A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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Last week, the Federal Consulting Group (FCG) hosted the 2014 Government Customer Satisfaction Forum. The program was jam-packed with public sector and private sector experts, including:

  • Ross Smith from the Office of Technology for the Veterans Administration spoke on his efforts to increase satisfaction of different tech-related interactions
  • Dr. Forrest Morgeson with the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) shared the 2013 government-wide customer satisfaction benchmarks
  • Sheri Petras of CFI Group discussed government call center satisfaction results
  • Dave Lewan with ForeSee released the Q4 2013 results for Federal e-government satisfaction surveys

There was a ton of great information presented. For those who didn’t have the chance to attend, I summarized some of the day’s highlights, while calling out the points I found most interesting (so if you don’t have time to read it all, just skim the highlighted version!).

Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI Group, presented findings on call center satisfaction results and discussed the various methods that customers used to contact government, including phone, online channels, social media and more. One takeaway was the effect of interactive voice response, or IVR, satisfaction for customers, which scored low enough that Petras encouraged all attendees to call their agency to see how the IVR menu works. She also highlighted the statistic that about one-third of people 65 or older prefer digital or online channels. That’s a trend we have noted previously, too.

But the most interesting data point in Petras’ presentation was the drastic increase in people who contacted the government via phone (versus online channels) from 2012 to 2013. And that’s where Dr. Morgeson’s presentation was able to shed some light on decreased online channel usage.

Dr. Morgeson revealed the government-wide customer satisfaction benchmarks for 2013, with the Federal government coming in at 66 (on a scale of 100). This was a 3.4% decline from 2012, and the largest decline since 2010. Surprisingly, ACSI attributes the drop to government agency websites: “…in particular, users find the sites more difficult to navigate, less reliable, and the information provided less useful.”

Petras’ data around increased phone usage makes a lot of sense in this context: if government customers are frustrated and unable to find the information they need online, they’re going to reach for the phone; which is why Dr. Morgeson emphasized that websites and digital channels were an important lever to increasing customer satisfaction.  His commentary on this was astute: with the increased effort to shift citizens to digital self-service channels, websites are going to be bogged down with traffic, and if the website is overloaded with information and suffers from unclear navigation, the process becomes frustrating for customers.

But, in my opinion, Dave Lewan with ForeSee had the most provocative and strategic takeaway for attendees, one that most clearly identifies the underlying issue at play here: government organizations are serving up enormous amounts of content on the Web, through mobile sites or apps, as well as via traditional and social media channels. In this multichannel world, how can the content that a particular customer wants or needs be delivered easily and consistently – without a ton of digging through websites, scrolling through newsfeeds, or having to call customer service?

This is where data is your best friend. As noted at the forum, data is critical to customer satisfaction. To serve your audience, you need to know what’s working for them and what’s not; what they’re interested in and what they need. So how do you do that? For the first part, measuring customer satisfaction with your digital and traditional communications channels can help you understand what’s working and what’s not.

But you also need to get more granular: what information does your customer want or need, and how do you serve that up to him or her? Sometimes, the best answer is the most simple: ask them. Ask your customers to identify their topics of interest. Ask them if they want to receive proactive notifications when content on your website or blog has changed or when new information has been added. Then deliver those notifications to them via email or text message when they want it. Ask them if they’re interested in getting a digest of your social media content delivered right to their inbox, so they know that they’re not missing what your organization posts to Twitter or YouTube. Your customers will appreciate that you are taking the time and effort to deliver a more personalized experience for them. In fact, recent private sector marketing studies have found that consumers are willing to share information about themselves, such as age, gender, and hobbies, to receive more personalized offers.

Some of the top-rated government websites for the last quarter of 2013 have this functionality already built into their customer experiences. MedlinePlus, MedlinePlus en español, the National Women’s Health Information Center, and the Social Security Administration all offer customers the option to receive updates with “the latest information on the…topics that matter to you most” (from the MedlinePlus website).

WomensHealth.gov - website MedlinePlus - website

This is just one way to better serve your customers with the information they need and want. Another clear way to improve customer service is by updating your agency’s website navigation to become more user-friendly. Ultimately, there are many ways to improve the customer satisfaction score with your organization, but these two levers can make an immediate impact on your customers’ satisfaction level.

What is your agency doing to measure and improve your customers’ satisfaction? I’d love to hear your thoughts and initiatives.

