A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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Our recent post on the websites three deadly sins to avoid for government websites looking to engage stakeholders and gain web traffic discussed why the majority of websites fail to attract their target audience. While many websites may struggle to meet customer expectations, especially in the public sector, there are many shining examples of government websites leading the way in better online experiences for both government agencies and the public.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which performs annual surveys and reports on Americans’ overall level of satisfaction in a variety of industries, reported an optimistic outlook on receptiveness to services provided by the U.S. government in a 2012 report. Customer satisfaction with these services rose nearly 5% over 2 years, which ACSI credited to customer service improvements driven by higher quality websites paired with a larger proportion of citizens interacting with government through those websites:

“The significant improvement in the federal government benchmark over the last two years is due to two interrelated factors. First, while citizens are reporting generally better experiences across the board regarding ease and efficiency of processes, customer service, and information delivery, the satisfaction driver showing the largest gain is user perceptions of the quality of government websites. Second, not only are citizens rating website quality higher, but a growing proportion of citizens are interacting with the government via this channel.”

ACSI regularly benchmarks websites, but only at the federal level. However, throughout the state and local government levels, there is a vibrant public sector technology and digital communication community that offers best practices for any government organization. We took a few minutes to highlight one website from different levels of local, federal, and international government.

Federal: United States Mint @ USMint.gov

The ACSI benchmarks use customer surveys to determine their quarterly rankings. Although government services typically score below private sector services, several federal agencies consistently show levels of user satisfaction similar to high-performing private sector companies.

The United States Mint is one example of a federal website that generates ACSI scores that meet and, in some cases, exceed the scores of private sector customer satisfaction leaders. Considering that private sector enterprises typically dedicate more resources to focusing on customers than the typical government agency, the Mint’s high scores are even more impressive. USmint.gov resources cover the gamut from a collector shopping resource and customer service center to news updates and social media links, all collected in a visually attractive and well-organized design. The website meets many different needs on a single central website that attracts a wide and varied audience but also caters to specific interests within that audience with a clear navigation system and resources to help new visitors learn more. Personalized email subscription options provide a way for any of these stakeholder groups to get proactive updates so they are notified when there’s new information.

The extensive content peppered with beautiful pictures of U.S. currency is navigable via a robust search function, FAQs, glossary, and site map, as well as a 1-800 number in case a visitor is really stuck. Frequent shoppers on the online catalog can register on the site with user information. Furthermore, clearly labeled navigation tabs provide shopping and product schedule information for dedicated collectors as well as coin collecting and coin minting information for school groups or new collectors.

mint

The secret to the success of USMint.gov lies in the thoughtfully designed and implemented website, with a focus on a variety of stakeholder interests. When government websites are developed with a clear understanding of its audiences and what they want, communicators are able to focus on delivering the content stakeholders want and value in more effective and efficient ways.

City: Louisville, Kentucky @ louisvilleky.gov

Online portals for state, county, and city government have achieved new heights in leveraging information technology and web best practices to meet the needs of the public.

Louisville, Kentucky is one example of a city-run website that has not only achieved excellence in content, accessibility and smart design, but has also maintained consistently high quality in its web offerings over the past several years. louisvilleky.gov has been awarded several Best of the Web (BOW) awards and won 1st place in the City Portal category in 2012. The website succeeds at keying in on citizen feedback to deliver services and information that matter, organizing information in an accessible and easy-to-update manner, and providing services that are innovative and fun to use.

The Louisville website offers quick links for service requests, live chats, and web apps for locating popular city services. Subscription services offer updates on over 400 city topics to nearly 100,000 subscribers. Web forms, an active social media center and even a 311 app provide channels for Louisville leadership to interact with citizens and discuss timely topics in real-time.

A relentless focus on providing service to the public through thoughtful, frequent updates has worked – search engines show that louisvilleky.gov is the #1 online resource in the city. A quick visit to louisvilleky.gov opens the door to information ranging from job listings to garbage pickup presented via rich content and interactive features, making it easy to see why this website is a perennial favorite in the city category.

Overseas: GOV.UK

Governments in other nations work to overcome the same challenges as government organizations and agencies in the United States. An increasingly web-savvy population, increasing expectations and needs, and difficulties in combining interesting, up-to-date content with functional design are common opportunities for improvement for all web portals.

GOV.UK is a comprehensive web portal that strives to offer all British Central Government content in a one-stop website. The portal seeks to provide a predictable and complete resource for anything citizens might demand from the government through a central list of links for the entire UK government. Historically, thousands of disjointed websites made up a labyrinth that citizens had to navigate to find the information they needed. The streamlined design, launched in 2012, consolidated multiple resources into a central site.

