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

BP_checklistAs successful communications professionals, we are constantly measuring, evaluating and adjusting to ensure that our efforts are achieving real measurable results. Are your email messages getting read? Are your emergency notifications being delivered? Are your social media posts being shared? And most importantly, are your mission goals being met?

If you’re a communications professional in the public sector, chances are you’ve been asked these questions to evaluate your campaign’s effectiveness. But sometimes we forget to not only evaluate the effectiveness of each campaign strategy and tactic, but the actual processes that are making those communications possible—the processes that set the stage for how much time and effort you put into creating those campaign messages. That’s where your digital communication management (DCM) platform comes in.

A DCM platform is a solution that enables you to manage multichannel digital communications – email, text messaging, social media and more – in one system. Whether you currently have a DCM platform and are evaluating its usefulness or are thinking of implementing a more automated process and are unsure of what to look for, start by asking these 8 simple questions:

  1. Are you steadily increasing your online audience with little to no work?
  2. Is sending out digital communications quick and easy to do?
  3. Does your DCM system integrate with your existing IT infrastructure?
  4. Can you send messages to multiple channels (email, social media, text message, etc) quickly, easily, and at the same time?
  5. Can your DCM system automatically send out messages when you have new online content?
  6. Can you access reports on how your stakeholders are interacting with your messages?
  7. Are your messages being delivered at a rate above 90%? Does your DCM system even tell you?
  8. Is your DCM system tailored to the public sector?

If the answers to some of the questions above are a resounding “no” or even worse, “there are systems that can do that?” it’s time to start a deeper evaluation of DCM platforms. Remember, your digital communication strategy is responsible for engaging your stakeholders to drive mission success. Making that process as seamless and successful as possible directly contributes to the realization of your organizational goals.

If you’re looking for more information on the 8 criteria to consider when evaluating a DCM system, check out this Must-Have DCM checklist.

connect the dotsGovernment communicators work to gain the public’s attention, spark conversations and drive community engagement to promote and improve the mission of their organization. The first step in getting citizens to sit up and take note is to provide services that are better, faster and more effective at meeting the public’s needs.

Once your agency launches a great idea that gets people excited, how can you share the news loud and clear? The next step is making and leveraging connections to help citizens share their thoughts with you and the rest of the community. A comprehensive social media plan that helps your organization drive cross-promotion will make the most impact. Here are five tips for successfully cross-promoting your organization on all of your social media channels.

Tip #1: Connect everything

Your agency’s website, social media profiles, internal communication initiatives and public-facing campaigns should all be considered as smaller related pieces in the big picture of your organizational mission. Consider the possibilities: a new citizen in your community looks up summer activities for their family on your agency’s website, where they find and follow your Twitter account. A tweet there points them to YouTube videos created at popular past community events, which convinces the family to attend one of this weekend’s events. They later share their family photos on Facebook with a tag back to your agency’s Facebook pages.

Remember that all of your social media platforms are connected, and it is your choice whether that connection is put out there intentionally by your agency for maximum impact. A thoughtful social media plan connects the dots for your followers and improves the chances they will share with you and other users through your platforms.

Tip #2: Be consistent

Citizens feel more comfortable and connected with organizations that they trust, and that means giving them what they expect. Make sure to use the same language, strategies and philosophies when deciding what to post across your digital presences. Your organizations mission and intentions should be obvious to a user on any one of your social media sites and also consistent across those platforms.

Putting together a social media plan that includes strategies for keeping your message consistent is the foundation for making followers both new and old feel at home. Software and systems that post similar content across your social media sites can also make it easier to deliver a consistent experience.

Tip #3: Share content by driving connections

Gaining a social media following creates the ability to use a single touchpoint for sharing messages with many people who can move on to echo that message to their own followers, multiplying the effect of the initial message. While many people are avid sharers, more timid users can be persuaded to pass your message along if you offer more interesting and unique content. Try adding images, sharing videos, and asking relevant questions to spark conversations.

See above for Tip #1 and ensure you are connecting everything to improve the chances that citizens are sharing content and conversations through your platforms. Once those messages are on your radar, you can more effectively drive the content and direction of the messages shared through your connections. This is especially useful for emergency situations, but equally helpful in less obvious contexts like promoting voting, parks and recreating offerings, or community fundraising efforts. A social media plan can help you plan out how to create the best content that matches your mission and how to share that content so your followers will pass it on.

