A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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While social media has the potential to be a great add-on tool for customer service (communicating with the public through Twitter opens up possibilities for immediate interactions) most U.K. organisations are not using Twitter for direct stakeholder interactions. In fact, even though the majority of U.K. organisations have a Twitter account, only about a third of them are using those accounts to reply directly to customers. The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study compared 100 private sector U.K. companies’ response rates and consistency of response through email, Twitter, and their website. Not all channels proved to be equally effective.

Of the companies evaluated, 76% had a Twitter account. While companies were active in posting content, only 53% responded to questions tweeted at them. Of those responses, only 39% provided a useful response. Many organisations can become focused solely on sharing content on social media, but fail at responding to consumer inquiries. In such a public forum, managing complaints and stakeholder interactions can eat up a lot of time, and mismanaging or missing responses might mean you’re one hashtag away from an angry throng of followers.

Photo from Econsultancy

Photo from Econsultancy

So how can you avoid these issues and better respond and serve your customers online? Email.

How Email Helps

Email continues to be the most effective and thorough avenue for customer service. While some may complain about the response time, 41% of questions were answered thoroughly through email. However, of the tested companies, 29% were not at all reachable by email. This statistic is alarming, considering that email was the most successful in handling digital customer service inquiries. Take the time to put a general inquiry email address on your Twitter page or respond to social media requests with your email address to take the discussion to a channel where you can respond with more detail to keep your customers happy and engaged.

Another surprising statistics from this study was that the average wait time for a response over email was a whopping 61 hours and 39 minutes. Imagine the success that could be found by cutting this time in half.

Website Self-Service

Website interaction, similar to email, is another effective channel for communication. Of those surveyed, 63% of questions asked directly on websites were answered, up from 53% the previous year. The jump in questions answered has been credited to better self-service tactics—like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) pages.

 It is important to be diligent in giving accurate, timely, and thorough responses to public inquiries. Email will give you the most efficient platform to answer a variety of questions, from short, simple inquiries to more detailed situations. Additionally, you can keep customers engaged with your organisation by offering options to subscribe to email updates on their topics of interest. If using Twitter as a social media tool, be sure to not only post news and content, but also respond to all inquiries, even if it’s to direct social media inquiries to your customer service email team or the frequently asked questions page on your blog or website. Being consistent across all mediums will leave your public informed and engaged.

Is your organisation using Twitter or other social media channels for customer service inquiries? How are you structuring that today, and is there a team of individuals responsible? Let us know how your organisation is handling its customer service management in the comments below.

Lowering local crime rates is the goal of every law enforcement agency, but it’s not an easy goal to achieve. Local police departments create crime tip phone lines; however, calling isn’t always the best option to report crimes. And in this more digital world, many citizens prefer to use channels they’re already using. For this reason, Stearns County Sheriff’s department decided to use the power of email to increase citizen engagement. infographic_th_stearnscounty

Stearns County Sheriff’s implemented new digital communication strategies in order to increase crime tips from the community and increase the number of citizens communicating with the Sheriff’s office.

Stearns County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a way to strengthen communication between the department and the community. Its overall objective was to reduce crime by offering the community more ways to provide timely information to aid in the efficient prevention and solving of crimes. According to MarketingProfs, 88 percent of marketers believe that email provides a substantial ROI – and because of high success rates like these – Stearns County Sheriff’s office decided that email was its best bet in lowering crime rates with communications.

Strategies for Improved Communication

To reach the objectives set forth by the sheriff’s department, GovDelivery worked out a few digital communication strategies. By using a combination of SMS/text messaging and emails, GovDelivery projected that Stearns Country could:

  • expand its outreach;
  • increase its visibility;
  • grow its audience;
  • and empower citizens.

To assist the department in reaching these objectives, GovDelivery designed an email template that was mobile-optimized and user-friendly. This email template consistently reminded citizens that they could and should submit a tip every time they received an email from the Sheriff’s Office. It also enabled citizens to quickly submit tips instead of calling in or reporting the tips in person.

Final Results

After implementing the plan set forth by GovDelivery, Stearns County Sheriff’s Office saw an increase in the number of tips submitted by 533%! The majority of tips were coming from email (57%) as opposed to social media (2%) or phone calls (16%).*

Email and SMS/text message marketing are powerful tools to help government organizations reach their mission goals. Other significant findings from Stearns County Sheriff’s Office use of digital communications to achieve its crime reduction goals are summarized in the Stearns County: Power of Email Infographic, available for download here.

