A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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There are a lot of things in life we can’t control: traffic, the weather, our father-in-law’s Thanksgiving toast. All this lack of control can sometimes leave a person feeling a little, well, helpless. As much as Hollywood likes to romanticize a free-spirited approach to life (see the “manic  pixie dream girl” trope), in reality, being subject to the whims of rush hour, mother nature, or how many brewskis pop-in-law decides to down before making his speech isn’t exactly a party. So when something comes along in life that we can control, why wouldn’t we jump on the opportunity to seize it? Sign pole social media

You may have heard about the recent changes Twitter made to its Direct Messaging service that now prevents users from sending links via Direct Message that aren’t from Twitter, Instagram, Google or Facebook. While there have been some high-profile examples in recent years of companies back-tracking on a change in response to overwhelming user demand (remember the Netflix/Qwikster disaster of 2011?); for the most part, changes stick whether users like them or not. But even if your agency’s communications won’t necessarily be negatively impacted by this new Direct Message debacle, the larger point remains: why give up control to social media companies when you don’t have to?

While there’s some speculation about the reason for this change, its potential impact on private sector businesses and public sector organizations is undoubtedly negative. Many government agencies on Twitter use Direct Messages to personally reply to Followers with links guiding them to the agency website for more information or an answer to their question. Without the ability to include links in Direct Messages, an agency’s power to effectively connect with its stakeholders and drive traffic to its site can be significantly diminished. With the exception of a few changes in the past few years, compared to Facebook, Twitter’s platform has stayed relatively static since its launch in 2006. But for all those businesses and organizations that have come to rely on Twitter as a stable channel of communication, this recent change to Direct Messaging serves as a harsh reminder: when you rely solely on social media for your communications, you’re effectively giving up control.

Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the other wonderful social media channels out there have overwhelmingly changed the way government communicates with the public for good. They’ve given government agencies the chance to put a more personal face on their brand and connect with stakeholders when and how stakeholders want to connect. But although these channels can be an incredibly powerful part of the communications cocktail, they were always meant to be a supplementary ingredient, never the entire cocktail itself. Organizations that don’t have channels like email and SMS at the core of their communications plan run the risk of having their entire strategy disrupted at the click of a Twitter executive’s mouse. That’s why we recommend all of our GovDelivery clients focus on building a multi-channel approach to communications; one that retains agency control over stakeholder connection by putting email and SMS at the foundation of the strategy, with social media channels as additional channels to feed the foundation.

By moving the instability of social media from the core of your communications cocktail to a garnish on top that complements your email and SMS messaging, you remove the unknown factor from your communications plan and maintain greater control over your content. And in a world of such rapidly evolving digital landscapes, even your father-in-law would agree that that’s something to be thankful for.

 

BusLiving in a metropolitan area, I ride the bus and other major transportation a lot. It’s convenient, cheap and a great way to escape the cold Minnesota winters for a few blocks. And it also happens to be a good model for optimizing a successful digital communications strategy in government. Think about a bus route for a minute. It’s easy to find bus stops—they have consistent signs in close proximity to one other. Buses usually don’t stop every few feet to get to a destination, they have well-placed stops spread out throughout their routes. And they keep running that route over and over again so you know exactly where to hop back on again.

Like a bus, you want to make it as easy and convenient as possible for your stakeholders to find your stop (or organization), go through the route (communication sign-up process), and return for another ride (engage with your organization). With small budgets and large audiences, government organizations are under a lot of pressure for their digital communication efforts to be a smooth, fast ride. So how do you optimize your digital communications process along each stop to make sure you’re building and retaining an audience for your communications?

1: How Citizens Find Your Bus

You can’t ride the bus if you can’t find the bus stop. Similarly, stakeholders won’t engage with your organization if they can’t find you (or don’t notice you) in the first place. In the article, “3 Ways to Supercharge Online Marketing Returns,” author Neal Cabage says organizations need to look at a few metrics to increase marketing effectiveness, including:

“Is your message resonating? … If not, try different versions … until you find a winning combination. Try different messaging, images (if applicable), and targeting (keywords, devices, demographics). Cull whatever isn’t working as you add new testing scenarios and you’ll eventually realize significant improvements.”

While Cabage’s advice is specific to online advertising in private companies, it also extends to a broader communications strategy in government. Try out different types and themes of content on your website, blog, email, and social media. Then, measure where subscribers come to you from so you can optimize your content to what will drive activity.