Tip #4: Start a conversation – and then listen

In Tip #3, we pointed out that social media is a great way to promote content that you want people to see and share, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking of your social media sites exclusively as a place to post content. Social media is a two-way street and starting conversations without coming back to listen is a missed opportunity. Ask for your followers opinions and make sure they know you are listening. Provide opportunities for them to get involved, question them, and challenge the opinions shared in a respectful way.

The more you can get citizens talking on your platform, the more people will join in the conversation, and the more effective your agency will be at serving the public. Invest time and thought into figuring out what people are interested in talking about, how you can start a two-way dialogue around those topics, and how to include those concepts in your social media planning to get people talking and sharing.

Tip #5: Track, test and adjust

Tips #1 through 4 are simple in concept but may take your organization time to implement depending on where you are in your social media journey. Once you have devoted time to connecting your online efforts, creating a consistent message, driving shares across your platforms, and stirring up two-way conversations, you can begin to put mechanisms in place that will identify which of your efforts are working best. Every community and agency is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating the perfect approach to driving public engagement through digital content. Even with the same constituency and mission statement, shifts in popular opinion and interests will require tweaks to your approach over time.

Watch for the social sites that are more engaged or where your reach is clearly having an impact on your mission. One way to do that is to set up dedicated landing pages for links from each of your social media sites in order to track which channel is generating the most interest in your online content. Focus your efforts on the channels that need the most attention: those generating the most or least interest in your services and offerings. By putting tracking abilities in place, testing different tactics and approaches to content creating, and adjusting based on what the data shows will improve your connection with the public and generate more and better conversations than ever.

More and more government organizations are setting up a social media presence and using online channels to connect with citizens. But if your agency is treating each of your platforms as a separate entity or sharing digital content inconsistently cross-platform, you are missing the opportunity to leverage your social media channels as a cohesive unit.

A sophisticated social media plan does not have to be complicated if you follow our tips. One by one, they will enable your organization to emphasize consistent cross-promotion, share content through connections, and enable tracking, testing and course-correcting with a social media plan that maximizes online influence.

These tips were inspired by a piece geared toward the private sector over at smartblogs.com – check it out here.

By Richard Fong, Technology Project Manager

Moderate impact. Low impact. Collision. Cleared.

If you travel on highways anywhere, wouldn’t it be nice to have these types of messages delivered to your email or phone so you could anticipate a change in your route and save time?

With some cool technology, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has started doing just that.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit and speak with Tom Stidham, a developer with WSDOT. He stated that, before using a proactive digital communication system, they would post traffic information on their website and then push out alerts via Twitter. While these two channels did their job, WSDOT was looking to increase their proactive communications by providing email and SMS alerts to people traveling throughout the state of Washington.

By using GovDelivery’s Send Bulletin application programming interface (API), Tom was able to quickly a­­nd effectively integrate these alerts with their current work flow process to send automated messages to the public. These messages include traffic incidents, road conditions, and construction­ alerts.

The public can now sign up to more than 50 email and SMS alerts for different regions within the state, including areas such as the Oregon border and the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, and metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma.

What does that mean for the people who live and visit Washington? They can find out what’s happening on roads throughout the state without having to constantly check Twitter or the department’s website. They get the information they need, controlling what updates they receive by subscribing only to the updates they want. And, maybe most importantly, if there’s a critical road closure (think the Skagit Bridge collapse), the SMS or email message that alerts residents and visitors to a potentially life-threatening road event can help save lives and protect property.

For more information on how you can leverage API technology to help your organization, watch my webinar, “Using APIs for success in Government."

Emergency communications is a critical process to get right. It literally is the difference in saving more lives when a disaster strikes. So, what exactly is the one-two punch needed to be truly effective when communicating with the public Red boxing glove concertina on white backgroundduring emergencies?

Maximum outreach plus multichannel distribution. This combination is an absolute necessity for today’s emergency communicators to be truly effective.