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Guest Post by: Lynn Wehrman, President & Test Management Team Director, WeCo

As the President of a small, mission-based start-up, I’m often asked what led me to leave a comfortable government position to pioneer a company in a field that is only just emerging, covering a need that few companies understand: electronic accessibility.  While the reasons were many, including seeing first-hand how inaccessible websites keep people living with disabilities from receiving services and having access to vital information, an extremely important, underlying reason came from what I observed when I was just beginning to encounter the fields of accessibility and disability advocacy.WeCo access approved

Like many of us who enter accessibility from a government position, I was a writer/web developer who was assigned to assist with a consumer-based committee who was working on accessibility initiatives with my agency, the Minnesota Department of Transportation.  Being the only department that builds infrastructure, DOTs can be exceptionally vulnerable to legal liability surrounding accessibility.  As a result, the agency I worked for was encountering a growing number of complaints and facing potential lawsuits over curb ramps and other crucial features in our transportation system that were not working for taxpayers who lived with disabilities.

In response, Mn/DOT forged a committee of individuals representing advocacy groups and citizens living with disabilities, many of whom lived with disabilities themselves, to work directly with the agency to update its Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan and begin to implement accessible changes to the state’s infrastructure.  My initial part in that effort was to construct an accessible website devoted to this work and to see to it that meeting communications were accessible.

Prior to this position, my contact with people living with physical disabilities was somewhat limited. Working on Mn/DOT’s ADA Transition Plan Committee allowed me to meet people who encountered life in a very different way than what I experienced.

The experience made me realize the amount of time and level of understanding, that is required to truly recognize the needs people have when they navigate life differently and how few people and organizations feel that they should invest that time or nurture that understanding.

For example, I witnessed people living with sight-related disabilities spend hours attempting to locate one piece of information on a website, simply because a web developer had not taken the time to mark the information so that their screen reader software could easily locate it.  I also heard the anger in the user’s voice when they contacted the organization, several times, asking them to facilitate the use of their product or information, and realizing that they were not considered a priority.

Many of the early meetings I attended at Mn/DOT regarding the ADA Transition Plan were peppered with that type of interaction and a strongly nurtured expectation on the part of the taxpayers who lived with disabilities that it was likely that no one would listen to their needs.

At the same time, I also watched caring government employees attending advocacy events after their work hours, pouring over research to educate themselves and actively listening to angry and frustrated taxpayers, with a strong desire to change that pattern of ignorance and indifference.

From the unique position I occupied as the group communication coordinator, I was more easily accepted as a member of both the taxpayer and government groups working on the new ADA Transition Plan, and was able to watch the transformation that occurred on both sides. Slowly, with the aid of a trained mediator, I watched as these people began to trust and believe in each other, the process they were engaged in, and transformed themselves from two camps into one.  What I learned from what I had observed was both how powerful government can be for the good of the taxpayer who lives with disabilities and how effective the disabled taxpayer can be at teaching the government what they need.

It was from this concept that the idea for WeCo was born.  Watching first-hand what could be accomplished when the ignorance, indifference, anger and fear are defused and people simply sit down together and work toward a solution.

The partnership between WeCo and GovDelivery is a perfect embodiment of that hopeful vision. Because of the priority GovDelivery places on “real life” accessibility, they selected WeCo’s human-based testing methods which covers much more than just the devices people use to access their products, it encompasses all types of disabilities people live with, as defined by the US Department of Human Services: sight, hearing, motor skill and cognitive.

This means that, over the course of a typical workday, a WeCo Test Consultant who lives with blindness will describe how her screen reader interacts with a product, over the phone in her home, to a GovDelivery software engineer.  In a coffee house across town, GovDelivery marketing staff will meet with a WeCo Accessibility Specialist who works from his wheel chair, to learn how he uses Section 508 and WCAG guidance to test their products and how their customers can benefit from knowing more about the process.

WeCo and GovDelivery are bringing together accessible solutions which captures the real experiences of those of us who live with disabilities.  We believe that this synergy can only be passed on to the government organizations that use the products we create and test together.

This blog post was originally posted on the Guardian Public Leaders Network. It was written by Sarah Lay, a senior digital officer for one of GovDelivery’s U.K. clients, Nottinghamshire County Council. Sarah also serves as the communications and community management lead for the LocalGov Digital network.

Councils vary wildly in their willingness to grasp the potential of digital services. Some are using digital technology to help them reshape services, create centres of innovation and harness the enthusiasm of their staff, while others still struggle to get their websites to work properly.