2: Limit the Number of Distractions

Imagine how frustrating it would be to ride a bus that stopped every 20 feet, or circled every block before continuing on. Similarly, when you grab a stakeholder’s attention to your message, you don’t want to make it difficult for them to sign up to receive communications from you, register for an event, or any action you want them to take. Cabage suggests to,

“Think in terms of trying to guide kindergarteners on a straight line from point A to point B and you have the basic idea: remove all distractions and tell them clearly what you want them to do.”

This might mean putting a newsletter sign up button on the top of your webpage and keeping that registration page simple and streamlined. In the GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM) platform, newsletter sign-up pages deliberately feature only one call-to-action (a box for the subscriber’s email) on a clean, basic webpage to limit distractions. Decreasing the steps to sign up for more information from your organization increases the likelihood that the reader will subscribe.

3: Keep Running the Same Route

It wouldn’t be any fun if the bus decided to drive different routes on a whim. You want to make the campaigns that attract new subscribers consistent so they know what to expect from you and where. You also want to make the messages you send to your subscribers consistent for the same reasons. In the private sector, Cabage says that “the net revenue potential of an existing customer is roughly double that of a new customer.” The same rule applies to the public sector; it’s easier to keep your existing subscribers engaged in your organization mission than start at the beginning and move new subscribers through the process. Your communication strategy should contain consistent messaging with a balance between attracting new subscribers and retaining current subscribers with relevant, engaging content.

As you optimize each of these areas in your communications bus route, each tactic will start to build on the next to amplify the results you see from your digital communication campaigns. Do you have any tips or tricks on how to optimize successful communication strategies? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re on a mission to grow your subscriber base – and many in government are – this is the post for you!   Recently, ReturnPath published a report showing trends that may help you avoid some subscriber list pitfalls. These trends were culled from private sector email marketing, and with as much as you need to do on a daily basis, it can be hard to keep up with your day-to-day responsibilities and private sector trends. So, we’ve culled a few important trends to note and provided some public sector insight that can help you make these trends works for you.

Personal Information Requests and Subscription Confirmations Are Down

ReturnPath looked at email trends in 2008 and then again in 2013. In 2008, ReturnPath employees signed up for subscriptions to 61 brands, and then later unsubscribed. Initially, nearly half of the brands asked for postal addresses and additional information from subscribers. Today, one-third of the same brands ask for an email address only. For those asking for additional information, they’re pretty happy with a name and zip code.

checkSimilarly, today fewer brands are asking the person signing up to confirm their subscription, also known as a double opt-in, which was more of a standard practice in 2008.

For many government organizations that gather email addresses from stakeholders, asking only for an email address or wireless number for SMS/text alerts is completely in line with how the private sector is handling subscriptions.

Going a step further and asking for a zip code or name allows you to personalize and geo-target your messages. If you do ask for more information, whether that’s a zip code or name or something else, make sure that it’s an optional request. The key is to not bombard someone with a multitude of questions, as they will be much more likely to abandon the process.

Welcome Messages Increase; First Message Delivered in One Week Ideal

Another area that has seen a lot of change in the past five years is the welcome message.  Today, 80% of brands (up 40% since 2008) send a welcome message after a subscriber hits submit, and the vast majority of welcome messages are sent within two or three days.

ReturnPath also reported seeing a new trend in “first message” confirmations or receipts. Today, once a subscriber signs up to an email list, most marketers send their first message within a week, which tends to cut down on spam complaints, while those who wait two weeks to send the first message get more complaints.

For public sector organizations, the welcome message and first message trends show people who subscribe to receive email or SMS updates from your organization want to receive information quickly. You should provide a triggered welcome message as soon as a new subscriber signs up, thanking them for providing their email address.

Then make sure that you send them a message that’s relevant to their interests a week after they signed up. Brands that made a special offer in their first message outperformed their peers, so consider the content of your first message. Try offering an action for your subscriber to take (for example, to register for an event or to learn more about programs or initiatives that are going on within your organization), or using this initial opportunity to highlight your top content.

Increased Frequency

trendOne thing marketers spend considerable time thinking about is the frequency of message delivery. While you might think you’re bombarding subscribers with messages too often, ReturnPath found that  those organizations who sent messages more than once a week had  20 percent lower spam rates  than those who sent messages just once a week.

