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

It’s likely that you have heard of Vine in recent months. For those of you who haven’t (or who have, but aren’t exactly sure what it is) Vine is a mobile app by Twitter that allows users to create and post short, 6 second video clips. In turn, the videos can be uploaded, shared and embedded into a variety of social networking channels like Twitter and Facebook.


Vine made its debut in January of 2013 and was met with mixed reviews. While some were excited about the potential that Vine presented, others were skeptical of what could truly be accomplished in 6 seconds and what types of videos would be created. However, as of April 2013, Vine became the most downloaded free app in Apple’s IOS App Store.

The way Vine works is simple. Videos are recorded and created with Vine’s in-app camera (the camera on one’s mobile device or smartphone). The camera only records while the screen is being touched, allowing various shots or snippets to be mashed together for up to six seconds. The video & audio are then looped together, forming a Vine that plays continuously. These Videos are able to be instantly uploaded to Twitter or Facebook and posted on Vine for followers to see.

As adaption to Vine continues, many people are attempting to figure out what the best use of Vine is. While the six second maximum presents a challenge to some, it also cultivates creativity and allows for messages to extend beyond Twitter’s 140 characters.

Government and Vine

As of April 1st the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) new media office announced that it had officially created government-friendly terms of service with Vine. As agencies and organizations create Vine profiles, they will be added to the Federal Social Media Registry, verifying official government social media accounts and distinguishing them from any fake ones.

So just because government can Vine, should it? I believe they should. While it may not be the most efficient way to send out important data and information, Vine opens a new door of communication and engagement with the public. While most communication between government and citizens is information focused, filled with text, data and some images, Vine allows citizens to engage with government in a completely different way and to see what is actually happening in government.

Vine takes a more “fun” approach to engaging with citizens and enables organizations to showcase their inner workings and share footage of things we would normally be unable to see, such as NASA’s visual tracking of Hurricane Sandy  across the East Coast.

Since its release in January, various government agencies and employees have taken to Vine and have begun to experiment with it.  Health.Data.gov posted a series of Vines during the 2013 Health and Human Services Innovates Awards and used Vine to promote and invite people to the Health DataPalooza in June.

My personal favorite government Vine was posted by California Congressman, Mark Takano, back in February. Takano chose Vine to offer up an inside look into his work in the House, featuring a Vine of him submitting his first bill.

The six second video showcases Takano’s steps from his initial signing of the bill to riding the Capitol subway, and concludes with him handing the bill in.

For government, the biggest struggle I see is similar to what other businesses are facing- deciding what to Vine. Six seconds is short and it can be a challenge to creatively think of things citizens would actually want to see or what messages could successfully be shared in six seconds. However, I think this is perfect for government communicators, who are constantly striving to simplify their organization’s message and share its most important points of information. To help begin the brainstorming process, I have come up with a few ideas of how government could begin to use Vine.

Introductions. So often citizens think of government as a compilation of organizations and agencies or entities. Rarely do we directly associate with individuals within organizations or think about what their office may be like. By taking to Vine, organizations can post 6-second introduction videos of various leaders and employees throughout the organization, putting faces to the organization’s name and making government a little more “personable”.  You can also create Vine shots of any fun happenings taking place at your office. This allows citizens to see inside the organization and an opportunity to witness a more “fun” side to government.

Ceremonies and Events. Government is engaged with a multitude of events at every level. Ribbon cuttings, national nights out, electoral events- these are all great opportunities to Vine and let those who aren’t in attendance in on the action. These Vines also promote what organizations are doing and draw attention to the various causes being celebrated or acknowledged.

Introducing new products. Government can also use Vine to promote their new products, such as mobile apps or online services. Vine allows multiple screen shots to be shown in one video. Showing what the app looks like, where it can be downloaded, and  showcasing product hightlights provides promotional opportunities for your organization and learning opportunities for your audience.

How-to Videos.  While six seconds may not seem like much, it’s long enough to provide some great how-to information if enough thought has been put into it. In fact, just the other day I watched a Vine and learned how to make a latte, complete with the fancy design on top! Government can use this as an opportunity to show citizens how to do things like sign up for an event, pay a bill online, download an app or use a new online resource. Taking quick 1-2 second shots of each step in the process allows for up to 6 steps to be shown, enough to get a basic how-to instructional across.