Wearable technology such as Google Glass offers the potential for local government services to be delivered remotely. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

Wearable technology such as Google Glass offers the potential for local government services to be delivered remotely. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

Too much investment has been made in large, unwieldy systems. In fact, local government has been doing the wrong digital activity really well for the past 10 years, according to Devon county council’s Carl Haggerty, chair of the LocalGov Digital network. But this is now starting to change. Innovators, experts and enthusiasts are looking at the example set by central government’s Government Digital Service and are recognising that to get people to access council services online, they have to be so good people actually want to use them.

Some councils are already exploring technology in a deeper way. Here are a few examples. Shift Surrey at Surrey county council is aiming to redesign services radically through its innovation lab. The intrapreneur programme at Monmouthshire council is using fresh ideas from the authority’s own workforce. And FutureGov is delivering services made possible by digital technology, such as its Casserole project in areas of London,which connects neighbours with spare portions of food to those in their community who need a good meal.

Technology has also helped local government to share information and work more collaboratively together. Networks like Localgov Digital bring together councils with digital enthusiasts to share resources, skills and, ultimately, savings.

Digital technology is also an opportunity to engage with residents. Social media is now widely used, with more councils giving access to frontline staff and using it as a conversational rather than broadcast tool. Many councils also offer email alerts, newsletters and social media updates instead of printed material.

What next for local public services?

The sector needs to become more adept at recognising and implementing digital excellence that is already happening in other sectors. User-focused digital delivery should become commonplace, rather than the domain of a few leading councils.

Technological advances will offer more possibilities for local government. Affordable, wearable internet devices and the “internet of things”, including devices such as Google Glass, bio-monitors in shoes or clothing, and connected household goods, have the potential to enable councils, traditionally heavily reliant on personal labour, to provide more services remotely. Bio-monitors in the clothing of vulnerable people could send alerts to careworkers, for instance, while smart systems in car parks could help people find free spaces, as already happens in San Francisco already..

Technology itself can also help us address the digital divide. Councils are already very aware that the people who need their services most are not only among the most vulnerable in society, but also probably the most digitally excluded. There are programmes underway around the country to improve broadband provision but not everyone can afford this. But using technology to increase collaboration could see projects springing up , such as public or shared Wi-Fi and services tailored to smartphones, tablets and other devices. Making council data more open, and encouraging development by local digital enthusiasts could also have benefits, potentially leading to tools that will help communities to help themselves.

And finally, digital technology also has the potential to transform the way people work in local government. Technology like mobile video conference, such as G+, Facetime and Skype, could help council staff become more flexible and dynamic in the way they work.

None of this lies too far in the future. Increasingly, people, things and organisations are going to be connected up. It’s time for local government to harness this potential.

 

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By: Thomas Francisco, Engagement Specialist

While, Google Analytics doesn’t automatically track file downloads, the good news is that getting it to track downloads doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort on your end. Check out my last post on “Tracking, Measuring and Reporting What Happens After The Click: Measuring Your Most Effective Communication Channels” for more background on website reporting.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to setup click tracking, there are a couple of prerequisites that are necessary. You must have a working knowledge of HTML in order to make these changes to your web pages. In addition, you’ll also need to have the ability to make said changes to your webpages and to your Google Analytics account.

Note: The method outlined below is for use with the ga.js tracking code and not for use with the analytics.js tracking code. For details regarding Event Tracking with analytics.js see Google’s documentation.

Event Tracking is a method available in the ga.js tracking code that you can use to record user interaction with PDFs, videos, file downloads, and form submissions; essentially any non-webpage. This is accomplished by attaching a “method call” to the particular UI element  you want to track. When used this way, all user activity on such elements is calculated and displayed as Events in the Analytics reporting interface.  In order to track the requested elements, you need to update both the HTML of the source page/element as well as the Google Analytics account.

GAConfig is an amazing tool that will help you generate the script needed to be added to your webpage, document URLs and external links in order for them to be properly tracked in your Google Analytics account. The method outlined below is for setting up events tracking in Google Analytics for file downloads. Consult either GAConfig or Google Analytics documentation for steps needed to track videos and form submissions.

1. Set up tracking on your site. Make sure you have set up tracking for your website.

2. Call the _trackEvent() method in the source code of requested pages and documents:

The specification for the _trackEvent() method is:

_trackEvent(category, action, opt_label, opt_value, opt_noninteraction)

  • category (required) The name you supply for the group of objects you want to track.
    • In the example link below: Download
  • action (required) A string that is uniquely paired with each category, and commonly used to define the type of user interaction for the web object.
    • In the example link below User Guide
  • label (optional) An optional string to provide additional dimensions to the event data.
    • In the link below 2014 Community User Guide
  • value (optional) An integer that you can use to provide numerical data about the user event.
    • In the example link below Version2
  • non-interaction (optional) A boolean that when set to true, indicates that the event hit will not be used in bounce-rate calculation.
    • Can be only true or false as a value.

