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Author Archives: Mike Bernard for GovDelivery

7 Tips for Becoming More Human

April 4th, 2014 | Posted by Mike Bernard for GovDelivery in Community Management/Engagement | Compelling Content | Tech - (0 Comments)

Have you seen the movie “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix? In the movie, set in 2025, Phoenix plays a guy named Theodore, a lonely introverted man going through a divorce. Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away if you haven’t seen it yet. The part I want to highlight revolves around Theodore’s job. Theodore works for a company that hires professional writers to compose intimate, heartfelt letters for people who don’t want to (or can’t figure out how to) write personal notes to people in their lives. It’s a very interesting movie. You should check it out. Robot with envelope.

Looking past the sad commentary on society where a business like that could survive (and you probably don’t have to fast forward to 2025 to conceive of how a service like that would make it) I love the premise: hiring someone to create personal messages for you.

You see, in the marketing world there’s constant talk about the difference between doing Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing and Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. Each way of doing marketing has its nuances and uses different strategies to get a compelling message to someone who would benefit from the product or service.

Add into the mix what our clients do, Government-to-Citizen (G2C) marketing, and the different ways of doing marketing start to become pretty complex.

With all the different strategies in B2B, B2C, and G2C, a new hybrid (evolution?) of marketing is starting to emerge. People who study these sorts of things are starting to boil down marketing strategy to its fundamental core. What they’ve begun calling this new strategy is: Human-to-Human (H2H).

Basically, H2H marketing seeks to take the confusion out of marketing. The goal is to try to utilize the same communication principles you use with your friends when chatting over dinner:

  • Don’t use buzz-words or jargon dumps. Get rid of the corporate robot-speak and engage me in a conversation.
  • Make things entertaining. Tell a story that moves me.
  • Don’t just tell me that this will make my life better, let me know why I should even care in the first place.
  • If a mistake is made, own up to it, ask for forgiveness and tell me how you are going to fix the situation.
  • Don’t assume that demographic information defines who I am.

If you think about it, this is what effective communication is all about. It’s not exactly rocket science, but those of us who communicate for a living seem to have lost our way at some point. It’s true for the private sector and it’s true for the government. We need to take a lesson from “Her” on this and start thinking about how we craft our messages as if we were composing them for someone we deeply care about.

Here are 7 tips to think about as you work to transform your communications to be more H2H friendly:

  1. First and foremost, people matter! Let’s face it. It’s the information age. We have lots of information that has to get out there. But simply dumping a bunch of information on someone is not a very good way to get them engaged. When you have important information to communicate, think about how you can make it appeal to systemic human desires like being part of something bigger than yourself, feeling connected to others, or our desire for adventure. Remember, people respond to vision. They rarely take action because of facts and figures. The Army understands this. Tourism departments get it. Think about how your organization can connect with people on a deeper level. Don’t fall into the trap of just dumping information out there and hope people will take it to heart.
  2. Think about your end goal. Speaking of people, think about what the end goal of your organization is. Is it to reduce crime? Is it to get more people to start small businesses? Is it to get more people to get tested for diabetes? Your organization, no doubt, has some fantastic goals and I bet all of them, in some way, are about making people’s lives better. If you can tie your communication back to these goals, it’s a win-win. The organization meets its mission critical goals and people take the actions you need them to take.
  3. Communicate with emotion and personality. I know how it is. Sometimes the way you communicate is out of your hands. You might be statutorily required to phrase something a certain way. You might have a legal department who needs to approve every word you write. In those situations, you might just have to resign to the way things have to be. But in all other circumstances, push back to remove boring tech speak from your communications. It’s not compelling and it doesn’t get you to that end goal we talked about earlier. And, let’s face it, life’s too short to not have a little good-natured fun every once in awhile.
  4. When thinking H2H, remember H2H=H+H: Humor and Humility. Take 5 seconds and think about the 3 friends you love being around the most. I bet boredom and arrogance are not words you associate with them. Levity brings the mood up and humility opens up space for forgiveness and acceptance. If you can establish an atmosphere of humor and humility you will go a long way toward growing your audience, moving them to action and giving you grace if an issue does arise.
  5. Images communicate what words cannot. As much as you can, include imagery in your communications. If you’re speaking, tell a relatable story. If you’re writing, include images about what you’re talking about. If it’s the web…well, if you aren’t using images on the web yet, we probably need to have a “back-to-the-basics” discussion. Did you know that the eyes can communicate information faster than any of the other senses? Check out this article about research MIT is doing about the processing power of your eyes.
  6. Design matters. At the heart of civilization is the compelling need to make organization out of chaos. Design is at the heart of who we are. It’s why everyone ooh’s and ahh’s over the latest Apple product or why people will pay money to go to an auto show. We like things that are beautiful. We like structure. We like things that are engineered to be simple. If your communications don’t look nice, people will write off the information. Spend the time (or money) to make things look good. It pays dividends in the long run.
  7. Deliver messaging that’s tailored to the specific desires of your audience. Always remember that you’re not simply the summation of your demographic information. You’re an individual and so is your audience. You need to find ways to deliver the most customized message you can to the recipient. When a friend tells you a story about her weekend, she tells you about specific details that she knows will be relevant to you. In doing that, it allows you to enter into the story. When developing your communications strategy, think about the data you will need to collect to give people exactly what they want and find systems that allow you to store and access that information so you can deliver something that’s relevant and compelling. Your audience will appreciate it and will be more likely to absorb what you’re telling them.

