A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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Our CEO Scott Burns closed out this year’s U.K. digital communications event with some important insights into something we’ve talk about often on this blog, “The Power of the Message”. As Scott notes in his introduction, the climate of public sector communications has changed a lot over the years. A decade ago, government agencies would talk about themselves and their services in a way that was very public relations oriented. Recently, however, that has shifted into a much more user-focused apwrofmsgpproach.

“What’s happened over the years is this incredibly exciting convergence of communications with service delivery and customer service”, Scott said. “Over and over you see the connection between communications and the reality of the mission you’re trying to serve; using communications as a vehicle for real and meaningful change”.

Public sector agencies are having to do more and more with less and less. Communications has been a big part of making that possible, and that’s because of how powerful effective messages can be. You can calculate the power of the message with math, Scott said, but ultimately, it all starts with the value of one message to one person.

So how do you increase the value of each connection? Scott focused on three key points.

First, you need to make your messages timely and relevant. “You can construct the best message in the world, but you’ll never beat the open rate of an email with the subject line ‘earthquake in San Diego’”. People care about what’s happening right here, right now, so positioning yourself as a reliable source for up-to-date information is essential. Second, you need to connect your messages to your mission. If you have certain areas of your website that drive more traffic but don’t necessarily have a lot of mission connectivity—like, say a section on the Social Security Administration’s website about the year’s most popular baby names—leverage those opportunities to drive people to other important parts of your site. Third, you need to promote valuable actions: pay your taxes, remember to move your recycling bins to the street, or participate in this seminar. Constructing a message that encourages action and engagement generates a level of learning that helps prevent further challenges later on.

Another key component to harnessing the power of the message, Scott said, is trust. Studies have shown that the more familiar you are with something, the more you trust it. If you want to create familiarity with your citizens, you have to connect with them on a regular basis. Another way to build trust is through stories. “People trust other people more when they understand their story. The same thing applies to organisations”, Scott pointed out. Finding the right balance between information and storytelling isn’t easy, but it is incredibly valuable if done right. Finally, trust can also be built by using a multichannel approach and leveraging your stakeholders’ trust in their peers. The more people that click that “Share” button on your site, the more you extend your network of trusted stakeholders.

But, of course, the best message in the world doesn’t matter if it doesn’t reach anyone. Reach is like the macaroni to your cheese, the peanut butter to your jelly, or, as Scott put it, “the flour that bakes your cake”. If you want to increase engagement and traffic to your website you’ve got to have reach. To do that, you have to balance individual message creation with a strategy for how you’re going to build your audience.

To learn more about the power of the message and how to extend your reach, check out Scott’s full presentation here.

For the elderly and people with disabilities, snowstorms can mean being trapped at home unable to get to work, to the food store, to the pharmacy, or have the mail delivered. It can mean that for days, you’re stuck alone in your home fearful of what might happen and that the stability of your health and life might be compromised.

For Colleen Roche (Board Chair at the Alliance Center for Independence, Edison NJ), a wheelchair user, a simple errand can become time-consuming and frustrating.

State laws deal with snow removal from parking areas, town ordinances deal with removal from sidewalks, but nothing addresses the clearance of curb cuts. I’ve literally spent hours on the telephone trying to figure out whose responsibility it is to clear the cuts and the street in front of them. A curb cut that piled with 3’ of snow is as useless to a wheelchair user as not shoveling at all. The generosity of Snowcrew volunteers to dig out their neighbors, means that accomplishing simple tasks like grocery shopping become possible again.

Isolation is one of the main contributors that leads many seniors and those with disabilities to face this situation during snowstorms. The good ol’ days of when neighbors knew and took care of each other are uncommon. There is hope and we have evidence that it is and will continue to change for the better.

We believe that people want to and will help out their neighbors. What is missing is communication and connection.

What has been done to help the elderly and people with disabilities during snowstorms?