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The re-design effort was headed up by the UK’s Government Digital Service,  which was formed within the Cabinet Office to transform government digital services. The Government Digital Service website states their purpose is to “offer world-class digital products that meet people’s needs.” Ben Terrett, who led the Government Digital Service’s re-design of Gov.UK as head of design, explained how the website design met the department’s purpose:

“Most people visit a .gov site once or twice a year—if that. So designing a dynamic, fresh interface is irrelevant—rather, the idea was to make the user experience as simple and static as possible.”

The accessible and function-first qualities of the website attracted attention by online design communities, and was named 2013 Best Design of the Year by the London Design Museum. The website beat out not just websites, but buildings, inventions, and cars for the award and is the first website to earn the honor. Other government websites looking for ways to improve their approach to serving the public through functional design based on user requirements can learn from the award-winning web design principles of GOV.UK.

More Tips to Learn from the Best

For even more ideas on transforming public sector online communications, check out the guide on HowTo.gov on the Top 10 Best Practices for Government Websites. This list expands on the key objectives of the best-in-class examples discussed above: Focus on the intent of a government-hosted website and how that translates to citizen requirements, base innovative and rich content on those key interests and needs, build in methods for users to provide feedback, make services interactive and easy-to-use, and never stop innovating!

In our recent webinar, “Accelerate your Outreach for Maximum Impact” our GovDelivery Engagement Consultants had dozens of questions from webinar attendees. We’ve pulled out some of the most critical questions, providing a transcript of the question and detailed answer.HandsRaised

Q: My organization is new to reaching out through digital communications. How exactly do you connect digital channels with project goals?

A: The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out what your project goals are and how to connect them with your digital communications tools. You shouldn’t just reach out through Facebook and Twitter because someone tells you you’re supposed to. You need to figure out why you’re reaching out through those specific channels, what audiences you’re trying to reach, and what metrics you’re going to use to measure success. You need to have a strategic approach for why you’re reaching out through email or Twitter and what different success factors you’ll be looking for with each type of communication. Putting project goals together with the different tools you’ll be using to reach those project goals helps you look at the whole picture. Email and social media are just tools for completing your mission objectives.

Q: My agency doesn’t reach out to the general public — only to a select group of people. What does an outreach acceleration process look like to me?

A: The outreach process doesn’t change for you just because you don’t reach out to the general public. Even if you’re only reaching out to a select group of people, all of the best practices we talked about today still apply; you just have to be more targeted in your message. If you do have a more targeted audience that you’re trying to reach, in some ways it’s even more critical that you reach them because they might not have a lot of other sources. For example if you’re the National Institute of Health and you’re reaching out to a very niche group of scientists, you might be one of the only places they find that specific information. So even though something you send out might not apply to the average person, the best practices still pertain. You’re just going to have more targeted groups sign up for your information that you’ll have to continue to reach out to.

Q: This all seems great, but how can I convince my manager of the value of this kind of outreach acceleration?

A: A lot of the tactics and data points we presented in this presentation should be useful in persuading your manager. The fact that over 92 percent of adults are online interacting through email is a really powerful statistic. There are also a lot of great government websites like www.howto.gov that offer information about why your organization should be on social media, certain social media policies you might consider implementing, and what kinds of communications tools people are using. Again, you’ll need to connect your project goals with how these tools can be used to achieve them and how you’ll measure their success. Really push the point that these are tools that the public is already using; you don’t have to hunt people down. They’re free opportunities, at least with social media, to reach out and connect with people and influence certain behaviors. The more people you reach the more effective you’re going to be in meeting your projects goals.

Q: How does intensive outreach link to behavioral change?

A: The more people subscribe to your information, the more likely they’ll receive it on a regular basis and the more likely they’ll take action. So if you’re sending out information about getting a flu shot, maybe the first four or five times someone receives it they won’t take any action, but maybe on the sixth time they will take action. For the campaigns you’re trying to promote the most, continue to send consistent messaging and eventually people will take the action that you want them to. When you have massive amounts of people getting information you just increase the number of people who are actually going to do what you’re hoping they’ll do. Maybe they’ll get a flu shot this year because of an email, and maybe they’ll also get a flu shot next year and then the year after that they’ll also get their family to get flu shots. That’s the type of behavior change that we’re talking about. With outreach acceleration you’re really trying to create a community of people who are interested in your information and reach out to them on an ongoing basis.

Q: When you talk about segment, does that mean you have to analyze your target audience first and then set target audience profiles that help you choose the outreach mechanism?