There you have it, my 7 tips for moving your communications to a H2H model. Tell me what I’m missing or how you’ve started to do H2H communications within your organization in the comments below.

The Collaborative Economy: An Altimeter Group Research Report

August 5th, 2013 | Posted by Mike Bernard for GovDelivery in Collaboration | Compelling Content | Usability - (1 Comments)

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference where the keynote speaker, Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group, presented his latest research report, “The Collaborative Economy.” The premise of the report is that social technologies have changed everything from communications to marketing to customer care, which has brought us to an era of consumers sharing products and services among one another in lieu of purchasing through businesses. He described this marketing shift in power in three phases: the “Brand Experience Era,” the “Customer Experience Era,” and the “Collaborative Economy Era.” According to Jeremiah, we are now in “The Collaborative Economy Era.”

Phase 3 involves many of the same concepts that fueled the social revolution in Phase 1 and Phase 2- innovative companies have created spaces for people to share reviews on products and services with each other, but in Phase 3, “The Collaborative Economy,” consumers are often completely bypassing existing institutions to purchase these products and services.

The difficulty for businesses is that consumers can now purchase a product, and literally share it among many other people by reselling or renting the product or service out. As the collaborative economy grows, business revenues could dramatically reduce if a company is unwilling to embrace this movement.

The only way for corporations to play into this space, is they have to let go in order to gain more, and that’s a big leap of faith for many companies to do, but it’s the only way.

-Jeremiah Owyang

Companies who sell products or services to consumers risk failure as people bypass traditional means of transactions in favor a sharing economy.

Here’s an example:

A new Toyota Camry costs about $25,000 to buy. Tack on interest payments, insurance, fuel and routine maintenance, and the cost of owning that shiny new Camry climbs even higher. Given these costs, let’s say you decide to forgo buying a car and instead use services like Citibike and Lyft to get around. That’s one less car purchased. You discover that this system works out nicely for you and so you tell your friends what you’re doing. Several of them think it’s a good idea and they go for it too. The result is four more cars not purchased. Now imagine that this idea spreads across the country and 10% of the population decides to get on board. You now have a 10% reduction in the number of new cars being purchased in the US. The entire automobile industry would be in crisis. If you’re Toyota, Ford, or Volkswagen, this is a scary proposition.

Let’s then say you love the sharing idea and you start applying it to other areas of your life. You use AirBnB to find a place to stay instead of booking a room at the local Hilton. You use 99dresses to get your clothes rather than going to Nordstrom or JCPenney. You skip Wells Fargo and go with Prosper and PayPal for your banking needs. The list goes on and on. Pretty soon traditional industry is disrupted and businesses collapse.

Owyang predicts that companies will need to refocus what they do in order to remain relevant. Those who are able to find ways to facilitate this new collaborative environment will be able to generate profits while those who ignore it will fade from prominence.

It’s an interesting concept.

Fortunately, government organizations are already poised to be leaders in the new collaborative economy.

Share Data

The free exchange of data is what will make the collaborative economy work. Government organizations are already beginning to release mountains of data as a result of the Open Data Initiative. Numerous companies are using this data to create cool new applications where people can learn about health code violations, recreation options, transit routes, road repairs, public safety and much more.  By coupling government data with user created content, governments and the public are able to collaborate to make life better for everyone.

Partner many organizations

One way that government is already poised to aid the collaborative economy is in its ability to partner many different organizations together. Since government organizations are not beholden to the whims of shareholders, they can share information between different units of government. Government can also rally businesses, non-profit agencies, as well as religious and community groups to unite around a common cause or objective. Often, these projects fall into the economic development category where the government helps with land acquisition and clean-up; and businesses provide stable jobs. These are great for local economies, but they are just the tip of the iceberg as we move toward a collaborative community.