To combat the issues of missing communication and connection, government organizations and community partners have formed snow teams. But their processes are hindered by legalities and their technology limited by budgets and the struggle to attract the volume of volunteers needed to accommodate the high demand for the service.

Today, it’s our honor to introduce you to www.snowcrew.org.

What is Snowcrew?

Snowcrew.org is a mobile optimized web app that connects people who need help shoveling with nearby neighbors “Yetis/Volunteers” who can and want to help dig out their neighbors.

Yetis shovel out people who are not physically able to shovel or cannot afford to hire someone to dig them out.

Each time it snows, whomever needs help shoveling can log into www.snowcrew.org and request “Shoveling Assistance.” Those who have signed up to help get notified that a neighbor(s) needs help. They can also “scout” to see who needs help via Snowcrew.org on their mobile phone or device of choice.

No middle man is required and citizens works together neighbor-to-neighbor to help each other out. Over the last 12 months, Snowcrew has helped resolve 260 shoveling requests!

What difference does Snowcrew make?

  • Snowcrew helps keep people healthy and financially sound -  When shoveled out, people can get to the pharmacy, food store, and medical appointments. Social security checks, medications and medical equipment are delivered.
  • Snowcrew increases resilience - When communities are connected and in service to each other they are stronger and better poised to prevent, respond to, and overcome challenges and disasters.
  • Snowcrew eases the burden on government - Citizens who have time and wish to pitch in to dig out public property such as fire hydrants, handicap ramps and curb cuts, and bus stops help to increase accessibility and improve quality of life.
  • Snowcrew fosters connection - Those who request and give shoveling assistance enjoy new connections, friendships, and experiences.

What do people who have been helped by Snowcrew say?

  • “I’m blown away; I have never received help like this from strangers before, and I’m honored to now call them my neighbors. So my deepest and heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you.” Nancy, Hardyston NJ who was trapped in her home for 4 days following a storm in February 2014.
  • “Just wanted to thank you and Bob for helping me as a neighbor to clear my car so I could make it to my doctor’s appt. It made an important difference.” Marcia, Jamaica Plain, MA Feburary 2014
  • “Someone came to help! thank you!” Michelle, Lincroft NJ February 2014

How can you get involved?

  • Go to Snowcrew.org and create a profile to volunteer or request shoveling assistance
  • Help us spread the word by retweeting our tweets and sharing our Facebook updates
  • Share this post to your networks
  • Shovel out cars snowed in and empty handicap parking spots
  • Check in on neighbors who are elderly and have disabilities

How did Snowcrew get started?

Snowcrew got started in 2009 when I realized one of my widowed elderly neighbors might be stuck in her home during a huge storm we had. The first version of Snowcrew used a Google map and a Google form. After I learned about former Mayor Cory Booker digging out his constituents after receiving a constituent tweet, I wanted to see if I could build on former Mayor Booker’s success by using technology to allow neighbors to engage each other online to get shoveled out simultaneously and in multiple cities and towns at the same time. Today, Snowcrew.org accomplishes this goal!

What technology powers Snowcrew?

Two leaders in government digital communication and Open Government power the Snowcrew.org solution. SeeClickFix built and operates Snowcrew.org and via its API it powers the “shovel request” submittal, “scout” mapping, watch area notifications, commenting and case management system. For neighborhoods where municipalities and community partners wish to formally adopt Snowcrew or are clients of GovDelivery, GovDelivery provides neighborhood and municipality specific automated emails and text message notifications when shoveling assistance requests are submitted.

Post authored by:

  • Joseph Porcelli – Founder and volunteer organizer of Snowcrew.org and Director of Engagement Services at GovDelivery
  • Carole Tonks, Snowcrew.org Advisor, Executive Director, Alliance Center for Independence, Edison NJ

 

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.

If a new acquaintance comes up to you at a party and asks you what you do in your job, how would you answer? Think about your response. Does it include or tie to your organization’s mission?

