A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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On this day, we, like many of you, are taking a moment to remember the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks.

In the wake of the many emergencies we see every year, from terror attacks to natural disasters, emergency situations seem to be on the rise. And, as the number of emergencies increase, so does the need for government organizations to connect and alert their residents, communities, and other stakeholders quickly and efficiently.

I recently read the article “3 Tips for Posting Emergency Information Online”. In the article, a product manager from Google’s Crisis Response team discusses a few ways to share emergency information online and how search engines can utilize it.

While it’s always important to make data easily searchable and available on open platforms, posting information on a website or open map isn’t enough. If a citizen is trapped in their basement during a severe storm with a cell phone that doesn’t have Internet capabilities, they can’t utilize a search engine. They can’t access a shared local map. They can’t access an RSS feed. How will they get the information they need to stay safe?

During an emergency, the search engines, maps and open data help, but it’s so much more impactful to push information out and reach people directly instead of relying on them to browse for a landing page.

That’s why I wanted to respond to this article with: 3 tips for getting emergency information to the public

1. Build Your Audience 

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While organizations should focus and plan for outbound communications during an emergency, it’s even more critical for them to focus on who they will communicate with. Powerful technology tools and strategies are critical for emergency messaging, but your message won’t matter if no one sees it

When an emergency strikes, that’s NOT the time to try and find an audience of people in an affected area. Emergency groups MUST collect and engage a digital audience throughout the year, making it easier to connect with more people during an emergency.

All departments within government organizations should be building a direct audience of email addresses and phone numbers daily. If someone signs up for Parks and Recreation updates, they should be prompted to sign up for emergency communications at the same time.

2. Reaching People in a Mobile World

Most emergency communicators have an e911 list that gives them the ability to call landlines in an affected area. But the plain truth is that in today’s world, landlines are dying.  Data from a recent CDC study that showed more than 50% of Americans don’t have or use landline phones.  Combine that with the fact that there are over 322 million wireless phones in the United States, and emergency communicators now have a daunting task of reaching everyone on the go.

While it’s important to reach landlines, emergency managers who rely mainly on e911 technology are not reaching everyone they need to. Government organizations charged with keeping citizens safe and informed need to find new ways to communicate, across old and new channels, to provide safety information to citizens during an emergency.

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To reach the broadest audience, emergency communications need a multichannel approach: send emails, SMS text messages, voice messages, social media posts AND display emergency information with a prominent Web banner. And if you want to take your efficiency to the next level, you should be able to disseminate your emergency message across all these channels from one platform.

 

Bonus tip: make sure your organization is able to integrate with FEMA’s IPAWS system, which can further disseminate your message across TV, radio, digital signs, and mobile push notifications (like Amber Alerts).

3. Focus on the content, not the process

But what about when an emergency really does hit? Are you focusing on content or process? Is it easy for you to get a message out, or are you fumbling with a system that you haven’t used in months?

Earlier I mentioned the importance of working across departments to build an audience, and the execution process is no different. If emergency management and other departments combine forces and integrate communications, the key communications staff will be familiar with the system and will be prepared and trained on how to send a message.

Having an emergency response plan in place critical, but emergency management personnel also need to leverage updated technology to take advantage of communications tools that are simple and automated. Because during an emergency, if you can save a few hours, minutes, or even seconds by using automation, that matters.

In the aforementioned article, Matthew Stepka, Google vice president of technology for social impact, was spot on in advising government organizations to publish advised alerts using open Web formats like RSS. Not only does that make this data available to Google, but it also makes the data available for automated and immediate outbound messaging. Emergency managers can hook their digital communications tool to these feeds, which can automatically package and re-purpose that content for email, SMS, social media and more.

The most successful emergency managers will leverage the strategies around sending critical information directly to the public, while also making that information available and open online. In the end, the more people you reach, the more people you’ll save.

18 Ways to Drive Web Traffic

September 6th, 2013 | Posted by Mary Yang in E-Government | Web 2.0 | Web/Tech - (4 Comments)

webtrafficYou spend hours honing and perfecting content. You’re delivering information that citizens need and want. And yet your website’s traffic numbers aren’t reflecting your effort. Why? It could be a combination of things, but there’s something you can do. To boost traffic – and help drive your organization’s mission – here are some quick tips that you can implement immediately. We’ve broken the ideas out into focus categories: content, promotion and design.