*Total tips does not account for tips submitted directly to detectives or submitted via phone to a source that was not tracked.

88% of marketers believe that email marketing does or will produce a return on investment (ROI) for their organization, according to a recent MarketingProfs article. According to the same article, nearly two-thirds of marketers surveyed also say that email is at the core of their business. eMail-Winner

With the steady attention to emerging social media platforms and every other conceivable technological method of digitally reaching the most people, email hasn’t always had a good reputation. In fact, it’s often slammed as “outdated” or even “dead” in both the private and public sector communication worlds. So what do these 88% of marketers know to give them such confidence in the benefits of email?

The answer is pretty simple, email marketing works.

Through the data, the significant impact (and low cost) of sending email to compel stakeholders to act is pretty clear. This article from McKinsey & Company states the reason email is still such a huge portion of digital communications from the viewpoint of the stats:

“E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined…That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.”

Email clearly has the ability to encourage stakeholder engagement and action. So how do you tailor your emails to influence the behavior that will benefit your organization’s mission and see the kind of results these studies are seeing? Here are a few tips to think about when developing your email strategy in the public sector.

Email is only the first step

According to McKinsey & Company, “e-mail is merely the first click (literally) in a consumer’s decision journey. The e-mail is part of a series of interactions with a brand, and marketers should be just as obsessed with where an e-mail sends the user.”

As a public sector communicator, you should make email an integral working part of your digital communications engine. Instead of just sending out one-off emails announcing upcoming events, interesting articles, or other programs, make sure to think about the next step in your stakeholder’s “digital journey.” Ensure that the landing pages or resources you’re sending them to are what was described in the email—don’t trick or surprise the stakeholders into clicking to a page they weren’t interested in. You can also move them along their digital communications journey quicker by providing links to similar information, sign-ups to receive alerts from your organization, and so on. Finally, make sure stakeholders are able to access the landing page or resource from any device they’re using by optimizing your website with responsive design. If your stakeholders can’t access the content, they’re unlikely to return to the site again, according to McKinsey & Company.

Learn along the Way

The beauty of sending email is the massive amount of data you can glean from your stakeholders through it. You can learn what type of design will encourage them to participate in your organization mission, when they’re more likely to respond to your messages, what information they’re most interested in, and the list goes on. Don’t ignore the analytics from your email messages, constantly review them so you can continue to improve upon your campaigns to see better engagement and results.

Tailor to your Audience

You’re likely not the only organization sending an email to your stakeholders. So, tailoring your message to ensure it’s relevant to your audience is a no-brainer. Take advantage of the information you’ve gleaned from your email analytics to personalize your messages according to your stakeholders’ actions and preferences. Giving them the type of message they want in the way they want it is a surefire way to ensure your message is read in a crowded inbox.

Is email a top priority at your organization? What’s your strategy to ensure you get the most out of the emails you send to your stakeholders? Comment below!

Which messages coming from the public sector made the greatest impact in 2013? What topics saw increased interest from the public? Which government organizations reached more people than ever by networking with their peers?

Our year-in-review digital communications reports take a look at the 6 billion messages sent out by government organizations to sum up some of the best in public sector communications. In 2013, over 1,000 government organizations directly reached more than 60 million people (that’s 20 million more people than last year) through digital communications. Take a look at the sneak peek below of some of the top messages sent to these millions of people or check out the full reports hereInfographic sneak peek

State and Local Trending TopicsIn state and local government messages, the outdoors, legislature, local employers, and energy effi­ciency were hot topics among people signing up to receive information from organizations.

Federal Citizen/Customer EngagementAmong federal agency communications, the Securities & Exchange Commission, FoodSafety.gov, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Justice, and the Veterans Health Administration saw some of the highest message engagement with their constituents.

UK & Europe Messages that the Public SharedIn UK and Europe communications, vehicle taxes and recalls, Mars, energy efficiency, and weather related messages were shared the most by the public with their friends.

Want to see more trends from public sector communicators and their audiences in 2013? Check out our infographics page for the full reports: http://bit.ly/GD-infographics.

After reading through what may have been my hundredth list of government communications, social media, and technology predictions for the new year, I came across one prediction that warranted a break in my obsessive trend reading: “numbers no longer matter.”