A: What we mean by segment is that, as a government organization, you’re not necessarily always sending out information that’s critical to everyone. You’re trying to reach a targeted audience in a targeted way. Yes, you should figure out who you’re communicating to and who your key stakeholders are and why they’re coming to your website to begin with. What information are they really interested in? Then, based on who your key stakeholders are, you should set up different opportunities for people to sign up. You can have a sign up for general, public information, but maybe you also want to have a sign up specifically for scientists, or a sign up for people who’ve said they’re interested in family assistance. Through GovDelivery you‘ll set up different topics, really as many topics as you want, and send information only to those people who subscribe to a specific topic. The more targeted you make your information—and again this is something we keep coming back to—the more you’re going to see success with people engaging with your information, clicking through those links, opening those emails and downloading documents. Figure out who your key stakeholders are, give people opportunities to sign up for information based on that key stakeholder group, then send targeted information.

Another tip on the topic of targeting: if you have Google Analytics installed, look at who’s coming to your website and match that up with the different sign up topics you’re offering. If people are coming to your website looking for a certain kind of information and you’re not sending out that kind of information, maybe that’s something you can reconsider. If you know what topic is really popular, put it at the top of the list when someone goes to sign up for different topics. So, in addition to targeting more specific people, there’s also ways to prioritize the different topics that you’re offering.

Q: So you can measure subscribers, but how do you measure the next steps of awareness and engagement?

A: Through GovDelivery we do have metrics that track message analytics. Yes, you’re able to track how many subscribers you have total and how many subscribers you have subscribing to different topics, but once you send out a message you’re also able to see how that message has performed. You can see how many people opened your email, how many people clicked on a link and what links they clicked on. You’re also able to manipulate the system to see what message has worked the best and had the best penetration in the community that you were reaching out to. We give you enough information to see who’s clicking on your links and who’s opening your emails and then tie that back to your project goals.

Q: You mentioned that on the sixth time someone gets an email they might go get a flu shot. What can organizations do to make their messages more compelling in driving those actions?

dl_th-bp_emailguideA: A great source of ideas for that is our Email Best Practices Guide, which we have a link to in the webinar. In addition to talking about effectiveness and efficiency we have a whole section on engagement. We provide tons of examples for you on how to make your message more interesting and relevant and how to construct the most impactful bulletins.

Q: Is there one GovDelivery tool that you would recommend as best for increasing subscriptions?

A: The overlay has statistically shown to have a huge impact. Many organizations we’ve worked with have seen, on average, a 250 to 500 percent increase in new subscribers just from implementing an overlay. It’s something that is so simple to do, but has such a large impact on your subscriptions. The overlay is a very simple, unobtrusive box that pops up when someone visits your website. Visitors can easily “x” out of the box if they’re not interested, but once they do sign-up for information the box will no longer pop-up when they visit your website. The idea is that if people are already showing up to your website, why not enlist them to come back for more? Why not present the opportunity for them to easily reach out and connect with you? It’s by far the most effective tool we have.

This is just a small portion of a great Q&A, following a thorough webinar presentation. View the full webinar now.

Capital - Washington D.C.I have never been a public servant, though I have been working with the public sector for years, and I see firsthand how challenging a week like this can be for public sector leaders.

With shutdowns, furloughs, and other challenges, I sympathize with public sector leaders as they try to maintain focus and motivate teams. As an entrepreneur, I have had many ups and downs, coming close to bankruptcy and facing moments of deep frustration. While I know these tips might miss the mark for your situation, they have been helpful to me as a leader during uncertain times.  As many of you face hard conversations or tasks with your staff, I hope you find these useful.

  1. Be authentic. Be clear that you are doing your best, and expect the same of your teams while acknowledging that times are uncertain and may be frustrating. No one wants to work hard for someone who ignores reality, so acknowledge the reality of the situation while moving forward.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure your stakeholders and team members feel up-to-date, even if you find yourself just telling them that there is “no news.” This can be hard if you and your team are shut off from communicating, but do the best you can to make sure you communicate openly with as much information as you can give.
  3. Avoid cynicism. It is so hard when the tide turns against you in one area to  maintain a positive outlook. Yet, even in the darkest moments of a job or a life, there are wonderful things all around us. Be the leader who lets that light shine in and points to it, so others can see beyond the current challenges or frustrations.

I wish you luck in leading the way through whatever challenges you and your teams face. I’d be interested in hearing what you are doing to stay positive and communicate during challenging times. What are your tips?  Please comment here to share them with others.

Though Harold and the Purple Crayon  will always be a timeless classic, the term “storytelling” probably conjures up images of kindergarten carpets and night-lights rather than innovative marketing tactics.