Example: <a href=”/downloads/example-userguide.pdf” onClick=”_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Download', 'User Guide', '2014 Community User Guide', Version2, false]);”>Download PDF</a>

The link found above will need to be added to your website as well as used in any email messaging sent out linking to this document. Once you’ve properly set up and coded your links, all that is left to do is set up the event as a conversion goal in Google Analytics. To do so you:

1. Open up the profile you wish to set up the goal in. thomas3

2. Click the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Google Analytics interface.

3. Click the Goals tab (in the sub-navigation just below where your Profile is listed).

4. Choose the Goal Set you wish to add the event to.

5. Name your goal and select the Event radio button.

6. Populate the following goal details:

  • Category (matches same as above)
  • Action (matches same as above)
  • Label (matches same as above)
  • Value (matches same as above)

7. If you’ve added a Value in step 1, leave the “Use the actual Event Value” radio button selected.

8. Click “Save” and you’re ready to go!

Did you know?

By utilizing a Custom URL you can track even more detailed conversions through your email newsletters, press releases, or marketing promotions. While Event Tracking gives you an overall picture of the effectiveness of individual communication channels, a custom URL gives you insight into the effectiveness of individual instances of communication. As such, you can see which tweet, newsletter, or Facebook share garnered the most engagement with your stakeholders. 

By Thomas Francisco, Engagement Specialist

As a communicator your job is to advance your organization’s objectives using a variety of digital communication tools. With dwindling resources and increasing demand of your time, you need to choose to spend your time where it has the most impact. But how can you best discern how you are achieving your goals and through which channel they’re most impactful? The GovDelivery Communications Cloud provides you with robust analytics about the messages you send, but have you ever wondered what happens after the click? Have you ever wondered which communication channels drive the most bang for your buck?

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As you likely know, when it comes to understanding what web content your organization publishes is of most interest to your citizens, nothing gets the job done quite like Google Analytics. As communicators, Google Analytics provides us with unprecedented access to the habits and interests of those that visit our websites and read our emails. We can not only see exactly what people are clicking on, but we can also track the route that brought them to that point.

To start reporting on what happens after the click, we need to understand what your objectives are. If your objectives include getting people to take a measurable action such as downloading a document, registering for an event, or driving additional fishing licence registrations, then Google Analytics can provide you real time statistics on the most
effective method through which your objectives are completed. Within Google Analytics, your objectives are identified as goals. By setting up what are called conversion goals, Google Analytics allows you to tie together your email messaging, social media posting and all other web channels to see in real-time which of these communication channels complete your goals most frequently.

These channels include:

  • Email Messages (from GovDelivery or elsewhere)
  • Facebook Posts/Shares
  • Tweets
  • Direct Web Traffic (coming from someone on your website)
  • Referral Web Traffic (coming from another website)

I know… concepts in web analytics can get pretty convoluted. You have event tracking, conversion goals, success events, multichannel funnels, profiles, filters, dimensions, regular expressions, etc. But for what we’re looking to achieve, it’s a little more simple. I recommend using Google Analytics Event Tracking. Event Tracking is focused on helping you identify specific actions that occur on your site. This is an important feature for a myriad of reasons, but primarily because it allows you to measure the performance of elements on your site, such as:

  • PDF Downloads
  • Event Registrations
  • Press Releases
  • Council Meeting Minutes
  • Form Submissions
  • Video Downloads
  • General User Behavior (how users navigate through your site)

Google Analytics is known as a valuable resource in regards to understanding the behavior and habits of a site’s visitors throughout both the private and the public sector. Not only can you receive real time reports on exactly what happens on your website, but Google Analytics also allows organizations to truly understand what motivates their stakeholders to act through their direct interaction with your content. Whether you’re wanting to measure the effectiveness of your email call-to-actions and social media postings, monitoring an email campaign, promoting new documentation, or just interested in knowing what content on your site is of most interest to visitors, Google Analytics conversion goals provide a robust platform for doing so.

Stay tuned for Friday’s post, How to Track What Happens After the Click where I’ll go further in-depth with the step-by-step approach to setting up robust tracking on your website.

