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

Collaboration, customer service, and mobile communications top the list of trends important to state and local governments in 2013, according to results of a GovDelivery survey of more than 400 individuals in U.S. state, county and city government organizations.

Improvements to the three trends can help state and local governments fulfill their core missions more efficiently:

  • Better collaboration increases efficiency.
  • Better customer service through increased engagement with citizens and stakeholders results in organizations fulfilling their missions.
  • Expanded use of mobile devices helps government organizations reduce their costs while enhancing productivity, collaboration, and customer service.

There is overlap in these trends. An initiative to better interact with citizens through text messaging, mobile-optimized websites with self-service options, and integrated digital communications can address all three objectives of improving customer service, supporting mobility and improving collaboration.

Survey respondents identified the top priorities from a list of potential trends including today’s hot topics, such as big data, cloud computing and cybersecurity. Respondents were asked to look at these trends through three filters:

  • Trends taking center stage in 2013 (affecting their agencies and others)
  • Trends directly affecting their own work
  • Trends that their organizations were already addressing

While there are differences between state, county and city government responses, all levels of government shared the top three trends overall:

  • Collaboration with other agencies and with citizens
  • Citizen/customer service
  • Mobility and bring your own device (BYOD)

statechartFollowing is a brief summary of each top trend presented in a white paper about the survey that is available for download.

Collaboration is Critical

Collaboration tops the list in the trends taking center stage for most state and local agencies in 2013. The question was framed to include collaboration with other government organizations as well as citizens.

Social media use is increasing within the private sector so it comes as no surprise that citizens want to collaborate with their local governments on social media and other channels such as interacting with government organizations using their own devices.

Most of the surveyed individuals said that collaboration affected their jobs directly and that their agencies are already addressing this trend. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement, as reported in the white paper.

When asked if they use social media to find information that affects their own jobs and organizations, just over half of respondents said yes. Particularly in county governments, many respondents are not yet making use of social media for collaborative purposes.

In 2013, expect state and local government organizations to expand their use of digital technologies in support of collaboration:

  • Supporting collaboration with other agencies and citizens through pervasive social media channels
  • Cross-promoting programs and communications with other agencies through websites and digital technologies
  • Using dedicated communities and channels for inter-agency collaboration.

Customer Service is a Top Priority

For state and city government respondents, the top trend identified as affecting their own jobs and as being addressed by government was citizen/customer service. For county governments, citizen/customer service ranked second behind collaboration.

City governments have made the greatest strides in using social media to share news and information from their organizations. This is positive, as communication with customers is the first critical stage of customer service for many organizations.

Email and text messaging are other important channels for improving service through communications. Letting citizens subscribe to the information they need helps government agencies communicate more effectively and thus, serve the public more effectively.

In 2013, expect broader adoption of both social media and other digital channels in support of customer service initiatives across all branches of government.

Embracing Mobile Government

Expanding the use of mobile devices and phones is a major concern for government organizations at all levels. Internally, many employees want to use their own devices to access applications and data. Externally, citizens and constituents are embracing mobile technologies and mobile applications at a rapid pace creating new opportunities for government agencies to engage with citizens.

Enabling mobile access to government systems provides an opportunity to engage citizens and improves productivity while reducing government coststo provision devices to employees and contractors.

The rapid growth in mobile adoption may be outpacing some government efforts. While about half of the survey respondents listed mobile/BYOD as a top trend, fewer said that their agencies are actually addressing the issue.

Getting a handle on mobile and personal devices is a top priority for state and local government organizations:

  • Externally, government organizations need to find ways to engage with citizens and constituents on their mobile devices, whether on dedicated government mobile applications and mobile-optimized websites or through email and text messaging.
  • Internally, government organizations need to develop policies around using personal devices and security protections for their most vital systems. Mobile devices and applications can help employees be more responsive and collaborative with their colleagues and others. As the demand for higher customer satisfaction grows in the public sector, so will the need for mobile devices.