In my other recent posts on emergency notifications, I mentioned how reaching the maximum number of people during emergencies can help to save a lot more lives. Maximum reach needs to be a main goal for all government organizations, particularly Offices of Emergency Management. Just having a large list of subscribers doesn’t allow you to rest on your laurels. You have to actually be able to reach them when you need to. That’s why it’s critical that you use a multichannel approach when sending emergency notifications.

Think about all of the communication tools we use. Between the multiple email addresses (work, personal, etc.), mobile phone for voice and text messages, various social media profiles, and home landline phone, the number of communication channels goes on and on. This is why it’s critical for you to use multichannel distribution during an emergency. When an emergency hits, you need to use multiple channels to ensure that people get the information they need in order to take necessary precautions. Bottom line: by sending out emergency notifications through multiple channels, you are much more likely to reach them.

Many government organizations are still using a system in which they are relying solely on a landline channel to try to get a hold of people in emergencies. The problem with this approach is that a lot of people no longer use their landline phones, and those people would have to be home to get the emergency alert. With a robust, single-platform, multichannel system, you dramatically increase the chances of reaching citizens, wherever they are at the moment you’ve sent that message.

Easy Button1Maximum outreach, along with multichannel distribution, are key elements in reaching people in emergencies. There are solutions that provide multichannel communications, making it easy to integrate all of these emergency communication strategies, such as email, voice messages, SMS/text messages, and social media postings. When you have these in place, you can create one message and push it out through all of these channels at once. It’s like you’ve just pressed your very own “Easy” button!

Join us for the fourth and final podcast for more information on the power of combining maximum reach with multichannel distribution in emergencies.

Almost as soon as email was created, people started creating email lists so they could reach others with related interests. Email list software like LISTSERV became a vital way for communities of people to interact with each other.

In 2013, email is still incredibly valuable as a Email @communication channel, playing an important role in government communications. Agencies can use email for regular outreach and emergency communications, updating citizens about services or events of interest to them. (See my previous blog on Email Finds New Life in Integrated Campaigns.)

But maintaining separate email lists is no longer the best way to manage email subscriptions at the scale that most government agencies need. Each new email list adds management overhead and cost. And while subscribers like very detailed, targeted subscriptions, they don’t like having to manage many individual subscriptions, so they are less likely to opt-in for updates.

A new class of Digital Communication Management (DCM) solutions replaces email lists and adds essential automation and integration capabilities to subscription management. With DCM, government agencies can use email more efficiently and effectively to manage citizen communications.

Defining Digital Communication Management (DCM)

A DCM solution is much more than simply a collection of email lists. By consolidating subscription management and automating the creation and distribution of content across different subscriptions, a DCM solution transcends the limitations of email lists.

  • Agencies can create many different subscription options without additional management overhead.  People are more willing to sign up for notifications from very specific lists of interest to them.
  • Citizens or stakeholders can manage their subscription profile from one location, easily adding or changing their subscriptions.

A DCM system automatically monitors websites for new content and generates updates for relevant subscribers – reducing effort for government staff and ensuring timely notifications. And it integrates easily with other channels, such as text messaging, RSS updates and social media.

Making your own case for DCM

For most government agencies, deploying a DCM solution delivers a rapid return on investment in cost savings from reducing paper processes and shifting interactions to cost-effective, digital channels. They can also help you achieve other goals of reaching more stakeholders, increasing citizen awareness of services and programs, and improving emergency communications.

GovDelivery offers a white paper, The Transformative Power of Communications: Digital Communication Management for the Public Sector, with information to help you evaluate the potential for DCM in your organization, including:

  • Guidance on calculating the Return on Investment (ROI) from DCM
  • Real-world examples of federal, state and county government agencies that have moved from email lists to cloud-based DCM, and their results
  • Guidelines for a successful DCM deployment

If you’re ready to leave email list management in the past, download this paper and see if a Digital Communication Management solution is right for your agency.

Data SilosAs a government professional, chances are you know a thing or two about emergency notifications. It’s a critical tool that is an absolute necessity as a means to communicate effectively with the public in times of emergencies. However, what you may not realize is that using a single platform system to manage your emergency communications is just as important in maximizing effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the problem with current emergency communication tactics is that they often exist within a siloed structure. More simply put, many government organizations have different departments that are working separately when it comes to getting the word out to citizens in urgent situations. For example, emergency notification systems have typically been managed separately from the communications department within an organization. Although this may have been fairly efficient in the past, this structure is no longer effective in today’s highly mobile culture.