What would it look like if a state health department and the CDC were able to bring businesses, non-profits and local parks departments together to rally around diminishing childhood obesity? What if the Small Business Administration were able to get business owners, the Better Business Bureau and Yelp together to train new business owners how to use social media or improve customer service? Maybe the USDA could solicit help from non-profits working with new mothers, restaurants, and grocers to provide feedback on ways to improve WIC and SNAP that go beyond the basics of “this item is covered,” and “this one isn’t.”

There are lots of possibilities out there but one thing is certain. As people search for ways to get the goods and services in non-traditional ways, government organizations have a huge opportunity to bring the players together on an issue and dream up new ways of doing things.

Serve as “trust broker”

One of the biggest challenges to the collaborative economy is the trust factor. Do you trust someone to rent out your house? What if they wreck it? What if someone uses your information to obtain a fraudulent loan through Prosper? What happens if you hire someone from TaskRabbit to take your clothes to the cleaners and they steal your stuff? These are all concerns that people have as they begin to venture into the collaborative economy. Fortunately, this is the exact sort of thing government organizations were set up deal with. Police…check. Courts…check. Helpful regulations and guides for vendors…check. Mediators and liaisons…check again. Government organizations can use transparency in these collaborative practices to gain trust among the public.

Standardizing systems

Like any new concept in its infancy, multiple standards emerge until, eventually, a winner is declared. Think Betamax and VHS, Laser Disk and DVD, or MySpace, Friendster and Facebook. Government wields enormous weight when it comes to setting standards for an industry. While you won’t typically find government weighing in on the Betamax/VHS sorts of discussions, they do evaluate things like encryption coding or payment processing procedures. Government also has a lot of muscle when they decide to purchase something. What if government organizations got involved with shaping the new collaborative economy standards? Or, with giving guidance on the way data should be submitted to meet requirements?

There are numerous scenarios of how this could work out. One thing is certain, if government organizations are involved from the beginning, there will be plenty of opportunities to shape the conversation in a way that works best for everyone.

What are some ways you see government being involved with the new collaborative economy?

GovTechOn Thursday, July 18th, the 2013 Digital Counties Survey awards were announced by the Center for Digital Government in conjunction with the National Association of Counties. The winners were chosen for efficiently and effectively using technology to better the lives of local citizens and improve operations for the counties.

Tough budgetary times can lead to paralysis or provide the opportunity to forge bold new plans that can radically improve the situation on an organization.

At GovDelivery, we love hearing about how local governments are embracing new technology solutions to dramatically improve service to the public and create efficiencies for government employees.

“The annual survey, which recognizes leading examples of counties using information and communications technology, chose winners that overcame tough fiscal barriers to improve government services and efficiency,” writes Digital Communities.

We specifically want to highlight the award winning work being done by our clients who have recognized that using digital communications to communicate with the public, as part of a comprehensive technology plan, is a win-win for citizens and the county.

Congratulations on your well deserved award win!

Photo credit: GovTech

sh Last week, one of the greatest cheesy movies of all time debuted on the Syfy channel. Sharknado.

In case you missed it, here’s the premise. There’re lots of really big sharks in the ocean and they’re all really angry. Due to some weird weather, the sea level begins to rise in Los Angeles and a freak tornado scoops up said sharks and rains them down on the city. 1990’s ‘C List’ stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (appropriately named ‘Fin’ in this film) take to the streets to kill the sharks and blow up the tornado using dynamite. Mayhem ensues. A cult classic is born.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey pal, where’s the spoiler alert warning?!?!”

Sorry about that.

Obviously, this movie is designed to be a low budget, tongue-in-cheek, comedy/thriller that’s the entertainment equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies…at first the idea sounds delicious, but you end up regretting it by the time you’re finished.

The thing that’s most amazing to me about Sharknado is that it actually is a good case study in communications best practices, so here I’ve compiled the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications.

1)  Be trustworthy

You might be wondering what could possibly be ‘trustworthy’ about this movie. Well, it’s called Sharknado and features Tara Reid and Ian Ziering battling airborne sharks in a tornado…you immediately know what you’re getting with this one. No one is tuning in thinking this is going to be Spielberg’s next Oscar winner. You watch because you think the idea of tornadic sharks sounds funny.

In the same way, your messages need to be honest and transparent about what you are trying to communicate, even when the information might be difficult to deliver. Always give people the straight answer. People will be far more willing to hear tough information when they feel like you’re telling them the truth, but rarely forgive if they feel they’ve been deceived.

2)  Give your audience what they want

The folks in charge of programming over at Syfy know exactly what their audience is interested in. A quick Google search delivers a long list of awesomely awful movies Syfy has aired. These blockbusters include masterpieces such as Sharktopus, Piranaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Megapython vs. Gatoroid, and Dinoshark.

Clearly, there is a subset of the population who loves these kinds of movies and keeps coming back for the content they love.