Download the white paper for more details about the survey results.

More collaboration, better customer service, and expanded use of mobile devices and applications are top trends for federal government agencies in 2013. The trends are intertwined. Mobile devices/apps make information available 24/7 and increase interaction between customers and agencies and between agencies. The result is more collaboration and better customer service.

About 200 individuals in U.S. federal agencies identified the top 2013 trends in a GovDelivery survey. They identified the top trends from a list of hot topics, such as big data/open data, cybersecurity, budgets, technology and cloud computing.

Respondents were asked to look at the trends through three filters:

  • Trends taking center stage in 2013 (affecting their agencies and others)
  • Trends directly affecting their own work
  • Trends that their organizations are already addressing

The three trends ranked at the top of all three categories were those with the greatest impact on government productivity and effectiveness:

  • Mobility and bring your own device (BYOD)
  • Citizen/customer service
  • Collaboration with other agencies and with citizens

fedchartFollowing is a brief summary of each top trend presented in a white paper that is available for download.

Mobile Government Tops the Agenda

Mobile government/bring your own device (BYOD) tops the list of trends that respondents think will take center stage in 2013. Citizens and constituents are embracing mobile technologies and mobile apps at a rapid pace creating new opportunities for government agencies to engage with them. Mobile is an important channel for information distribution and can be critical for time-sensitive communications.

The government recognizes the importance of mobile communications. Improving citizens’ mobile access to government service is a critical part of the White House Digital Government Strategy. As part of the push to make digital government customer-focused, the strategy requires federal agencies to use mobile technologies for priority customer services.

Despite the push by the government to encourage use of mobile technologies, this is one area where agencies may be lagging in their efforts, as the white paper reports. While more than half of the respondents to the GovDelivery survey listed mobile/BYOD as a top trend, only 39 percent said their agencies are addressing this issue.

Citizen/Customer Service is Top of Mind

Citizen/customer service is one of the top trends in all three categories (broad trends, trends affecting the respondents’ own jobs, and trends already addressed within their organizations). Federal agencies want to improve service whether the customer is a taxpayer working with the IRS, a patient at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or one of the many other types of agency customers.

Communication, the first critical stage of customer service, is an area of opportunity for improved service. Yet many federal agencies are ignoring social media for relevant citizen interactions, according to the white paper, even though the White House Digital Government Strategy has a mandate to provide “customer-centric” government through the use of digital technologies. In 2013, expect federal agencies to follow their counterparts in state and local governments with expanded use of social media and other digital channels (SMS, email, self-service web, mobile apps) for customer service and citizen engagement.

Collaboration is Everyone’s Job

The top trend that respondents see affecting their own work is the trend toward collaboration, both with other government organizations and with citizens. They expect an increase in the use of digital communications to support collaboration, both inter-agency and with the public.

For example, collaboration with citizens often takes place on public forums utilizing social media channels. Inter-agency collaboration can range from cross-promoting digital content and initiatives to working together behind the scenes as happens when the government responds to emergency situations. When a major weather event occurs, such as a hurricane, federal agencies communicate internally and with state and local agencies.

Fueling collaboration are several converging trends, including:

  • Widely available digital tools and technologies that enable new levels of collaboration
  • The demand for increased productivity and efficiency with existing budgets
  • A new generation of individuals entering the workforce with collaborative work practices

Agencies will need to identify and implement appropriate technologies and policies/processes for managing digital communications and will need to consider security and accessibility issues.

Download the white paper for full survey details and analysis.

uspsWhen the transcontinental telegraph line was completed in 1861, the Pony Express stopped sending riders galloping across the United States to deliver important messages. Change marched on. Mail transport by the railway gave way to the highways and then the airways. Of course, the internet has ushered in the digital age, and again the communications field is experiencing the impact. It should come as no surprise to anyone that a decline in mail volume prompted the United States Postal Service (USPS) to consider stopping Saturday mail delivery, with the plan only being scrapped due to a Congressional mandate that’s been around since the 1980s.