Promote Initiatives and Events. Government  has lots of initiatives and events to promote. Using Vine to create videos and spread awareness is yet another way to use Vine. Whether it’s national night out or a reminder that tornado sirens will be tested, creating a short video and sharing it on your social networks can bring even more attention to it. You can also use Vine to share public announcements. People need to be kept up to date and Vine videos are both to the point and entertaining. A 6 second vine featuring short clips of various public beaches could be used to announce the official opening of local beaches and lakes and may even inspire some viewers to go.

Engage with Citizens.  This is my final idea and a new way to expand the dialogue between citizens and government. Post a Vine that poses a question or promotes a trend and ask citizens to respond with a Vine post of their own. Going back to national night out, ask citizens to vine videos of their neighborhood gatherings and tag it with a special hashtag. Vines can also be useful for citizens to communicate problems with government. If a citizen sees a problem or situation they are unhappy with, they could create a Vine and share it with you via a tag on Facebook or mention on Twitter.

Hopefully the above list inspires some thought around the adaption and use of Vine.  I would love to hear any additional ideas you might have or how organizations are already using Vine today. Let us know what you think.

Many government organizations and agency departments plan and promote special events or seasonal occasions that relate to the constituency they serve and support. Highlighting these events through communications and digital content provides a fun and timely way to interact with the public, and can even serve as a platform for gaining subscribers and engaging citizens long-term.

earthThe Environmental Protection Agency replaced its normal home page with specially designed interactive presentations to commemorate Earth Day. The overlay, which included a stunning photo of Earth from space, was a visually pleasing way to inform the public about Earth Day and related events the EPA was sponsoring. The special home page provided slide shows, links to events for volunteers, and an invitation to send in photos from home.

While the EPA’s Earth Day home page is a great example of tailoring digital content to inform and educate stakeholders on issues that impact an organization’s mission, the organization missed a prime opportunity to offer an easy opt-in for email alerts. An out-of-the-ordinary web element like a special home page or highlighted overlay is one of the best ways government communicators can spark interest from a visitor and subsequently call attention to the proactive digital communications offered by the organization. Techniques such as these can even double or triple sign-ups to subscriber lists.

A sign-up form or link is easy to add on to a specially designed event home page and offers a convenient call-to-action for visitors attracted by special event information. This approach leverages the additional traffic that might result from a special event and also maximizes the long-term impact of the short-term custom content by offering ongoing email updates to visitors with specific interests.

On special days or events such as Earth Day, agencies like the EPA can turn new visitors looking for event-specific information into stakeholders by asking them to subscribe. Be sure to offer updates on a variety of topics, and consider a category of updates for subscribers interested in special events or holiday-related information in particular. Taking advantage of times of peak interest in your department or agency’s website can result in big wins in subscriber numbers and stakeholder engagement.

Has your department tied subscription sign-up opportunities into promotions for special events going on in the community? Share your tips on turning one-time special event visitors into lifetime stakeholders in the comments.

Recently, I wrote an article on how to create mobile-optimized emails. That blog post provided tips on how to improve the experience of reading email on a mobile device, which led me to think about what you shouldn’t do when creating emails.

So, here are some things to keep in mind when putting together your next email:

  1. Email CommunicationDon’t copy and paste from a word processing program.
    Most word processing programs (such as Microsoft Word) will actually insert a lot of unnecessary, and unseen, code into an HTML email if you cut and paste it into your email software. Oftentimes, this will cause your email to look strange, and you won’t know why. A better solution for cutting and pasting is to paste your text into a basic text editor such as Notepad or the code portion of Dreamweaver. Then copy from the text editor and paste into your email solution. Taking this extra step will strip out unwanted code and make your emails display better in the various clients’ email.
  2. Don’t forget to include “alt image” text.
    I know how it goes. We’re all busy. It’s easy to drop an image into an email and move on to the next task without pausing to fill in extra details like the “alt text” on your images. This is a bad habit, so make the effort to break it now. When you skip this important step, your emails will not encourage people to accept images from your organization as well as making it difficult for people with vision problems to decipher your email. Take the extra 5 seconds it takes to enter in alt text. It’s worth it in the long run.
  3. Don’t make your emails too wide.
    As I mentioned in my previous post, we are rapidly headed toward the time where the majority of emails will be viewed on a mobile device. To ignore this trend could be the difference between highly engaged readers and a digital ghost town. The old standard for email widths was 600px – 750px. Given the rise in popularity of mobile devices, I would suggest shooting for a standard width in the 350px – 500px range. They will display on mobile devices a lot better and will still look good on a larger desktop screen.
  4. Don’t assume your email will render the same for everyone.
    Did you know that, with the number of email clients, browsers and operating systems available, there are literally thousands of ways one individual email can look? Thousands! What can be done about this? First, try to find designs, layouts, fonts, and color schemes that will render well on some of the most common email/OS/browser combinations. For example, how does your email look in Outlook 2007 while running on Windows 7, or in Gmail running on Chrome? If it looks good for the most common possibilities, you can assume it will look OK on the rest. To find out how it will look across multiple combinations, use an email testing service such as Litmus or Email on Acid. These services are inexpensive ways to see how your message will look without spending a lot of time trying to cobble together lots of different systems to test on your own. Also, some email sending systems provide this type of testing as part of the platform.
  5. Don’t use long URLs in the text version of your email.
    When you’re creating HTML emails it’s fine to use a long URL, because the link gets hidden in the attribute tag. But, when you check out the text version of your email (you are sending a text version with every HTML version, right??), you may discover that a nice looking “click here” becomes “http://www.youragencyname.gov/files/05012013/web/stories/new/this-is-your-story-that-you-want-to-share99477546.html.”For readers who see the text version of your email, this is not visually appealing or informative. I suggest you go in and edit the text version of your message and use a link shortener, such as Bit.ly or Goo.gl to create something that looks like this: “To learn more about this story, click here: http://goo.gl/n3ZTe.” It will be a much cleaner read for your readers.
  6. Don’t embed video.
    Videos are a great way to engage your audience, and I highly recommend that you find creative ways to present your content in a video format. But, please don’t embed a video inside of an email. This will likely get your email to be marked as spam. A better approach is to use an image of one part of your video, such as the title page, and link the image to the video.
  7. Don’t use ALL CAPS.
    This one continues to baffle me. Writing in ALL CAPS is internet code for yelling or spam. I thought everyone knew that by now, but I still get at least one email a week where some portion of the email is written in ALL CAPS. If you need to highlight something exciting, choose a larger font, a different color, bold the font. Please don’t capitalize all the letters.
  8. Don’t use monster pictures.
    This is related to tip 7. While a nice, high-resolution image will look great when you display it on your 36 inch monitor, it probably doesn’t need to be in your email. Remember to shrink the image to something that’s web-ready. Leaving large images in your email could make them undeliverable if the email bumps up against file size limits. If it does make it into the inbox, the email will still take a long time to load. This can be annoying for people viewing your message on a mobile device. If you do want to offer the large, high-res version of your image, that’s great. Just create a thumbnail for your email and link to a spot where people can download the large version. That way those who want the big picture can still get it.
  9. Don’t use unprofessional fonts.
    There really is no place for Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts in professional emails. They just look silly and, depending on if people have that font installed, they may not display correctly. Personally, I prefer a nice sans serif font for emails. Something like Calibri, Arial or Verdana. But you can determine what you think looks professional and matches your brand. This also applies to using more than two different font types in one email, or using multiple colors and sizes. You want people to read your email, so make it easy on their eyes.
  10. Don’t forget etiquette.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s an email to your boss or a message you are sending to 75,000 people; following basic email etiquette will go a long way. Here is a great article that lists 25 tips for ensuring you aren’t creating an email faux pas with your messages.

I know some of you are thinking these items are pretty obvious, but you would be amazed at how many emails I get every day that violate one or more of these ‘don’ts’. If this list is basic stuff for you, then you’re probably well on your way to designing compelling emails. If you realized you violated one or more of these principles, then take some of these tips to start improving how you’re communicating with your audience. It’s never too late to start getting better. Remember, as Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

Guest Post by Darren Caveney, co-creator of comms2point0 and Vice Chair of LGcomms

Email? Send them an email? But, hasn’t the world all shifted across to social media, I hear you cry?