This same approach works for communicators too. At GovDelivery, we advise our clients to offer a wide variety of topics that people might be interested in as subscription topics. That way, people can sign up to get the exact information they want.

For example, one person might go to the IRS website to look for information about filing personal income taxes. Another might search the site to find out how to file business paperwork to get a taxpayer ID number, and another person may want to know about the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit.

By allowing people to subscribe to only the information they find valuable, you can provide excellent customer service without burying people in superfluous information they don’t want or need. Your customers will be happy and you won’t be wasting people’s time.

3)  Spread the word

One of the things that Syfy did expertly with Sharknado, was create compelling content that people wanted to share and then get that message out to the masses. Sharknado generated more than 604,000 tweets in an 8 hour time period on the day the movie premiered. That’s 1,258 tweets per minute! The official movie trailer has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube and the movie poster showed up all over my news feed on Facebook.

While not all of the information you need to communicate is as riveting as Sharknado, efficiently getting your message out to as many channels as possible is essential for ensuring maximum viewers. Try to find tools that will simplify the delivery of information. It will save you time and make sure you are catching your audience on their channel of choice.

4)  Capture people’s attention

No one can deny that Sharknado was attention grabbing. But what if you are talking about something more mundane than flying attack sharks? Just because your message isn’t flashy, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to jazz it up.

For example, you’ve probably heard how the CDC made emergency preparedness interesting with their Zombie Apocalypse campaign. The US Census Bureau found a way to make economic statistics come alive with the America’s Economy mobile app. The Virginia Tourism Association tapped into the growing craft beer trend and created an interactive map for a craft beer tour. You know there’s an audience out there for that idea. Louisville, KY decided to try new ways of capturing people’s attention by putting city content into a new channel where people were already congregating. The Washington DOT even found a way to make traffic information compelling by using a map goof-up to highlight road improvements.

Before pushing your information out there, take a few seconds to think if there’s a way you can make your information more compelling. If you can capture people’s attention, you will have a better chance of them remembering what you want them to know.

5)  Don’t be afraid to have some fun

Sharknado is a great example of having some fun with your content. No one expects this movie to win any awards; it’s purely for entertainment purposes.

Remember your main goal as a communications professional; you are trying to get people to engage with your content, sign up to get additional information from you, and come back for more in the future. If everything you put out is safe, boring to read, boring to look at, in outdated mediums and doesn’t move anyone, most people won’t be back.

Even serious government organizations can have some fun every now and then. And, finding new and exciting ways of getting your material in front of the eyes of the public should be fun for you. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I went this direction to make my message more engaging?” Don’t stress yourself out with this. Take it slow. Bite off small pieces at a time and get creative. Maybe you’ll come up with something even more interesting than Sharknado.

There you have it, the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications best practices.

What things would you add to my list?

Oh, in case you missed it, Syfy is re-airing the movie in August. And in case you’re already a diehard fan, Sharknado 2 is already in the works! Syfy is even offering a chance to get in on naming it. You can submit your title ideas via tweet to @SyfyMovies using #Sharknado.

Top 10 Email Don’ts

May 20th, 2013 | Posted by Mike Bernard for GovDelivery in Compelling Content | Email Communication | Mobile | Usability - (1 Comments)

Recently, I wrote an article on how to create mobile-optimized emails. That blog post provided tips on how to improve the experience of reading email on a mobile device, which led me to think about what you shouldn’t do when creating emails.

So, here are some things to keep in mind when putting together your next email:

  1. Email CommunicationDon’t copy and paste from a word processing program.
    Most word processing programs (such as Microsoft Word) will actually insert a lot of unnecessary, and unseen, code into an HTML email if you cut and paste it into your email software. Oftentimes, this will cause your email to look strange, and you won’t know why. A better solution for cutting and pasting is to paste your text into a basic text editor such as Notepad or the code portion of Dreamweaver. Then copy from the text editor and paste into your email solution. Taking this extra step will strip out unwanted code and make your emails display better in the various clients’ email.
  2. Don’t forget to include “alt image” text.
    I know how it goes. We’re all busy. It’s easy to drop an image into an email and move on to the next task without pausing to fill in extra details like the “alt text” on your images. This is a bad habit, so make the effort to break it now. When you skip this important step, your emails will not encourage people to accept images from your organization as well as making it difficult for people with vision problems to decipher your email. Take the extra 5 seconds it takes to enter in alt text. It’s worth it in the long run.
  3. Don’t make your emails too wide.
    As I mentioned in my previous post, we are rapidly headed toward the time where the majority of emails will be viewed on a mobile device. To ignore this trend could be the difference between highly engaged readers and a digital ghost town. The old standard for email widths was 600px – 750px. Given the rise in popularity of mobile devices, I would suggest shooting for a standard width in the 350px – 500px range. They will display on mobile devices a lot better and will still look good on a larger desktop screen.
  4. Don’t assume your email will render the same for everyone.
    Did you know that, with the number of email clients, browsers and operating systems available, there are literally thousands of ways one individual email can look? Thousands! What can be done about this? First, try to find designs, layouts, fonts, and color schemes that will render well on some of the most common email/OS/browser combinations. For example, how does your email look in Outlook 2007 while running on Windows 7, or in Gmail running on Chrome? If it looks good for the most common possibilities, you can assume it will look OK on the rest. To find out how it will look across multiple combinations, use an email testing service such as Litmus or Email on Acid. These services are inexpensive ways to see how your message will look without spending a lot of time trying to cobble together lots of different systems to test on your own. Also, some email sending systems provide this type of testing as part of the platform.
  5. Don’t use long URLs in the text version of your email.
    When you’re creating HTML emails it’s fine to use a long URL, because the link gets hidden in the attribute tag. But, when you check out the text version of your email (you are sending a text version with every HTML version, right??), you may discover that a nice looking “click here” becomes “http://www.youragencyname.gov/files/05012013/web/stories/new/this-is-your-story-that-you-want-to-share99477546.html.”For readers who see the text version of your email, this is not visually appealing or informative. I suggest you go in and edit the text version of your message and use a link shortener, such as Bit.ly or Goo.gl to create something that looks like this: “To learn more about this story, click here: http://goo.gl/n3ZTe.” It will be a much cleaner read for your readers.
  6. Don’t embed video.
    Videos are a great way to engage your audience, and I highly recommend that you find creative ways to present your content in a video format. But, please don’t embed a video inside of an email. This will likely get your email to be marked as spam. A better approach is to use an image of one part of your video, such as the title page, and link the image to the video.
  7. Don’t use ALL CAPS.
    This one continues to baffle me. Writing in ALL CAPS is internet code for yelling or spam. I thought everyone knew that by now, but I still get at least one email a week where some portion of the email is written in ALL CAPS. If you need to highlight something exciting, choose a larger font, a different color, bold the font. Please don’t capitalize all the letters.
  8. Don’t use monster pictures.
    This is related to tip 7. While a nice, high-resolution image will look great when you display it on your 36 inch monitor, it probably doesn’t need to be in your email. Remember to shrink the image to something that’s web-ready. Leaving large images in your email could make them undeliverable if the email bumps up against file size limits. If it does make it into the inbox, the email will still take a long time to load. This can be annoying for people viewing your message on a mobile device. If you do want to offer the large, high-res version of your image, that’s great. Just create a thumbnail for your email and link to a spot where people can download the large version. That way those who want the big picture can still get it.
  9. Don’t use unprofessional fonts.
    There really is no place for Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts in professional emails. They just look silly and, depending on if people have that font installed, they may not display correctly. Personally, I prefer a nice sans serif font for emails. Something like Calibri, Arial or Verdana. But you can determine what you think looks professional and matches your brand. This also applies to using more than two different font types in one email, or using multiple colors and sizes. You want people to read your email, so make it easy on their eyes.
  10. Don’t forget etiquette.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s an email to your boss or a message you are sending to 75,000 people; following basic email etiquette will go a long way. Here is a great article that lists 25 tips for ensuring you aren’t creating an email faux pas with your messages.

I know some of you are thinking these items are pretty obvious, but you would be amazed at how many emails I get every day that violate one or more of these ‘don’ts’. If this list is basic stuff for you, then you’re probably well on your way to designing compelling emails. If you realized you violated one or more of these principles, then take some of these tips to start improving how you’re communicating with your audience. It’s never too late to start getting better. Remember, as Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

mobileI don’t need to convince you that we are in the midst of a massive shift in the way we access information. The days of desktop dominance have given way to mobile devices. This is especially true for email. With each passing month, more and more people are accessing their email on their phones and tablets. If your emails are not designed to accommodate smaller screen sizes, your readers will become frustrated with your emails and discontinue reading.

In a previous post, I talked about how to create a mobile friendly website using Responsive Design. But, what about email? What can be done about my newsletters, alerts and notices?

Responsive Design for email is not going to be the solution for everyone. First, to use Responsive Design for email, you have know how to code. You have to write CSS code that will scale and re-arrange your emails to fit on mobile devices. This is a specialized skill set that not everyone has. What if you don’t know how to write CSS? How can you make your emails look better without getting a masters degree in computer science?

Second, Responsive Design for email will only display properly on iPhones, with the built-in Apple mail client. Responsive Design currently won’t work with email apps like Gmail or Yahoo Mail. For people viewing their email on a mobile device, which pulls the content from a hosted mail server like Exchange or Lotus Notes, Responsive Design elements will not work.