In the Huffington Post’s list of 12 social media predictions in 2014, author Penny C. Sansevieri says:

“There was a time when we all clamored for a huge number of followers… Now it seems that while big numbers are great, engagement is better.… Think of it this way, what if you were speaking to a huge crowd of people but they all fell asleep during your presentation. Rude? Maybe. But also perhaps an indicator that you need to be more engaging or, at the very least say something to keep them from falling asleep.”Numbers

This prediction doesn’t tell the whole story in the public sector, where the number of people you reach with a message can have a profound impact on citizens’ lives. Government communicators work to reach the maximum amount of people with important messages—like to take shelter from a winter storm. The number of people following or subscribing to that organization to get notifications on that impending snow storm is incredibly important, as is how many of those people go on to engage with that message by forwarding, retweeting, or sharing it.

So, to better apply Penny’s observation in the public sector, I suggest this update: numbers are no longer the only things that matter. Citizen engagement and interaction with your messages has a direct impact on whether you as a government communicator can reach your organization’s mission goals. One of your most important tasks is to inspire action in citizens. Whether it’s to get a flu shot, complete a tax form, or file for a fishing license, citizen engagement with your organization’s messages is crucial to meeting mission goals. You can’t achieve these mission goals if citizens don’t engage with the messages that encourage participation in your programs. (But again, you also can’t complete your mission goals if citizens never hear from you in the first place.)

So how do you increase engagement with the messages your organizations sends and posts so as the article says, “you keep [your audience] from falling asleep”? Here are a few engagement tips:

  1. Keep your message clear, brief and interesting. It’s more likely to be read and engaging for readers when they don’t need a dictionary on hand to understand what you’re saying. Check out this post on fighting jargon in your organization for guidelines on writing in a more plainspoken style and this top 7 Reach the Public post on writing creative, engaging content.
  2. Don’t ignore the analytics. Check your email, social media and website analytics often. Measure which messages see higher engagement rates and resonate more with your audience and then adjust accordingly. Make sure you’re sending out the type and style of content your audience wants, instead of just the content you want them to have. Read through this post on analytics and segmentation for more tips.
  3. Optimize for multiple platforms. There’s no easier way to make stakeholders ignore your messages than to not allow them to read it. Optimizing your emails and websites so that stakeholders can read your messages on desktop or mobile devices is imperative to ensuring you’re providing the opportunity for engagement. Check out these tips on optimizing your website  and emails with responsive designs to accommodate every platform your audience may be reading your messages on.

Do you have any additional tips for optimizing engagement? Do you agree that numbers are no longer the only things that matter? Comment below!

By Michael Bayliss-Brown, Public Sector Sales Consultant

How the Ministry of Defence (MoD) can streamline digital communications to engage the public, increase efficiency, improve effectiveness and achieve cost savings.

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Guardian recently hosted a live chat regarding digital transformation at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to uncover the innovation, transparency and citizen engagement at work within the walls of Whitehall. Jon Thompson, permanent under secretary for the MoD, said before the chat: “Defence has long enjoyed digital pre-eminence in the battle space, but we have lagged behind in the way we exploit digital to make our business more efficient and effective”.

This is not the first time you’ll hear government referred to as “a business”. Government and industry leaders recognise the need for a solid business case and process underpinning their digital communications strategies at both the central and local government levels.

According to Liz Azyan, Digital Strategist and Social Media Marketing Consultant, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is setting an excellent example of putting users first with its business tax dashboard:

 Giving small business customers the ability to perform several transactions with the department on a single platform and providing them with the tools and library of information that they need to complete those transactions, puts the customer first. It’s supporting users in a way that says, ‘We care and we want to help you in the best way we can’. And sometimes for users, that’s the best type of support you can ask for – the visibility of thought and care to their needs and also, the ability to give feedback to improve”.

Roger Hutton, director defence strategy and digital leader at the Ministry of Defence stated:

We’re now (as it says in Digital in Defence) concentrating on better understanding the user requirement, developing digital awareness among the department’s senior leadership and skills across its workforce, re-examining our principal interfaces with citizens (particularly for veterans and potential recruits) and improving ICT capabilities for business delivery.”

Currently MoD is leveraging a variety of innovative communication channels to engage with audiences inside and outside the department. Social media is enabling the digital team to quickly gauge public sentiment on subjects and provide important material via new mediums, like photography and video.

