A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

It’s no secret that government organizations are large, complex, and ever-changing institutions. But what can be a secret is how those huge organizations responsible for communicating with hundreds of thousands of people, do so in a unified and effective way.

HandHuddleWith a wide variety of information to communicate and needs that differ between departments, regions, and even people, staying on top of communication can be a challenge to say the least.

But when an organization masters the art of interacting with their constituents, it’s a beautiful sight to see; everyone wins. The public wins when they get the information they want and need in the way that makes sense to them, and government organizations win when their job is made easier to do well.

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is a classic example of the unity and effectiveness required to maintain communications within a complex government organization. As a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FSA is responsible for communicating important updates, regulations, financial information, and more with farmers of all types in every single state.

It’s not hard to see how their work can get complicated quickly. A farmer who grows corn in northern Minnesota needs an entirely different set of regulations, updates, and information than the cattle farmer in southern Albuquerque. So how do they stay on top of communicating with such a huge and diverse audience of farmers and invested members of the public?

The FSA leverages GovDelivery’s digital communications platform to communicate the right information to the right people at the right time. The FSA uses the platform to organize its massive content into 2,500 valuable topics representing nearly every county in the United States. This helps FSA more easily manage a complex communications operation.

The FSA has nearly 3,000 administrators working to manage the creation and sending of all of that information, and therefore is able to have unique subject matter experts handle their organization’s wide variety of content needs. Outside of communicating with the external public, the FSA also uses internal topics to communicate information to their own employees, allowing them to use the same technology for interacting both inside and outside of their organization.

social-network-gridAnd for their external communications, which are sent to over 500,000 people, the FSA uses the GovDelivery platform to communicate with farmers of all types, across the country. This ensures that their updates are consistently created and sent using the same technology and allows them to consolidate their communications all under one roof.

With automation capabilities enabled on some of the information topics they provide, the FSA stays on top of the updates they need to send even further by triggering automated messages to their subscribers as well. When new content is posted on their website, GovDelivery automatically delivers the updates to their subscribers without the FSA having to lift a finger. By taking out some of the manual steps required to communicate with their stakeholders, they can stay ahead of the game and get people the information they need even more efficiently.

The Farm Service Agency is a prime example of what communications on a massive scale can look like when it’s done right. With impeccable organization, diverse content offerings, and a unique case of needing to communicate with an extreme gamut of people, the FSA has found a way to not only manage their communications with the public, but to streamline and excel at them.

The days of getting gold stars and an extra juice box for our accomplishments might be over, but that doesn’t mean we care any less about knowing when we’ve done a good job. As a government agency, it can be difficult to figure out if you’re getting your message across. Many private sector companies rely on click-through rates (CTR), which are calculated by looking at the number of people who clicked on a link in an email in relation to the number of people who received it, to big gold starhelp determine if their email campaigns are successful. But as we’ve discussed in other blogs, what works for the private sector doesn’t necessarily work for the public.

So how can your government organization measure the effectiveness of its emails? By looking at an entirely different metric altogether: Engagement Rate.

Why Engagement Rate?

Because many public sector emails are solely informational and don’t require any link clicks—say, for a tornado warning or transportation emergency—CTRs aren’t an accurate way of determining whether the message reached its intended audience. Additionally, because messages like these are urgent and need to be conveyed as quickly as possible, they generally won’t be sent at the optimal time to get the most click-throughs. Engagement Rate effectively resolves these issues. GovDelivery calculates Engagement Rate by taking the number of unique email recipients who opened an email or clicked on a link in an email over time and flagging them as engaged. The number of engaged users is divided by the total number of unique email recipients who received an email during the same time period. Activity is then tracked over a period of 90 days.

Why 90 days? Because one of the things that makes Engagement Rate such a successful metric to use is that it measures effectiveness by tracking engagement over time. Tracking Engagement Rates over time means that your organization is measuring against its own performance based on how engagement has increased or decreased over the course of the past quarter. By comparing how many subscribers opened your emails or clicked on a link one month versus another, you can start to gain an idea of what worked and what didn’t with your specific email strategy.

The comparison trap

It’s common for our clients to ask for an industry standard CTR to compare their efforts to. While this may seem like an easier way to get your hands on that Capri-Sun you so longingly covet, unfortunately it’s not the most accurate. Different sources will cite vastly different CTR percentages they consider to be successful, so there’s no real way of knowing what’s right.