Well yes and no. image smithsonianA whopping 94% of UK adults have an email address (source: Ofcom, 2012) That knocks into a cocked hat just about every social media statistic you’ll ever see.

Actually, most of us switch back and forth between both without really thinking about it too much. Smart phones and tablets have made it all so easy and seamless.

As [communications] professionals we know that we need to be confident using both mediums, but understand the subtle differences, the advantages offered by both and where synergies exist.

Crafting, targeting and loving your marketing emails.  Now that’s a skill which will come naturally for some. For others it needs a bit of thought and a bit of work. Just think about the array of approaches, of content, of style of the emails you receive each day – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Occasionally, I scan through my spam folder with sheer wonder at some of the nutty stuff people have thought appropriate for me.

As always, there is much to learn and case studies a plenty out there so when I nabbed a ticket for the excellent mailcamp at the swanky National Audit Office’s HQ I was all ears.

So, here’s a top 10 things you need to consider when sending an email, as suggested by the speakers at mailcamp

  1.  80% of your email’s content should sit at the top of the email – above the fold, as we used to say
  2. What you put in the subject box is vital. Make it interesting and relevant, make it stand out in a busy inbox
  3. Use links rather than pictures – pictures may look nicer but links will generate more click-throughs
  4. Include surveys and competitions to encourage interaction, but only if the content of them is relevant to what your subscribers want
  5. Be fleet of foot – think about relevant opportunities which breaking news, current affairs and live events can throw up, and how you might time your emails to coincide
  6. Timing is key – if you want people to attend a weekend event, hitting their inbox on Friday late morning/early afternoon can be key in influencing their weekend plans
  7. Your ‘call to action’ must be clear and simple. And it must be referenced in your email subject line
  8. Integrate your email activity with your social media channels – cross-promote, co-ordinate, converge
  9. What works for social media can also work for email – be authentic, be honest, tell stories
  10. Measure, measure, measure – study the analytics. But do measure the right thing – don’t fret about openings if your goal is click-throughs and sign ups.

Of course, there’s more to running successful email marketing campaigns than this but if we nail these as a starter for 10 then we can expect a decent return.

Thanks to Steph Gray for organising mailcamp, to Nick Halliday for hosting and for GovDelivery and Dave Worsell for sponsoring and buying the pizza.

See original post on comms2point0 blog.

photo credit


By Kathy Kyle, Digital Communications Consultant at GovDelivery

GovDelivery was recently awarded a G-Cloud III framework contract for its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud-based solutions, making it easier for government to reach more people.

G-Cloud III is important as it continues to enable UK public sector departments and organisations to easily access centrally negotiated deals and transact online. Government is investing in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure to achieve economies of scale, deliver flexible and responsive systems, deliver faster business benefits and reduce costs, and enhance customer service outcomes. And the G-Cloud helps them procure these technologies more quickly and efficiently.

Since GovDelivery has always developed cloud-based solutions, we have more than a decade of experience helping government organizations transform their communications. We currently support over 55 UK clients at the central and local government levels, managing proactive digital communications for GOV.UK, FCO, MOJ, DSA, Met Office, Parliament, VOSA, HA, FSA, MHRA and more. Our local government clients are using GovDelivery solutions to achieve cost savings through channel shift, driving residents to cheaper online channels where appropriate, and reducing avoidable contact. Local authority clients like Central Bedfordshire, Southampton and Suffolk rave about reaching 20 to 30% of their target population, increasing online traffic to high-values services by 35%, and generating immediate, cashable savings. One client estimates an annual cost savings of £100,000 by reducing phone call volume alone.

The common denominator for these clients? They all recognise the importance of reaching their stakeholders, and they understand that with proactive digital communications, they can transform online visits to transactions that demonstrate a return on their digital investment. GovDelivery clients achieve channel shift and cost savings through a single platform that links their existing communication channels to email, text messaging, RSS and social media (and soon, voice messages). Suffolk County Council achieved cost savings and accolades (2011 UK Digital Excellence award winner post-GovDelivery implementation) for their proactive messaging and on-demand alerts. Our clients at Central Bedfordshire realised significant cost savings after implementing GovDelivery; they report estimated reductions of up to 100 phone calls per day and continuously improve services by measuring results. Watch their video testimonial and learn about Central Bedfordshire’s comprehensive channel shift programme.

