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

Remember the game "Telephone" in kindergarten where all the kids sit in a circle and the teacher whispers a message into the first child's ear, then he/she whispers it into the next child's ear until the passing of information comes full circle?  The message communicated by the teacher to the first student is completely different than the message that eventually made its way around the circle.

This same phenomenon has happened with the spread of information about the H1N1 virus.  Information available through traditional news media, Twitter and the blogosphere is pervasive, but not always entirely accurate.  This is understandable, because much like the kindergarten game of "Telephone," it is our human nature to distort information as we share it.

Fortunately, there are government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that cut through the abundance of misinformation, providing the public with official H1N1 information.  From the early stages of H1N1 becoming a major health issue through information on prevention and vaccination, the CDC has proactively reached over 190,000 citizens with H1N1-related information on topics such as flu prevention, H1N1 cases and vaccinations.  See CDC's comprehensive online site dedicated to H1N1 here.  To get up-to-date information on H1N1 from CDC, subscribe for alerts here.

From the first time we heard news about a new virus back in April 2009 to today, the CDC has kept us informed all along the way.  For this, we commend the agency's efforts and want to acknowledge its excellence in government-to-citizen communications.

Fight Flu with Facts! Visit flu.gov. Call 800-232-4636. Text FLU to 87000.

By Zach Stabenow, Executive Vice President & Co-Founder, GovDelivery

We like to highlight innovative agencies that are using creative ways to “Reach the Public.”  Today, we are showcasing how Oakland County, Mich., uses GovDelivery’s communication platform to enhance costs savings, as well as keep citizens informed during a challenging public health scare: the H1N1 flu epidemic.  When news of the epidemic was dominating the news cycle in late April and early May, many citizens clamored for information about the disease and its impact on their local communities.  Oakland County realized that posting information on a static website would not be a sufficient enough means for communicating urgent updates to concerned citizens.

As this Government Technology story highlights, Oakland County relied on the GovDelivery digital subscription service platform that allowed citizens to sign up for notifications via email, RSS feed or text message when it updated its website.  And, our platform allowed Oakland County to give citizens options as to how they wanted to receive the information. 

As Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO of Oakland County, noted in the article, Oakland County decided that allowing citizens to choose how they would receive the information was critical when dealing with these urgent H1N1 alerts.  The county’s website has 25,000 pages of content with 170 different content managers providing updates.  GovDelivery provided an automated process for sharing information that did not overburden these information managers. 

From an overall ROI perspective, by using GovDelivery’s platform, Oakland County has been able to save $268,000 in annual mailing and printing costs.  Also, check out this video interview of Mr. Bertolini discussing actual ROI from using GovDelivery.  Finally, if you are based in Michigan, we recommend you check out Bertolini’s presentation Mi-GMIS Fall Conference next week, where he will discuss how the county’s is improving service to the public through collaboration and innovation, and saving money during tough budget times.  

One of my first mentors who ran a region of what was then called Ameritech (a baby bell in the midwest), had a saying, "If you value it, measure it." 

The larger the organization, the more this holds true.  In government, tracking results and sharing results promotes transparency, accountability and understanding of the value of the work you're doing within your agency.

The CDC National Center for Health Marketing has taken impressive steps to get their Web metrics online. They've actually been doing this for years.  Here's an example of the kinds of reports they post.

They've recently been recognized in NextGov for their new http://www.cdc.gov/metrics page.

Here are just a handful of the benefits of getting the data out there for the world to see:

  • Makes clear to internal and external stakeholders how you measure the impact of what you are doing
  • Gives everyone something to celebrate and work towards
  • Engages colleagues and helps them see and understand how they might be able to assist with your work.  For example, if getting people signed up for email alerts is one of your metrics as it is at CDC, your colleagues might see that and decide to promote the email alert option at a future conference
  • Encourages continuous improvement mentality
  • Gives everyone an opportunity to ask tough questions "Is activity A worth the investment?  Should we be using more of technology X if it's working so well?"
  • Helps ensure continuity when personnel changes occur

With the plethora of new technologies out there, it is even more important to share your stats with all stakeholders to make clear that the work you're doing matters and that you know how to gauge whether it is successful.  Just like you track the number of page views, Web visits, and the number of people signining up for your email alerts, you should also track Web 2.0 / Social Media metrics. 

You can track your Twitter followership ( If you have a Twitter feed, use TwitterGrader to track followership overtime), number of comments on your blog, number of Facebook fans, and man other metrics without much effort.

There are even external free services that make some of the tracking easy such as Quantcast which I wrote about last year.  I can't vouch for their accuracy, but they provide additional data points that can be helpful.

I don't believe that hard metrics are all that matter.  In fact, I find it much more compelling when we can go further and tie these metrics directly to mission and to $ savings if cost reduction is a goal.

At GovDelivery, we love to track overall growth in the number of messages that government agencies send to the public through our platform.  However, we get most excited when clients can tie the hard metrics directly back to agency/city/county/transit authority mission

At the end of the day, metrics are not an end in and of themselves, but if you track them and share them, I'd be willing to bet that they will be a useful tool in gaining support and momentum for your efforts to support your organization's mission.

GovDelivery has had a lot of inquiries from citizens and media this week asking for our recommendations on how the public can stay informed during this critical time.  We are not public health experts, but our work with key health agencies gives us some perspective on resources available to the public.

We are all being bombarded with information on the H1N1 flu virus this week.  Official government information is invaluable when there is so much misinformation coming at us from all sides.

GovDelivery works with 300+ public sector entities in the U.S. and U.K.  The majority of federal health agencies (CDC, HHS.gov, Pandemicflu.gov, NIH, Medicare, & others) use our Email & Digital Subscription platform to manage outbound digital communication, and we work with state and local health agencies and departments in 30 states including the MN, TX, NE, and OR Health Departments, among others.

I'm not trying to provide a full commercial here, but rather establish how we are in a good position to see what citizens are interested in and what tools are available (particularly online) for citizens that want and need to stay informed of official information.

Some quick statistics on the activity we've seen in terms of citizen interest and government communication in the past week is truly unprecedented.

  • Over 150,000 citizens have signed up to receive H1N1 flu updates from federal and state public health agencies, cities, and counties  (these same organizations already have millions of citizens signed up through our platform, but this 1 week jump is the highest ever).
  • Government agencies have sent over 250 distinct messages through GovDelivery to more than 6 million recipients since the outbreak.

Messages have come out from a whole range of agencies: 

  • The CDC has sent over 1 million email and wireless/text messages
  • PandemicFlu.gov (run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has also been an active sender
  • San Diego County, the City of St. Paul, TX Governor's Office, FEMA, and many others have been sending messages as well

You can follow GovDelivery on Twitter for updates on the activity we are seeing.

Recommended Actions for Citizens

Recommendation 1: Visit and monitor the official CDC web page on H1N1 flu outbreak where you can also register to receive email and wireless updates on the right hand side of the page.

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