34th Deauville Film Festival - RecountDespite this, the concept of storytelling in communications is actually making a big comeback. As this article on the Content Marketing Institute website, “Corporate Storytelling from Kevin Spacey” notes, audiences are moving away from the traditional means of marketing and consumption and demanding better stories and better delivery. Kevin, who stars in the Netflix hit original series House of Cards, argues that the success of the show and its non-traditional method of delivery prove that companies should give the audience “what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in.”

That’s all well and good for television, sure, but what does it actually mean for your government organization? Well, a few things. Let’s take a look:

Customers want useful content

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately many organizations get so caught up in proving they know how to use Pinterest or Twitter that they forget what’s at the core of their communications plan: useful information. Government agencies are uniquely positioned to provide stakeholders with information they can’t find anywhere else. And in the world of social media, content is king. So does that mean you should just throw everything you’ve got on Facebook and hope for the best? Not exactly.

But they also want the best content

A big part of communicating well is figuring out what you want to communicate. Just because you have all the statistics on sparrow migration in the Midwest for the last thirty years doesn’t mean you should share them. Narrowing in on the best stories is essential to a good communications plan. But don’t you need a huge PR budget and loads of fancy data to figure out what the best stories are? Nope! Your stakeholders tell you what they want every single day through link clicks and email opens; the question is simply whether or not you’re paying attention. The data for what your audiences want is there, you just need to collect and analyze it.

And they want it delivered in the best way

commcircleNow that you’ve got an idea of your most popular topics, what do you do with them? According to Kevin and the Content Marketing Institute, how you deliver your stories is just as important as the stories themselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking everything has to be boiled down into 140 character Twitter sound-bites to get noticed; different stories warrant different delivery methods. Some stories need to be longer to be truly impactful and that requires a communications channel that allows for depth and complexity – something not available when you’re limited to 140 characters. The truth is audiences want to engage with content in different ways, and different channels of communication – email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. – provide different unique opportunities.

Want more? You can learn about incorporating storytelling into your government communications plan at our annual Federal Communications Event: The Power of the Message. Featuring a keynote address by Paul Smith, author of the best-selling book Lead with a Story, the event will focus on utilizing storytelling techniques to help you better meet your organization’s mission goals.

I saw this article recently on MarketingProfs, “Three Deadly Reasons Most Websites Fail,” outlining why most websites struggle to get the results they want. While the original post is geared toward marketing professionals, the concepts can easily be applied to communicators in the public sector looking to improve online engagement with constituents.

The article discussed how many websites continue to operate with a limited scope and the out-of-date goal of using the website as an “online brochure” for the company or organization.  These days, successful websites actually serve as a valued resource; share timely and relevant content; and/or deliver services more efficiently or accessibly via online platforms.

For government organizations, a website provides broad access to an amazing amount of resources and content. Many government websites work hard to tailor services and content to reach the widest possible audience. And yet, some government websites still have a hard time attracting visitors and maintaining long-term traffic gains. So what can you do? Here’s a public sector spin on the 3 Deadly Sins for websites:

Deadly Sin #1: Providing an Online Brochure Instead of an Experience

Most companies and organizations with a website consider it a key part of their toolkit for reaching an audience, but not enough think of a website as the core of a well-run communications and thought-leadership strategy. The goal of a website is to attract visitors, provide services, and delight users. Have you built your website around a similar set of objectives? Beautiful design and SEO tactics are not enough – a successful website has to be built around compelling, timely content.

Health-related websites rank high in government website web traffic ranks partly due to the fact that sites like NIH.gov (National Institutes of Health), CDC.gov (Centers for Disease Control), and USDA.gov (Department of Agriculture) provide up-to-date information on topics that are highly relevant and important to the public: health care information, food recalls, and disease prevention. Even if your website serves a different audience, every website can be improved by regularly providing exceptional content that resonates with your visitors’ day-to-day interests and needs.

usda

The key to transforming your website from a flat publication to an interactive experience is to provide ways for visitors to engage, communicate, and share. Visitors should feel they have gained some value when they click away from your website. As an example, if you offer the ability for visitors to subscribe to receive an alert when your web content is updated, they will be satisfied that they will be notified when new information is available, which will contribute to repeat visits and make it easier for them to send that information on to their friends, family, or peers.

Deadly Sin #2: Using One-Size to Fit-All – People Need Personalization

In today’s world of constant consumption and a culture of frequent updates, people expect to receive a constant stream of information that is not only up-to-date and interesting, but also customized for them. Not only do you want fresh content to attract your audience, you need to take that content a step further by tailoring it to meet specific audience segment’s needs. For example, if your organization has multiple stakeholder audiences, why not offer different “sections” for your different audiences? One great example is the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services’ Citizen Resource Center. They clearly differentiate content for different audiences on the main home page, with quick links to content that is most often viewed.