Summer is quickly approaching, and this is an ideal time to implement GovDelivery. With three months of highly publicised events and activities across UK boroughs, counties and cities, past experience dictates that our clients will generate large subscriber numbers and with proper cross-promotion, also increase subscribers across other high-value services.

Those who promote their GovDelivery service all summer will reap the benefits of increased subscribers across multiple services. By the time the leaves change and autumn rolls in, inclement weather will be the main driver for GovDelivery subscriptions. West Sussex County Council experienced an increase of nearly 1500 subscribers on one cold, blizzard-like Sunday afternoon due to weather and referrals from other local authorities and Met Office subscription links.

img_whitepaper (2)For central government, it is always ideal to promote online services, share emergency travel alerts, or launch a public safety campaign. The Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently launched its travel alerts on GOV.UK using GovDelivery, and we are working together to keep UK travellers informed and safe when travelling abroad.

For local authorities, this means opportunities to leverage community events to cross-promote services and a chance to connect with referrers in the GovDelivery network. Local councils that would normally send alerts and updates about cultural events and library services will take advantage of the busy summer event season to feature and promote high-value service areas like rubbish and bin management, school term dates, highways and road works, inclement weather alerts, or even sign residents up for online portals.

As a quick and efficient cost-cutting measure, local authorities might also consider GovDelivery’s Transactional Messaging Service (TMS), new to the G-Cloud III framework, which allows organizations to send fully automated, targeted, one-to-one messages to citizens about council tax statements, benefits information, registration, and key notices. Our clients are achieving efficiencies both through postal savings and channel shift by driving their audience to online channels to complete electronic transactions with government.

With constrained budgets, dwindling resources and pressure to generate cost savings, GovDelivery is key to driving proactive messaging, achieving channel shift savings, and ensuring government achieves customer service goals. We are the engine that drives over 1.7 million UK residents to the relevant online activities that make their offline lives easier.

Contact us to learn how you can procure our services though G-Cloud III to dramatically increase your reach and impact in your respective community.


Kathy Kyle
Digital Communications Consultant
kathy.kyle@govdelivery.com or @bonominiyogini

National Day of Civic HackingWith National Day of Civic Hacking right around the corner (June 1st and 2nd), cities all around the nation are gathering in preparation to collaborate. Citizens, civic activists, entrepreneurs and engineers alike will be joining in the festivities of sorts. If you’re like me, and you’d like to contribute to your community, but aren’t quite sure where to begin, this is a great place to start. This event provides citizens like you and I the opportunity to help create a new and better path for our community through good ol’ brainstorming.

Example topics include EPA Safe Drinking Water App Challenge, Farmers Market Directory and The Census American Community Challenge, to name a few. To find out what topics or agenda your local Civic Hacking event will include, click here.

A civic hacker is defined as “…anybody – who is willing to collaborate with others to create, build, and invent open source solutions using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighborhoods…” But don’t feel that you have to be a techie to participate (I for one, am not); the event is about finding solutions on improving the community together.

There are many locations already set up throughout the U.S. If you don’t see a location close by, you still have the opportunity to set one up in your neighborhood. The event has already morphed into a few different theme options that you can choose from, such as “RHoK-in-a-Box” (or Random Hacks of Kindness), “Brigade Meet-Up”, and “Block Party”. Or you can create your own theme.

To give you a better idea of what to expect, here are some of event goals:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration.
  • Exercise a government’s interest in using open data and technology, in partnership with others, to address your local community’s felt needs.
  • Liberate open data that can inform better problem solving in every community.
  • Continue to collectively map a national innovation ecosystem and create new access points to that system.
  • Engage citizens in cities with little technology infrastructure to contribute to changing their community through open source, open data, entrepreneurship and code development.
  • Promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education by encouraging students to utilize open technology for solutions to real challenges.
  • Encourage large scale partnership and mutual understanding.

group huddleNational Day of Civic Hacking is about joining forces. On June 1st and 2nd, fellow neighbors, local government organizations and private sector companies will address local problems and challenges to find solutions for everyday problems in our community. You don’t have to be a programmer or a city planner – just a citizen with an idea or two on how to improve your community.

