A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues

Businesses are discovering that their audience is willing to share personal information with them under certain conditions, so can government communicators collect the same information to better serve stakeholders?

A recent SDL report shows that different groups are comfortable sharing personal data, such as gender, age, income, and hobbies, to get more personalized offers.

As government communicators, you can leverage this openness to connect with more people and deliver messages that are more relevant, and ultimately more engaging. Laptop

A look at the data

In a TRUSTe survey, 82% of customers aged 18-75 (in a survey of 2,000 people) were concerned about what kind of data was being collected through their browsing history. However, they were willing to share specific information voluntarily if it meant getting ads tailored to their preferences. Overall, only 62% of survey respondents were concerned about how their personal information might be used.

Age also played a significant role in perception of security, with 59% of those aged 18-29 and 71% of those aged 45-60 in the U.S. worried that their information was being collected.

Some factors do help increase people’s comfort and willingness to share information, and the main factor is trust. Nearly half of customers were willing to share information if the data was acquired through a third-party organization, as long as the audience was made aware of what information was being collected.

Increasing trust means broader audience comfort.

When a brand is trusted, consumers’ comfort levels with sharing information jumped to 79% globally. In the U.S., 80% of loyal customers felt comfortable giving out their personal information. This audience was willing to share information with marketers about gender, age, and even income. Of U.S. respondents surveyed, 62% were willing to share their date of birth, but most were uncomfortable sharing Social Security numbers and names of spouses, friends, or family.

What this means for public sector organizations

For public sector organizations, audiences can be very different. For natural resources or wildlife organizations, stakeholders can range from people interested in fishing and hunting licenses to local businesses that want to run specials to coincide with different seasons to parents looking for ways to enjoy the outdoors with their families. Messages need to be tailored to these different audiences, and the data above demonstrates that asking for more information isn’t detrimental to the process.

The key to collecting that information is to be transparent about why you’re asking for it and what you’re doing with it. If you let stakeholders know that the information you’re collecting allows you to segment and deliver more tailored information, they will be more likely to provide that data.

There are some government entities that are already asking stakeholders who sign up for communications for personal data to deliver more personalized messages. For example, some cities will ask stakeholders for their zip codes, so the city can send updates pertinent to that area of town. Age is a great question to ask as well, so you can understand the demographics of the people you’re reaching. If you know that over 70% of your digital audience is in the 45-65 age range, you can tailor messaging and topics to that demographic and work on strategic outreach efforts to other demographics if you need to. All this information can help you better target your messaging.

Not everyone will want to share their information, so make it optional to answer personal questions, allowing stakeholders to decide if they want to provide more information. Everyone wants to protect their personal data; it’s up to you to build trust and highlight the benefits of sharing their information with you. Are you asking stakeholders for information to help you tailor your communications and messages? If yes, please share how this has worked for you in the comments.

3-trends-fedWhat are the top priorities for government communications in 2014 at the federal and local levels? This is the question we posed to 350 government communicators. Take a look at what they said about focusing on results, implementing multichannel strategy, and increasing outreach in this infographic, or grab a copy of the federal government report or the state & local government report to read on your own.

Focus on results with a multichannel strategy

Boosting engagement and targeted messaging were the top two communication priorities at the federal, state and local government levels. However, other areas of focus differed between these levels of government. At the federal level, better content, mobile, and leveraging social media are being prioritized in that order. While at the local level, the priorities focused on mobile, leveraging social media, and better content. This trend indicates that state and local governments  are looking for new ways to “spread the word” on their content and make it available on mobile devices and social networks.

The majority of respondents from the federal government and local governments agreed that growing the size of their digital audience is a priority for 2014. They are also heavily focused on email and social media. However, the majority of respondents from both levels of government stated they have no plans to test email messaging. A few will experiment with content layouts or subject lines, but more than 57% at both levels of government stated they will not test email messaging in any way. This may be a priority to reconsider, since email messaging is a primary method of communicating with stakeholders—knowing what types of messages and content best engage those stakeholders is vital information. If federal and local governments want to better engage their digital audience, testing their email messaging to see what resonates with their target audience is a great strategy.

