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

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The article discussed how many websites continue to operate with a limited scope and the out-of-date goal of using the website as an “online brochure” for the company or organization.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.


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.


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 Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Innovation is the hot buzzword.  From local government innovation officers to a deputy CTO in charge of innovation, governments are more and more focused on innovation.

But how do you really make innovation happen in government? What are the missing ingredients?

I thought I’d take a stab at an answer so here’s my 10 ingredients missing in federal government innovation:

  1. Big Problems to Solve – Too often government innovation is focused on cool, fun items instead of the big multi-million pain points.  The fun projects often done for free or super cheap.Federal government innovation needs to focus on the hundred million dollar problems (love for example how HHS is doing innovative development work on their core  healthcare.gov, not just a side small project/site). Even at the White House level there is only a $40 million budget for e-gov and innovative projects while the GSA SAM project has a $70 million budget alone.
  2. Understanding what’s out there – We are all busy in our day jobs cranking out work. So as we approach a new idea, it’s hard to know what’s even out there.We need a repository of case studies and templates of types of activities (here’s literally the documents we created internally to run X).  And we need to go past soft high-level information and dive in deep – understand literally how you do it (what was staff structure, what was the timeline, how much did it cost).  Make sure you move past the well-known case studies – we do a lot of GovLoop surveys on topics and every time we hear about unknown new case studies, hear real problems.
  3. Help around (Perceived) Rules  - Generally lots of innovative projects get stalled in a review process around real or perceived rules.  This could be legal, security, 508 compliance, procurement, etc.  While occasionally there are good reasons why an innovative project shouldn’t be used according to rules, I often find projects are stopped or stalled more by perceived rules that other individuals in the same roles in other agencies interpret differently.Recently, I talked to Alan Balutis who mentioned that in the Gore Reinventing Government project they asked this question – what is preventing you from innovating?  And 90% of the rules people mentioned as reasons either didn’t exist or were interpreted wrong.To increase innovation, it would be awesome to have help around these rulings. Items like FedRAMP help as it’s one C&A for federal government.  It would be also great to be able to connect lots of these rule-making officials to learn how other agencies interpret the same findings.
  4. Help Selling an Idea – It is hard to sell innovative ideas in an agency.  Everyone has been in those shoes trying to work up a .PPT on an innovative idea and been in the meeting trying to sell the idea (against many naysayers).It would be awesome to have help “selling an idea”.  It could be a .ppt repository (a Docstoc for government) so there are slides you could use (everyone needs similar #s on mobile stats, BYOD, etc.) and examples from other agencies. This is a huge issue – in GovLoop trainings, we often hear this comment, “These are all great ideas but how do I get internal and leadership buy-in to turn an idea into reality?”  It would be great if you could bring another agency leader on topic to the meeting – usually having an outside person sell the idea works.
  5. Capacity – The challenge with launching innovative projects is often it’s actually more work and most often, everyone says they are busy.  So how do you get capacity to deliver innovative projects?

    There are lots of new ways to get capacity on innovation and they just need to be structured clearly on how folks can engage:

    • SWAT teams (short-term volunteers)
    • Hackathons, challenges, hackdays
    • Internal fellowships – have internal employees rotate on 6 month to 12 month fellowships
    • External fellowships – Bring in external leaders in for 6 to 12 months
    • Universities – Ways to leverage university classes on specific project (lots of smart students willing to help
  1. Foster Sharing of Ideas – The best breakthroughs happen when you are connecting across boundaries.  Part of the idea of the Presidential Innovation Fellows I love is the opportunity to share across sectors.  Put three top government leaders who know a specific problem (say acquisition) really well with three outside innovators who know outside ways to solve problems.  You need the experts and outsiders to make the changes.I wrote a whole post on this but I think there needs to be clear tools with structure for internal use on asking for help, soliciting feedback in a way that can be anonymous for those that are shy.  Kind of a combination of a Sparked / great listserv / Stackoverflow.
  2. Outreach/Marketing/Promotion of these Concepts – Too often innovative projects and approaches are only known about at the high levels (White House, Cabinet, the small influencer worlds).  To get true adoption, you need to get down to the doers.  This doesn’t happen with one email or a short PR stint. It’s like any project – it requires great outreach and marketing.  Hipmunk may be a better approach to travel search but it can’t stop there – it requires tons of marketing to get people to use it (search ads, banner ads, TV ads).