It’s easy to see that people respond to a combination of content and personalization. Many organizations are already segmenting subscriber lists by user interests, frequency of updates, and other characteristics to provide specific content to distinct audiences. Providing customized email subscriptions that link to specific content topics is an effective way to gain access to a wider audience.

Additionally, websites can add thoughtful options for people interested in getting updates or becoming a frequent visitor. SBA.gov (U.S. Small Business Administration) provides a sign-up page for frequent visitors, and a browsing mode called “SBA Direct” that can be personalized with options such as topics of interest and types of businesses. These tools help visitors navigate directly to information that matters most to them and cultivates a positive user experience, increasing the probability they will come back and recommend the service to others.

A more personalized experience provides more value to visitors. Making the effort to hone in on your stakeholders’ wants and needs will continue to fuel improvements to digital communications as information and content changes and grows, helping your website gain more and more traffic as time goes on.

Deadly Sin #3 – Building a Website for Yourself Instead of the Audience

Government websites are meant to be public-facing and should be built with that in mind. Building a website with a singular focus on meeting the expectations of staff inside your own organization could be the worst mistake of all. Instead, consider what visitors would value most and build a website that provides that content and design into your organization’s website.

Utah.gov is one example of a government website getting praise for doing this right. Utah.gov puts search front and center. The design is beautiful but not at the expense of function or user-centric features. The thoughtful approach resonates with the majority of people who are familiar with navigating the web through a search engine like Google.

utah.gov

Not sure how to find out what your stakeholders want from your government organization? Ask them! Seek out ways to reach out to your stakeholders and find out how to improve your website to better meet their needs. A little attention in creating thoughtful, personalized features goes a long way in attracting happy visitors.

Attract, Provide, and Delight – A Recipe for More Web Traffic

Marketers in the private sector focus on attracting new prospects, converting leads, and delighting customers. Communicators in the public sector must similarly turn their focus to creating an innovative and attractive web resource that focuses on:

  • Attracting web traffic by broadening public access to resources.
  • Providing frequent updates that provide meaningful information and rich, personalized content.
  • Delighting web users by innovating and continuously improving the web experience.

Your visitors appreciate consistent, thoughtful content creation and will notice customized features that improve their experience. Happy visitors turn into repeat visitors, and website traffic will soar.

Have you experienced any of these “Deadly Sins”? Share in the comments if you have a good example of a website avoiding these mistakes and boosting traffic the right way!

By John Cook, Vice President of Marketing, GovDelivery

Last week I introduced the first two trends that I believe make marketing imperative for any government agency that is concerned about citizen engagement. I’d like to continue with three more trends you need to consider…trends that turn marketing from a dirty word into a vital tool.

Trend # 3: Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience

captureIn the olden days of marketing, way back in the 20th century, marketing was composed primarily of outbound, interruptive campaigns. Marketers would create campaigns that were specifically designed to interrupt you from what you were thinking about and get you to think about them. They would leverage direct mail or advertising to deliver their message to a targeted audience. If successful they would interrupt the intended recipient (or unintended recipient) by getting their attention.

The Internet changed that. We no longer try to interrupt people from their thoughts. We now try to connect with them when they are thinking about us or the products and services we provide. It is at this precise time that our content engages them. Our content is the magnet that draws interested people to us.

But it isn’t enough just to engage them, we must also capture them at this moment. By “capture,” I mean we must provide them with engaging enough content that they will fill out a form, thereby giving us their name and contact information so we can connect with them later. Every government website should have a visible mechanism that allows citizens to sign up for topical alerts. This works similarly to the form in marketing. A government organization’s sign-up process should be straightforward, highly visible and on multiple pages. Citizens simply won’t keep coming back to your website over and over again to find the information they need. You must make it easy for them by providing topical alerts that they can receive via email or text.

Let your content be the magnet that draws your citizens to your digital properties and then do everything you can to capture them. This changes the nature of your dialogue from a one-time chat to an ongoing conversation. And that is exactly what a government communicator (and marketer) wants.

Trend # 4: Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is simply positioning yourself, or your organization, as a voice of knowledge and expertise in the marketplace of ideas. This is critical in helping people associate your organization with specific topics when looking for information to solve a problem.

Old school thinking may preclude government from participating in this type of activity. But why? If your organization has information or offers services, you are an expert. People want to hear from authorities. If you have can provide knowledge, why not position yourself as an expert and drive greater awareness to your organization and its mission?