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful communications channel, and digital teams should leverage that channel to reach the public. However, according to a Pew Research survey in the U.S., email is the most popular online activity for adults, so it should be the channel of choice for government organisations, complemented by social networking sites.

MoD would benefit from observing the digital technology already in use in other departments as a blueprint for its own digital programme. Many government organisations are solving users’ challenges by simply enabling citizens and stakeholders to receive information proactively and allowing them to subscribe to news that is relevant to their daily lives.

According to Liz Azyan, sharing with and learning from digital leaders at other departments is necessary for government to thrive in a digital environment. During the discussion, panellists cited HMRC and Norfolk County Council as examples of digital transformation at the central and local levels. While local authorities tend to focus on increasing external customer engagement and reducing the cost of that engagement, both central government and local authorities are leveraging technology to engage the public, enhance customer satisfaction, and achieve cost savings using online channels.

According to OFCOM, UK’s independent regulator and competition authority for communication industries, 94 percent of adults own or use a mobile phone, while 55 percent of adults with home internet use social networking.  It’s tempting to assume that social networking sites will ensure engagement with citizens. However, a more effective tactic for reaching and engaging internal employees and the public would be a hybrid approach, utilising direct email and social media to proactively connect with audiences.

A Pew Research survey in the US found that 92 percent of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web, including 59 percent who do so on a typical day. Among online adults, 92 percent use email, with 61 percent using email on an average day. Since the Pew Internet Project began measuring adults’ online activities in the last decade, these two behaviours have consistently ranked as the most popular. Even as early as 2002, more than nine in ten online adults were emailing.

Over 60 UK government organisations at the central and local levels are leveraging GovDelivery’s digital platform; successfully cross-promoting services and news across various departments and geographies. Organisations are able to provide a resident in Southampton, Norwich or Devon the option of subscribing to Met Office, HMRC, Department of Health, or GOV.UK alerts. These government organisations are streamlining communications to integrate with websites, social media and SMS channels and allowing the public to access messages and updates at their convenience. Nearly three million UK residents currently subscribe to government news via GovDelivery alerts. If MOD were able to tap into this existing network, it would help to expand its reach, complement existing communications efforts, and increase engagement.

If MoD can focus on delivering digital services that put users’ needs at the heart of its mission—making it easier, quicker and more efficient for the public to engage and connect—then it would be doing the public and other government departments a huge service.

Good government communicators are chameleons. As communicators, you adapt quickly and effectively to changing situations every day, whether it’s internal (like last minute change to an email campaign) or external (like Chameleonthe recent government shutdown). You adapt as needed to engage the public amidst changing legislation, budgets and projects. But how well does your organization adapt to developing trends in digital marketing? The journey to digitize government organizations is not always a quick & easy fix, nor is it the same for every organization. It’s important to remember that going digital isn’t a static process. There is no beginning and end, only a beginning and continuous improvements. We at GovDelivery strive to help make that ongoing process as smooth and painless as possible for you. By reviewing some of the latest private sector digital marketing trends, we weed out what’s likely to stick versus what you can ignore, so you can more efficiently push your organization’s communications with smarter, forward-looking decisions.

So what should you look into incorporating in your evolving digital communications strategy? We took a look at one of the trends highlighted in Epsilon’s Email Trends & Benchmark Report: the rise of the “triggered message.”

Incorporating the  “triggered message” in your communications strategy

What’s a triggered message? Sometimes called a transactional message, it’s an automated message sent out to a recipient. You probably get them all the time from private sector organizations (online receipts, registration confirmations, birthday coupons, etc). But transactional messages are very powerful in the public sector as well. Take, for example, property tax statements. Since tax statements contain very specific information, sending a mass communication without personalized information would not be beneficial to the end recipient, but printing and mailing that individualized information is expensive and time-consuming.

That’s where the transactional message comes in. With advances in technology, you can easily personalize communications that are either triggered by an action (i.e. you request a change in your license and you receive a confirmation of your request) or by a deadline (i.e. your property taxes are due and you can pay them online through a secure portal.) Robust communications platforms can pull pertinent information from your internal database or system and send out a personalized message to the recipient with their information.

Ultimately, triggered or transactional messages simplify communications that used to take days and lots of stamps. Plus, by moving these kinds of communications online, your organization can track whether the citizen or your stakeholder received and opened the email to ensure deliverability.

