For the past eight years I have been a water safety instructor and lifeguard at the Ann Arbor YMCA. I have seen many changes throughout the years, including a brand change and website revision. For a previous class I performed a usability test on the old, confusing website.
For this project I interviewed the Communications Director of the Ann Arbor YMCA, Jan Hack, about her unique role and expertise regarding marketing and informing members and guests through social media about what the Y offers. The interview was conducted through email in Q&A format earlier this month, November 2016. After an initial email, I asked follow up questions a week later.
First off, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your role and expertise as the Communications Director at the Ann Arbor YMCA. To begin with, if you would, talk about your background a bit. How long have you been at the Ann Arbor YMCA? What was it that drew you to the communications field?
I actually do not have a background in Communications; prior to working at the Y in this capacity I had my own personal property appraising business and prior to that was a specialist in 18th century American furniture and folk art for Christie’s Inc.; a fine arts auction house in NYC. I started working at the Y in January 2012. While I had been a member in the past and my kids were long time AGQ [Al-Gon-Quian, Ann Arbor YMCA Summer Camp] campers and staff, I hadn’t really been involved beyond a cursory level. I was interested in the position because I continue to be drawn to the mission of the Y and am pleased to use my talents to communicate our cause.
What social media sites are used by the Ann Arbor YMCA?
FB [Facebook], Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. I’ve attached a “communications dashboard” that I compile monthly so that you can see the analytics of many or our communications initiatives.
Is there a social media site you use most frequently when posting events and information about Ann Arbor Y? If yes, which one/s? Why?
We have by far our biggest audience [on Facebook] (3302 as of 10.31). It is also very easy to boost posts (and sometimes I do this with Instagram concurrently.)
What kind of content is posted on social media?
It depends on the time of year, but I strive to put out relevant articles, photos of members, news about Y events in roughly equal numbers. At this time of the year though, I have been pushing our Giving Tuesday effort for Haiti and Benefit Day for LIVESTRONG [a free twelve week YMCA exercise program]. Come January it will be all membership, all the time!
How do you gain information from other departments about events, subject matter, member recruitment, etc? Through one-on-one communication, email, meetings, other ways?
This is a facility-wide challenge. I send out emails to all relevant staff each Friday with hopes that they will help me help them by providing information about upcoming events and programs. I keep a calendar on my desk and every time I hear about something going on I try and jot it down so that I don’t forget to publicize it.
Once you have the information from them do you post what they say word for word or do you modify the phrasing into your own words?
I typically edit (sometimes heavily!) what people send me. Every program person would like several inches of real estate and to have it run for months on end, but that isn’t efficient or particularly effective.
How much of a factor is social media when it comes to recruiting new members to the Y?
It’s hard to say how many memberships are specifically attributable to social media. I think it is a great place to advertise the Y because it enhances our overall awareness and branding, but in order for someone to sign up for a membership they have to actually visit the facility and engage a new member specialist etc. Having said that, being able to target people on FB who are specifically interested in, say youth sports or swim lessons within a given geographical area is very valuable.
What is the main goal the Ann Arbor YMCA has in using social media sites?
To increase brand awareness and engagement.
Which social media site do you gain the most feedback from? How do you gauge the amount of traffic you get through social media?
FB has very detailed analytics which I track monthly.
What do your site visitors know about the subject matter? How technical is the vocabulary you use?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Are you talking about our website?
Yes, with regards to the website.
We redid the website in August 2015 with an eye towards ease of navigation and search engine optimization. It has been very well received and traffic increased.
What are some of the specific things that allowed users to more easily navigate the revised website?
We utilized SEO technology within the text and made it more intuitive and visual.
You recently traveled to Haiti on behalf of the Ann Arbor YMCA. How does traveling to other communities help within our community? What can you bring back from your experience there that can help you as the Communication Director at the Y?
I went down to the YMCA d’Haiti to help them begin to improve their website and get started on cause messaging through social media channels so as to engage supporters both in-country and within the Haitian diaspora rather than enhance my work here as Communications Director.
In terms of how our Haiti work helps our A2 community I would say that some members of the Ann Arbor Y will be more engaged (with time, treasure and talent) through this global initiative who aren’t engaged in other more local efforts. Our global work is a reflection of our designation as a Y-USA Global Center of Excellence and our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Do you travel for work often? For what reasons?
I rarely travel for work, and usually when I do it is for a conference or Y training.
Is there any advice you can give to someone looking into a profession in communications?
I’m not sure I’m the right person to give you that kind of advice, since I fell into this. I would say that being adept at LISTENING so that one can truly assess what it is that is needed (sometimes this is different than what the person says they want/need) is critical. It’s also important to be a strong, articulate writer who can adapt to many different platforms. Those are the skills. In terms of finding a good position, I would say look for an opportunity in an organization about whose mission you are enthusiastic and prove your worth to them, even if they don’t think they need you!