With both levels of government working to increase their digital audiences, one of the best strategies they can implement is to add an email subscription form to their websites, emails, social networks, mobile platforms, and more. In a constantly connected, digital world, not having a central place of communication tied to every one of your digital presences means you’re missing out on easy ways to connect with more of your audience.

Grab your copy of the 2014 Federal Trends Report or the 2014 State Trends Report and their accompanying infographics to learn more about what is going on with government communications throughout the year.

At this year’s U.K. digital communications event, “Reaching More People: Transforming Public Service Delivery with Collaborative Communications”, Oliver McGuire and Mike Brook of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) spoke about their agency’s efforts to reach more people in a more effective way in their presentation, “Central Government Success Story: HMRC”. HMRC-pres

Oliver, SME Education Strategy Manager at HMRC, started out the presentation by summarising a recent report by Martha Lane-Fox, the former U.K. Digital Champion, which called for a radical change in government digital communications and concluded that “digital channels needed to be agile, open, and cheaper”. The report also stated that agencies had previously been guilty of putting policies and procedures ahead of user needs, and that if they wanted to take advantage of the new digital shift, they would need to put the user at the heart of their digital designs. In response to this report, Oliver explained, government departments are now “striving to create digital services that are so convenient, straight-forward, and attractive, that anyone can use them and will choose to use them ahead of any other traditional means”.

For HMRC, that meant translating these conclusions into something operational for their departments. Though the agency already had a customer-centric business and design model, the Martha Lane-Fox report reemphasized the need to consider the user at all times, and they realised that big changes needed to take place. HMRC’s primary function as an organisation is to provide service and support to 4.9 million people to make sure they get their taxes done correctly and on time. Their secondary function is to support their citizens’ transition to digital communications. There are a large number of customers who would like to take advantage of HMRC’s online services, but don’t have the confidence to try. HMRC’s goal is to help people find that confidence by providing them with webinars, live presentations, instructional YouTube videos, mobile apps, downloadable content, and other informational materials. Email plays an important role in directing customers to those products.

“When we first started doing educational work in 2010 our approach wasn’t very targeted,” Oliver said. “More recently, we’ve started to move towards trying to understand our customers better. With that info, we can tailor our education approach to make sure they get the right messages, the right support, and the right push at the right time. This was the period when our use of the GovDelivery email system became a key tool”.

Despite the strides HMRC has made, Oliver noted that they still want to get better in terms of understanding their customers and providing them with what they need and when they need it; learning to integrate their communications approach much more closely with the customer experience. This desire boiled down to four main objectives, as Oliver explained: “One, attracting customers by providing services they will actually use. Two, enabling customers and giving them the skills confidence, and ability to self-serve using the HMRC transactional service on their own. Three, promoting our service, making sure they’re aware of it and wanting to use it. Four, supporting those that are less able, so no one gets left behind in the digital shift”.

After explaining HMRC’s four main objectives, Oliver handed the stage over to Mike Brooke, Senior SME Education Strategy Analyst, who provided some real-life examples to illustrate HMRC’s efforts in this area.

Mike started out his section of the presentation with a critical distinction: “Our target to reach 718,000 customers in the current year may sound quite ambitious. But with GovDelivery we’ve actually already reached more than that. However, reaching customers and impacting customers are two different things”.

Mike then went to explain how HMRC views emails as signposts directing people to help on the website. Their email messages don’t give technical information and are not tailored to the individual. Recently, after conducting research that showed that the comprehension level of their customers’ was actually much lower than they had thought, the organisation realised they needed to reevaluate their communication strategy. “It came as a shock to our department, who has always addressed people in very legalistic terms and very paternalistic terms”, Mike explained. “Now when we write to them it’s with a very different tone of voice. Instead of saying ‘if you don’t do this we’ll fine you’. We’ll say something like ‘don’t waste your money on a fine’. It’s a very different kind of relationship”.

HMRC’s emails now have on average a 37% open rate with a 10% click-through rate. They’ve also found that some customers even save and store the information in the email to read later on. They currently use an opt-out system, subscribing anyone who signs into the website for the email alerts and allowing them to easily opt-out. Impressively, they’ve only had a 1% opt-out rate with no registered complaints so far.