With Engagement Rate, GovDelivery generally considers 50% engagement a success. However, this is where many organizations fall into the comparison trap. Just because a certain public sector agency consistently has above 50% Engagement Rates doesn’t necessarily mean their email campaigns are more effective than yours or should be mimicked. That organization might only send highly-targeted emails to a small list, and thus their Engagement Rate would be much higher than an organization responsible for sending out timely weather reports to a large number of people.

As humans, we tend to have an innate desire to compare ourselves to our peers. But if Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte decided to start comparing his lap time to his teammates instead of to his own previous times in order to measure whether his training regimen was successful, he wouldn’t be an Olympian much longer. When it comes to government communications, comparing your organization to others is a surefire way to shortchange yourself and base your strategy on misleading information. This is exactly why measuring Engagement Rate over time is so important. Every organization is unique, and in order to fully understand what worked and what didn’t, you can’t look anywhere else but in your own backyard.

Increasing your engagement

Once the 90 day period is up and you’ve calculated your Engagement Rate, what’s next? If your Engagement Rate is below 50% and you can’t quite figure out why, here are a few general tips for increasing engagement:

1) Good subject lines. The best subject lines in emails are short (usually under 50 characters), sweet and to-the-point. You want to hook your readers in while conveying exactly what’s included in the message. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what makes a subject line effective.

2) Use links. Utilize linking to avoid sending excessively long emails and to drive traffic back to your website. But make sure that the links are positioned properly and spaced out throughout the email. Don’t hold them all until the end, or you risk subscribers never getting past the “email fold” and missing out on valuable information.

3) Quality subscriber list. By making sure your list of subscribers only includes those people who are interested in the information, you increase the chance that they’ll actually engage with it. This is where utilizing a Digital Communication Management system can be especially beneficial.

To learn more about calculating your Engagement Rate, measuring engagement over time, and strategies for increasing your rate, download our new white paper, Industry Perspective on Engagement Rates for email messages.

Boy Wearing Men's Dress Shoes and SuitThe “One Size Fits All” method might work for Little League t-shirts, but when it comes to government communications, “One Size Fits All” is a real strikeout.

It seems like a no-brainer to say that every organization should determine its own unique set of communications goals, delivery, and metrics, right? Surprisingly, however, this is one of the most commonly overlooked steps in the process. There are a few big mistakes that government agencies make in this area; let’s take a closer look at each.

Goals

Say you’re going on a road trip and you want to see how your new car handles over long distances. Sure, you could simply grab some Doritos, sync up the iPod and start driving, but is that really the smartest way to do it? If you don’t have a clear destination in mind when you leave, how will you figure out the best way to get there and evaluate the trip when it’s over? Figuring out clear goals before you launch a communications campaign is essential to spreading your message effectively. Each organization has its own unique mission and each communications campaign should also have its own unique set of goals. It’s important to remember that public sector goals are almost always vastly different from private sector goals, so attempting to mimic a private company’s marketing tactics is a shortcut that can bite back big time in the long run.

Delivery

All too often, when it comes to content delivery, government organizations focus on more and faster instead of better and in the right way. Once you’ve got a clear idea of your goals and how it supports your organization’s mission, you need to strategically shape your delivery methods around that mission. Sharing as much information as possible the second you obtain it isn’t always an effective strategy for conveying a clear message, drawing attention or inspiring trust among your stakeholders. Consider your medium carefully. If there’s a weather emergency, perhaps SMS and email alerts are the best method of delivery. If you’re launching a flu shot campaign, maybe an email that leads to a landing page with important statistics and a way to find the nearest clinic that offers flu shots coupled with a targeted direct mail campaign would be effective. Anyone who’s ever argued with an in-law at the dinner table knows that how you say something is just as important as what you say. The same concept applies here.

Measurement

Accurately evaluating marketing tactics is one of the trickiest parts of government communications. This is an area where the divide between the private sector and public sector is most apparent. Where private sector companies are primarily driven by sales and therefore have hard numbers (i.e. revenue) to help gauge their success, public sector missions are generally more intangible, and thus harder to measure.  By defining a measurable goal before you begin a campaign, you’ll be better positioned to get the information you need at the end.

So now that we’ve run through all the things that you shouldn’t do and briefly touched on those that you should, what’s the next step? Our recent webinar, “Meeting Mission Goals with Your Communications,” goes in-depth on this topic and provides you with real-life examples of organizations that are doing it right. Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant with GovDelivery, helps you understand how to better evaluate your effect on stakeholders, highlight your team’s successes and increase your mission impact.