For those of you in the Twin Cities, a group of talented and civic-minded programmers have already set up a local civic hacking event. GovDelivery is excited to support these community-building and citizen engagement efforts, and we hope to see you there.

For national information, check out the National Day of Civic Hacking’s website or follow National Day of Civic Hacking on Twitter.

Let me know if you attend the event (or create your own) and what your thoughts are on the experience.

Happy Hacking!

The most extensive reform to the UK welfare system in five decades- Universal Credit – is underway and presents some unique challenges and opportunities, as outlined in a recent article in The Guardian. With a change this massive, how does the UK government implement Universal Credit consistently and communicate clearly with its citizens?

Defining the Changeuniversalcredit
Universal Credit is a new, single payment system for people who are looking for work or on a low income. Its goal is to cut costs by simplifying the benefits systems by bringing together multiple benefits into a single payment, which citizens apply for through one online source. Transitioning to Universal Credit will involve a focus on citizen self-service by going digital and centralizing services within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Digital by Default
One of the most significant changes in making the transition to Universal Credit is the shift it requires in the way citizens have traditionally interacted with government authorities. Historically, citizens needed to work with a number of different local authorities to apply for and manage the set of government services they receive. The bulk of this interaction between citizens and government has been paper-based and moving to a digital delivery system will require effective communication with citizens. Issues to address in this area include applicants’ potential lack of digital skills and access to digital channels.

Delivery Plan
For a successful Universal Credit transition, local authorities need to evaluate their role in implementing the change. To support that task, the DWP has published a Local Support Services reference document to help local authorities build their citizen outreach efforts and tailor the ideal delivery model region by region. The most critical components of building the delivery model will be:

Identifying Customers
Understanding and Planning to Mitigate the Impact
Demand Management and Influencing

How can local authorities reach the most citizens most efficiently? In his white paper, Universal Credit: Challenges, Changes and Digital Communication, Dr. Gerald Power – an expert in public sector change and efficiency improvement – discusses best practices for how local authorities can inform and engage their citizens. Local authorities with a comprehensive set of digital communication solutions can leverage a wide range of tools to enhance citizen communication initiatives related to Universal Credit.

Download Dr. Power’s white paper to read more about how robust digital communication platforms can help local authorities implement the transition to Universal Credit.

By Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop13 Suggestions

Last week, I had the honor of speaking about “Social Media and Public Health” at the Michigan Homeland Security Training Conference.  It was a great event with ~3,000 state and local government public health and emergency response leaders (plus Grand Rapids, MI is an awesome town).

I thought I’d share my slides below as well as my
“13 Tips for Social Media and Public Health”:

  1. Know Your Audience & Goals
  2. Build Your Audience Before You Need It
  3. Promote Where People Are
  4. Cross-Promote
  5. Have a Plan
  6. Great Regular Content
  7. Mobile First
  8. Respond Immediate & Frequent
  9. Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE)
  10. Leverage Your Citizens
  11. Dealing with Unofficial Groups
  12. Focus on Big Impact / Cost Effective Channels
  13. Rethink Service Delivery

See the original post on GovLoop.

mobileI don’t need to convince you that we are in the midst of a massive shift in the way we access information. The days of desktop dominance have given way to mobile devices. This is especially true for email. With each passing month, more and more people are accessing their email on their phones and tablets. If your emails are not designed to accommodate smaller screen sizes, your readers will become frustrated with your emails and discontinue reading.

In a previous post, I talked about how to create a mobile friendly website using Responsive Design. But, what about email? What can be done about my newsletters, alerts and notices?

Responsive Design for email is not going to be the solution for everyone. First, to use Responsive Design for email, you have know how to code. You have to write CSS code that will scale and re-arrange your emails to fit on mobile devices. This is a specialized skill set that not everyone has. What if you don’t know how to write CSS? How can you make your emails look better without getting a masters degree in computer science?