It can be easy in the daily hustle and bustle to forget how your work is tied to your organization’s mission. But as a communications professional, it’s crucial. When was the last time you asked yourself if you really understood the why behind the what and who? Being able to recite your agency’s mission is one thing, but really understanding it – and how it connects to the work you do every day – is a whole different ball game. And if you’re batting zero in that field, it not only hinders your organization’s ability to meet its mission; it also hinders the effectiveness of your communications. Effective communication is a multi-pronged approach. You need to understand both your mission and how to connect it with your stakeholders in order to be successful. If you have one without the other, it’s very likely your communications will fall flat. Reach Mission Goals

There are many employees on the frontlines interacting with stakeholders every day, and they are critical to meeting your organization’s mission; but just because you may be more removed from face-to-face stakeholder interaction doesn’t mean your role as a communicator is less impactful. In a private sector company, the marketing and communications teams have a substantial impact on the brand and revenue goals. The work marketing and communications professionals do influences their audience’s perspective and actions. Just think of how many marketing professionals are enticing you with offers for some product. They do that because it works; their messages connect with consumers and ultimately drive purchases.

This holds true for the public sector, too.

As a government communicator, the messages you create can be just as impactful. If you consider that your organization’s value is measured, not in dollars, but in its ability to meet its mission, effective communications can exponentially increase your organization’s value when the right message is delivered to the right recipient at the right time. Because of this, you have a unique opportunity to put a face on your organization’s brand and drive value for your organization and the public.

The better you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for, the better you’ll become at creating a real, mission driven dialogue with your stakeholders.

I am an admitted social media addict–I’m constantly connecting, checking and updating my various personal accounts. Although it’s been around for awhile now, lately I have found myself borderline obsessed with Instagram. It’s wonderfully engaging and combines the best parts of Facebook and Twitter through a constantly updated stream of photos. Instagram describes itself as a “fast and fun way to share your life” that works by simply taking a picture, applying a filter and posting it to your account (which can also be synced with Facebook and Twitter).

instaWhile routinely checking my Instagram feed the other day, I began to search for various government organizations and leaders, intrigued by the possibilities of what I would find. I found some organizations doing some great things with the social channel, but only a few. I started to wonder why more government agencies, organizations and leaders aren’t using Instagram and brainstorming the various ways they could leverage this channel to increase engagement with their brand.

I know that Instagram may not seem like the most necessary social network for government agencies to use, but the truth is, Instagram is becoming increasingly more powerful every day, moving from a hip and trendy app to a robust social network comprised of 150 million active monthly users and 7.3 million daily users worldwide. That’s a lot of engagement, and it’s not going unnoticed.  In fact, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies are already using Instagram and that number is constantly growing.  In a world where the public sector has a reputation for falling one step behind in the technology department, creating a presence on Instagram seems like the perfect opportunity to prove this stigma wrong.

Government agencies and their employees may have different missions or goals, but engagement and communication provide a common ground. There are no ‘rules’ for Instagram, just post pictures of you, your passions, what you love and let those following you enjoy and engage. There are already some government leaders doing this successfully, but I see room for improvement and a huge opportunity for government to connect with their audience in a more personable manner.

So how can you get started with Instagram? There are a few techniques I think agencies can easily implement, but really anything goes! Government organizations can have fun. Their employees are fun. Leveraging a little bit of fun can build an emotional connection with your audience, and it’s the emotional stuff that gets shared, “liked” and remembered.  While you brainstorm where you can take Instagram in your organization, here are a few “Gov goes gram” ideas to try:

#corybook#Hashtags.  Hashtags are a huge part of Instagram. I’m a huge believer in their purpose and power (when used appropriately). A hashtag is a metadata tag that provides a means for grouping together messages or photos from various individuals that are all related in some way. There’s already a variety of hashtags in place that government can jump right into leveraging.  For example, searching the hashtag #CoryBooker on Instagram yields 2,365 posts from a variety of people. While Cory Booker, New Jersey’s newly elected Senator, is already an active Instagram user, this hashtag serves as an opportunity for the state of New Jersey or the City of Newark (where Booker has been serving as mayor) to jump in and add their own photos and hashtags and get their pictures seen by the 2000+ individuals who have already posted about Booker.