Additionally, private sector companies that sent messages less than weekly had lower open rates.   Another practice that private sector companies used was simply to ask subscribers to add the brand or company to a whitelist or safe sender list. This also led to higher open rates.

For government organizations, if you offer email updates on a specific topic, be sure to send messages on that topic or similar topics at least weekly. Your digital communications platform should also offer the ability to send digests of content on a daily or weekly basis.

Surprisingly, in the unsubscribe arena, it was slightly less easy to opt out of email five years ago than today, but today, the number of brands that take subscribers off their lists within the 10-day limit has grown to nearly 95 percent from 89 percent in 2008.

Here, too, government organizations should always offer a way for stakeholders to unsubscribe. Best practices show that having a standard footer with an “Unsubscribe” link is critical. Also, allowing stakeholders to visit a page that gives them control of unsubscribing to specific topics versus your entire organization’s list gives your audience the power to continue receiving information based on their needs. For instance, if your organization helps small businesses, you should offer multiple topics that may be of interest to various business owners. But if someone is starting a business, he or she needs specific information; once the business is started, that business owner is going to need different information. Giving the owner the option to unsubscribe from one list about starting a business and offering him/her the option to subscribe to another list on managing a small business allows you to continue building your relationship with that stakeholder.

Not all private sector email marketing trends are relevant for public sector communications, but it’s important to have an idea of what’s going on in that market because citizens and stakeholders have come to expect the same kind of speed and digital agility across the board. How are you using subscriber lists and/or implementing digital communications in your organization? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

How a Police Department established an online following more than eight times the size of their city’s population

Brimsfield OH Police

It’s not every day that a small police department makes an impact in their community and across the world through digital communications, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Brimfield, Ohio. The Brimfield Police Department (PD) has a city population of only 10,000 people, and yet their Facebook page has nearly 89,000 likes. That means that an audience more than eight times the size of the town is engaged in the day-to-day communications of the local police force. This robust social media following is causing a wider effect on the town with housing up 30 percent over last year at this time. Digital communication is putting this small town, and their police department, on the map. That’s the kind of success any government communications team would dream about.

So how can you replicate the success of the Brimfield PD through your digital communications plan for social media, email messages, website updates and more? After comparing a recent interview with Brimfield police chief David Oliver with our own government clients’ communication success stories we think we have it narrowed down to three key communication principles: be consistent, be relevant and be engaging.

Be Consistent

The message I’ve always said is if you’re going to do it, do it. You have to be consistent — and we are. Between 6:30 and 7 a.m., we have a good morning message with weather and traffic and we poke fun at people with birthdays. People rely on it. If I miss it, you see the messages — “Where’s the chief today? Can’t go on without the message.” It’s been comical on that end. But the expectation of our followers has built quite a relationship. Our followers know that good news or bad news, we’re going to tell you the truth.

One of the keys to any digital communications strategy is consistency. The Brimfield PD has a social media schedule that they stick to every day. They post entertaining “good morning” messages with daily updates about the town. The police chief also posts up-to-date information with the latest news (good or bad) from the police department.

The positive impact of consistent content scheduling is clear: by posting frequently on social media, sending out regular newsletters, or routinely updating online content, your followers will know exactly when and where to expect information from you—increasing the odds that they will see your messages. Additionally, by consistently updating these digital channels you provide more opportunities to drive traffic to your website and your information.

Be Relevant

I think like a citizen instead of like a police chief. After almost 20 years on this job, one of the things I see are public officials who tend to think from the perspective of their responsibilities instead of thinking about Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane who wants to know why she’s hearing sirens. If a huge crash delays traffic, I can post what to use as a detour. We’re becoming an information-now society. People don’t want to wait until the 6 p.m. news and chances are it won’t be there anyway. When you tell people what happened or what’s going on, it gives them a sense that everything is okay.

The Brimfield PD is giving their followers timely information that they look for from a police department. They also pepper in some humor to keep the content fresh and interesting. They know “Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane” wants to know the scoop on local police-related disturbances, so that’s what they provide.

Government organizations, like Brimfield PD, have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. When you are writing online content, think about what your unique information is in relation to what your audience might be looking for. And don’t forget to reference any and all analytics you can get your hands on to ensure you’re broadcasting the messages that are relevant to your audience’s actual needs and interests—not just what you think their needs and interests are. One of the great tools GovDelivery provides in its digital communication management tool is the option to allow subscribers to pick the categories and topics they are most interested in learning about. Data like this can help set the stage for the theme of updates this audience is most interested in.