So what can you do? Although more people are reading their emails on mobile devices, Responsive Design is not currently a great solution.

To get around this issue, and make things easier for you, I suggest optimizing your emails for mobile using solid scalable design principles. Scalable design uses a single column layout and grid system for alignment and proportion. If you don’t know how to set this up, or your system doesn’t allow for this, it’s easy to design your emails, in any email provider, by using some simple tricks.

So, here are my top 10 (easy) tips for making your emails work on mobile devices:

Try to keep in mind how you use your own phone or tablet to look at email. If you think through the steps you take, the fingers you use and the way your device works, it will go a long way in making your emails look good.

1) Single Column
When you put together your emails, a single column is going to work the best. Classic web design prescribes keeping as much as possible “above the fold” to catch a person’s eye. The result was web pages that got wider and wider so that more information could be at the top of the page. With mobile, wide is bad, because most mobile devices are not as large as your 24” monitor. For mobile devices, skinny and vertical is better. It’s much easier to read and scroll up and down than it is to go right and left (or worse, to zoom in and out).

2) Width
Speaking of skinny and vertical, you should reduce the width of your emails to allow for the smaller screens of mobile phones. I would suggest you keep your email width to 450px and definitely less than 600px. This will allow your email to fit nicely on most devices.

3) Text Size
Now that you have a skinny, single column email, you will need to compensate for the smaller dimensions by increasing the size of the font. I suggest you go with 14-16px for body copy and 20-26px for headers. The larger font will allow people to read your content without having to squint (or as I mentioned, the dreaded zoom in and out).

4) Shorten Content
Remember way back in point 1 when I said it’s easier to scroll up and down on a mobile device? Well there are limits. If people have to scroll for 17 minutes to get to the bottom of your email, your email is way too long. Try writing shorter, teaser summaries to your stories and then link to the full story on a landing page or your Responsively Designed website. This helps people get right to the content they want and will drive up your engagement rate. It will also help improve search engine optimization (or SEO) of your site and keep your readers happy by getting them exactly what they are interested in.

5) Buttons
While you are linking to those landing pages, get rid of simple text links and go with touch-friendly buttons instead. For most people it takes pin-point accuracy to actually click on linked text and many times we hit the wrong things if we are a little clumsy or have large fingers. Replacing those links with clickable buttons will help solve that problem; 50x50px to 75x75px should be enough to get the job done.

6) Alt Tags
When using buttons as links, make sure you are putting alt tags in place for people who have images turned off. Also, make sure the alt tags make sense to people viewing your message. Instead of the outline of your button with “mobile_button_2.png” in place of the image, why not try an alt tag that displays something like, “Click here to go to the full article. Please allow images from Central City to improve your reading experience.”

7) White Space
Even though you are using buttons for your links, remember to place ample white space between text, paragraphs, images, buttons, etc. This will help make your emails easier to read and provide more forgiveness so people don’t click the wrong thing.

8) Thumbs
The majority of people use their right hand, more specifically their right thumb to scroll and click on things. Even lefties like me scroll through emails on their phone using their right hand. So, placing your buttons on the right hand side, or in the center, of your emails will make it easier for people to click while using one hand.

9) Subject Lines
Keep your email subject lines short and sweet. Subject lines that are too long will get truncated with smaller screen sizes. I suggest 60 characters or less.

10) Test, Test, Test
Just like a pool, it pays to test the waters before diving right in. Send a test email to several different email clients and look at them on several different devices of varying sizes. You will be amazed at how different one email can look. Try to find a design that looks good for all devices and email clients. If you can get that right, you can be confident that people will have a positive experience interacting with your emails.

There you have it. 10 simple tips for making your emails look great on mobile devices without using Responsive Design. If I’ve missed any you can think of, put them in the comments section below. For more great tips, check out our new white paper, “Integrating Email in Government Communications.

By Mike Bernard, Digital Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

Innovation in government is a hot topic these days. One of the ways innovation is being encouraged is through the Mayors Challenge. The Mayors Challenge, created by Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks to “celebrate the creative problem solving and incredible innovation that is happening in the city halls from coast to coast”.

Here’s how it works:

Cities from across the country, who have a population of 30,000 or more, submit an application outlining their most creative solution to a major issue within the city. For this years’ challenge, 394 cities submitted a proposal. From there, submissions are reviewed and scored by a team of judges. The top 20 finalists are then announced. Those 20 finalists take part in an intensive two-day collaborative session focused on strengthening and stretching their ideas called Idea Camp. Once the Idea Camp concludes, finalists are given a few additional months to fine tune their ideas. Final drafts of the proposals are submitted and one grand prize winner and four runners-up are selected. The grand prize winner receives $5,000,000 to implement their plan and the four runners-up receive $1,000,000 apiece.