Citizen-Engagement-Webinar

We had an incredible flood of questions during and following our Citizen Engagement webinar last month with insights from Ruthbea Clarke of IDC Government Insights and Mary Yang of GovDelivery. So, we decided to compile some of those questions and their responses (including the ones we weren’t able to address live during the webinar) into a two-part blog post in order to pass along some of the information that was shared to the wider government communications community. If you’d like to hear more of the in-depth answers Ruthbea and Mary gave to some of the questions below, watch the webinar here or read the Analyst Connections brief here. The questions and answers from the webinar have been edited in some cases for further clarification.

Q: The speaker mentioned a centralized citizen database.  What kind of information would be contained there and how would it be collected?
Ruthbea: A lot of cities are collecting Census or other information from their citizens when they are signing up for email messages. By consolidating your information into one database of what’s already being collected and maybe not being updated regularly, you can ensure you’re reaching the people you want to reach and that they’re receiving the type of information most useful for them.

Q: You talked about how citizens are using mobile devices to get their updates/news more often than traditional computers/laptops. Is this going to be consistent within all age demographics or is it more generational?

Ruthbea: Digital inclusion and making sure you’re able to serve all the types of people you have is important for government organizations. When we look at people under the age of 30, they are consistently using mobile. This trend continues into those across ages 30 to 65. It’s mainly the upper echelon of the age demographics who are not using mobile as heavily. However, there is a large push for citizens across generations to access government services via the web that is taking hold and provides another digital method to reach a greater number of people. A lot of times what starts to happen when we discuss accessing government services via mobile devices, we find that across incomes, penetration is similar. Mobile devices are the great equalizer across income gaps.

Q: Are there any resources for those looking to create apps, but not knowing where to start? I’m not sure my IT department knows how to build apps.

Ruthbea: The more data that you open up to the public, the more you encourage individuals and private sector organizations to create apps and other solutions that will help your organization serve your stakeholders. By implementing hackathons or challenges in your organization, you can incent more people to create these types of solutions. Your organization simply provides the data and open APIs, then events like hackathons help to stimulate developer incentive.

Mary: Apps can be excellent tools to reach that younger audience, as Ruthbea mentioned earlier. But you shouldn’t look to build an app just to have an app. I’d encourage you to think through why an app would be a good tool for your organization or department. What’s the purpose of the app? How does that fit into delivering on your mission goals? What are the goals you’d want to reach with an app, and are those goals measurable?

Q: From a cost perspective, do you think the Cloud is less-costly, about as costly, or more costly than the more traditional non-Cloud technologies?

Ruthbea: Usually the cost difference is equal to or less than non-cloud alternatives, but there’s a completely different payment model with the cloud. There is a lot of softer values that are harder to measure in terms of cost and benefit. Government widely uses services like IT consultants and other outside sources to develop costly time-consuming projects. When you have consultants embedded in multiple departments, there is a lot of scope creep that often arises, and with the cloud you don’t have the same cost issues. Additionally the cloud sees faster deployment. And if you can get a service up and running quicker, that’s a savings. By using cloud technology, your organization also saves a lot on upgrades and maintenance costs.

Mary: Additionally, with cloud technology versus traditional technology implementations, you should think about the ‘total cost of ownership,’ often seen shortened as TCO. With more traditional, non-cloud technology, you have hardware costs that have to be factored into the software purchase, adding to the need for more IT staff time & resources and to scope creep.

­Q: Do you know of any small to mid-size municipalities that have a good strategy for citizen engagement and/or utilizing the Cloud?­
Ruthbea: The State of Indiana has a great cloud engagement strategy around energy efficiency. Additionally, mid-size cities like Boston and San Francisco have centralized innovation departments that are driving what’s happening around them. The key to making a successful citizen engagement strategy on the state and local government level is an executive sponsor. Most of these organizations with well-implemented strategies have some elected official that stresses its importance and puts his/her weight behind the initiative to bring people together across different departments.

Mary: GovDelivery does a lot of work in shared services. Oakland County, Michigan uses our cloud-based program to get information out around topics and services it offers, and also allows every township and municipality within the county to use that system. So there’s a mutually beneficial relationship within local government organizations to communicate better with their citizens, engage them, and get them to participate in events at every level. Stearns County, Minnesota is also working on a successful engagement model that is helping to get citizens to submit more crime tips. They have been able to use our cloud platform to increase crime prevention and encourage safer communities.

Q: ­Do you offer support to governments to build the “community” of citizens getting updates? What are those strategies?­
Mary: A few of the tips discussed in the webinar were foundational to building a community of citizens for outreach. Check out our Digital Outreach Best Practices Guide for more tips on building the community of citizens and their engagement with your organization.