Be Engaging

…All of this has helped the community understand that we’re a team. If we’re going to reduce crime, the people have to be willing participants. People have become very protective of the department, and that’s huge for us. Some people use the private message function to leave a tip or to tell us about a nuisance in their neighborhood. We wanted to have any means of communication available so our department is the most functional operation it can be. I think the paradigm is shifting a little bit toward using social media as an outreach tool rather than just picking up the phone to call the police department.

The Brimfield PD is using digital communication as a two-way street. Getting their message heard is vital to the Brimfield PD’s mission, but hearing from their community is an important component to that mission.  Instead of just spewing out facts, they are encouraging interaction with the community by allowing members to leave a tip in a Facebook message or starting a conversation.

By encouraging your stakeholders to not only listen, but talk back, you provide an opportunity to build a relationship. Another police force, Stearns County’s Sheriff’s Office, embedded multiple options for citizens to submit tips to the Sheriff in all their email communications with County residents.

Through social media posts, email messages, blog comments, website forums and more—you can provide an opportunity for your audience to participate in your mission. Just don’t forget to broadcast those engagement opportunities out to your stakeholders.

Learn More

You may not be able to amass an online community on the same scale that Brimfield has overnight, but the basis of their marketing strategy is something that can be applied to any local, or broader, government organization to improve outreach and citizen engagement. Just remember to keep your digital content consistent, relevant and engaging and you are well on your way to developing a more robust relationship with your stakeholders.

If you’re looking for further reading on digital communications in the public sector, take a look at our white paper on integrating social media in government communications here. And if you have any suggestions, comments or questions about successful digital marketing tactics you’ve seen in government, comment below!

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

Time is something that communicators never have enough of when it comes to their work: building their audiences, managing their brand, staying current with content, meeting the demands of their stakeholders, etc. Many times the government communicators I work with are  balancing an ever-expanding task list between a few key team members, each working to draft press releases, communicate with the media, keep the website current, prepare emergency communication strategies, respond to inquiries, and manage social media – just to name a few! Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle, especially as demand for digital content and services grow and stakeholders expect to find everything online.

Luckily, today’s communicators have more tools to help them wrangle the different aspects of their job into a well-oiled information machine. And with a few quick strategic changes, they can save more time than ever before while meeting citizens’ needs on a consistent basis.

Here are three key steps you can take that will help you cut down on the time spent communicating,  increase your reach through more channels, and most importantly, connect to more stakeholders.

GovDelivery_ChannelsIntegration – Most clients that I engage with agree that it is no longer enough to only use a single form of communication to reach their diverse base of subscribers, but they also are not sure where the extra hours will be found to manage multiple communication platforms. While it may seem like an impossible feat, there is a solution.- Make your content channels work together in one simple process. You may have 8,000 subscribers to an email list, 10,000 Facebook fans, another 3,000 twitter followers, and another 50,000 people are viewing your website each month. Does that mean a neverending login-test-post-comment-update-edit-repeat cycle for your team? It doesn’t have to. By leveraging  tools that are specifically geared toward making your channels work together, you can cut down on the number of different channels you have to access to post your content, while maintaining a consistent style and voice throughout all your communication channels.

There are various tools out there for communicators to leverage. GovDelivery’s digital communications platform allows content that originates on one channel to be effortlessly communicated across all of your networks with one click.  And social media engagement tools like HootSuite are also helping more communicators manage their social media outlets from a single dashboard that measures the responsiveness of their audience. Furthermore, content management systems can be leveraged to push content from one channel to another with proper programming and permissions.

Collaboration_RSSAutomation – What’s better than channels communicating with each other, you ask? Channels that communicate with each other automatically. With little or no manual process at all, government agencies are able push content to multiple channels through RSS (Real Simple Syndication),  APIs (application programming interfaces), or other feeds to replicate content from one channel to another. RSS feeds are handy because they often come as a built-in feature in most content management systems, and they make it easy to send updates to subscribers whenever a Web page’s content changes. The standardized feed can then be easily read by email clients or web browsers, allowing subscribers to get information without having to continuously check Web pages for content changes.

While RSS feeds are great, APIs take automation a step further by allowing a feed from a Web portal or database to be pushed directly out to applications that interpret and deliver content to subscribers.