The rule of a self-fulfilling prophecy is also at play here. If your communications position highlights your organization’s expertise, people will believe it. As more people start to think of your organization as full of experts, more people will begin to look to your organization for information. In addition, people will repeat what you say and even post links to your information. There can be a viral element to your messaging where it spreads apart from your own efforts. This is the goal of your online thought leadership activity.

The Internet opens the door to building thought leadership, and hence your audience, in a variety of ways. In addition to the content discussed above, you can leverage tools like webinars (online seminars and presentations) and public relations activities like press releases or media outreach. Align yourselves with other thought leaders by re-posting their content. Since video content is a powerful draw, use it liberally. The next time someone in your organization speaks at an event, post the video online in short segments. All of these things will help build thought leadership for your organization.

Again this all comes back to helping the public find information from content that you already have. Thought leadership is a powerful way to help you do that and achieve your mission.

Trend # 5: Social Media and Building Awareness

The days of ignoring social media are over. I’m sure most of you have some sort of social media presence – although some of you in government may not even be able to access your organization’s Facebook page at work! Still, social media cannot be overlooked as one of the greatest distribution channels ever created to help you build awareness.

build awearenessBuilding awareness is important because it will move people to engage with your organization when and if they have a need for information. Social media is the ultimate online tool to spread the word. This is true in part because you can engage people where they already congregate (think Facebook and Twitter) rather than requiring them to come to your website.

If you create content, it is absolutely essential that you post and promote it on your social media properties. Social media helps you cast as wide a net as possible, and it is through this exponential outreach that you can further build awareness about your organization and its mission.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics said, “We will no longer search for products and services, they will find us via social media.”

This is a critical point. Social media is indeed becoming a critical tool for how people find products and services. And its impact will only grow. 92% of children in the US have a digital footprint/shadow. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old, so the percentage of socially engaged people will only increase. 93% of marketers use social media for business. Government should, too. If you ignore this channel, you do so at your own peril.

To summarize I believe government organizations should embrace marketing – especially online marketing. Here are 5 trends that have changed the game:

  1. Content Marketing
  2. Storytelling
  3. Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience
  4. Thought Leadership
  5. Social Media and Building Awareness

Marketing is fundamentally about educating your audience on potential solutions you offer that can help solve their problems. Why would anyone shy away from that?

Anyone who remembers Facebook in its early days—back when you needed a college email address to sign up and the term “Newsfeed” hadn’t yet become ubiquitous—might sigh fondly at the thought of simpler times. Organizations, businesses and government agencies aren’t likely to be among those nostalgic few. Facebook has changed a lot over the years, and however you feel about social media personally, it’s tough to deny that it has become an absolutely essential communications tools for nearly every organization with an online presence. While the private sector was quick to adapt their communications plans to the new online marketplace, public sector organizations have been a little slower on the uptake. But as we’ve written about many times before, government agencies across the globe are quickly catching up.

In our recent webinar, “Accelerate your Outreach for Maximum Impact,” GovDelivery Engagement Consultants Lauren Modeen and John Simpson walk through a number of simple, effective social media and SMS/text messaging practices that can help your government agency reach more stakeholders, gain more direct connections, and maximize your mission impact by increasing engagement with the public.

Here are a few of them:

Facebook Buttons

facebook buttonWhile Facebook is an amazing tool for connecting with stakeholders where they’re already spending much of their time online, it’s important not to let the engagement end there. Adding a button on your Facebook page that allows visitors to easily sign up for email updates is a great way for your organization to establish direct communication with new subscribers. Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook are important outreach tools not only because they allow agencies to reach new and larger audiences, but because they also help organizations take those stakeholder relationships from a casual “like” or “follow,” to a more personalized, long-term engagement. Facebook in particular is exceptional at allowing organizations to cross-promote content by adding a subscription app like the GovDelivery update button. Connecting with the public via social media is just the first step; establishing direct connection through other subscription channels is what really seals the deal.

Sharing

social-sharingWhile we all like to think of ourselves as the most popular kid on the playground, knowing every other student in the sandbox by name, unfortunately our reach can only go so far. The great thing about social media is that, if used right, you can extend that reach across the world. Every individual has his or her own, unique network, and within that network are millions of other, unique networks. By tapping into those connections through various social media channels, your organization can reach audiences you might never have had access to otherwise. Adding a Share button in all your digital communications will allow subscribers to instantly and easily forward your information to their social networks. Additionally, if you have a Share button at the end of your subscription process that allows new subscribers to tell their networks that they’ve signed up to receive your updates, their friends and family may become subscribers, too.