Chances are pretty good that you want to engage constituents more in the activities associated with your organization in order to fulfill your mission. One great way to do that is to offer the public a user-friendly website. But are you happy with your site, or do you feel that you could serve citizens better by making some improvements? For example, can your Web page launch on mobile devices, or are your constituents tethered to a standard computer to gain full access? If you think you could do better and have heard about HTML5 and CSS3 and aren’t quite sure what each one offers, this post will give you some information to help navigate the next phase of Web design and coding.

HTML5 and CSS3HTML Past, Current and Future

To start at the beginning, HTML stands for “Hyper Text Markup Language” and in very general terms is the development language used to put Web pages together. The previous version – HTML4 – has been used since 1997. HTML5 won’t officially be completed until 2014, but there are features available now to test and determine if it’s right for your needs. The biggest difference between HTML4 and HTML5 is HTML5’s adaptability to the device the Web page is being viewed on – whether a mobile smartphone, tablet or PC. In addition, HTML5 loads faster and eliminates the need to use so many plug-ins and add-ons for listening to music or watching videos on YouTube. Lastly, HTML5 offers media playback and offline storage of Web applications.

Take a look at some of the sample Web pages that have been built in HTML5, and you’ll see a user-friendly, simple design approach. Another good concept to take away from HTML5 is that it isn’t considered one large entity, but rather is made up of smaller parts that work together for a better user experience.

As for which browsers are adapting to HTML5, you’re likely already taking advantage of it. Safari (mobile and desktop), Google Chrome and Firefox 3.6 all support at least some elements of HTML5. Internet Explorer 8 supports HTML5 in a more limited capacity. And many Google products already use some features of the next-generation protocol. If you’re using Safari or Chrome, you can check out an experimental version on YouTube that makes use of HTML5′s video features.

One last note about HTML5: It can’t be used on its own for animation or interactivity – it must be combined with CSS3 or Javascript, and that leads to our discussion about CSS3.

CSS Past and Future

CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets” and falls under the jurisdiction of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is one of the many international standards organizations that keep things in check on the internet.  CSS introduced Web developers to the concept of creating a consistent approach to how pages were styled, which HTML alone wasn’t able to do. CSS3 was first published in 1999 and builds upon the foundation of the first two CSS generations, dividing features set into separate documents known as modules. Each module can add its own functionality while maintaining backwards compatibility with CSS2. To give you an idea of all the features available, check out this website. Simply put, CSS3 is the presentation layer of a Web page that leads the charge for all of the other technologies buried within. In essence, it is the presentation layer design element.

CSS3 is becoming increasingly popular because of how easy it is to make changes. Plus, it offers more flexibility in presenting website content. Menus can be pretty typical on Web pages, but CSS3 creates menus that make it easier to see what a page looks like before the user fully loads it, thus saving time for the person searching for information. CSS3 also includes options for easier font styling, multiple backgrounds, images as borders, and produces rounded corners and drop shadows without having to use images to create the effect. CSS offers better-looking, cleaner Web pages that download faster than ever before.

CSS3 and HTML5 Working Together

By combining HTML5 and CSS3, your organization will gain the advantage of being able to offer stakeholders and the public a richer experience on your website. Your constituents expect your site to have similar characteristics to a retail site. They want to find information quickly; they want a site that looks nice and is user friendly; and they want to feel like they’re involved with what your organization is doing. And that means being able to find information quickly and easily. By combining the best of both worlds, you’ll be giving your site visitors a great experience – and keep them coming back time and again, ultimately leveraging your website to help meet mission goals.

Business man customer service satisfaction formCustomer service is a core function of government, yet 60 percent of government executives describe citizens’ attitudes toward government as “frustrated,” according to a recent Government Business Council survey. One way to improve the reputation of your organization is to empower frontline employees so they can provide better customer service.

Excellent customer service is a key goal for successful private sector companies. A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post identified five steps that companies can take to empower employees for the purpose of improving customer service. Blog post authors, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, identified the steps when they researched 20 organizations for their book, “Judgment on the Front Line.”

For the book, DeRose and Tichy researched companies that focus on putting power, resources and trust in the hands of front line personnel. They found that these empowered employees are better able to solve customer problems and provide quick, efficient service than those who are not empowered to make their own judgment calls.

The principles that DeRose and Tichy identified for empowering employees can work in the public sector as well as the private sector. In fact, the U.S. Navy Seals were among the 20 groups the authors studied. Other groups ranged from the Ritz-Carlton to Yum! Brands to the Mayo Clinic.