A great example of this is Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). WSDOT recently connected their traffic alerts to an API that automatically pushes alerts to subscribers when road conditions in their region are impacted by weather, construction, or traffic congestion.

Social media outlets like Twitter have some great 3rd party automation options as well.   Twitterfeed is a tool that allows you to automatically post content from a blog or Web page to Twitter, making the process of posting and promoting your new content as easy as a simple click of a button.  Another great tool is WordPress’s Tweet Old Post plugin, which helps drive traffic back to older, but still relevant, pieces of content on your blog.

Coordination – Communication, done correctly, is a lot of work. To maximize your output, you’ll want to make sure that all of the work you and the rest of your agency does to reach your target audience is following some sort of unified, coordinated strategy. I’ve encountered a lot of clients who have brand-building rockstars on the communications team who work to create consistent brand image, but they often struggle with other departments within the organization independently creating and sending content through various channels with inconsistent strategy. An uncoordinated communication strategy can sometimes chip away the work that others are doing to build a consistent image and reputation for the organization, and might even be duplicating efforts of other departments. How do you address this without putting sole responsibility on one team to communicate on behalf of all departments? With coordination and standardized expectations for everyone who is responsible for communicating with your stakeholders. Marin County, CA has done a great job with this by creating a Social Media Responsibility Guidelines document, along with a best practice Social Media Playbook. These serve as mandatory training guides for anyone using social media on behalf of their department, and help promote consistent, coordinated channels of communication, each working toward the same goal. The County communications team in Marin keeps an eye on the communication efforts of individual departments without having to bear the full weight of all content creation and output themselves, meaning more of their time is free to focus on their top goals and objectives for continued public engagement and service.

By integrating channels, automating output and coordinating content generation among various players in an organization, government communicators can continue to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to meeting stakeholders’ needs for information and service.

 

Some people may view email as the least creative form of marketing, but the fact is, it rules as one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to get your message out. You may spend hours or days crafting the core content of your message, with the subject line left as an afterthought. However, many people determine whether or not they’re going to open a message based on the subject line alone, making it imperative that you give the subject line dedicated time and attention.

A recent report released by eConsultancy looked at email subject lines to see which words got more activity and which fell by the wayside. While most of the emails tested were business-to-business or business-to-consumer messages, there’s still crossover for government marketers. And there’s still useful information to be gleaned from the report.

Frequency Matters

iStock_000009805936LargeEmail success is not only measured by open rates and click-throughs. You also need to take a look at the reality of having many other organizations sending emails to your subscribers at the same time as you. And while each recipient may not pounce on your message immediately, even having the message in an email inbox helps boost your organization’s recognition and serves as a reminder that you’re out there sending messages and that what you have to say is important.

Additionally, increased frequency of message delivery, meaning daily or weekly emails, tends to get better open rates and more click-throughs. While newsletters are starting to slide, email continues to gain attention, mainly because people tend to think they can find what they need more quickly through news feeds. If you have a general newsletter, consider breaking out recurring subjects of interest into separate topics that stakeholders can subscribe to, and send more frequent messages on those topics.

Word Choice Wins the Day

Using words like alert, new, news, bulletin and video in your subject line typically draw a bigger audience of readers, since those words suggest that an action needs to be taken or that information is new and they need to know the most up-to-date information. In contrast, words like report, learn and book are trending down in terms of open and click-through rates. If you’re trying to engage your subscribers, which many of you are, using words like different or update generally solicit a better response.

Another good tactic, even if your message doesn’t get opened right away – or ever – is to include something about results in your subject lines. If you have fixed a problem or have a response to a citizen complaint, putting that information in the subject line will prompt people to see what you’ve done to serve their needs.

Keep the Subject Line Brief

A final best practice is to keep your subject lines to 50 characters or less, with the only exception being messages sent to highly targeted audiences who appreciate more information. Also, don’t forget to make sure the “From” portion of the email indicates the name of your organization or the division you represent, so subscribers know it’s from a trusted source.

What are your thoughts on subject line importance? Do you test various subject lines? How frequently do you send information to your subscribers? Please share your feedback!

 

Though Harold and the Purple Crayon  will always be a timeless classic, the term “storytelling” probably conjures up images of kindergarten carpets and night-lights rather than innovative marketing tactics.