farmersmarketLocal events like farmers markets are also a great way to get local governments and agencies, such as the USDA, involved on Instagram. Again, a simple search for #minneapolisfarmersmarket yields over 200 photos. Food-related government organizations can join this hashtag conversation by simply liking or commenting on a user’s photo. The bonus is that there are farmers markets held in cities all over the U.S. that local government agencies can use to connect with their stakeholders.

Finally, organizations can always create their own hashtags. If it’s a special day or event, such as National Night Out, cities can promote a specific hashtag and ask customers to tag any photos they’re taking at neighborhood gatherings with that hashtag. For example, Minneapolis could promote #MPLSNNO or #MPLSnationalnightout to aggregate and track how citizens are celebrating the event.

Agency Offices and Employees. It’s easy to forget that behind all the bulletins, parking regulations and information put out by the public sector, there are actual people. By posting pictures of your employees or interesting things going on inside the office, people can put a face to the person answering the phone when they have a question or get an insider’s view of the agency. While this might not necessarily be the most “exciting” information, it’s an awesome way to build a more personal relationship with your audience and in turn strengthen your connection with them. Plus, a lot of what we do is pretty cool. I am sure many people would be interested to see behind the scenes of agencies like NASA (who already has an account with 291,000 users). I know I would.

Your Agency’s Assets. This one is seemingly obvious, but it’s a great way to build a base for your account and it’s something to continually update your account with. Each government agency, employee and the people they serve are unique and different. Why not showcase it? The City of Minneapolis does not have an Instagram account but there are plenty of things they could showcase:NASA  lakes, parks, concerts and movies in the park, the annual gay pride parade and inside views of City Hall (to name a few). The best part is, people are already taking pictures of these things using hashtags like #minneapolis. The City of Minneapolis already utilizes Facebook and Twitter, why not build on these channels with Instagram?

NASA has access to incredible images of our earth, planet, solar system and spaceships. Judging by the 291,000 followers it has,  people love to see these things—they are incredible and for most people, a behind the scenes shot inside a spaceship is as close to space as they’re going to get.

Emergencies and Alerts. While this isn’t the most uplifting idea, it’s important to address. Working in government communications means that it’s our job to communicate everything, the good and the bad. While Instagram is certainly not the first place someone is going to look for information if a hurricane hits, it’s a good way to inform people of the magnitude of a situation. For example, if a pipe burst or a gas line leaked, it’s more important to communicate that information via bulletin, tweet or email first. But posting a picture of the leak and the resulting road closure can be a powerful tool to get people to listen to the alert, and it doesn’t hurt to broaden your reach in this way. Beyond that, showing the result of an emergency situation tells a whole different story. Think back to the Boston Marathon bombings. We were all glued to our news sources for updates, stories and any inside scoop as to what was happening. There was an incredible amount of images shared on various sites that told a story all on their own. People like to see that we are resolving problems, that firefighters are putting out fires and that potholes are getting filled.

As simple as Instagram may seem, it provides a wealth of opportunities for agencies to communicate and engage with their audience. It’s becoming more and more important to constantly inform citizens and to tell stories; Pictures are a great way to do this. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Does your organization utilize Instagram? Let us know your tips for how government could be using Instagram in the comments below.

 

If you’re on a mission to grow your subscriber base – and many in government are – this is the post for you!   Recently, ReturnPath published a report showing trends that may help you avoid some subscriber list pitfalls. These trends were culled from private sector email marketing, and with as much as you need to do on a daily basis, it can be hard to keep up with your day-to-day responsibilities and private sector trends. So, we’ve culled a few important trends to note and provided some public sector insight that can help you make these trends works for you.