Mobile: Apps & More

Over 1.2 billion people access the web from their mobile phones. With numbers like that it’s pretty clear that mobile/SMS should play an important and exciting role in your organization’s communications plan. Creating a mobile app for your government agency is a great way to engage people on the go, wherever they are and through whatever means they choose to access the web. Adding a subscription form to your mobile app is a great way to make sure you don’t lose out on potential new subscribers by catching them where they are the first time.

For more information on how social media/SMS can help your organization expand its reach and increase subscribers, watch our new webinar,  Accelerate Your Outreach for Maximum Impact.

If a Tweet is published in the Twittersphere and there are no Followers around to see it, does it have an impact? Unlike the classic tree falling in the forest scenario, this question has a resounding answer: No. It doesn’t take a famous philosopher to understand that even the most beautifully crafted Tweets, emails, or Facebook posts don’t count for much if there aren’t any stakeholders reading them.

BeatingOddsIn many ways, effective digital communications is all about the odds. The more people you reach, the better the odds are that some of them will take action. And just like gambling, the real communications “high rollers” are the ones who’ve figured out strategies to beat the odds. In our recent webinar, “Accelerate Your Outreach for Maximum Impact” GovDelivery Engagement Consultants Lauren Modeen and John Simpson offer a wealth of simple tips and tools for taking your government communications plan from the nickel slots to the high-stakes poker table.

Let’s roll the dice and look at a few of them:

Overlays

In the world of web property poker, overlays are a straight flush. Designed to grab the attention of stakeholders and convert one-time Web visitors to subscribers, overlays are simple, unobtrusive lightboxes that pack a big punch. When a user visits your website an overlay window will pop up on their screen asking them if they’d like to subscribe to updates and prompting them for an email address. By asking your Web visitor to sign up for updates and providing easy access to do so, overlays allow your organization to continue engaging with stakeholders without requiring them to continually visit your site. Deceptively simple but incredibly effective, we have seen government organizations that utilize overlays see an average increase of 250 to 500 percent in new subscribers.

Direct Sign-Up

When it comes to reaching new subscribers, where you put your sign-up box is just as important as what it looks like. Placing a simple sign-up box where visitors will easily find it can increase your organization’s number of new subscribers by an average of 30 percent. Though open website real estate may be hard to come by, dedicating a spot above the fold in the upper right or upper left corner next to your other communications icons will get you more return for your money in a high-stakes game.

Checkboxes

checkboxOnce you’ve played a winning hand, it’s time to collect your chips, right? Though it seems obvious, many organizations make the mistake of not taking advantage of a key opportunity. Adding a subscription checkbox at the bottom of any form on your website (e.g. the Contact Us form) that requires a user’s email address is a great way to avoid asking for the same information twice. Getting stakeholders to visit your website is the hard part, so making sure you maximize the opportunity to connect with them once they’re there is crucial.

For more tips, great government examples, and in-depth information about how you can beat the outreach odds and increase your mission impact by optimizing your communications, check out the full webinar.

By John Cook, Vice President of Marketing, GovDelivery

ralphieWhen you hear the word “marketing” in the context of government do you cringe?

As a marketing director, marketing is not a dirty word. It is what I do. However, I fully understand that in government circles, marketing has traditionally been deemed unnecessary and even undesirable. But the world has changed, and government employees need to rethink how they view the role of marketing and how it can drive citizen engagement.

I would like to show you some trends that impact the way the public consumes information and the role marketing can play. Hopefully you will change the way you think about the concept of public sector marketing. And as an added bonus you may learn how to become a more effective marketer as well.

Before I outline these trends, let me lay the foundation. You may think, “Nobody needs another slick marketing campaign telling people that they need something new.” And that may be true. But marketers, when they do it right, always address the needs or pains of their audience. They don’t simply blather on about themselves, their products or their services. Rather, they communicate benefit statements that are directly tied to customer pain. In short, they educate their audience on possible solutions to their problems.

Clearly there is a need for this in government. Different agencies may offer different services, but they all provide some solutions to citizen stressors. And citizens do have problems that government can help alleviate. From needing the latest information on the flu and vaccinations to the public’s need for information on emergency services when the next hurricane unleashes its wrath on the coast to a simple reminder that there is a snow emergency and to not park on the even-numbered side of the street if you don’t want your car towed.  The public is thirsting for information – information that you as a government employee have. And this information is exactly what the public needs to solve their problems and resolve their pain. Best of all, in most cases, what you offer is free for the taking.

So why wouldn’t you want to market that?! Why wouldn’t you want to the world to know? The average citizen can’t take advantage of what you offer if they don’t know about it. Someone needs to tell them. That is precisely the role of marketing. So with that premise, let me lay out the first of several trends that have turned government marketing from an undesirable into an imperative.