34th Deauville Film Festival - RecountDespite this, the concept of storytelling in communications is actually making a big comeback. As this article on the Content Marketing Institute website, “Corporate Storytelling from Kevin Spacey” notes, audiences are moving away from the traditional means of marketing and consumption and demanding better stories and better delivery. Kevin, who stars in the Netflix hit original series House of Cards, argues that the success of the show and its non-traditional method of delivery prove that companies should give the audience “what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in.”

That’s all well and good for television, sure, but what does it actually mean for your government organization? Well, a few things. Let’s take a look:

Customers want useful content

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately many organizations get so caught up in proving they know how to use Pinterest or Twitter that they forget what’s at the core of their communications plan: useful information. Government agencies are uniquely positioned to provide stakeholders with information they can’t find anywhere else. And in the world of social media, content is king. So does that mean you should just throw everything you’ve got on Facebook and hope for the best? Not exactly.

But they also want the best content

A big part of communicating well is figuring out what you want to communicate. Just because you have all the statistics on sparrow migration in the Midwest for the last thirty years doesn’t mean you should share them. Narrowing in on the best stories is essential to a good communications plan. But don’t you need a huge PR budget and loads of fancy data to figure out what the best stories are? Nope! Your stakeholders tell you what they want every single day through link clicks and email opens; the question is simply whether or not you’re paying attention. The data for what your audiences want is there, you just need to collect and analyze it.

And they want it delivered in the best way

commcircleNow that you’ve got an idea of your most popular topics, what do you do with them? According to Kevin and the Content Marketing Institute, how you deliver your stories is just as important as the stories themselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking everything has to be boiled down into 140 character Twitter sound-bites to get noticed; different stories warrant different delivery methods. Some stories need to be longer to be truly impactful and that requires a communications channel that allows for depth and complexity – something not available when you’re limited to 140 characters. The truth is audiences want to engage with content in different ways, and different channels of communication – email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. – provide different unique opportunities.

Want more? You can learn about incorporating storytelling into your government communications plan at our annual Federal Communications Event: The Power of the Message. Featuring a keynote address by Paul Smith, author of the best-selling book Lead with a Story, the event will focus on utilizing storytelling techniques to help you better meet your organization’s mission goals.

I saw this article recently on MarketingProfs, “Three Deadly Reasons Most Websites Fail,” outlining why most websites struggle to get the results they want. While the original post is geared toward marketing professionals, the concepts can easily be applied to communicators in the public sector looking to improve online engagement with constituents.

The article discussed how many websites continue to operate with a limited scope and the out-of-date goal of using the website as an “online brochure” for the company or organization.  These days, successful websites actually serve as a valued resource; share timely and relevant content; and/or deliver services more efficiently or accessibly via online platforms.

For government organizations, a website provides broad access to an amazing amount of resources and content. Many government websites work hard to tailor services and content to reach the widest possible audience. And yet, some government websites still have a hard time attracting visitors and maintaining long-term traffic gains. So what can you do? Here’s a public sector spin on the 3 Deadly Sins for websites:

Deadly Sin #1: Providing an Online Brochure Instead of an Experience

Most companies and organizations with a website consider it a key part of their toolkit for reaching an audience, but not enough think of a website as the core of a well-run communications and thought-leadership strategy. The goal of a website is to attract visitors, provide services, and delight users. Have you built your website around a similar set of objectives? Beautiful design and SEO tactics are not enough – a successful website has to be built around compelling, timely content.

Health-related websites rank high in government website web traffic ranks partly due to the fact that sites like NIH.gov (National Institutes of Health), CDC.gov (Centers for Disease Control), and USDA.gov (Department of Agriculture) provide up-to-date information on topics that are highly relevant and important to the public: health care information, food recalls, and disease prevention. Even if your website serves a different audience, every website can be improved by regularly providing exceptional content that resonates with your visitors’ day-to-day interests and needs.

usda

The key to transforming your website from a flat publication to an interactive experience is to provide ways for visitors to engage, communicate, and share. Visitors should feel they have gained some value when they click away from your website. As an example, if you offer the ability for visitors to subscribe to receive an alert when your web content is updated, they will be satisfied that they will be notified when new information is available, which will contribute to repeat visits and make it easier for them to send that information on to their friends, family, or peers.

Deadly Sin #2: Using One-Size to Fit-All – People Need Personalization

In today’s world of constant consumption and a culture of frequent updates, people expect to receive a constant stream of information that is not only up-to-date and interesting, but also customized for them. Not only do you want fresh content to attract your audience, you need to take that content a step further by tailoring it to meet specific audience segment’s needs. For example, if your organization has multiple stakeholder audiences, why not offer different “sections” for your different audiences? One great example is the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services’ Citizen Resource Center. They clearly differentiate content for different audiences on the main home page, with quick links to content that is most often viewed.