Plans are judged on the basis of boldness of vision, strength of planning, potential for impact, and replaceability of the idea.

Finalists:

Finalists have been chosen from all across the US. Here’s the full list of the 20 finalists for this year (in alphabetical order).

  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Durham, NC
  • High Point, NC
  • Hillsboro, OR
  • Houston, TX
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Knoxville, TN
  • Lafayette, LA
  • Lexington, KY
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Providence, RI
  • St. Paul, MN
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Santa Monica, CA
  • Springfield, OR
  • Syracuse, NY

topfinalists_inpage_new

Highlights:

You might be wondering what ideas were submitted that got these fine cities to the finals. Well, allow me to highlight two examples I especially like.

High Point, NC – Offender Focused Domestic Violence Initiative “For the first time anywhere, High Point, NC is adapting the focused deterrence model to control domestic violence offenders to protect our mothers, daughters, sisters, and children, simultaneously changing the overall narrative on domestic violence.”

St. Paul, MN – Permit St. Paul “Permit Saint Paul will spur investment in our city by enabling developers, entrepreneurs, and residents to secure their licenses and permits through a user-friendly, web-based consumer portal.”

Congrats:

At GovDelivery, we love it when government organizations think outside the box by leveraging great ideas, technology, community partnerships and lots of hard work. Congratulations to all the finalists and good luck on winning.

Check out summaries of all the finalists for 2013 and winners from years past. What they’ve submitted might spur on innovation within your organization. Finally, be on the lookout for the winners being announced next quarter.

 

Responsive Design – The Future is Here

December 10th, 2012 | Posted by Mike Bernard for GovDelivery in Compelling Content | E-Government | Government 2.0 | Usability | Web/Tech - (2 Comments)

If you haven’t heard of Responsive Design yet, you will soon enough. Responsive Design is a new way of dealing with the multitude of devices people are using to view digital content. Responsive Design uses the functionality of CSS3, combined with Unobtrusive JavaScript, to provide an optimal viewing experience across multiple viewing platforms (desktop monitors, ultrabooks, tablets and mobile phones) for websites, blogs and email.

So far, Responsive Design has not been adopted by very many government organizations yet, but as new websites are designed, more and more will be adopting Responsive Design.

Three great examples of what I’m talking about:

1) Here is how Michigan’s homepage looks on my desktop:

Michigan web

And here’s how it looks on my phone:

Michigan Screen shot

2) Rhode Island looks great on a desktop

Rhode Island Web

And on mobile

Rhode Island Mobile Site

3) This very blog uses Responsive Design. Here’s how it looks on a mobile phone

GovDelivery Blog

Two main elements that make up Responsive Design

1) CSS3 Elements

Responsive-Designed sites use the most contemporary CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) design elements to adjust the layout of your digital content to the appropriate screen size. These apply to web content as well as email.  Here’s how Wikipedia explains them:

  • Media queries allow the page to use different CSS style rules based on characteristics of the device the site is being displayed on, most commonly the width of the browser.
  • The fluid grid concept calls for page element sizing to be in relative units like percentages or EMs, rather than absolute units like pixels or points.
  • Flexible images are also sized in relative units (up to 100%), so as to prevent them from displaying outside their containing element.

Basically, to summarize, instead of creating absolute sizes for items, you size them in relation to size of the browser displaying your content. So, instead of setting a table to be 700 pixels wide within a 1,000 pixel web page, you set the table to 70% of the width of the browser. On your desktop, that would be 700 and 1,000 but on your smart phone that might be 350 and 500. You get the idea.

2) Unobtrusive JavaScript Elements

Unobtrusive JavaScript is a new concept that doesn’t have a consistent, agreed upon set definition yet, but it’s generally accepted that there are 2 main components. (This gets a little more technical, so I will try to summarize how Wikipedia lays it out.) Unresponisve JavaScript applies to web content only. Putting JavaScript in email is a no-no!:

  • Separating the JavaScript from HTML – keep JavaScript independent of other code. Think keeping all your JavaScript in a separate area and not inline with your HTML.
  • How the JavaScript “degrades” – Content should be available without all of the JavaScript running successfully and the JavaScript should improve the HTML. When there are instances of people using an unusual browser configuration, things will still render.

So what do I do with all this and why should I care?

Excellent question to ask, especially for the non-tech-nerds, reading this. There are 4 main reasons Responsive Design is the way of the future:

1) We all know smart phone adoption is going to continue to grow in years to come. The same is true of tablets and any other yet to be invented digital technology. As the screen size variations begin to reach exponential numbers, it will become impossible to design digital content that work well on all the different variations without Responsive Design. So, you can either go with Responsive Design or have a website, blog or email that looks good on one platform and horrible on all the others. Also, since your one site works on all platforms, you don’t need to maintain completely separate mobile sites, saving your web team time and money.