Trend # 1: Content Marketing content marketing

Content marketing is simply the creation and proliferation of informative content online. If you think about the audience you serve, odds are good that only a tiny fraction of them have ever visited your website. But the vast majority of them have probably ventured online at some point to look for information that you likely have. If you have compelling content online that is indexed with appropriate keywords, you increase the likelihood that they will find your content when searching you’re your agency’s information.

If you want information on new flat-screen TVs, what is the first thing you do? You go online and Google it. If people want information on snow emergencies, what is the first thing they do? They go online and Google it. Therefore content that drives engagement must be digital and posted online.

For example, let’s say the City of St. Paul put out a “Snow Emergency Guide” and posted that online. Google will index that piece of content and serve it up to anyone searching for information on this topic. As a part of the guide, the city could give several tips and also provide instructions on how to sign up for snow emergency alerts via text or email, with an active hyperlink to subscribe. Just like that, content captured the audience, drove them to take appropriate action, and solved their pain.

Good content provides timely and relevant information on what your audience is thinking about and searching for online. There are a ton of different types of content that government agencies can leverage to capture a greater share of their targeted audience and drive engagement. You can create guides, checklists, papers, infographics, e-books, reports, newsletters, videos, brochures, blog posts, etc. With skillful distribution, your content can expand well beyond just your website to social media and other channels. This allows you to capture your audience where and when they are searching for information to address a problem that you can solve.

A sub-trend here is the proliferation of visual content. Infographics are a tremendous tool to draw folks to your website or blog. Here is a great example of visual content by FEMA on preventing whooping cough in babies.

Trend #2: Storytelling

john steinbeck quoteAs outlined above, content is critical to effective government communication. With that in mind it is important not to overlook the power of storytelling. A story can engage your audience like nothing else. Depending on your organization’s mission, this may be a tool you could leverage in a very compelling way.

The customer success story may be the best kind of story for a marketer. The storyline typically goes something like this:

1)      Outlining the pain and problems with which the customer struggled.

2)      The solution they found to solve the problem.

3)      The positive outcomes after using the solution.

This may not apply to every government organization, but it could apply to many. Citizens with similar issues or problems would love to learn how others solved the issue. In some respects it is very similar to a product review or endorsement. It allows their peer to tell how your organization helped them out. That is powerful stuff.

In fact, why not leverage your blog, or create one if you don’t already have one, as a way to communicate “happy citizen” stories?

Watch for more trends and more of my thoughts over the next few weeks on why you should reconsider the role marketing can play in your organization. Citizen engagement is a meaningful goal and I believe that marketing can help drive that engagement like nothing else. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on marketing in your organization.  Are you expanding your marketing efforts? What challenges are you having in this area? What successes? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

awardLast week, winners of the 2013 Best of the Web Awards were announced, offering an opportunity to see how state and local government organizations are leveraging the web to communicate with the public. Cities, counties and states were judged based on their demonstration of innovation, usability and functionality for users. Honorees were also required to possess sites “that display effective governmental efficiency and service delivery.”

Alameda County, California, took first place in the county category for their use of a clean and easily navigable website as well as their successful social media strategies. They have built an intuitive website that is highly compatible with mobile devices, making it easy for visitors to get information quickly on their terms. The County also clearly displays all the ways the public can connect with the County by placing prominent digital communication and social media icons throughout their website. This allows Alameda County’s website visitors to connect with the County in the ways they want, receiving information through communication channels that are relevant to them.

“We’ve focused a lot on our citizen engagement with our open data initiative — I think that’s very fresh and current,” said Tim Dupuis, the interim director of the Alameda County Information Technology Department and the county’s interim registrar of voters. “Coupled with social media and how aggressively we’re going after the mobile apps space and self- service — all of these things combine to make something that really engages our public.” (GovTech.com)

Alameda County is just one example of a government organization utilizing technology to enhance government-to-citizen communications. Many of the organizations nominated are doing awesome things, and we here at GovDelivery are excited to congratulate a number of our clients on their awards. Congratulations to additional GovDelivery clients:

County Category:

1st Place- Alameda County, California

3rd Place- Orange County, California

4th Place- Sacramento County, California

5th Place- Stearns County, Minnesota

City Category:

2nd Place- Riverside, California

3rd Place- Raleigh, North Carolina

Finalist- Palo Alto, California

State Category:

5th Place- Maine

Finalist- Nebraska

To see a complete list of winners, click here.

To find out how your organization can be considered for a Best of the Web award, click here.

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