It’s easy to see that people respond to a combination of content and personalization. Many organizations are already segmenting subscriber lists by user interests, frequency of updates, and other characteristics to provide specific content to distinct audiences. Providing customized email subscriptions that link to specific content topics is an effective way to gain access to a wider audience.

Additionally, websites can add thoughtful options for people interested in getting updates or becoming a frequent visitor. SBA.gov (U.S. Small Business Administration) provides a sign-up page for frequent visitors, and a browsing mode called “SBA Direct” that can be personalized with options such as topics of interest and types of businesses. These tools help visitors navigate directly to information that matters most to them and cultivates a positive user experience, increasing the probability they will come back and recommend the service to others.

A more personalized experience provides more value to visitors. Making the effort to hone in on your stakeholders’ wants and needs will continue to fuel improvements to digital communications as information and content changes and grows, helping your website gain more and more traffic as time goes on.

Deadly Sin #3 – Building a Website for Yourself Instead of the Audience

Government websites are meant to be public-facing and should be built with that in mind. Building a website with a singular focus on meeting the expectations of staff inside your own organization could be the worst mistake of all. Instead, consider what visitors would value most and build a website that provides that content and design into your organization’s website.

Utah.gov is one example of a government website getting praise for doing this right. Utah.gov puts search front and center. The design is beautiful but not at the expense of function or user-centric features. The thoughtful approach resonates with the majority of people who are familiar with navigating the web through a search engine like Google.

utah.gov

Not sure how to find out what your stakeholders want from your government organization? Ask them! Seek out ways to reach out to your stakeholders and find out how to improve your website to better meet their needs. A little attention in creating thoughtful, personalized features goes a long way in attracting happy visitors.

Attract, Provide, and Delight – A Recipe for More Web Traffic

Marketers in the private sector focus on attracting new prospects, converting leads, and delighting customers. Communicators in the public sector must similarly turn their focus to creating an innovative and attractive web resource that focuses on:

  • Attracting web traffic by broadening public access to resources.
  • Providing frequent updates that provide meaningful information and rich, personalized content.
  • Delighting web users by innovating and continuously improving the web experience.

Your visitors appreciate consistent, thoughtful content creation and will notice customized features that improve their experience. Happy visitors turn into repeat visitors, and website traffic will soar.

Have you experienced any of these “Deadly Sins”? Share in the comments if you have a good example of a website avoiding these mistakes and boosting traffic the right way!

By John Cook, Vice President of Marketing, GovDelivery

Last week I introduced the first two trends that I believe make marketing imperative for any government agency that is concerned about citizen engagement. I’d like to continue with three more trends you need to consider…trends that turn marketing from a dirty word into a vital tool.

Trend # 3: Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience

captureIn the olden days of marketing, way back in the 20th century, marketing was composed primarily of outbound, interruptive campaigns. Marketers would create campaigns that were specifically designed to interrupt you from what you were thinking about and get you to think about them. They would leverage direct mail or advertising to deliver their message to a targeted audience. If successful they would interrupt the intended recipient (or unintended recipient) by getting their attention.

The Internet changed that. We no longer try to interrupt people from their thoughts. We now try to connect with them when they are thinking about us or the products and services we provide. It is at this precise time that our content engages them. Our content is the magnet that draws interested people to us.

But it isn’t enough just to engage them, we must also capture them at this moment. By “capture,” I mean we must provide them with engaging enough content that they will fill out a form, thereby giving us their name and contact information so we can connect with them later. Every government website should have a visible mechanism that allows citizens to sign up for topical alerts. This works similarly to the form in marketing. A government organization’s sign-up process should be straightforward, highly visible and on multiple pages. Citizens simply won’t keep coming back to your website over and over again to find the information they need. You must make it easy for them by providing topical alerts that they can receive via email or text.

Let your content be the magnet that draws your citizens to your digital properties and then do everything you can to capture them. This changes the nature of your dialogue from a one-time chat to an ongoing conversation. And that is exactly what a government communicator (and marketer) wants.

Trend # 4: Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is simply positioning yourself, or your organization, as a voice of knowledge and expertise in the marketplace of ideas. This is critical in helping people associate your organization with specific topics when looking for information to solve a problem.