Still, it’s clear that with online bill paying, e-mail, and other electronic communications, businesses have reduced the volume of traditional print mail created and distributed. This trend of decreasing dependence on traditional mail service supports polls showing strong public support for eliminating Saturday mail delivery to help the USPS meet its financial challenges.

In a CBS News poll, 71 percent of respondents favored the delivery cuts, and in a USPS poll, 80 percent expressed support. Both polls show broad support across all age and income groups and all regions of the country. Even Democrats and Republicans are aligned on this issue with 75 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats favoring the end of Saturday mail delivery, according to the CBS poll.

It might seem surprising that senior citizens support the mail delivery cut. But the fact is they too are using digital communications in increasing numbers. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 87 percent of senior citizens use e-mail and search engines. The fastest growth for social network site usage is among users age 74 and older. Also, more older adults than ever before are watching video, listening to music, and using classified ads online. A Nielsen study  found that the favorite online activities of people 65-plus are sending and receiving e-mail, viewing maps, checking the weather and paying bills.

Other trends also indicate the importance of the public sector adopting digital methods to meet the needs of constituents. For example, searching for health information online was once most popular among older adults but now is the third most popular activity for all internet users 18 and older. The Nielsen study found key internet activities are becoming more popular across all age groups. These include:web communication

  • Emailing
  • Using search engines
  • Seeking health information
  • Getting news
  • Buying products
  • Making travel reservations or purchases
  • Doing online banking

Increased online activity and clear broad support for mail delivery cuts further support the need for the public sector to start broadly adopting digital methods of communicating with the public. But I also know that this is the “easy” answer. The Postal Service’s budgetary and service situation much more complex, which means the answer isn’t necessarily going to be as simple as “going digital.”

To this end, there are some highly innovative and invested stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and government employees working together to bring a solution to the table. The upcoming PostalVision 2020/3.0 conference in Washington, DC, currently in its third year, hopes to do just that. GovDelivery CEO and co-Founder, Scott Burns, will be speaking at the conference as well, lending his expertise on government-to-citizen digital communication efforts.

What are your thoughts on using digital communications to provide information to the public? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the public sector can deliver better services in an increasingly digital world.

Customer service, collaboration, and mobile communications top the list of trends important to UK government in 2013, according to results of a GovDelivery survey of nearly 100 individuals.

The respondents – individuals within the UK government — identified the top trends from a list of hot topics, such as big data/open data, cybersecurity, budgets, technology and cloud computing. They were asked to identify the most important trends affecting the public sector at large and their specific jobs.

Respondents were asked to look at the trends through three filters:
    Trends taking center stage in 2013 (affecting their agencies and others)
•    Trends directly affecting their own work
    Trends that their organizations are already addressing

The three trends ranked at the top of all three categories were those with the greatest impact on government productivity and effectiveness:
•    Citizen/customer service
    Collaboration with other agencies and with citizens
•    Mobility and bring your own device (BYOD)

The top trends are related. For example, an initiative to provide citizens with the ability to subscribe to email and text messaging updates might address the three objectives of improving customer service, supporting mobility, and improving collaboration.

As a whitepaper on the survey notes, embracing digital government initiatives will be a key to improving efficiencies. By improving collaboration, digital services can help departments work more efficiently. And by streamlining communications and services for citizens, digital tools can help departments meet their objectives of improving customer service even during constrained budgets.

Following is a brief summary of each top trend presented in the white paper about the survey that is available for download.

Customer Service is the Top Priority

Customer service was the top trend identified for UK government as well as the top trend that departments were already addressing. More than two-thirds of the respondents said they were currently addressing customer service.

Digital technologies are playing a major part in how government departments are addressing customer service. The Government Digital Strategy published by the Cabinet Office calls for government organizations to embrace digital services to constituents.