Personal Information Requests and Subscription Confirmations Are Down

ReturnPath looked at email trends in 2008 and then again in 2013. In 2008, ReturnPath employees signed up for subscriptions to 61 brands, and then later unsubscribed. Initially, nearly half of the brands asked for postal addresses and additional information from subscribers. Today, one-third of the same brands ask for an email address only. For those asking for additional information, they’re pretty happy with a name and zip code.

checkSimilarly, today fewer brands are asking the person signing up to confirm their subscription, also known as a double opt-in, which was more of a standard practice in 2008.

For many government organizations that gather email addresses from stakeholders, asking only for an email address or wireless number for SMS/text alerts is completely in line with how the private sector is handling subscriptions.

Going a step further and asking for a zip code or name allows you to personalize and geo-target your messages. If you do ask for more information, whether that’s a zip code or name or something else, make sure that it’s an optional request. The key is to not bombard someone with a multitude of questions, as they will be much more likely to abandon the process.

Welcome Messages Increase; First Message Delivered in One Week Ideal

Another area that has seen a lot of change in the past five years is the welcome message.  Today, 80% of brands (up 40% since 2008) send a welcome message after a subscriber hits submit, and the vast majority of welcome messages are sent within two or three days.

ReturnPath also reported seeing a new trend in “first message” confirmations or receipts. Today, once a subscriber signs up to an email list, most marketers send their first message within a week, which tends to cut down on spam complaints, while those who wait two weeks to send the first message get more complaints.

For public sector organizations, the welcome message and first message trends show people who subscribe to receive email or SMS updates from your organization want to receive information quickly. You should provide a triggered welcome message as soon as a new subscriber signs up, thanking them for providing their email address.

Then make sure that you send them a message that’s relevant to their interests a week after they signed up. Brands that made a special offer in their first message outperformed their peers, so consider the content of your first message. Try offering an action for your subscriber to take (for example, to register for an event or to learn more about programs or initiatives that are going on within your organization), or using this initial opportunity to highlight your top content.

Increased Frequency

trendOne thing marketers spend considerable time thinking about is the frequency of message delivery. While you might think you’re bombarding subscribers with messages too often, ReturnPath found that  those organizations who sent messages more than once a week had  20 percent lower spam rates  than those who sent messages just once a week.

Additionally, private sector companies that sent messages less than weekly had lower open rates.   Another practice that private sector companies used was simply to ask subscribers to add the brand or company to a whitelist or safe sender list. This also led to higher open rates.

For government organizations, if you offer email updates on a specific topic, be sure to send messages on that topic or similar topics at least weekly. Your digital communications platform should also offer the ability to send digests of content on a daily or weekly basis.

Surprisingly, in the unsubscribe arena, it was slightly less easy to opt out of email five years ago than today, but today, the number of brands that take subscribers off their lists within the 10-day limit has grown to nearly 95 percent from 89 percent in 2008.

Here, too, government organizations should always offer a way for stakeholders to unsubscribe. Best practices show that having a standard footer with an “Unsubscribe” link is critical. Also, allowing stakeholders to visit a page that gives them control of unsubscribing to specific topics versus your entire organization’s list gives your audience the power to continue receiving information based on their needs. For instance, if your organization helps small businesses, you should offer multiple topics that may be of interest to various business owners. But if someone is starting a business, he or she needs specific information; once the business is started, that business owner is going to need different information. Giving the owner the option to unsubscribe from one list about starting a business and offering him/her the option to subscribe to another list on managing a small business allows you to continue building your relationship with that stakeholder.

Not all private sector email marketing trends are relevant for public sector communications, but it’s important to have an idea of what’s going on in that market because citizens and stakeholders have come to expect the same kind of speed and digital agility across the board. How are you using subscriber lists and/or implementing digital communications in your organization? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

communication bubblesLike you, we’re breathing a giant sigh of relief that the federal government shutdown has ended and that hundreds of  government employees are finally able to go back to work. But as much as you may want to jump back into the projects you were working on, it’s hard to ignore that the public’s confidence in the government has been shaken. Even though the shutdown was covered widely in the news, many citizens and stakeholders were surprised when they tried to reach out to a government agency only to find it out was not able to address their requests because most government employees were furloughed. While many agencies have worked hard to engage with and earn the trust citizens, it’s hard to argue that there will probably be some rebuilding to do on that front.