Old school thinking may preclude government from participating in this type of activity. But why? If your organization has information or offers services, you are an expert. People want to hear from authorities. If you have can provide knowledge, why not position yourself as an expert and drive greater awareness to your organization and its mission?

The rule of a self-fulfilling prophecy is also at play here. If your communications position highlights your organization’s expertise, people will believe it. As more people start to think of your organization as full of experts, more people will begin to look to your organization for information. In addition, people will repeat what you say and even post links to your information. There can be a viral element to your messaging where it spreads apart from your own efforts. This is the goal of your online thought leadership activity.

The Internet opens the door to building thought leadership, and hence your audience, in a variety of ways. In addition to the content discussed above, you can leverage tools like webinars (online seminars and presentations) and public relations activities like press releases or media outreach. Align yourselves with other thought leaders by re-posting their content. Since video content is a powerful draw, use it liberally. The next time someone in your organization speaks at an event, post the video online in short segments. All of these things will help build thought leadership for your organization.

Again this all comes back to helping the public find information from content that you already have. Thought leadership is a powerful way to help you do that and achieve your mission.

Trend # 5: Social Media and Building Awareness

The days of ignoring social media are over. I’m sure most of you have some sort of social media presence – although some of you in government may not even be able to access your organization’s Facebook page at work! Still, social media cannot be overlooked as one of the greatest distribution channels ever created to help you build awareness.

build awearenessBuilding awareness is important because it will move people to engage with your organization when and if they have a need for information. Social media is the ultimate online tool to spread the word. This is true in part because you can engage people where they already congregate (think Facebook and Twitter) rather than requiring them to come to your website.

If you create content, it is absolutely essential that you post and promote it on your social media properties. Social media helps you cast as wide a net as possible, and it is through this exponential outreach that you can further build awareness about your organization and its mission.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics said, “We will no longer search for products and services, they will find us via social media.”

This is a critical point. Social media is indeed becoming a critical tool for how people find products and services. And its impact will only grow. 92% of children in the US have a digital footprint/shadow. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old, so the percentage of socially engaged people will only increase. 93% of marketers use social media for business. Government should, too. If you ignore this channel, you do so at your own peril.

To summarize I believe government organizations should embrace marketing – especially online marketing. Here are 5 trends that have changed the game:

  1. Content Marketing
  2. Storytelling
  3. Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience
  4. Thought Leadership
  5. Social Media and Building Awareness

Marketing is fundamentally about educating your audience on potential solutions you offer that can help solve their problems. Why would anyone shy away from that?

awardLast week, winners of the 2013 Best of the Web Awards were announced, offering an opportunity to see how state and local government organizations are leveraging the web to communicate with the public. Cities, counties and states were judged based on their demonstration of innovation, usability and functionality for users. Honorees were also required to possess sites “that display effective governmental efficiency and service delivery.”

Alameda County, California, took first place in the county category for their use of a clean and easily navigable website as well as their successful social media strategies. They have built an intuitive website that is highly compatible with mobile devices, making it easy for visitors to get information quickly on their terms. The County also clearly displays all the ways the public can connect with the County by placing prominent digital communication and social media icons throughout their website. This allows Alameda County’s website visitors to connect with the County in the ways they want, receiving information through communication channels that are relevant to them.

“We’ve focused a lot on our citizen engagement with our open data initiative — I think that’s very fresh and current,” said Tim Dupuis, the interim director of the Alameda County Information Technology Department and the county’s interim registrar of voters. “Coupled with social media and how aggressively we’re going after the mobile apps space and self- service — all of these things combine to make something that really engages our public.” (GovTech.com)

Alameda County is just one example of a government organization utilizing technology to enhance government-to-citizen communications. Many of the organizations nominated are doing awesome things, and we here at GovDelivery are excited to congratulate a number of our clients on their awards. Congratulations to additional GovDelivery clients:

County Category:

1st Place- Alameda County, California

3rd Place- Orange County, California

4th Place- Sacramento County, California

5th Place- Stearns County, Minnesota

City Category:

2nd Place- Riverside, California

3rd Place- Raleigh, North Carolina

Finalist- Palo Alto, California

State Category:

5th Place- Maine

Finalist- Nebraska

To see a complete list of winners, click here.

To find out how your organization can be considered for a Best of the Web award, click here.

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