About half of respondents said their departments use social media to communicate with citizens, which leaves room for improvement.

Given the focus on digital government, expect to see the increasing adoption of social media, email, web and other digital channels to improve communications with constituents, such as:
•    Expanding awareness of and participation in services
    Raising the profile of community development projects
    Communicating public safety alerts
    Cross-promoting programs and topics across departments and channels
    Allowing customers to subscribe to updates using the channels of their choice (text messaging, email, RSS feeds, etc.)

Collaboration is the New Imperative

Collaboration is needed with other government entities, between departments and levels, and with citizens. The emphasis on collaboration is due in part to resource constraints, as collaboration should improve efficiency.

The Government Digital Strategy suggests using digital tools and techniques to engage with and consult the public by creating plans to listen to and understand conversations in social media, using the insight gained to inform the policy-making process and to collaborate more effectively with partners.

As the white paper notes, there is a difference between passive listening and active collaboration. As the government seeks to solicit citizen input on policies and services, they will need to expand their use of digital channels, including:
•    Interacting on existing social media communities already widely used by customers
    Using dedicated online communities for stakeholders
    Creating other digital channels with citizens to streamline information exchanges and knowledge sharing

Mobile Government

Given the increased use of mobile devices and applications by the public, it’s not surprising that mobile government is the third most important trend affecting UK government.

Within government, employees are increasingly using mobile devices to access government sites and applications. Externally, more citizens are accessing government services and information using mobile devices.

Of survey respondents, 42 percent said a more mobile government would affect their jobs, yet only 32 percent said their departments were addressing the issue.

In 2013, expect that UK government organizations will find new ways to interact with citizens over digital channels, including Twitter, text messaging, and mobile-accessible websites. Government departments will look for ways to integrate transactional messaging and services over digital channels.

Download the white paper for more details and analysis.

By Lance Horne, General Manager, GovDelivery Federal Team

talking bubbleNo one thought it would happen. If you look back at all the news stories and interviews, no one in the Federal government believed that sequestration would actually happen. But here we are, and it’s clear that sequestration is making an impact. In my last post, I focused on employee communications during sequestration, focusing on how important it is to keep the lines of communication open for your staff. Now, more than ever, being a leader is as much about communicating effectively as it is about vision and strategy.

In today’s post, I want to focus on a different kind of communication: government-to-citizen communication. In the wake of sequestration, I’m pretty sure your agency may have already had a few encounters with confused citizens over what will be cut from the budget – and how it will affect them. And rightfully so. Generally speaking, people are aware that there will be budget cuts. Deep down, people probably realize there’s a possibility that their particular program may be subject to cutbacks. The biggest challenge is how to talk with citizens and stakeholders and keep them updated about what’s going on.

But, in spite of all the challenges that sequestration poses, I believe it’s possible to gain exceptional reach and value with digital communications components that drive efficiency in the face of furloughed employees and funding shortfalls.

Yesterday I talked about how the cuts may be sporadic, and I used the example of national parks. With summer right around the corner, people are likely planning vacations and may be considering visits to parks. Keeping them informed becomes crucial to keeping them satisfied, allowing them to plan their vacations better. They may not be happy with park closures, but they will be more satisfied knowing ahead of time rather than showing up to the park and not being able to get in.

In an age when new information can go viral in a matter of minutes, your agency is competing for public attention on a variety of devices.  To keep people informed, you need to manage multichannel digital communications – email, text messaging, social media and more – in one system. Having a digital communication system in place at a time like this can save your agency lots of time while continuing to keep customers informed and satisfied.

In our work with more than 550 government organizations worldwide, we tell our customers that you need to have a digital communication management system that can help you dramatically increase your direct connections with the public. By maximizing your direct connections with the public, when you need to relay important information that will impact a citizen’s life, you can do so immediately through multiple channels.