Did you attend or watch a replay of the Citizen Engagement Webinar? Do you have any other questions to add to the list? Comment below!

According to a recent article by Nextgov, “cities hold the largest share of government data in the U.S., covering everything from liquor licenses to teacher performance reviews, but only a handful of cities have released that data to outside researchers and app developers.”

This Nextgov article is one of many addressing the use of open data in government. Since the White House released its open data policy in the spring of 2013, requiring that all federal government data be made available to the public, joining open data innovation and citizen collaboration to create solutions for common local government challenges has become a hot topic. capitolcode

This month’s open data event in St. Paul, Minnesota (home to the GovDelivery Central office) intersects with these themes of open data innovation. Capitol Code: An Open Data Jam on February 22 invites any citizens, analysts, business and community leaders, designers, government officials, media, software programmers, and others to join them in creating citizen technology solutions using accessible public data. Unlike other hackathons that have been held around the country, this one is being sponsored and hosted through the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

Open data initiatives like this event can help local governments learn more about citizen priorities and empower citizens to participate directly in their local government. Many similar events have led to apps that give the public easy access to information about construction, city services, parking and towing, green issues, and much more.

There are many citizen benefits of capitalizing on open data to create technology solutions. According to the Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, “Public data is a tremendous resource for Minnesotans, and I’m excited to see the innovation, new business and employment opportunities that can be generated by using this information.”

If you’re in the Twin Cities area and are interested in participating in the Capitol Code, the event will be held at Coco in Uptown Minneapolis. For more information, visit their website at http://capitolcode.mn.gov/. The solutions resulting from the open data jam will be posted and presented online after the event.

What mobile app or other technology solution would you like to see come out of the Capitol Code or another open data initiative near you? Let us know in the comments below!

In October of 2012 the UK government launched a new website, Gov.UK, which was designed to host all of the central government’s information in one spot. Neil Williams, Product Manager at Gov.UK, spoke about the strategy and process behind building the website in his presentation “Government Digital Service: Gov.UK” at this year’s UK digital communications event. gov.uk

As Neil explained, the Gov.UK site was created to provide a single website for the central government that would replace the central government’s previous two main sites, DirectGov and Business Link, with something clearer and simpler for users. As part of the migration, thousands of pages from DirectGov and Business Link that no one visited were archived, and those pages that remained were made as easy and accessible to the user as possible. As of April 2013, all 24 of the government department sites had migrated to the central Gov.UK site. Rather than having to visit multiple pages on multiple websites to find information or an answer to a question, users can now find everything they need in one place. But, Neil said, that doesn’t mean the work is over.

“Gov.UK is designed to react to user needs, which means that we make small improvements to the site nearly every single day. This kind of iterative response and change based on what our users need is at the heart of everything we do.” Clearly, this approach has paid off. Earlier this year Gov.UK won the prestigious Design Museum’s 2013 Design of the Year Award, the first website ever to do so.

So, how do you make a useful website that wins awards?

You start with needs, Neil said. People don’t come to government websites for fun, they come to accomplish tasks and fulfill needs. Creating any web page without that as the central design principle is a simple waste of time. You have to understand what users are coming to your site for, and structure the site around that. Gov.UK achieved this by creating user stories for its 6.5 million unique visitors every week. They found that those 6.5 million people were coming to do roughly the same 3000 things, so they focused their attention on figuring out how to make doing those things easier, faster, and more efficient.

There are currently 102 organizations publishing their content on Gov.UK, with over 200 more on the way. Of course, this means there’s an extremely high volume of content being published every single day. To keep things manageable for users, Neil and his team created a publishing system that only allows organizations to publish content that meets defined user needs. There is no such thing as a general information page on Gov.UK.

“So how do we make sense of all of this? How do people understand and find the content they want? First, we needed to collaborate across organizations. And second, we need to notify people about new or updated content that meets their needs,” Neil said.

Before, when users wanted to find information about a certain topic, like climate change for example, they would have to jump from site to site, attempting to locate what they wanted from any number of different government organizations and never knowing if it was the best or most current content. Now, because everything is located on one page on one central site, users can find exactly what they need much easier. To ensure the content on each topical page is the most accurate and relevant available, all departments and agencies with information on that topic work together to curate what is included and how it is presented. Users are now brought to a single page with clear and concise information, and a “details” tab with more information in case they want to dig deeper.