As representatives of a government organization, you are accountable to your stakeholders – whether this is the general public, citizens, business owners, farmers, etc. This makes the role of government communicators critical in sharing your organization’s important information to ultimately gain the trust and confidence of your stakeholders. And as the shutdown ends and lives start to return to normal, ignoring your audience’s mood and concerns would be a misstep. So before you dive back into the projects you had sitting on your desk when you left work on October 1st, take this opportunity to communicate directly with your stakeholders and address the situation head on. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Send your stakeholders a message letting them know you’re back at work and excited to begin communicating with them again. Take a moment to thank them for their patience during these frustrating times.
  • Use all the channels you have available. Send personalized “we’re back/thank you” messages to stakeholders via email or SMS/text messages or more generic posts on social media if you want to communicate broadly.
  • If you use digital communications, take advantage of this opportunity, where you’ll likely have more “eyeballs” on your organization, to include sign-up information in your communications. Suggest that stakeholders sign up for various direct communication channels – such as email or SMS/text message subscriptions – and promote the social media channels you’re on.
  • With the 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy for stakeholders to expect that requests made before or during the shutdown get handled quickly. Why not communicate your organization’s plan and timeline for getting operations back up to speed, and acknowledge or ask that stakeholders continue to be patient just a little while longer as your teams/staff get back to work.

As a government communicator, do you have any tips for your peers in re-connecting with the public and your stakeholders? What are you doing to re-engage and reassure? Please share your ideas & thoughts in the comments.

For government communicators and IT professionals, driving traffic to the website is one clear metric that can be tracked and analyzed over time as a measure of success. And, with Google Analytics and similar tools, you can point to increased Web traffic as part of your success as an IT professional or communicator.

But in this era of digital noise, you can’t trust that simply building a good website will produce the traffic you want. If you work for a larger government organization or program you may have the budget to run a massive advertising campaign to attract visitors to your site, but if you’re like most public sector organizations and programs, you’re faced with decreasing budgets and a strong push to drive mission goals and prove value.

That’s why we believe in not just promoting your website and the content you have for the public, but also in the need to build direct digital connections with your stakeholders and nurture a relationship with them over time. That’s where digital outreach can really impact your goals in clear and measurable ways. In a recent Washington Post article on Healthcare.gov , the reporter found that:

GovDelivery…was the number-one source of referral traffic to Healthcare.gov in September and October. That means when a user came to Healthcare.gov from a link on another site, that site was frequently Govdelivery.com — more often, even, than the websites of Medicaid, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services…[So] all that traffic to Healthcare.gov from GovDelivery? It came through…email…Not Facebook, which accounted for roughly 2.6 percent of traffic. Definitely not Twitter, which drove only 1 percent of Healthcare.gov’s visitors to the site…

In addition to being the number-one referrer to Healthcare.gov, the service has also managed to sign up more than 1 million subscribers for the Department of Health and Human Services’ ACA email list, a company spokeswoman said. (The department’s goal is 7 million.) [emphasis mine]

Healthcare.gov screenshot

The folks in charge of running and maintaining Healthcare.gov and the marketplace recognized that they needed not just a one-time hit, but a true digital connection to communicate with stakeholders on a continual basis. Since 85% of adults with a household income of less than $30,000 and 93% of adults with a household income between $30,000 and $49,999 use email, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, it only made sense to connect with those stakeholders through digital channels.