    For any of these innovative solutions to work, it should have a defined outreach/marketing strategy with budget/staff to actually accomplish it.  Just like it requires great effort and skills for Census to get their message out to the public – getting innovative ideas out across a large agency and across government agencies requires time/money/expertise.

  3. Clear Ways to Engage – Even if folks know about a new approach, it needs to be super clear how they can engage.  For any of these innovation solutions, it should be super clear in:
    • Way to submit your project want help on
    • Way to submit your idea
    • Way to submit your solution
    • Way to submit telling your story
  1. Prioritization List – Innovation needs to be practical as well – there needs to be a structure to it.  A flow to it.  For example, research agencies usually come up with a list every year of key topics they are looking for new ideas on as well as open calls. Innovation needs to be the same way in government.  Open calls are great (like SAVE awards) and ground-up innovation is awesome but in addition there should be focused targeted list of needs where need help with goals, timelines, and ways to engage.  And on the reverse side, agency leaders need to know of one clear places they can go with their priorities and needs.  For example, I am looking Some of this is already occurring at challenge.gov
  2. Tools to Prototype - To innovate, you need to be quickly able to mock up your ideas and need the tools to do. Sites like apps.gov provide tools government employees can quickly get going on to prototype. We need those terms of services and tools ready to go – so if you want to mock up something, you can use government approved software they can get off the web.  Too often in an innovative project, it is quickly mocked up but for a beta test to launch it requires 6 months of security & legal work.

What do you think is missing in federal innovation?  What 1 thing do you think is needed?


See original post on GovLoop.

Keeping up with the latest in digital communication tools and strategies can be a challenge in any organization. As a government communications professional, you probably face additional unique challenges as well. 2013 TourBeing able to effectively reach particular groups of people in emergencies, for example, is one situation that can mean the difference between life and death.

How do you keep up? Learning and collaborating with other agencies who are successfully handling some of the same challenges is one way. Recently, we were fortunate to have some of the most innovative and successful government communicators from around the country share their tips on best practices in digital communications at our 2013 Digital Communications Tour.

As a result of the positive response, we’re bringing back some of the most popular panelists, plus a couple new ones, to the last webinar event for the tour on Wednesday. With a open question and answer format, these government communicators will be on hand to answer your questions, from best practices for maximizing direct connections with the public to using communications to drive mission value to what social media strategies have been successful.

“We’re excited to have these government digital communications visionaries share their deep expertise, as well as their most successful tactics for reaching more people than ever before, streamlining complex communications and engaging the public to create lasting value.”
(Scott Burns, CEO and co-founder of GovDelivery)

Register here

Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Time: 12:00pm Eastern, 9:00am Pacific
Length: 90 minutes
Cost: Free

This event is open to all government employees and contractors. To register for this complimentary event, click here.

Imagine for a moment that you are in an area that is about to be hit by a hurricane. What would you want to know to prepare? Do you know where the safest place will be? How will you contact other family members if separated? These getting your message heardquestions are extremely important when faced with a disaster. And if you work in the public sector, another important question is: What good is your message if your audience isn’t getting it?

As a government employee, you may have critical information that could potentially save lives before or during an urgent situation, but if your message doesn’t actually get to your intended recipients, the message is useless.

The town of Ocean City, Maryland, quickly realized the importance of this question during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Overall, the storm caused 47 deaths and over $15 billion worth of damage. Despite the myriad of communications being sent out by town staff, Ocean City residents felt they hadn’t received adequate or timely information about the storm.