The authors found that no individual organization has all the answers but by combining best practices from the organizations they studied, they identified basic principles for empowering employees. Following are the five steps outlined in the HBR blog modified a bit to better fit public sector organizations.

Step 1: Connect the front line to your organization’s mission. In the HBR post, the authors note that this action starts with senior leaders who have the authority to ensure frontline voices are heard. With public sector organizations, the tie between customer service employees and mission goals is even more important. Senior leaders need to help connect mission goals to customer service goals while listening closely to align training, work processes and reward systems.

Step 2: Teach people to think for themselves. Employees at all levels need to understand the strategy for handling citizen and stakeholder services. A simple problem-solving framework should be identified so employees have a shared language and thought process for diagnosing root causes of problems or exploring customer needs.

Step 3: Grant front line workers latitude to experiment. Front line workers observe service breakdowns but also opportunities for serving customers in new ways. Teaching customer service managers the basics for designing simple experiments enables organizations to test more ideas for improving customer service.

Step 4: Break down the process. In the HBR post, this tip addressed the internal barriers in an organization that often lead to hierarchical but inefficient decisions. With government organizations, one of the most significant changes can be to break down the barriers in the customer service process. Find the areas where customers are consistently calling. There’s likely a problem in the process, and your customers can’t figure out how to move forward. So they contact your organization, quite often by phone or email. By freeing frontline customer service workers to identify the frequent interactions or questions they receive, they can work on providing solutions that can lead to self-service options. But this also means that your organization needs to break down the processes or administrative work that can get in the way of enabling the front line to serve customers.

Step 5: Put resources behind it. With technology changing at a faster pace than ever before, communications tools are also rapidly evolving. This affects customer service expectations from stakeholders, so investing in training is critical. However, with sequestration and continual budget cuts throughout government, training is likely one of the areas that’s easily cut. Instead, look at collaborative training sessions with your customer service employees. Provide a space and time; allow your team to discuss their concerns and crowdsource solutions internally.

Implementing some or all of these steps can empower customer service employees in government agencies to improve processes resulting in more efficient services and timely resolution of stakeholder issues.

For federal employees, improving customer service is not a choice. In 2011 President Obama issued a mandate that federal agencies improve the customer experience and streamline processes.

For additional ideas on how to improve customer service, check out our Citizen Service Management white paper.

When you hear the word “trend,” your mind probably jumps instantly to fashion. Every spring and fall, designers pack the runways with models dressed in what is considered to be the latest and greatest in hair, makeup, and clothing. These trends set the tone for what will pop up in stores throughout the globe. However, when it comes to other types of trends, current technology trends can significantly help improve the success of your organization.responsive web design

Trends can help identify what customer’s desires may be, what the current and future markets are like, as well as identify what competitors are up to.

But just like those skinny jeans hanging in the back of your closet, or that iPhone 4 that you bought last summer, trends come and go. They change. And, just like fashions that may look great on supermodels but don’t look so great on you, what works for someone else may not work as well for your company.

After reading this you don’t have to go out and become an expert in all of these trends, or even apply them all to your current web design. The key is to learn a little about each one and see if there’s a way to integrate some of these ideas into your own organization that makes sense with your goals and objectives for success.

Advancements in mobile technology have brought mobile-friendly website trends to the forefront of 2013 trends. Here are a few trends that you should definitely pay attention to:

Parallax Scrolling Sites

Parallax scrolling sites have long been used in video games, but the trend is catching fire in the web design arena. Parallax scrolling allows designers to control the depth of design objects on the website that they are designing. With the help of HTML5 and CSS3, it helps the developer to use animations that look great and cost almost nothing. 3D images are possible as well as faster page speed. It is a cosmetic tool that can impress visitors that have never seen your site before. It’s your “wow” factor.

Large Buttons  

You have heard it before: “Bigger is better.” But it’s true, small buttons can be frustrating. Customers want to be able to see the same images on their mobile device that they do on their laptop at home or work. It shouldn’t be hard for them to see what’s on your website. Make it easier for them by not only making the buttons big, but use color to make them stand out even more. Convenience equals more return visits to your website, and therefore more business.

Vertical Scrolling 

Scrolling typically can be vertical or horizontal. However, vertical scrolling is important for mobile device users. It allows them to scroll down a page and be able to see the menu so they don’t have to scroll back up. It may seem like a no-brainer because it is. It is simple and it saves time.