2) The Federal Digital Government Strategy lays out several initiatives that Federal agencies will have to meet. Nearly all of the initiatives have a component of increased accessibility for mobile platforms. And, as goes the Federal Government, so goes the rest of government.

3) Responsive Design is a great tool to allow you to have nice looking digital content and still remain 508 compliant. Gone are the days of needing to sacrifice design for accessibility. With Responsive Design, everyone can enjoy the benefits of a great website or email.

4) It helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Since you site looks better and is easier to navigate with Responsive Design, people are less likely to leave right away and will spend more time browsing your content. That directly translates to reduced bounce rates and increased time-on-site metrics. If they are leaving less and spending more time your site, it gives you more time to get them to sign up receive your content in the future, thus converting them from browsing into some you can engage. Finally, having a completely separate mobile version of your site could be seen as having duplicate content on your site, something search engines really frown upon.

I’m sure there are several other benefits I’m missing out on but this is enough to get you thinking. When it comes time to redesign that website, make sure start with Responsive Design from the get go. Otherwise it might be extremely painful to come back in after your site is finished and retrofit Responsive Design techniques.

Speaking of Responsive Design, check out this short video of GovLoop Founder and President, Steve Ressler, talking about how Responsive Design in being implemented in the Federal government.

Steve Ressler talks about the Digital Government Initiative from GovDelivery on Vimeo.

About a decade ago, Malcolm Gladwell published his bestselling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.  In the book, Gladwell says, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” He categorizes these people into the following:

  1. The Connectors – those in a community whom knows large numbers of people and is great at connecting all these people together.
  2. The Mavens – these are the information specialists. They accumulate knowledge and love to share it with others.
  3. The Salesmen – these are the persuaders, the charismatic people who know how to get you to buy into an idea.

If you can get these three kinds of people to connect with an idea, you can create a tipping point, or a point at which the idea begins to be widely adopted by the general public.

I’ve known several of each of these kinds of people throughout my life, but it’s extremely rare to find all three strengths in one person. The only person I’ve ever met who has all 3 of these rare social gifts is Steve Ressler, President and Founder of GovLoop.

In this short interview, Ressler shares his vision for using social media in government and highlights the excellent work being done with APIs that are being used in exciting new ways.

Check out what this Connector-Maven-Salesmen has to say about technology trends within the government.

Want to change the world? – Moving from design to Design Thinking

December 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Mike Bernard for GovDelivery in Compelling Content | Government 2.0 - (3 Comments)

I think we can all agree that we have some pretty big problems we need to solve in the world today. Climate change, the fiscal cliff, healthcare improvements, poverty, clean drinking water, and global pandemics are all massive issues governments across the globe need to solve. There’s smaller scale issues that need a lot of thought to be solved as well. How do we get everyone in the state vaccinated? We need a new bridge across the river but don’t have the tax revenues to pay for it. How do we move more people to using online systems rather than relying on in-person visits? All are extremely complex issues that necessitate innovative thinking.

The emerging field of Design Thinking can shed some light on how organizations can begin thinking differently about complex issues.

Wikipedia states that Design Thinking “is a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking, that starts with the goal or what is meant to be achieved instead of starting with a certain problem. Then, by focusing on the present and the future, the parameters of the problem and the resolutions are explored, simultaneously. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions.”

When dealing with a massive problem like climate change or trying to build a bridge with little money, you begin by breaking the problem down into manageable problems such as “How can we increase recycling by 75% over the next year?” or “What are the economic implications of building or not building a new bridge?” Then, you can use design thinking as you attack the problems:

  1. Decide what issue you are trying to resolve
  2. Research what’s been done in the past and ask end users for input
  3. Generate as many ideas as possible to address the identified needs
  4. Create multiple prototypes, refining each iteration as you go
  5. After reviewing the issue you were trying to resolve, select the best ideas
  6. Put the plan into action
  7. Gather feedback on how well your solution worked

In a recent TED Talk video, Tim Brown states that Design Thinking can help you “Exploit opposing ideas and opposing constraints to create new solutions” or in other words, balancing Desirability (what people want), Viability (does it make economic sense) and Feasibility (what is technologically possible).

In times where we’re facing great challenges, we need new alternatives, new ideas. We need new choices because our existing systems are obsolete. Design Thinking provides a system to begin solving our great problems.

To hear more about Design Thinking, check out this video of Little Bets author, Peter Sims talking about using design thinking to solve challenging problems.

Peter Sims design

What issues are you facing in your job that could benefit from shifting to Design Thinking? How might you begin implementing Design Thinking in your job this week?