Ocean City officials listened to their citizens and stakeholders and took action. They began by discussing their current communications system. The town already had a system in place that pushed out email alerts; however, administrators felt that a more flexible system was necessary. They wanted the ability to send messages, especially emergency alerts, via multiple channels, including text messages or SMS. They knew there was a phone alertsmuch more efficient and effective way to communicate emergency and other high priority information to residents.

In July 2012, Ocean City selected and implemented a multichannel, integrated digital communication platform: GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM). Residents are now able to sign up for a wide variety of topics such as Jobs, Council updates and City Wide Alerts.

The system not only allows Ocean City to send out email and text messages, but it has also helped the town dramatically increase its reach.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Ocean City was significantly more prepared, using the system to get the word out about preparation, storm updates and recovery efforts.

“In times of emergencies, it’s critical for the town to have a system in place that allows us to quickly reach out to our residents and stakeholders with information that they need to keep themselves and their properties safe or secure. With Hurricane Sandy, I was glad to know that we were using the same system that FEMA was using to get the word out about the storm,” said Joe Theobald, Emergency Services Director, Ocean City, MD.

Despite Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, Ocean City residents reported being “extremely satisfied” with officials’ communication throughout the storm. To read the full success story, click here.

If you’d like to know more on how to guide the public in preparing for emergency situations, click here to get the FREE E-BOOK, Leveraging Digital Communications in Emergencies.

By Kathy Kyle, Digital Communications Consultant, GovDelivery

A recent BBC article explores how the National Health Service (NHS) has spent £13 million on public relations and whether the Trust and the public is receiving value for money. Some NHS Trusts have commented that the use of PR firms is necessary to educate the public on health issues, especially with regard to high-profile public health campaigns.

There is no doubt that when it comes to public health, proactive, timely, and targeted communications can raise awareness, prevent illness, and inform the public, keeping them safe and healthy. Whether it is a campaign regarding healthier healthchoices around smoking, caffeine, or alcohol, an urgent international health crisis, or every day communications with the public to keep them healthy and safe, the value of proactive communications can – and should be – evaluated. Government healthcare organisations and institutions can be much more effective with digital communications by measuring reach, engagement, and in-person visits. This not only bolsters public trust in the system and saves funds, but can dramatically improve healthcare outcomes.

NHS communications staff can potentially demonstrate the return on its digital investment on a campaign basis by measuring any correlation between the reduction of reported illnesses, office visits, and avoidable contact and the increases in the number of people subscribed to digital communications, engagement rates with digital messages, web traffic, and social media follows.

Instead of focusing funds and efforts primarily on PR campaigns, NHS could complement its outreach efforts by maximising direct connections with the public using an integrated digital communications platform. This kind of platform is available at a fraction of the cost of hiring an external PR firm. GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM) is one system that has been successfully used for proactive public health programmes in the United States by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centres for Disease Control (CDC), and many state Departments of Health – as well as in the UK by the Health Safety Executive (HSE), Health Protection Agency (HPA), Department of Health, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). These government institutions and organisations are directly connecting, educating, informing and engaging the public without spending a fortune – and their internal staff are easily managing the message and the process.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s goals include safeguarding public health by ensuring that the products they regulate meet required standards, that the products work and that they are acceptably safe. From a communications perspective, MHRA must ensure accurate, timely and authoritative information is provided to healthcare professionals, patients and the public.

MHRA uses GovDelivery DCM to send nearly 28 million messages to opt-in subscribers; more than 50,000 stakeholders around the UK have self-subscribed through the Agency’s email alerting service. MHRA must ensure a high message delivery rate due to the time-sensitive and potentially life-saving nature of its alerts. communityIf you’ve ever had to ensure that a message was delivered quickly, with metrics to ensure it was delivered, you know how difficult this can be to manage in-house. There could be serious consequences if messages are delayed in reaching pharmacists, physicians and the public. By partnering with GovDelivery, MHRA leverages GovDelivery’s active management of relationships with all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on behalf of over 550 public sector entities worldwide. MHRA is then assured a high deliverability rate, and MHRA communications staff can spend their time engaging directly with constituents, ensuring potentially life-saving, time sensitive medical and drug-related messages are delivered, instead of troubleshooting why messages are caught in filters and flagged as spam. View the complete MHRA success story.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a $941B organisation with over 65,000 staff, invests in health care, disease prevention, social services, and scientific research. HHS was already reaching a large audience through its use of GovDelivery email alert subscriptions, when the H1N1 pandemic flu outbreak threatened the United States. HHS needed to reach the largest audience possible to ensure individuals were kept informed and safe.