Letting people know when information they’re interested in is available is where GovDelivery comes in, Neil explained. Gov.UK allows users to subscribe to extremely specific alerts, offering many different permutations based on organization, topics, and policies, all the way down to publication type. So, if a user is interested in getting alerts whenever a new speech about education is published, they can filter and combine to build a special alert sent through GovDelivery that meets their very specific interest.

Gov.UK now has over 415 mailing lists and email alerts are the sixth top referrers back to the Gov.UK site. Though these numbers indicate that the subscription system is meeting user needs, Neil and his team would like to make the alerts even more specific.

“People’s interests are unique. We want to provide as useful a service  as we can, which means helping the people who want email alerts to get exactly the emails they need and nothing more. If we focus on user needs, collaborate across governments to create content that better meets those needs, and notify people about just the things they’re interested in, it means we can have a better signal to noise ratio from central government.”

For the full story about the ideas and process behind Gov.UK, watch Neil Williams’ presentation here.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but be a fan of reality competition shows. Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, Big Brother…you name it, I’ll probablyYoung girl in living room with flat screen television admit to watching it. The “secret sauce” in these shows that makes them so addicting for me is the component of audience participation. On Dancing with the Stars, I can send a SMS/text message to keep my favorite celebrity dancing another week. On The Voice, I can send a tweet within only a few minute window to “instant save” a contestant from the chopping block. On Big Brother, I can check a box on a web form to say what house guests will eat for a week if they lose a competition. The idea that I can directly participate in the show, often in real time, makes it enjoyable and exciting for me.

The entertainment industry isn’t the only place that fosters more and more audience participation. Retailers like Modcloth have a “Be the Buyer” program that lets consumers vote on which clothes should be sold on their website, Doritos features fan filmed commercials as their Super Bowl ads, and brands across industries have social media teams to engage with stakeholders’ complaints, questions, comments, and more around the clock.

So it’s no surprise that when citizens interact with government organizations, they have different expectations than 20 or even 10 years ago.  Technology and participatory marketing are a part of everyday life—that trend has changed expectations for the public sector. If citizens can send a text message to keep their favorite celebrity dancing on TV another week, why can’t they send an SMS or email to alert their cities of a pothole? If they can check an airline app for their flight status, why can’t they do the same for their hunting license status? As technology continues to permeate every area of citizens’ lives, both personal and professional, expectations for citizen to government interactions are shifting.

So how do you not only accommodate these expectations, but do so in a way that fosters a better citizen experience with your government organization?

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Featured Speaker: Ruthbea Clarke

We’re hosting a webinar on January 28 at 12 p.m. CST featuring Ruthbea Clarke, Research Director of the global Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC Government Insights, to address this idea of building a successful citizen engagement strategy using digital communications technology. Ruthbea will provide quick tips that public sector organizations can use to achieve greater citizen engagement and subsequently, satisfaction.

You can register for the Citizen Engagement in the Digital Era webinar here. In the meantime, if you have any tips to share about how your organization (or maybe just your favorite competition show if you’ll admit to it too!) is fostering audience engagement, write in the comments below.

In the era of social media, where people are accustomed to sharing everything all the time, news spreads like wildfire. One mistake by an organization and a communications crisis is born. While certainly no communications team wants to deal with a crisis, it’s a part of the job and an important one at that. Response and communication during these times are critical, and it’s how you communicate and respond as an organization that can turn disaster into customer devotion.

Missteps happen in both the public and private sector. And although mistakes are a part of life, when they do happen, consumers and the media are quick to highlight and discuss them. Lately, this has been the case for athletic wear company Lululemon Athletica. For anyone who’s not a die-hard fan following the seemingly constant stream of media attention surrounding Lululemon, here’s a quick breakdown of the current crisis.

Handling crisis communications

LulupantLululemon’s communications crisis kicked off in March 2013 when they released see-through pants. Upon criticism that these $98 yoga pants were sheer, the company immediately issued a recall, promising to have them improved and back on shelves within 90 days. Lululemon responded quickly to the problem with a press release and an accompanying FAQ sheet, answering customers’ most immediate questions in a straightforward manner. Throughout all the media attention, Lululemon remained calm, responding to new questions and updating information as the situation developed.

Although many applauded Lululemon for their quick response and crisis control in March, the company has found itself in the negative spotlight yet again.