Though HMRC still has improvements it would like to make and additional objectives it would like to explore, their success with their email system has been encouraging so far.

To learn more about HMRC’s story, view the full presentation here.

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.

Paul Smith, the author of the best-selling book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, presented to over 450 people tuning in via webcast and in person as our federal digital communications event keynote speaker. In his keynote, Paul explained just why government communicators should use stories in their work, and when they could do it to have maximum impact. Here’s a quick synopsis of his keynote speech:HiRes

Why tell stories?

  1. Simple: anybody can do it.
  2. Timeless: it has always worked and always will. Storytelling transcends the fads of communication.
  3. Demographic-proof: it works with kids, adults, CEOs, and new hires. While not all communication strategies work with every demographic, everyone can understand storytelling.
  4. Contagious: you tell a good story and it will travel on its own, without you having to send communication over and over again. It travels via word-of-mouth.
  5. Easy to remember: facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story.
  6. Inspire: when is the last time you heard someone say, “wow, you’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw”? People become enthralled with what you’re saying when you’re telling a story and want to share what you’ve said.

When should you tell stories?

Stories themselves are not a great management tool, but they are a great leadership tool. If you’re looking to determine your vision or goal, a story won’t get you there. However, once you’ve determined your plan, you need to convince the rest of your organization to understand, be motivated by, accountable for, and to deliver that plan. It is then that you need a good story.

While interviewing CEOs and executives around the world, Paul looked for leadership challenges where stories are used. The main examples Paul found when it is pivotal to use storytelling are:

  1. Helping people find the passion for their work: If people are not coming to work passionate about what they do, they’re probably not doing their best work. What you can do to motivate others is to find the stories about your role that make you feel passionate and share them. It will help you and others find passion. Or, if you find yourself not particularly enamored with the work you’re doing, try to think of the people you’re doing it for.
  2. Making recommendations: Instead of using facts and figures, a story will tell how you got to your “aha moment” and bring your audience along with you.
  3. Challenge people’s assumptions instead of their conclusions or recommendations: If people think it was their assumption that was flawed not their actions, they will be more receptive to your constructive criticism and you’ll find greater success in the delivery of your message.
  4. Teaching: Get the message out about exactly what you need people to learn. When you have a message that you need to convey, think of a story to share. It will work out better than being lectured to.

Storytelling is similar to any other skillset, it can be learned. Invest some time in learning about it and you’ll be able to use this skill in daily communication.  Apologizing or asking permission to tell your story delegitimizes your message and gives the idea that you don’t think it is as important as what was being discussed. Go one step further and simply don’t state that you’re going to tell a story. People who are great at telling stories do it without the listener knowing and will be more entertaining, memorable, and even more effective in delivering their message.

Despite a deluge of freezing rain and snow in Washington DC this week, GovDelivery’s annual Federal Digital Communications conference marched on. With more than 450 people tuning in via webcast and in-person, 6 speakers, 250+ tweets with an estimated impression of 1.2M people, and a lot of networking accompanied by a few bad weather horror stories, the event this week added up to a great success. Nearly 97% of attendees said they would recommend next year’s event to a friend based on this year’s format and insight!

If you were unable to join us, we missed you. But over the next few weeks you can expect to pick up on some of the conversations generated from the event. (As a side note, we are going to test our luck with the weather in Washington D.C. once again on April 23 as we make another “Digital Communication Tour” stop at the Grand Hyatt. Stay tuned for details on registration for that event!)

There was a lot of knowledge sharing on trends in the digital government world at the annual event—enough to fill a small novel (or a piece of art, as shown by the visual notes here). Instead of giving you another play-by-play of the event, here’s a timeline of some of the top tweets event attendees tweeted using the #govd13 hashtag. Read through what your peers had to say about the event and visit our event page for more detailed updates with videos of the speaker sessions!

3 2 1 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4

When GovDelivery first entered the Federal market in 2003, we were a small company serving mostly local governments and a few state agencies.  With our team based in Minnesota we were told to “avoid Federal government like the plague” because we would never be able to serve such a confusing bureaucracy as a small company based out of the Midwest.  What we found was something entirely different than we expected: a city and many agencies packed with passionate and committed communicators yearning for the latest technology to help them support large and complicated mission objectives.