Email subscriptions to Flu.gov information increased more than ten times the normal rate due to higher interest as well as collaboration with CDC and other partners in the GovDelivery Network. Average new subscribers exceeded 3,000 per day versus the previously established average of 215. Over one million email alerts were sent to subscribers at their request regarding H1N1. Emails included “Share This” links with content being repurposed and shared over 120 times via social media channels. HHS also cross-promoted the email alert service with social media networks. Twitter links embedded in email alerts generated more than 10,000 clicks and helped boost HHS’s Twitter followers. View the entire HHS success story.

The difference between proactive digital communications and a PR campaign without measurable impact has more than just financial repercussions. Now more than ever, investments in communications must be made with the goal of building and sustaining public trust and health.

Kathy Kyle
Digital Communications Consultant, GovDelivery

Kathy can be reached at kathy.kyle@govdelivery.com or on Twitter @bonominiyogini.

By Anna Stroncek, Marketing & Communications Intern, GovDelivery

question markWith an average of 144.8 billion e-mails sent worldwide on a daily basis, a continually daunting question weighs on the minds of almost all those involved in digital communications: “When is the best time to send an e-mail?”

A typical corporate user receives approximately 110 e-mails per day. That’s a lot of emails to handle in a world where recipients have increasingly less time to read them. So how can you ensure your message will be read, or even opened?

It Depends.

While no two organizations are the same, the most successful time for any organization to send an e-mail will depend on its audience. While the answer “it depends” may seem just as daunting as the question itself, there is a way to uncover the most successful time for your organization to send out its e-mails.

As the world of digital communications continues to grow, more research is conducted in an attempt to answer this loaded question. After pouring through various blogs, studies and statistics in hopes of providing you the absolute perfect time to send emails, I have found one unanimous conclusion – the way to find the most success in your e-mail efforts is to TEST. Test sending your content on varying days and times, examine the results, and then test some more before drawing any conclusions.  Alan Ferguson, Web Manager for Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC), looks at this testing method as “letting the customers direct how you do communications.” CBC provides a great example of how taking the time to test can change the way in which an organization communicates entirely.

As Web Manager, Ferguson played a key role in directing Central Bedfordshire Council’s transition to digital communications. A major part of this transition consisted of identifying which tactics would provide Central Bedfordshire with their desired results: high response rates.

So what was learned?

As CBC sent e-mails, they tested response rates continuously, making adjustments along the way and collecting the information for analysis.   Upon completing their analysis, the following trends were identified:

  • testMonday and Friday provided the worst results in terms of click-through and open rates.
  • Both Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday yielded the best results.
  • Overall, Wednesday provided the highest response rate for their e-mail bulletins.
  • Longer news bulletins resulted in the higher response rates when sent on the weekends.

CBC used this data as a tool to align their communications strategy with its customers’ behaviors. Today, specific bulletins are sent out just after midnight on Saturday or Sunday. These bulletins provide content aimed at highlighting what is open on the weekend and when, rather than promoting services that wouldn’t be available to customers during that time.  Longer news bulletins are also sent out on the weekend when people have more time to digest the information and visit the website if additional information is desired or required. Other newsletters, information and alerts are sent out midweek in an effort to avoid being left unread on Monday and Fridays.

What Can You Take Away from Central Bedfordshire Council’s Success?

While CBC’s results may not provide the complete solution for you, their success does illustrate a few key points to remember when searching for the best time to send an e-mail.