 

Content

  1. Use Keywords. We all know that keywords are fundamental to search engine optimization (SEO), but remember to use SEO terms in the title, at least a couple times in the text and in the headline on the page to gain maximum exposure.
  2. Refresh Frequently. Staffing levels are down, but one of the main tenets of driving traffic is refreshing content on a regular basis. Regular doesn’t necessarily mean every day, but content should be reviewed and updated at least once a week. This doesn’t mean you have to rewrite your entire site, but you should add or change content on your home page or secondary pages. It’s what keeps search engines displaying your website higher in search results and people coming back for more.
  3. Offer Quality Content. Generating quality content can be a real challenge, so leverage the expertise of colleagues. Additionally, look around for content that you can comment on or that inspire you when you feel tapped out. Just make sure you put your own spin on it first, which leads us to our next tip.
  4. Stick to What You Know. Focus on your organization’s areas of expertise. If you’re inspired by something you’ve read, tie it to your organization’s mission before posting on your website. Don’t post new content just for the sake of posting something new – make sure it’s core to your organization’s mission.
  5. Snappy Headlines, Shorter Text. Think about the last time you saw something you wanted to read. It probably had an interesting headline, which made you click in to view the content. Once you clicked through to the web page, you likely took a look at the amount of content before you started reading. Make sure your content is short and to the point. If your topic is complex and your content needs to be longer, be sure to break it up into manageable chunks, which leads us into our last content tip.
  6. Break Up Text. Make sure your content is crisp and to-the-point. Breaking up content into bullets and numbered lists helps make information easy to read.

Promotepromote

  1. Promote with Email and Social Media. Don’t be shy about promoting your website content via email to subscribers and social media more broadly. By delivering the content you’re already creating to your stakeholders and the public, this gives them the opportunity to share content with their friends and family and grow your following.
  2. Link it up. Make sure to link your content to other government organizations’ content. If you view another organization as an expert on a topic and are willing to link to their content, they are likely to return the favor. This also helps build more credibility for your website in search engine algorithms.
  3. Promote Content in Your Signature Line. Include a link in your email signature to your site’s content for cross-promotion.
  4. Share on Social Media. Add social media links to the top and bottom of your site. When you also share your website content on your social channels, others can easily spread the word.
  5. Add Video. If you have video content that you can share on your site, do it! It’s a quick and engaging addition.
  6. Sponsor a Post. If you feel your stakeholders are engaged with your Facebook or Twitter pages, consider sponsoring a post for as little as $10.
  7. Invite Feedback. Ask visitors to share feedback and respond – nothing delights people more than knowing someone paid attention to a comment they left.
  8. Connect face-to-face. Don’t forget the impact of connecting and promoting “in real life.” That means promoting your content on non-digital channels, such as promoting your website URL as part of the hold message in your organization’s call centers or with small cards at offices where stakeholders are likely to visit. Get creative!

Design

  1. Break Up Content with Photos and Images. Studies show that online content that includes imagery generates more traffic, so add visual imagery to keep your content interesting.
  2. Keep a Clean Palate. Once your content is in a good place, don’t forget to ensure a clean design with tabs and pull-down menus that make it easy to spot the content visitors want and need. Also, remember that the eye can only focus on so much as once, and attempting to maintain a balanced page helps people navigate to content they’re looking for.
  3. Plain, Simple Backgrounds. Black text on a white background is always easiest to read. This basic, clean design is critical to accessibility and readability.
  4. Place Important Content Higher. Keep important or new content “above the fold” of the browser to provide Web visitors with key information easily and quickly.

If you follow even a few of these tips, you’ll find traffic increasing to your site in no time.

Please share what you’ve done to increase traffic to your site. We look forward to hearing your innovative ideas.

In the public sector, email is an essential component of any best-in-breed communications strategy. With the steady increase in worldwide smartphone usage, email has become the fastest and most efficient way to reach people wherever they are. And because email offers a direct and personalized connection to your stakeholders, it’s imperative that you send email and that your email gets read. However, with advances in technology occurring every day, the world of email is dynamic and ever changing. When it comes to rules for reaching the inbox, no two email clients are the same.

Google’s popular email client, Gmail, recently began a roll out of their new inbox design which changes the way emails are organized and viewed. The new design automatically filters all emails, including those from the public sector, into four default inbox “tabs”: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates.

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This change has some public and private sector digital communicators up in arms. Why? Many worry that this change creates default inbox categories that email users may not explore. The perception is that if content lands in one of these new tabs, it will decrease opens, clicks, and overall subscriber engagement. At GovDelivery, we simply aren’t finding this to be the case. Engagement rates have not changed significantly and there are even some benefits that come with the newly organized Gmail inbox. So fear not! We have everything you need to know about the new changes at Gmail.