But, if you’re like me, you feel like 2014 is already knocking on our door. So what are some upcoming trends that you should keep an eye out for in the next year? Here are a couple of design trends that are likely coming to a website near you very soon:

Flat Web Design 

Flat web design focuses on typography and the use of color. Typography has normally been used in the print world and now web designers use it to give their websites a much cleaner look. Imagery is used only when needed. This type of design tries to make the website easier to understand, with cleaner lines. Choosing the correct font type and size can help make the website stand out.

My typography professor in college would ask us to explain why we chose the font we did in our project, trying to get us to articulate why a certain font spoke to us, and what that said about us. The same deliberation should apply to your company with regard to flat web design. Make sure the type of font you choose reflects your company and its values.

Simplified website designs

It’s surprising for a company not to have a website, so having a website isn’t good enough anymore. You need to show visitors what differentiates your organization from others, and your website is a great tool to help you communicate that information. So make it crystal clear. Focus on your top priorities for your website and stick to them and that will help you in developing a simpler website. Keep the website layout as simple as possible, by avoiding unnecessary clutter that will distract the visitor from the message that you wish to convey.

As technology enables us to be more and more mobile, you should also make sure that your organization has a mobile version of its website for customers. The more your customers know about you and what you can do for them, the better.

These are just some of the web design trends that I can see taking off in the next year or so. Although some of these trends may fade, and future trends may not be implemented exactly the way people think they will, trends still provide some guidance to improve an organization’s Web presence. Many times, your organization’s website is the “face” of the organization, giving visitors and customers a clear first impression of your organization. Make it count.

After viewing this short list of current and future design trends, what other trends would you add to this list and why?

social media cocktail The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Director of Digital Strategy, Tim Fullerton, knows a thing or two about making lemonade. When he took over the department’s digital communications in 2009, the DOI had no content management system for its website, no social media accounts, no video capabilities and no dedicated staff.  It was, in essence, pre-historic. But with a lot of passion and a fine-tuned strategy, Fullerton has managed to transform the DOI’s web presence from a few lemons into a delicious John Daly cocktail with a twist.

In addition to a frequently updated website, the DOI now boasts over 88,000 Twitter followers, 20,000 Facebook likes and 69,000 followers on Instagram. It’s been highlighted by Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, CNN, Slate Magazine and The Washington Times as one of a handful of government agencies that are doing social media right. The weekly video series, “This Week at Interior,” is now the most clicked-on page on the Department’s website.

So what exactly is Fullerton’s recipe and how can your government organization tap into that mixology magic?

Let’s break it down, cheesy metaphor style.

Step one: do your research

If a patron walks into your bar, sits down on a stool and says “surprise me,” what’s the first thing you’re going to do? Give him the old once-over and try to figure out what he likes, right? Just as you probably wouldn’t serve a middle-aged man a Cosmopolitan, you shouldn’t implement a communications strategy that’s not tailored to your stakeholders. In order to know how to tailor your strategy, you first have to understand who your stakeholders are.

When Fullerton took over the DOI’s digital communications he found that there were two main problems: first, most people didn’t actually know what the Department of the Interior was or what it did. And second, those that did know what it was didn’t know how to interact with it. With the help of Google and Twitter analytics, Fullerton was able to identify which channel of delivery and what kinds of content were most successful with stakeholders, and thus, tailor his strategy to address the DOI’s problems through those means.

Step two: choose your ingredients wisely

In the world of communications, content is king. As this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article points out, the most successful government agencies on Twitter are those with the richest content. For NASA, it’s live updates from astronauts. For the freshly sqeezed contentU.S. Bureau, it’s interesting statistics. And for the DOI, posting captivating pictures of the outdoors is the most effective way to simultaneously increase its audience through retweets and favorites, and address the DOI’s identity problem by reinforcing it as the official public lands agency.

Government organizations have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. While your organization’s content may not be as inherently interesting as, say, the Curiosity Rover’s Mission to Mars, it’s still unique. But don’t let that fool you into content complacency. Just because you think an article about the migration pattern of barn swallows is absolutely scintillating doesn’t mean your stakeholders will. Fullerton’s cardinal rule of social media is to only share what’s worth sharing. Keeping a vigilant eye on your analytics is one of the best ways to ensure you’re consistently providing shareholders with the content they want, instead of the content you want them to have.

Step three: get in the mix

There’s a reason James Bond always orders his martinis shaken, not stirred. When it comes to cocktails, the way you mix your ingredients is just as important as the ingredients themselves. The same principle applies to communications. Your organization might have the greatest content in the world, but if you don’t know how to use it right your stakeholders won’t stick around for long.