If your organization is currently working within a siloed communications structure, try using a single platform system instead. With cloud-based emergency notification solutions, your organization’s emergency notifications and digital communication systems can be connected so that your emergency operations center can work seamlessly with your communications department. Role-based permissions help limit who can send what kind of communications, but everything is managed in a single platform. This will increase efficiency in getting the word out during an emergency. And more importantly, work-togetherhaving these systems work efficiently and cohesively together can help to save people’s lives when survival depends on timeliness of emergency notifications.

In the past, using the capability of “Reverse Dial” (the ability to gain access to all landline contacts within specific geographical areas) may have been enough. But many people now use their mobile device as their main voice channel. Mobile devices allow for greater flexibility in receiving information via SMS text messaging, email, or newsgathering through web browsers. We are a hyper-connected society, surrounded by all that technology has brought, and your emergency communications strategy should reflect that.

Think about it. If you found yourself in an emergency situation, what’s the first thing you would want to know? First and foremost, you would want to know exactly what and where the situation is and how you and your family will be protected. You want the right resources, and you want them fast and easily accessible. And in urgent situations, whether it’s a natural disaster such as a hurricane, a water main break that could affect your family or a criminal situation that is close to home, you need that information as quickly as possible.

Join us for a four-part podcast series on Emergency Communications and how you can help your organization better communicate with the public in emergency situations. Listen to the first podcast here:
Siloed Communications Systems Create Inefficiency

Unlike businesses in the private sector, government organizations have an additional challenge. In times of emergencies, such as a natural disaster or criminal threat to the community, getting that message successfully delivered to the right audience, and at the right time, can help save lives. A government agency’s ability to easily connect with community members during times of emergencies is crucial. And if the possibility of saving more lives and communities hinges on your message getting successfully delivered, you want to make sure that you’re using the best tools to accomplish that.

To help you zero in on how to improve your organization’s communications, Adelaide O’Brien, Research Director for IDC Government Insights, will share the latest research on emergency communications for government during an upcoming webinar. Communicating vital information effectively with the public in emergencies is an absolute necessity in gaining and retaining citizen satisfaction, and Adelaide will offer tips and examples of what works.

A communications strategy is key in properly relaying important information to your audience. Using the right system can help you build an audience, manage contacts, and send messages quickly- to specific community members when necessary.

Join Adelaide for this webinar, where she will discuss the challenges, strategies and technologies that are shaping these critical communications today.

Featured Speaker: Adelaide O’Brien, Research Director for IDC Government Insights


Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Time: 1:00 pm Central
Cost: Free

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

To download Adelaide’s Analyst Connections report on emergency communications for government, visit http://direct.govdelivery.com/IDC-ENS-SM.

In previous blogs you’ve heard about how government organizations are embracing digital communication channels – replacing traditional face-to-face and paper-based methods – to share information with citizens and other stakeholders. In fact, Britain’s coalition government announced last month that it would be providing ‘Twitter exclusives’ to journalists to bolster its social media image and help prevent the spread of negative stories. But is Twitter alone the most effective way for the government to communicate with citizens and the media?

Social Media Use = More Email Communication

While Twitter may be an extremely useful tool in relaying updates to a wide group of people instantaneously, it has limitations. The pace at which Twitter updates occur means that updates could disappear from the top position in feeds within seconds, depending on the number of individuals social media montageand organizations citizens and media outlets follow. How can government organizations create a more lasting impression? A Nielsen study revealed that social media use actually makes people consume email more, not less – particularly for the highest social media users. That means social media users are looking for information that supplements what they see on Twitter, and email can help meet this need by providing enhanced content.

Multiple Channels – One Message

Instead of relying solely on Twitter, governments should utilize a comprehensive digital communications strategy that incorporates multiple channels to get the word out as quickly and broadly as possible. Email, with its broad user base and ease of accessibility, needs to be a vital component in this comprehensive strategy. Email also delivers the greatest value when it’s part of an integrated platform of communication tools. That means organizations should link outbound email with Twitter and other social media channels to provide a consistent and effective experience. Accordingly, the growth in available social media outlets has only reinforced the importance of email’s role as a reliable and foundational communications channel.

