appearing almost immediately and Californians rejoiced. In fact, it was such a good idea that a similar law was passed on a national level. It was just what the doctor ordered for a nation whose waistlines were getting bigger every year, and in which, according to the National Institutes of Health, obesity and overweight together are the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, close behind tobacco use.

But something strange happened. In California those calorie counts began to disappear. “How can this be? Isn’t it the law?”  I asked myself. I checked with some of the restaurants managers who had once had them to find out what had happened, and here are some of the answers I got:

  • “People didn’t like seeing them, so we took them off.”
  • “The lawyers said we didn’t have to list them, so we removed them.”
  • “It cost too much to include them.”

I contacted the Contra Costa Health Department, and was told that since the law is now a federal law, it overrides the state law. So the state is waiting for the Feds to hand down to the states the mechanics of how the Federal law is to be enforced, before it is written into the California Code. Currently there is no word as to when that might happen. So in the meantime, the county health departments, the agencies responsible for enforcing the menu labeling laws can’t enforce them. And waistlines in America continue to grow.

What can you do about it? Write your congressmen and encourage them to light a fire under whatever agency needs to get moving to get the new menu labeling code out to the states. Also, when you go into a restaurant and see the menu labeling, make sure you tell the waitstaff, manager or person at the cash register taking your order, just how much you appreciate them showing their calorie counts right out in plain sight where they are easy to see.  Then when you don’t see the calorie counts, complain about it. Ask them what they are trying to hide and why are they making it difficult to learn what their calorie counts are. They may try to hand you a brochure or direct you to a chart hanging up elsewhere. If they do, tell them you want the calories listed right up next to what you are ordering. You don’t what to go hunting down a confusing brochure or chart.  I’ve done it several times and I’ll continue to do it. And rest assured, I know from experience your actions will not lead to the end of civilization or cause the earth to spin off its axis. Just try it and you’ll see.

Friday, April 12, 2013

8 Rules for Online Campaign Success

It’s crazy to think that in just a few short years most of our communication is being done in digital form – text messages, email, Skype, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Vine. Of course, to me there is no substitution for a face-to-face, personal connection, but I have to admit – and I’m not sure when this transition happened – that my communication and relationships, whether personal or business, have tipped over to more on the digital side. The first thing I do when I wake up is to reach for my phone to check the weather.  Listen to Spotify on my phone while driving to work. At my desk, my email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds are in the background. And when I want to take a break, I check Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube in search of something to entertain me.

Let’s face it, it’s futile to fight the new arena of digital communications, and one must adapt or be left in the dust. You must be thinking that there has to be some sanity in the madness and a way to harness success in the digital communication world. It’s starting to feel more like the Wild West, back in the days of old. By that I mean that it’s exciting because of the possibilities, but people are lost on which way to go. Well yeehaw, pardner – saddle up for the eight rules of digital communication to help tame the wild world of social media for future campaign success.

  1. Email is still king. Nine-four percent of adults online use email, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project Surveys (2008-2012). It may seem old-fashioned now but used appropriately, email continues to be the best way to reach the masses and the essential foundation for digital communications.
  2. Mobile email will soon be the norm. Still thinking that emails are only read on computer desktops? Hate to break it to you, but it is 2013. Most people will, if not already, be reading their emails on mobile devices. What does this mean? You’ll have to start thinking about cross-platform promotion and simplicity. Less is more, but make it shareable in multiple ways. 
  3. Multi-channel for maximum reach. It’s not unusual for people to go to different places to get what they need – TV, radio, newspapers, Internet, mobile phones, Facebook, YouTube – the list can go on and on. Don’t be afraid to try out new communication channels, but be mindful of your goal to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.
  4. Measure your effectiveness. The only way to find out if you’re successful is to have a measurable objective. Don’t forget to measure your results based on your targeted goal.
  5. Look into online communities. Kudos to social media for slowly breaking through silos organizations have unknowingly built up. While it’s important to understand your work, existing primarily in your own world does nothing to deliver your message to your audience. Don’t expect everyone to know who you are. Look into online communities and listen in to what other people are saying about the topic you care about and offer to be a resource. Engage and get feedback. 
  6. Be a storyteller. No one wants to hear facts. Well, okay, some do, but for the most part, readers want to relate to your story. If possible, tell a story rather than stating a statistic.
  7. Have one voice. It’s important to find your voice, whether you’re casual, professorial, funny or sarcastic. I don’t recommend angry. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you why. But have fun and be consistent.
  8. Leverage real-time communication. Social media has provided a way to interact with people that is timely. It engages people and makes for a more dynamic relationship but know when to respond and what messages to respond to. 

Got your boots on and ready to take on the next viral campaign? I leave you with a word of caution and a funny video about sexting. Be provocative, funny and smart but know that once you hit send, there’s no taking it back.



twitter - @murielbmiller