  • Any organization’s best time will be unique to them. There is no “one size fits all” solution to digital communications. Each organization’s information and customer base is different. What works well for one organization may not be what works for yours.
  • Different types of content may have different best times. Just as Central Bedfordshire found the weekends to be successful for sending out longer news bulletins and Wednesday’s to work well for more overview information, your organization’s various forms of content may find higher response rates on differing days of the week.
  • Remember to test, test and test some more before making conclusions. High response rates may not be found on your first try. Conducting several tests provides more data, ultimately allowing for better conclusions to be made. Don’t be afraid to try sending your Monday newsletter on Sunday afternoon, you never know what may happen.
  • Let the customer direct your communications.  Increased testing and results allow trends in your customer’s behavior to be more easily spotted. Customer’s engagement rates are sending you a message, but it’s up to you to receive and respond to it.

email sendIf you’re feeling overwhelmed, just think of it this way; you’re already sending e-mails, thus the testing process has already begun! Take the time to look at your response, click-through and open rates. Don’t be afraid to switch things up and find the directions your customers are giving you.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a jump-start on your testing process be sure to check out Alan Ferguson’s full presentation at the GovDelivery UK Event or watch his presentation online.

By Mike Bernard, Digital Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

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

Here’s how it works:

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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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



This post was revised to include updated information on the webinar.

As a government communications professional, being able to reach your stakeholders is possibly the most important part of executing your responsibilities. If you need to send out communications to a specific group of people, being able to reach them is critical. It doesn’t matter what how well-written your communications are if they aren’t read.

So how do you increase your reach? Some recent posts can give you a tip or two: Let it snow! and Are you sitting on a pot of gold? But why not hear directly from a government agency that increased its outreach by 400%, growing their digital communication subscriber list from under 240,000 stakeholders to nearly 1 million.

Tomorrow, Christine Schwerin, Marketing Account Manager for the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sat down with us and offered up best practices, lessons learned, and tips on how to increase your communications reach. View the webinar recording on our website.

Still, for many, outreach is just the beginning. Engagement and customer satisfaction is often the elusive “true” goal. In reality, you’re competing with other communications (from businesses and friends and family). How do you increase engagement and customer satisfaction despite all the other things competing for your audience’s attention? You have to deliver information that is pertinent and resonates with your stakeholders. To that end, Christine is going to share how their communications strategy and execution has led to a 95% satisfaction rate with the DNR’s digital communications.

Webinar details

Topic: Best practices & successes from Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Duration: 1 hour

View the webinar online now.



play from scratch logoJeff Freeland Nelson, a local Twin Cities entrepreneur, took hard-earned lessons from his former career in public affairs and service and built his company, Play From Scratch, with a simple mission in mind: raise kids who are creators. Play from Scratch believes that “creative kids become adults who thrive” and seeks to inspire families through open-ended, problem-solving play with sustainable materials.

Government communicators can learn from Jeff’s crossover expertise in the public and non-profit sectors, public leadership, and education that have led to Play From Scratch’s innovative approach to business and playtime. Here’s an overview of the company’s key tenets and how you might be able to take his lessons and turn them into government magic:

1.  Find Raw Materials

Play From Scratch encourages families to use recyclable materials like newspaper, boxes, cardboard tubes and tape as raw materials for playing. Communicators in government organizations with limited resources (and who isn’t?) can apply the same mindset. You should identify basic resources and information that may be taken for granted around your department or office. Then tease out creative ways to invigorate and transform that content.

Source: Uploaded by user via :: Play From Scratch /:: on Pinterest

 2.  Create a Challenge

How do you tease out ways to be more creative? Create a challenge! Creative people are motivated by challenging problems. Play From Scratch drives enthusiasm and inspiration through fresh ideas for kids like a “Go Creative” card game or building giant cardboard structures. Adults can jump start their imagination by adding challenging elements to project initiatives and organizational goals. Putting a goal out there that is bigger than anything ever tried before inspires innovation and motivation.