In this article published on the social media strategy website, Sprout Insights, both Fullerton and NASA Social Media Manager John Yembrick note that engagement is essential for social media success. Interacting with your audience not only helps you better understand what they’re looking for, it also shows that you value their input and are interested in having a two-way conversation. Liking Facebook posts, retweeting your followers, and responding to YouTube comments in a timely manner should be part of any sound communications strategy.

By doing your research, cultivating your content, and creating conversation, you’ll be well on your way to creating the perfect communications cocktail for your own unique government organization.

What are some other strategies you use to better understand your audience?

Who knew? All we need to be more productive and to help foster creative collaboration amongst our fellow colleagues is…(insert drum roll here, please)…a round table.

round-table-business-meetingAccording to a recent study, “The Geometry of Persuasion: How Do Seating Layouts Influence Consumers,” conducted by UBC’s Sauder School of Business, participants were asked to sit at either angular tables or round (or oval) tables. They discovered that people who sat at the round or oval tables demonstrated more of a need for a sense of belonging. Conversely, those who sat at the angular tables were more concerned about uniqueness.

Hmm. The professors performing the study took it a step further and wanted to find out how the participants would respond to promotional material while sitting at different shaped tables, and if there would be any difference in reaction. They found that volunteers who were sitting at the round or oval tables “reacted more favourably towards ads that conveyed a sense of belonging, showing groups of family members or friends,” while volunteers at the angular tables “identified more with ads portraying go-getting individuals- ‘maverick’ types.”

This study prompted me to think about the tables we use in our offices here. Our two biggest conference rooms have the angular variety of tables; and somewhere in between those rooms, we have another conference room with a small round table. Does more collaborating happen at that small round table?

Another hmm. The professors of the study concluded that “the shape of a seating arrangement, a subtle environmental cue, can activate fundamental human needs, and these needs in turn affect consumer responses to persuasive messages.”

So what can you take away from this study?

When you need to work collaboratively on a project, consider using a round or oval table for your next meeting. If you have a topic or solution where you are seeking consensus, the simple addition of a round or oval table might just be your tipping point.

To read the GovExec article that inspired this post, click here.

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

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

Tip #1: Connect everything

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

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

Tip #2: Be consistent

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

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

Tip #3: Share content by driving connections

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

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

Tip #4: Start a conversation – and then listen

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

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

Tip #5: Track, test and adjust

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

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

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

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

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

By this point you’ve read our posts about digital communication management, Beyond Email Lists and Delivering the Right Message in the Right Way, so you know some of the benefits and features of DCM. But you want to see what it all amounts to. What you’re saying, in other words, is “Show me the money!” Well, Jerry Maguire, we can’t show you the money, but we can show you results from an excellent example of DCM in action.

The case
Founded in 1953, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) mission is to help Americans start, build and grow businesses. By providing millions of loans, loan guarantees, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of assistance, holding sproutSBA has positioned itself as a backbone of our country’s small business community. But even backbones need some help connecting with their limbs. With all the useful information it had to share, SBA knew it wasn’t reaching as many potential and current small business owners as it would like, and the ones it was reaching weren’t being communicated with in the most effective or direct way possible.

So the SBA came to GovDelivery with some very specific goals:

  • Increase proactive and direct communications with key stakeholders, such as small businesses, to further its core mission
  • Expand the agency’s visibility, reach and public perception
  • Organize and automate the dissemination of information across central and regional SBA offices
  • Increase the number of website visitors to valuable online resources
  • Reduce printed newsletter distribution costs and effort
  • Ensure Section 508 compliance with its digital communications

The solution
By implementing a robust DCM solution based on the SBA’s unique needs, SBA was able to address each of those specific goals and see some pretty impressive results.

Here are a few of their results:

  • More than 65 million emails sent in the last 12 months
  • Reaching over 1 million subscribers across over 175 specific topics, such as Growing Your Business, Employment & Labor Law, Grants, and Taxes & Finance Law
  • Significant increase in Web visitors and social media fans/followers
  • Increase of 255% enrollment in the SBA’s Government Contracting 101 course

The moral of the story
Every government agency has its own unique audiences and strategies for trying to reach them. And while cumbersome traditional email listservs may have been the only option for organizations wanting to use digital communications in the past, there’s a better way to do things now. Just like SBA, you don’t have to settle for doing things the way you’ve always done them.

A DCM solution will help you expand your reach, increase efficiency and drive meaningful engagement. And if you still need more information to be convinced, check out this new white paper The Transformative Power of Communications: Digital Communication Management for the Public Sector.

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