Seamless Communication Vehicles, Multiple Benefits

Implementing an integrated digital communications strategy can provide government organizations with a number of benefits, such as reduced costs and improved delivery to citizens and other stakeholders. Most importantly, by using a variety of communication channels, the public gets the information they want, when they want it and how they want it.

To learn more about how to effectively integrate email with social media, download the following two white papers written by Liz Azyan, an independent researcher and blogger specializing in government communication and online engagement:

The best practices and case studies outlined in these white papers will demonstrate how utilizing a comprehensive set of digital communication solutions will help enhance government interaction with the public – whether citizens or the media.

There’s a school of thought that says email is outdated – that people are moving to social media channels (Facebook, Twitter) and mobile text messaging. Many think the generation entering the workforce today sees email as an ‘old-fashioned’ communication medium. phone-mobile email

So, should forward-looking government agencies focus their digital communication strategies on social media and mobile messaging rather than email?

Research suggests the opposite.

Reports of email’s death are greatly exaggerated

Research by Nielsen suggests that heavy social media users use more, not less, email. Even for the socially savvy “Gen Y” demographic, email is an essential part of life.

Email is a powerful communication channel for governments. It’s cost-effective and increasingly pervasive. And as more people have phones with email capabilities, it’s a very fast and efficient way to reach many citizens wherever they are.

In fact, combining email with other digital communications increases the reach of government agencies across all channels. Many agencies use email as part of integrated outreach and interaction strategies:

  • Letting citizens subscribe for email updates to current road conditions, new video postings, meeting announcements or new website resources.
  • Using email for emergency communications in conjunction with Twitter, text messages and other real-time channels.
  • Combining email with social media – such as emailing a daily digest of Twitter updates to citizens who subscribe.

In the white paper “Integrating Email in Government Communications,” industry analyst and blogger Liz Azyan profiles how the Driving Standards Agency in the U.K. uses email as an integral part of driving engagement along multiple digital channels.

For example, the agency sends email updates to subscribers about new videos it releases on YouTube. As a result, they have seen a 163% increase in video views, and their new video releases quickly become among the most popular on the YouTube Motoring channel.

Download the paper to read more about specific strategies and best practices for integrating email in digital government communications.

Social media seems so easy. Getting a social media presence going is as simple as setting up an account and starting to post or tweet. It’s tempting to hire someone to get started – and check off that ‘social media’ box in e-government initiatives.

But this approach results in isolated social media outposts that don’t deliver the broad benefits that public sector organisations hope to see from new channels.

Measuring your returns

Any technology initiative in government, including social media, has to pass a litmus test: does it deliver a value for the taxpayer’s investment? It needs to either cut costs or improve service to citizens. And when efforts are isolated, it’s difficult to identify or prove their effect.

For example, does your social media presence reduce inbound calls? Deliver insight into citizen opinions?  Streamline or replace paper processes? Increase your reach to citizens?

Social media efforts are often isolated

In the private sector, marketing organisations have been the big adopters of social media. Corporations have been shifting marketing budgets from traditional channels to social media and other digital channels.

But even the corporate marketers are struggling. A recent CMO Survey by Duke University Fuqua School of Business indicates that while marketing organisations are increasing their spending on social media, these efforts are not well integrated into marketing communications.

 Source: The CMO Survey, cmosurvey.org, February 2013, Highlights and Insights, Figure 5.2]

On a scale of 1 to 7, the CMOs on average rate themselves a 3.4 in terms of integration of social media in marketing strategy. More surprising, this number has remained steady over the past couple of years, while the spending on social media has increased.

The importance of integration

In her recent paper “Integrating Social Media in Government Communications,” government communication analyst and blogger Liz Azyan suggests that the real, measurable benefits of social media come when you integrate it in broader campaigns. The paper gathers examples of government agencies using creative, cross-channel campaigns to improve service to citizens, including:

  • Proactively communicating with citizens over Twitter and Facebook about traffic, weather, and emergency issues
  • Using text messages or Tweets to alert people to updates available on a website
  • Collaborating with citizens in social media channels to improve public safety and identify rioters
  • Supporting and training volunteers helping within their own communities

In each of these cases, social media is part of a broader communication strategy.  To read more about integrating social media in digital strategies, download the paper.

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