I gave one example of parks earlier, but there are additional situations where an efficient communication strategy is critical. Hurricane season starts in June, and it’s plausible that sequestration could still be in full effect at that time. For an organization like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), sequestration cuts may mean that there are fewer resources to meet the agency’s mission of preparedness. Yet, FEMA’s goal isultimately to keep America’s citizens safe, and this isn’t something the agency can bend on. In emergency situations, effective government-to-citizen communications are lifesaving. Even with sequestration cuts, relaying critical information is simply not an area that should be eliminated.

In addition, collaborative digital communication tools can be extremely helpful. By using a collaborative forum, you might be able to strengthen your relationship with the public by being able to gather feedback and create dialogue with citizens in an environment that’s more secure than a social network. By creating collaborative communities, you can create secure, virtual communities that encourage higher levels of engagement. Not only do you provide information, but you can monitor and respond to feedback easily. Plus, you’ll be able to publish content quickly to as many, or as few, people you desire.

I’d like to hear about what you’re doing in your agency to effectively communicate with the public during sequestration. What have you tried that works? Are you forming communities? Have you found other ways to keep citizens informed? Please share what you think is working.

Read my first post, Don’t Sequester Your Agency from Employees During Sequestration.

To get the FREE EBOOK, Leveraging Digital Communications In Emergencies, click here.

Believe it or not, government organizations can learn a thing or two from McDonald’s. While on the surface the two hold very little in common with one another, similarity can be found in their mission to get the word out and to serve and satisfy their customers.

For many organizations, getting customers to engage with or buy their product is the key goal. While this may not appear to have anything to do with government, there are lessons to be learned. For a government organization to find success in their communications efforts, valuable connections need to be made. A connection is made when a citizen engages with a resource or piece of information that is of interest to them.




Cue McDonalds.



“Would you like fries with that?” is a phrase we are all too familiar with. Behind these five familiar words lies the most famous cross-selling technique around. Because a customer is already in the buying mode (placing their burger order), the simple addition of a complementary product (those delicious, golden fries) is an easy add-on; not only can the customer afford the additional purchase, but they’re reminded how they want the additional treat, thus increasing the total value of the sale. This simplistic strategy finds success by sparking an idea in the customer’s head with those famous five words.

As GovDelivery’s CEO and co-Founder, Scott Burns, points out during GovDelivery’s Washington D.C. webcast, these up-selling and cross-selling moments are where government organizations can dramatically change the effectiveness of their communications.

Another way to connect with citizens is by collaborating with other government agencies. By simply suggesting that a citizen sign up to receive information from another government organization, another valuable connection is made- for the citizen as well as the other organization. By cross-promoting your organization’s various resources such as newsletters, websites and forums across your digital communication outlets, you place a new opportunity right in front of your citizen, making it easier and more appealing for them to take action.

Scott Burns uses the Social Security Administration (SSA) as an example to demonstrate the idea of up-selling in government. SSA created a baby names Web page on their website listing the most popular baby names from previous years, knowing how popular this topic is among new families. In his presentation, Scott notes that though this topic isn’t nearly as important to the SSA with regard to mission goals and objectives, as having citizens go online to apply and monitor their Social Security benefits, the organization still understands how much of a draw the baby names information can be. So, while visiting the baby names Web page, citizens are given the option to sign up to receive other SSA alerts that are more impactful.

Thus, government’s opportunity to cross-sell or “to offer the fries with the burger”.

By placing options to sign up for other newsletters, links to other digital communication channels and links to higher value activities on the baby names Web page itself, SSA now leverages the baby names page to effectively and efficiently cross-promote their other topics.

High value and low value activities will vary from organization to organization. However, the key is to determine what they are for your organization. From there, finding topics to help your organization cross-promote is fairly simple.

To hear Scott Burns’ full discussion on the transformative power of communications, check out the video by clicking 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.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “What is futurism?” And then your next question is likely, “And what’s that got to do with government?” I’ve been reading a recently published book, Think Like a Futurist: Know What Changes, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next by Cecily Sommers, that explains futurism as the practice of engaging in “new thinking in order to connect today’s pressures with tomorrow’s realities.”