But what does this mean for you? To start, do you know how engaged your stakeholders are with your communications? Does your website get the traffic you want it to? If individuals come to your website to seek out more information, do you know if they are coming back to check out your new content? Are you reaching all of the stakeholders you want to be reaching? These questions are inextricably linked. Reaching more stakeholders enables you to drive more website traffic, just like Healthcare.gov. And by allowing stakeholders to sign up to receive specific topics through digital channels they prefer, you now know what’s important to each individual and how they want to receive it, so you can proactively communicate relevant information when there’s something new to share. Over time, these interactions deepen your relationship with stakeholders and help build trust.

Thankfully, if you’re a GovDelivery client already, you’re in good hands. The Washington Post also reported that:

GovDelivery definitely falls in that “digital outreach” sphere…[it] is the contractor that powers just about any email alert you get from a federal (and in many areas, local) government agency. Think weather alerts, emergency notices, small business newsletters — those are all run through GovDelivery…

With more than 1,000 government organizations of all sizes across the US, UK, and Europe currently using the GovDelivery platform to connect with more than 65 million stakeholders worldwide, we’re ready and excited to help you build and maximize those stakeholder connections to meet your mission or program goals and drive real value.

For more strategies & tactics you can implement easily check out our recent Essential Digital Strategies Guide for Government Communicators . Or contact your Client Success Consultant  to find out what you can do with the GovDelivery platform to boost your outreach.

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

Time is something that communicators never have enough of when it comes to their work: building their audiences, managing their brand, staying current with content, meeting the demands of their stakeholders, etc. Many times the government communicators I work with are  balancing an ever-expanding task list between a few key team members, each working to draft press releases, communicate with the media, keep the website current, prepare emergency communication strategies, respond to inquiries, and manage social media – just to name a few! Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle, especially as demand for digital content and services grow and stakeholders expect to find everything online.

Luckily, today’s communicators have more tools to help them wrangle the different aspects of their job into a well-oiled information machine. And with a few quick strategic changes, they can save more time than ever before while meeting citizens’ needs on a consistent basis.

Here are three key steps you can take that will help you cut down on the time spent communicating,  increase your reach through more channels, and most importantly, connect to more stakeholders.

GovDelivery_ChannelsIntegration – Most clients that I engage with agree that it is no longer enough to only use a single form of communication to reach their diverse base of subscribers, but they also are not sure where the extra hours will be found to manage multiple communication platforms. While it may seem like an impossible feat, there is a solution.- Make your content channels work together in one simple process. You may have 8,000 subscribers to an email list, 10,000 Facebook fans, another 3,000 twitter followers, and another 50,000 people are viewing your website each month. Does that mean a neverending login-test-post-comment-update-edit-repeat cycle for your team? It doesn’t have to. By leveraging  tools that are specifically geared toward making your channels work together, you can cut down on the number of different channels you have to access to post your content, while maintaining a consistent style and voice throughout all your communication channels.

There are various tools out there for communicators to leverage. GovDelivery’s digital communications platform allows content that originates on one channel to be effortlessly communicated across all of your networks with one click.  And social media engagement tools like HootSuite are also helping more communicators manage their social media outlets from a single dashboard that measures the responsiveness of their audience. Furthermore, content management systems can be leveraged to push content from one channel to another with proper programming and permissions.

Collaboration_RSSAutomation – What’s better than channels communicating with each other, you ask? Channels that communicate with each other automatically. With little or no manual process at all, government agencies are able push content to multiple channels through RSS (Real Simple Syndication),  APIs (application programming interfaces), or other feeds to replicate content from one channel to another. RSS feeds are handy because they often come as a built-in feature in most content management systems, and they make it easy to send updates to subscribers whenever a Web page’s content changes. The standardized feed can then be easily read by email clients or web browsers, allowing subscribers to get information without having to continuously check Web pages for content changes.

While RSS feeds are great, APIs take automation a step further by allowing a feed from a Web portal or database to be pushed directly out to applications that interpret and deliver content to subscribers.

A great example of this is Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). WSDOT recently connected their traffic alerts to an API that automatically pushes alerts to subscribers when road conditions in their region are impacted by weather, construction, or traffic congestion.