We also found tough customers with high expectations.  These customers wanted proofs of concepts and case studies, deep security documents, and demonstrable service level commitments.  It took us a year to get our first pilot client — the Office of Recruitment at the State Department.  Now, we serve every Federal department in some capacity and are the largest outside referrer of traffic to that first client (see referral stats here) as well as to newer Federal endeavors such as HealthCare.gov.

What we learned along the way is that the information our clients wanted to share and the stories they wanted to tell the public were powerful indeed.  Our clients knew intuitively that these stories could drive better outcomes, and our role was to bring the technology and insight to the table to help bring this belief to fruition.

PaulSmith-LeadwithaStoryWith stories in mind, we are bringing in Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, as the keynote speaker for GovDelivery’s Digital Communication Event next week in Washington, D.C.  There are over 900 people registered for the event, and they are in for a treat.  Lead with a Story is a masterpiece, and I am confident that Paul Smith will deliver a keynote worthy of his excellent book.  Stories matter.  As Paul says, they move people to take action, change behavior, and interact in new ways.  They are also memorable when so many other forms of modern communication can be forgettable.  Stories play an important role in a communications strategy oriented around driving awesome results.

I look forward to hearing from Paul and the other speakers next week including some amazing government communicators and technologists who will sit on our panel. Join us! I can’t wait to see you there.

Public trust in government has been on the top of the radar lately following the U.S. government shutdown. In the height of the shutdown, Gallup released poll results showing that only 18 percent of Americans were satisfied with the U.S. government—that’s the lowest the satisfaction rating has been in Gallup’s history of asking the question (which dates all the way back to 1971).

This deflated public trust can have negative consequences for any public sector organization. So what can you do as a government communicator to build stakeholder relationships that will overcome trust barriers? One method of building public trust and satisfaction that you are probably already doing (while possibly not to the fullest extent) is improving your digital communications strategy.

In our Citizen Satisfaction White Paper, we feature a report from ForeSee, a customer experience analytics company that digs into the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Gov Satisfaction Index. According to the ACSI visitors who are satisfied with their experience visiting a “federal government website rate their trust in the agency 60% higher,” and satisfied citizens are 49% more likely to give feedback than those citizens who were not as satisfied. This means that an effective and engaging online presence can actually help agencies improve public trust.

So, what are some ways you can improve your digital presence to better public trust in you government organization? After reviewing some of our experiences working with over 1,000 government organizations, we’ve pinpointed three strategies that can help you improve your organization’s customer satisfaction:

Use multiple channels to get your message out
According to ForeSee’s report, the online experience (satisfaction of 75) continues to be the preferred way for citizens to engage with federal agencies. Consequently, providing multiple options online for your stakeholders to interact with your content plays right into the citizen’s digital. By sending out updates via email, text message, social media, RSS, and more, you offer more opportunities to link stakeholders back to your website where they continue to solidify a relationship.


Don’t forget to promote it
Just sending out your message through diverse channels is only half of the story. You also need to promote the channels you’re sending through so your stakeholders know where to find you. Put links to your website, email or text message sign up forms on your social media sites and vice versa.

Give the power back
Give your stakeholders the option to decide not only where they engage with you online, but what the content is that would like to have communicated. Offer targeted topics that provide information to the varying interests of your stakeholders—that way you can always ensure that you’re sending a message that is relevant to your customer.

By following these three simple rules, you will be able to better meet the needs of citizens with communications that help build public trust in your organization. If you’d like more information on building trust digitally, download our white paper, Customer Satisfaction and E-Government: The Digital Investment Pays Off.