So what’s this got to do with government? Well, it turns out, quite a bit. Government Technology covered a conference where Brian David Johnson, Intel’s director of future casting and resident futurist gave the keynote. The article noted that Johnson stated how “crucial [it will be] for government agencies to think well into the future when planning technology implementations.” Moreover, he is quoted as saying, “…government agencies must prepare for the future of tech by having a vision, and contemplating what humans will be like down the road.”

Especially now, in a time with unprecedented budgetary constraints (re: sequestration), extensive technological advances and broad demographic changes, this kind of forward-looking thinking can help anchor and prepare government organizations to take on tumultuous times.

Sommers_3D book shot.jpg


And that’s exactly what Cecily Sommers’ book Think Like a Futurist can help you do, whether you’re a government technologist or communications specialist or administrator. In the book, she discusses the “Four Forces of Change” – resources, technology, demographics, and governance – and how understanding each force helps you “get a big-picture perspective on any challenge you may face. Understand how they work together to drive change, and you will be able not only to avert crises but also to uncover ideas and opportunities…along the way.”

Does this sound too pie-in-the-sky? After reading the book, there are some deeply compelling examples of how futurism applies to the broader call for innovation in government through technology. For instance, she writes about a Bangladeshi man, Iqbal, who brings the mobile phone movement to Bangladesh’s most poor and rural citizens after he realizes how critical communications technology is to increasing productivity “by helping people coordinate their work and resources.” For the rural and poor citizens in Bangladesh, this was a profound advancement in their quality of life and the country’s economic growth. Iqbal didn’t invent the cell phone, but he had the vision to use this technology in a new way to improve the quality of life for thousands of people in his home country. Cecily notes that Iqbal understood that mobile phone technology was here to stay. And he understood the demographics of his country. Those two pieces of knowledge inspired his vision.

This is just one example from the book, which I encourage you to read, but why not hear from Cecily yourself? She will be speaking at our next two Digital Communications Tour stops (Oakland and Denver). We’ll also be giving away her book (quantities are limited) and attendees will have a chance to ask Cecily questions after her keynote.

Come find out how you can think like a futurist. Register for the Oakland stop or the Denver stop today.

Co-written by Mary Yang, Senior Communications Manager, and  Anna Stroncek, Marketing and Communications Intern- GovDelivery

The recent Google announcement that it would be shutting down Google Reader has led to a flurry of blog posts and discussions around RSS feeds, their importance (or lack thereof), and what to do now.

What is an RSS Feed?

For those of you non-techies out there, or maybe those of you whom just need a quick refresher on what an RSS feed is, here’s a short and sweet explanation.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (RSS), which is essentially a format for delivering regularly changing web content. RSS feeds allow a user to subscribe to their favorite news sources, blogs, websites, and other digital properties, and then receive the latest content from all those different areas or sites in one place, without having to repeatedly visit each individual site.

Picture your Twitter Feed filled with postings of new content from your favorite sources rather than 140 characters informing you of which friend is currently enjoying the new vanilla spice latte from Starbucks, #delicious.

RSS was developed in the 1990s, giving websites the ability to push information out to their subscribers as opposed to a subscriber having to check for new content by going to each individual website. This new development brought on increased capabilities for websites and blogs to capture new visitors and turn them into returning visitors, as well as helping to increase the online ranking of the website to bring increased overall awareness.

Now fast forward to 2013. RSS feeds still exist, and they still do get used. However, they’re no longer the new kid on the block, so they’re not as ‘popular’ as they once were. More and more that small orange widget seems to go missing from the ever-increasing lineup of widgets on any given website.

With all the buzz surrounding social media, it’s easy to argue that RSS feeds are dying out and becoming a thing of the past. Who needs to subscribe to RSS feeds when you can get instant news and updates from outlets like Twitter?