It’s not hard to see why these targeted messages would increase click-through rates for the recipient—it’s personalized, relevant and engaging information. If you’re interested in learning more about the robust opportunities for government organizations using transactional messaging, download this white paper.

Overall, by adapting to the trends you see in the wider email marketing world, as well as those trends you measure in your own organization, you enable your organization to develop a communications strategy that better reaches citizens. As citizen needs and expectations evolve in an ever-changing public sector landscape, government organizations should be willing to shift strategies to better reach citizens.

Does your organization use triggered messages to make your digital communications more efficient? Let us know in the comments below.

As the year winds down there’s a collective holiday season frenzy nearly everywhere you look: a Christmas tree here, a holiday sale there, and gingerbread lattes everywhere. In the public sector, the holiday season brings a loftier goal than simply selling more trees and lattes—communicating with citizens to keep them safe and informed. Along with peppermint flavored everything and Santa hats galore, the holiday season brings often dangerous situations like winter weather storms or cooking fires. Even office closures for holiday hours need to be communicated to lessen inconveniences. Many organizations also lead holiday specific activities in their communities. Whether vital information or a little more lighthearted, government organizations have a busy communications calendar this time of year.

Many organizations are not only communicating this important information with citizens, but communicating it really, really well. By taking some principles from the private sector into their digital communications, organizations are not only spreading the word on important or fun public information, but also creating messages that are timely, interesting and festive!

Some of the guidelines we’ve seen our government clients follow in their holiday communications include:

  • Creating engaging content that is easily shareable
  • Using interesting, seasonal, highly visual graphics
  • Capitalizing on the “theme” of the season to make the message relevant

We’ve compiled a few of the many great holiday emails going out from government organizations this season. Take a look and feel free to share your favorite seasonal government communications in the comments below. And of course, Happy Holidays!

CDC florida fish and wildlife Indiana SBA

Building a successful government communications plan has never been a simple task. In the digital age, it’s become increasingly difficult for citizens to receive your messages, considering the constant noise surrounding them. Content development is one of the many strategies in a government communicator’s digital toolbox that helps to capture more of these distracted citizens. But where do you start? How do you create engaging content that is not only interesting and relevant, but gets more citizens listening to you as a top-notch resource?

That’s just part of what we cover in the Essential Digital Skills Guide for Government Communicators. Read on to learn how to get started with a content strategy that helps you tailor your communications to grow and maintain your audience, or you can skip straight to the source and read the full guidebook by downloading it here.

BP_digskills

First…Spice It Up
When you’re providing new topics and feeds, make sure you stick to topics that are interesting and relevant to your citizens. Cover topics that your citizens are concerned with, like local emergencies, breaking news, road closures and so on. The better your topics fit the interests and needs of your citizens, the easier it is for them to connect why they should sign up to receive messages from you.

Tailor It
Give your citizens some power over the content you produce. Ensure that your subscription experience is personalized to each citizen. Have a list of preferences that subscribers can check off to show where their particular interests are so that you deliver exactly the content they want. Make sure you keep the option to tailor subscriptions available and advertised to your subscribers throughout their relationship with your organization. This tactic will ensure that your messages are always up-to-date with your citizens’ most current needs.

Analyze It
What is working in your content strategy? Which topics are the most compelling for your subscribers? Which ones are the least? By taking a little time to look at the analytics behind the scenes of your posts you can determine where your sweet spot of content delivery is—and expand on that messaging or rework your other posts to apply to a wider citizen base.

Multiply It
Develop multiple ways for citizens to sign up for a feed or alert (and then personalize it). While it’s great to promote each piece of content, you do not want to forget to broadcast the “big picture”—your actual feeds and subscription options. By offering sign up opportunities in as many places as possible, you will unearth more engaged citizens who are interested in your topics.

Deliver It
Similar to providing multiple places and options for citizens to subscribe to your feed, you also need to provide multiple options for citizens to actually receive the content. Whether that’s sending emails, text messages or social media updates, make sure you deliver the message through multiple channels to amplify it. That way you won’t lose any subscribers if they only prefer one method of communication over another.

By expanding on these five guidelines to establish a content strategy, you will direct the attention of engaged citizens on the important collection of content your organization is producing. If you’re interested in learning more about the next steps to cultivate the skills and strategies in your digital toolbox, then download the Essential Digital Skills Guide for Government Communicators here.

 

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