If three is company, then three hundred is one heck of a party. At last year’s Federal Digital Communications event, “The Transformative Power of Communications,” over three hundred attendees listened to presentations and panel discussions by some of the industry’s leading experts. Featuring a keynote address by Peter Sims, best-selling author of Little Bets, the topics ranged from understanding the benefits of risk and failure, to the changing landscape of digital outreach tools.

thumbnailScott Burns, CEO and Co-Founder of GovDelivery, said in his presentation that “the current state of communications is a milkshake of tools.” We couldn’t agree more with his delicious metaphor. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are like the sprinkles and chocolate syrup on the email and SMS sundae, and are changing the way government agencies engage with the public. But as Scott goes on to note, communications isn’t really about the tools; it’s about the people. While the main purpose of the event was to provide attendees with new insights and information about a variety of digital communications tools and strategies, it was also about fostering a sense of community and collaboration among government agencies.

Which is exactly why we’re so glad that nearly 90% of event survey responders stated that they “anticipated a need in [their] agency to better collaborate with other programs, other agencies, and/or the public.” As Scott discusses, building a strong, wide-reaching network is one of the most important steps in developing an effective communications plan. We’ve said it before and it definitely bears repeating: you might have the most interesting message in the world, but if you don’t have a network to share it with your message isn’t going to do much good, no matter what milkshake of tools you whip up.

Our CEO said it best, “The reason we exist as a company is to help you communicate.” From website overlays and subscriber management to cross-promotional programs and SMS strategies, we offer our expertise openly and freely to help your unique organization better connect with its stakeholders. But we also exist to help you better connect with each other, too. Since over 80% of survey responders responded that they were either “likely” or “very likely” to recommend the 2013 event to a friend, we’re excited to see what kind of connections are made this time around.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet and connect with other government professionals at this year’s Federal Digital Communications event, “The Power of the Message.” Featuring a keynote address by Paul Smith, author of the best-selling book Lead with a Story, a panel discussion with government communications experts, and a presentation by our own Scott Burns, the morning will focus on the power of storytelling as a means of driving mission value and engaging stakeholders to take action.

For more information or to register for the event, click here.

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

It’s no secret that government organizations are large, complex, and ever-changing institutions. But what can be a secret is how those huge organizations responsible for communicating with hundreds of thousands of people, do so in a unified and effective way.

HandHuddleWith a wide variety of information to communicate and needs that differ between departments, regions, and even people, staying on top of communication can be a challenge to say the least.

But when an organization masters the art of interacting with their constituents, it’s a beautiful sight to see; everyone wins. The public wins when they get the information they want and need in the way that makes sense to them, and government organizations win when their job is made easier to do well.

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is a classic example of the unity and effectiveness required to maintain communications within a complex government organization. As a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FSA is responsible for communicating important updates, regulations, financial information, and more with farmers of all types in every single state.

It’s not hard to see how their work can get complicated quickly. A farmer who grows corn in northern Minnesota needs an entirely different set of regulations, updates, and information than the cattle farmer in southern Albuquerque. So how do they stay on top of communicating with such a huge and diverse audience of farmers and invested members of the public?

The FSA leverages GovDelivery’s digital communications platform to communicate the right information to the right people at the right time. The FSA uses the platform to organize its massive content into 2,500 valuable topics representing nearly every county in the United States. This helps FSA more easily manage a complex communications operation.

The FSA has nearly 3,000 administrators working to manage the creation and sending of all of that information, and therefore is able to have unique subject matter experts handle their organization’s wide variety of content needs. Outside of communicating with the external public, the FSA also uses internal topics to communicate information to their own employees, allowing them to use the same technology for interacting both inside and outside of their organization.

social-network-gridAnd for their external communications, which are sent to over 500,000 people, the FSA uses the GovDelivery platform to communicate with farmers of all types, across the country. This ensures that their updates are consistently created and sent using the same technology and allows them to consolidate their communications all under one roof.

With automation capabilities enabled on some of the information topics they provide, the FSA stays on top of the updates they need to send even further by triggering automated messages to their subscribers as well. When new content is posted on their website, GovDelivery automatically delivers the updates to their subscribers without the FSA having to lift a finger. By taking out some of the manual steps required to communicate with their stakeholders, they can stay ahead of the game and get people the information they need even more efficiently.

The Farm Service Agency is a prime example of what communications on a massive scale can look like when it’s done right. With impeccable organization, diverse content offerings, and a unique case of needing to communicate with an extreme gamut of people, the FSA has found a way to not only manage their communications with the public, but to streamline and excel at them.