Maybe that’s what Google’s thinking by shuttering Google Reader, which, just a few of years ago, was the RSS tool to use. But what’s next, especially with this new development in the tech world?

The Future of RSS

Today’s world is filled with massive amounts of information. According to IBM, 90% of today’s existing data has been created in just the past two years. People no longer sit down at their desktop and surf the web for an hour a day. FlipboardInstead, they are constantly creating, searching for information, and retrieving content from all types of devices – smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops. As these digital technologies continue to evolve and move in a more mobile direction, new opportunities arise for technologies like RSS.

Hot new mobile applications like Flipboard provide a great example of how RSS feeds can be leveraged to bring updated digital content to customers. Flipboard publishes content from thousands of sources via optimized RSS feeds. Publishers are pushing out their new content via RSS, and Flipboard leverages these feeds to users in a magazine-like layout (within Flipboard). This application can be used on smartphones, tablets and e-readers bringing customers the content they desire in a simple, convenient, personal and aesthetically pleasing way.

PulsePhonesAnother example of leveraging RSS feeds is the application Pulse. Pulse, quoted by Steve Jobs as “a wonderful RSS reader”, is an elegant newsreader application that uses publishers’ RSS feeds to read and publish content. Pulse brings its 25 million (and counting) users their favorite blogs, magazines and social networks to one place at one time. Similar to Flipboard, their application is compatible across iOS and Android platforms, but also makes content even more accessible and convenient with its compatibility to Windows, Nook, Kindle, Xbox and the web.

These two applications have been around for a while now but still mainly pull from well-known publications or newspapers. With the death of Google Reader on our doorstep, tech firms are already on the hunt for Google Reader’s massive user base. Digg announced just this week that they’re speeding up the release of an RSS reader/application. But in their statement, they note that they’re going to push the envelope of RSS too:

We hope to identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features (including its API), but also advance them to fit the Internet of 2013, where networks and communities like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Hacker News offer powerful but often overwhelming signals as to what’s interesting.

So what does this mean for you?

The demise of Google Reader sounds like an open invitation for some tech firms to start innovating on a well-defined technology to make it more relevant and integrated into the tools we’re already using every day. This could mean that RSS feeds could become the new cool in digital technology, and since it leverages technology that’s fairly stable, you could roll with this curve once it hits simply by instituting an RSS feed.

Much like magazines and newspapers, governments and their organizations possess a lot of information and produce a lot of great content. However, it can be a challenge to attract regular visitors to your digital properties, which is why RSS feeds and proactive communication comes in handy. For GovDelivery clients, all your digital communications created and sent out via the Digital Communication Management (DCM) platform can be collected in an RSS feed, allowing you to push content out to your citizens and stakeholders easily. One great example is the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) in the UK. They offer different types of RSS feeds, tailored to the topics they’ve defined in GovDelivery DCM:

Their digital communications management system allows them to segment their RSS feeds so readers don’t have to figure out what’s important – if you’re an instructor, you merely subscribe to their instructors email topic or you follow their instructors RSS feed.

Another great government example is the White House. The White House has developed a mobile app that pushes out content from The White House Blog, press articles, photo galleries, LIVE stream videos, speeches and more all by way of RSS feeds. The app is visually appealing and easy to navigate. This is a great way to emulate apps like Flipboard and push your organizational content into the mobile sphere while leveraging content and tools you already have available.

And although the White House may have a slight advantage over smaller government entities in terms of content (a live stream of the State of the Union), state and local governments can leverage RSS feeds and content that’s already available to inform and educate. People like to know and see what’s going on where they live. So take a look at what your organization currently produces (blogs, photos, events, news updates, videos, etc.) and find out if you can pull those pieces of content into an RSS feed (or multiple RSS feeds) to help expand your digital communications reach even more.

Do you use Google Reader personally? How do you feel about the announcement? Let us know what you think might be ahead for RSS feeds in the comments.

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.

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