Social media outlets like Twitter have some great 3rd party automation options as well.   Twitterfeed is a tool that allows you to automatically post content from a blog or Web page to Twitter, making the process of posting and promoting your new content as easy as a simple click of a button.  Another great tool is WordPress’s Tweet Old Post plugin, which helps drive traffic back to older, but still relevant, pieces of content on your blog.

Coordination – Communication, done correctly, is a lot of work. To maximize your output, you’ll want to make sure that all of the work you and the rest of your agency does to reach your target audience is following some sort of unified, coordinated strategy. I’ve encountered a lot of clients who have brand-building rockstars on the communications team who work to create consistent brand image, but they often struggle with other departments within the organization independently creating and sending content through various channels with inconsistent strategy. An uncoordinated communication strategy can sometimes chip away the work that others are doing to build a consistent image and reputation for the organization, and might even be duplicating efforts of other departments. How do you address this without putting sole responsibility on one team to communicate on behalf of all departments? With coordination and standardized expectations for everyone who is responsible for communicating with your stakeholders. Marin County, CA has done a great job with this by creating a Social Media Responsibility Guidelines document, along with a best practice Social Media Playbook. These serve as mandatory training guides for anyone using social media on behalf of their department, and help promote consistent, coordinated channels of communication, each working toward the same goal. The County communications team in Marin keeps an eye on the communication efforts of individual departments without having to bear the full weight of all content creation and output themselves, meaning more of their time is free to focus on their top goals and objectives for continued public engagement and service.

By integrating channels, automating output and coordinating content generation among various players in an organization, government communicators can continue to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to meeting stakeholders’ needs for information and service.

 

Some people may view email as the least creative form of marketing, but the fact is, it rules as one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to get your message out. You may spend hours or days crafting the core content of your message, with the subject line left as an afterthought. However, many people determine whether or not they’re going to open a message based on the subject line alone, making it imperative that you give the subject line dedicated time and attention.

A recent report released by eConsultancy looked at email subject lines to see which words got more activity and which fell by the wayside. While most of the emails tested were business-to-business or business-to-consumer messages, there’s still crossover for government marketers. And there’s still useful information to be gleaned from the report.

Frequency Matters

iStock_000009805936LargeEmail success is not only measured by open rates and click-throughs. You also need to take a look at the reality of having many other organizations sending emails to your subscribers at the same time as you. And while each recipient may not pounce on your message immediately, even having the message in an email inbox helps boost your organization’s recognition and serves as a reminder that you’re out there sending messages and that what you have to say is important.

Additionally, increased frequency of message delivery, meaning daily or weekly emails, tends to get better open rates and more click-throughs. While newsletters are starting to slide, email continues to gain attention, mainly because people tend to think they can find what they need more quickly through news feeds. If you have a general newsletter, consider breaking out recurring subjects of interest into separate topics that stakeholders can subscribe to, and send more frequent messages on those topics.

Word Choice Wins the Day

Using words like alert, new, news, bulletin and video in your subject line typically draw a bigger audience of readers, since those words suggest that an action needs to be taken or that information is new and they need to know the most up-to-date information. In contrast, words like report, learn and book are trending down in terms of open and click-through rates. If you’re trying to engage your subscribers, which many of you are, using words like different or update generally solicit a better response.

Another good tactic, even if your message doesn’t get opened right away – or ever – is to include something about results in your subject lines. If you have fixed a problem or have a response to a citizen complaint, putting that information in the subject line will prompt people to see what you’ve done to serve their needs.

Keep the Subject Line Brief

A final best practice is to keep your subject lines to 50 characters or less, with the only exception being messages sent to highly targeted audiences who appreciate more information. Also, don’t forget to make sure the “From” portion of the email indicates the name of your organization or the division you represent, so subscribers know it’s from a trusted source.

What are your thoughts on subject line importance? Do you test various subject lines? How frequently do you send information to your subscribers? Please share your feedback!