A couple of weeks ago, while still working toward recovery from the sheer pants fiasco, Lululemon’s co-founder Chip Wilson unraveled the company’s crisis communications efforts during an interview on Bloomberg TV where he blamed “women’s fat thighs” for the transparency issues linked to the company’s product problems.  Wilson’s comment spurred a media explosion, alienating both potential and loyal customers and even sparking a Change.org petition requesting that he apologize for “shaming women’s bodies.”  Needless to say, Lululemon is facing another communications crisis. Seemingly taking matters into his own hands, Wilson took to YouTube last week, posting a video apologizing to his employees for his comments.

Whether or not Wilson meant to insult women, and people everywhere, I can’t be certain. However, his comment, among others, gives us another example of how to handle crisis communications. Government organizations have a responsibility to communicate to and with their constituents. As a government communicator, you should strive to communicate in a way that doesn’t alienate stakeholders. While those in the public sector are not selling athletic apparel, I think there are some valuable lessons to take away from Chip Wilson and Lululemon.

Respond quickly. When mistakes happen and crisis occurs, it’s critical to respond quickly. Don’t let your audience sit around waiting and wondering what’s going on.  Address the issue as soon as possible, whether you have a little or a lot of information. By responding right away, even if it’s to tell stakeholders that you are aware of the situation, you decrease feelings of distrust. When people are sitting around waiting for a response regarding a situation, it’s easy to make assumptions about why they haven’t heard anything. By responding quickly, your audience feels in the loop, which is critical to a successful recovery.

In March, Lululemon responded immediately to let their customers know what was happening with a press release and an FAQ sheet. People appreciated this and responded positively.

With the more recent crisis, Lululemon has taken a different approach, waiting days to take action. Because Chip Wilson waited to acknowledge his upsetting comment, customers and the media had ample time to share their feelings and opinions in tweets, blogs, articles and Facebook posts, with words like “backlash,” “social outrage” and “scorned” being used to describe people’s reactions to Wilson.

Be Honest. While this one might not be the easiest, it’s certainly the most important. Everyone appreciates honesty. No one likes to be disappointed, and by being honest, you foster a stronger relationship with your audience.

Here again, Lululemon does some good and some bad. In March, Lululemon was not shy about the problem. Lululemon acknowledged the allegations and was honest about the lack of quality in the product. While many loyal customers were disappointed, they appreciated the honesty and trusted the company. And that trust transformed itself into a huge growth in stock and sales later on.

chipwilsonOwn up. If you or your organization made a mistake, take responsibility for what happened. This is the issue Wilson and Lululemon are facing now. Instead of just owning up to the inappropriate comments he made in, Wilson directed his apology to his employees and organization, failing to acknowledge the massive amount of people he insulted. If Chip Wilson would have gotten on camera and apologized to everyone, especially Lululemon’s devoted customers, he could have led his company down the road to redemption.

Acknowledge your customers. When a crisis occurs, it’s natural to focus on what happened, how to stop it and what to do. However, you can’t forget about your customers. It’s important to reach out to your customers and remind them how important they are. A simple statement thanking them for their support can make a huge difference. It may not seem important, but when things go wrong it becomes easy for customers to abandon ship, so to speak. While taking the time to release a statement about what’s going on, take the extra minute or two and let your stakeholders know that they are important. A simple, “We sincerely apologize for the mistake that’s occurred, and we’re working to fix it as soon as possible,” is all it takes to make people feel a little better about a situation.

This is where Lululemon is still struggling today. Yes, Wilson made a step in the right direction by apologizing, but he apologized only to his company, not the customers who keep Lululemon a multi-billion dollar company. Without customers, Lululemon can’t exist, and Wilson’s lack of acknowledgement towards them is certainly not helping him retain customers or loyalty.

Follow Through. When a crisis occurs, it’s important to immediately do some form of damage control. However, it’s also important to put a plan of action in place to figure out what you can do to resolve the situation in a timely manner. Set goals. Make these goals attainable and open to everyone within your organization and outside of it. Let internal and external stakeholders know where you are as an organization and what you are moving towards.

Lululemon did a great job of this in March. They heard the complaints and immediately addressed them. They took the product off the shelves and reached out to their customers about what they did, what their next steps were and what they were going to do to resolve the issue. Lululemon followed through on that plan; people saw that and a few months later its sales and stock were up.

Communicating during crisis is a big responsibility that accompanies our job as government communicators. People depend on our information in times of distress and unknowing.  With so many different ways to handle crisis, the challenge can be handling it successfully. In these situations, the most successful organizations are those who directly address their audience, provide them with some form of information and leverage the strategies and communications tools around. Ultimately, the better your organization can respond to crisis, the more able you are to serve your citizens and create satisfaction.

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