Second, Responsive Design for email will only display properly on iPhones, with the built-in Apple mail client. Responsive Design currently won’t work with email apps like Gmail or Yahoo Mail. For people viewing their email on a mobile device, which pulls the content from a hosted mail server like Exchange or Lotus Notes, Responsive Design elements will not work.

So what can you do? Although more people are reading their emails on mobile devices, Responsive Design is not currently a great solution.

To get around this issue, and make things easier for you, I suggest optimizing your emails for mobile using solid scalable design principles. Scalable design uses a single column layout and grid system for alignment and proportion. If you don’t know how to set this up, or your system doesn’t allow for this, it’s easy to design your emails, in any email provider, by using some simple tricks.

So, here are my top 10 (easy) tips for making your emails work on mobile devices:

Try to keep in mind how you use your own phone or tablet to look at email. If you think through the steps you take, the fingers you use and the way your device works, it will go a long way in making your emails look good.

1) Single Column
When you put together your emails, a single column is going to work the best. Classic web design prescribes keeping as much as possible “above the fold” to catch a person’s eye. The result was web pages that got wider and wider so that more information could be at the top of the page. With mobile, wide is bad, because most mobile devices are not as large as your 24” monitor. For mobile devices, skinny and vertical is better. It’s much easier to read and scroll up and down than it is to go right and left (or worse, to zoom in and out).

2) Width
Speaking of skinny and vertical, you should reduce the width of your emails to allow for the smaller screens of mobile phones. I would suggest you keep your email width to 450px and definitely less than 600px. This will allow your email to fit nicely on most devices.

3) Text Size
Now that you have a skinny, single column email, you will need to compensate for the smaller dimensions by increasing the size of the font. I suggest you go with 14-16px for body copy and 20-26px for headers. The larger font will allow people to read your content without having to squint (or as I mentioned, the dreaded zoom in and out).

4) Shorten Content
Remember way back in point 1 when I said it’s easier to scroll up and down on a mobile device? Well there are limits. If people have to scroll for 17 minutes to get to the bottom of your email, your email is way too long. Try writing shorter, teaser summaries to your stories and then link to the full story on a landing page or your Responsively Designed website. This helps people get right to the content they want and will drive up your engagement rate. It will also help improve search engine optimization (or SEO) of your site and keep your readers happy by getting them exactly what they are interested in.

5) Buttons
While you are linking to those landing pages, get rid of simple text links and go with touch-friendly buttons instead. For most people it takes pin-point accuracy to actually click on linked text and many times we hit the wrong things if we are a little clumsy or have large fingers. Replacing those links with clickable buttons will help solve that problem; 50x50px to 75x75px should be enough to get the job done.

6) Alt Tags
When using buttons as links, make sure you are putting alt tags in place for people who have images turned off. Also, make sure the alt tags make sense to people viewing your message. Instead of the outline of your button with “mobile_button_2.png” in place of the image, why not try an alt tag that displays something like, “Click here to go to the full article. Please allow images from Central City to improve your reading experience.”

7) White Space
Even though you are using buttons for your links, remember to place ample white space between text, paragraphs, images, buttons, etc. This will help make your emails easier to read and provide more forgiveness so people don’t click the wrong thing.

8) Thumbs
The majority of people use their right hand, more specifically their right thumb to scroll and click on things. Even lefties like me scroll through emails on their phone using their right hand. So, placing your buttons on the right hand side, or in the center, of your emails will make it easier for people to click while using one hand.

9) Subject Lines
Keep your email subject lines short and sweet. Subject lines that are too long will get truncated with smaller screen sizes. I suggest 60 characters or less.

10) Test, Test, Test
Just like a pool, it pays to test the waters before diving right in. Send a test email to several different email clients and look at them on several different devices of varying sizes. You will be amazed at how different one email can look. Try to find a design that looks good for all devices and email clients. If you can get that right, you can be confident that people will have a positive experience interacting with your emails.

There you have it. 10 simple tips for making your emails look great on mobile devices without using Responsive Design. If I’ve missed any you can think of, put them in the comments section below. For more great tips, check out our new white paper, “Integrating Email in Government Communications.

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

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

Research suggests the opposite.

Reports of email’s death are greatly exaggerated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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