3.  Build Big Ideas

Jeff built a toy company by expanding on the idea that the world is full of exciting challenges and available resources that make solving problems fun. Government communicators with a mindset of “go big or go home” open up a whole new level of opportunity. Highly successful campaigns such as the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse campaign, which we just talked about in our last post, are brought to life through agencies willing to seek out interesting challenges; looking for ways to build those ideas into something bigger; and identifying what makes the idea resonate and “stick” with the public. This doesn’t mean that you have to max out your limited budget, though. Jeff’s company is built on reusable cardboard, boxes and newspapers — the stuff most people toss out at the end of the day. Don’t underestimate how big you can go using the small stuff. Leverage sparks of creativity by noting out-of-the-box ideas as they come to mind and working in teams to stretch the limit of what is considered possible.

4.  Share What You’ve Created

Play From Scratch encourages families to share imaginative experiences with neighbors and friends. Their website offers many channels for sharing online, including using social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Their perspective is that sharing what you’ve created with others fuels creativity and only helps people learn from each other. Social media and the web have made sharing efforts and accomplishments easier and more fun than ever. New and existing social channels can be used as a forum to talk about big ideas, what has worked, and what doesn’t work. The knowledge gained from trying something new and asking for public input – whether the idea is successful or not – can only help the next time around.

5.  Recycle Raw Materials and Start Over

“Raw” materials don’t have to be brand new. Just like kids playing castle can re-use couch cushions over and over again to build new forts, communicators can break down existing content to digestible pieces. Smaller components broken out from previously created content can be used to brainstorm new ways to use the material. Communicators can use previous successes as a foundation to tackle new challenges, build big ideas from the ground up, and create content that helps you meet your organization’s mission goals in an innovative and engaging way.

Want to hear more? You’re in luck. Jeff will be joining us as the keynote speaker for the Minnesota stop on our Digital Communications Tour.

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As your organization fills the fresh slate of 2013 with a new communications strategy, consider the issues and topics that make you squirm. Many government agencies struggle year after year with the same topics that are either uncomfortable for the org or are avoided by the public. Citizens shy away from topics that make them nervous, afraid, or even bored, while organizations skirt issues that are difficult to explain or to present in an engaging way.

Misinformation circulated by journalists on the particle physics work performed at the international laboratory CERN suggested that the lab could destabilize and cause apocalyptic reactions without warning (you can see information about the safety of the lab’s particle accelerator here). This has led to widespread misconceptions about the research and a general fear of “radiation” by the public. PhD students working in the lab decided to try and provide education on the public’s long-standing misunderstandings in a new and entertaining way… with a zombie movie.


Image credit: http://www.decayfilm.com/category/media.html

Researchers with little film-making expertise and a $3,500 budget created a gory flick called “Decay” that takes place in CERN’s real maintenance tunnels. The film showcases brain-eating, undead lab workers in bloody detail but also sneaks in scripted informative snippets on the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest particle accelerator), how it functions, safety features of the lab and the “God particle” discovered by CERN researchers. The creators wanted the film to “[appeal] to a wide-ranging, science-savvy audience, as well as to zombie enthusiasts as a new approach to the genre” and took the chance to “do some satirical commentary on various aspects of people’s perceptions of science.” The film sold out its premiere at the University of Manchester, was released for free on YouTube and has been over 400,000 times, and has gained a Twitter following of over 700 users.

CDC also played on the past few years’ zombie trend with their 2011 campaign, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” CDC director Dr. Ali S. Khan explains, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” The initial blog post includes information on how to build an emergency kit, creating an emergency plan with your family, and the services provided by CDC. The post went viral in May 2011 and the increase in traffic crashed the blog website. The campaign has been so successful since its launch that it has been expanded to include lessons plans for educators, t-shirts, posters, and a graphic novella.

These examples of clever campaigns demonstrate the benefit of sharing information with the public with a “wink and a nod” that is accessible and entertaining. Dare your organization to take a hard look at the keywords and themes that have historically been off-limits and confront them in the New Year. Building a communication strategy around them can provide a fresh boost to your organization’s approach and increase public outreach and education in surprising ways.

What is the biggest issue or idea has your organization been avoiding? Share with us in the comments about how your organization takes on tough topics in out-of-the-box ways!


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