What do the tabs mean? According to Gmail, the Primary tab contains person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs. The Promotions tab holds deals, offers and other marketing emails. Messages from social networks, media-sharing sights, dating services, and other social websites will be filtered into the Social tab. The Updates tab contains personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements. Any messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists should arrive in the Updates tab. The Updates and Forums tabs typically aren’t enabled by default.

newtabs

Are the tabs configurable? Yes! Gmail users can turn these tabs off if they prefer the classic inbox view. They can also customize their tab setup based on how they prefer to organize their inbox. Gmail provides detailed instructions around how to do that here.

Users still have the option to “star” their messages. Stars let users easily mark certain messages as important or to indicate that they need to reply to them later. With the new inbox, any “starred” messages are automatically moved to the Primary tab. This feature can also be configured and turned off.

Apptabs

What about mobile? With more and more email people reading email on their mobile device each day, it’s important to look at how the new tabs change the mobile viewing experience. According to a study conducted by email testing and tracking company Litmus, only 19% of Gmail opens actually occur in Gmail on a desktop computer. A whopping 66% of Gmail opens are occurring on mobile devices.

However, the number one email client for Gmail users is the iPhone’s built-in mail client, accounting for 34% of all Gmail opens. Interestingly, the iPhone’s native email application does not support Gmail tabs, so there is no impact here.

While Android phones and the Gmail app for iPhone do support the new tabs, this makes up a smaller percentage of opens (20%, according to Litmus).

Inbox tab organization isn’t new. Add-ons and applications like Priority Inbox and Clean Sweep have been offering sorting and organization functionalities to email users for years. While new filtering options like these can affect how your Gmail users receive and interact with your emails, these new tabs make it easier for readers to find your messages. Instead of being pushed to the second or third page of the Gmail inbox behind Facebook or Twitter notifications, marketing promotions, etc. your emails may have their own placement at the top of the Updates tab.

As Gmail tabs become more widely adopted, users will inherently know where to go to find your messages.

What’s next? As your partners in communications, GovDelivery watches deliverability for our clients closely. As we mentioned earlier, government organizations that send email to stakeholders through GovDelivery have not experienced a noticeable decrease in engagement across the board, and we are always working behind the scenes to ensure optimal delivery of your bulletins.

While it’s not necessary, or recommended, to take any action to bypass Gmail’s new filtering, there are a few things we’ve seen email industry communicators do to be proactive in making sure their emails are getting read:

  • To increase the likelihood of your communications landing in the Primary folder, increase your readers’ engagement with your messages as much as possible. Include smaller bits of information that require readers to click through to page on your website to read the rest of your message. This will also increase your website traffic and allow you to connect stakeholders to additional information you offer that they may not know about.
  • Remind subscribers to update their Gmail preferences so that you as a sender always appear in a specific tab (directions here). Many companies in the private sector have been doing this for quite some time. Here are a few examples:

examples

  • You can also do nothing at all! Ending up in another folder, like Updates, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Arriving in a separate tab means your emails will land among less competition. This means less chance of mass-deletion and a higher chance of grabbing your audience’s attention.

While Gmail is the first email client to implement tabs on their users’ behalf, it’s important to watch and see if Yahoo and Outlook (formerly Hotmail) mimic Gmail’s new inbox platform.

For more information on this change to Gmail, check out their recent blog post.

Do you have a Gmail account? Are you noticing any changes to your personal email, with regard to public sector communications?

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

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

Why Engagement Rate?

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

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

The comparison trap

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

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

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

Increasing your engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

HTML5 and CSS3HTML Past, Current and Future

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

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

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

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

CSS Past and Future

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

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

CSS3 and HTML5 Working Together

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

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

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

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

Let’s break it down, cheesy metaphor style.

Step one: do your research

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

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

Step two: choose your ingredients wisely

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

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

Step three: get in the mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you take away from this study?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few of their results:

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

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

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

By Richard Fong, Technology Project Manager

Moderate impact. Low impact. Collision. Cleared.

If you travel on highways anywhere, wouldn’t it be nice to have these types of messages delivered to your email or phone so you could anticipate a change in your route and save time?

With some cool technology, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has started doing just that.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit and speak with Tom Stidham, a developer with WSDOT. He stated that, before using a proactive digital communication system, they would post traffic information on their website and then push out alerts via Twitter. While these two channels did their job, WSDOT was looking to increase their proactive communications by providing email and SMS alerts to people traveling throughout the state of Washington.

By using GovDelivery’s Send Bulletin application programming interface (API), Tom was able to quickly a­­nd effectively integrate these alerts with their current work flow process to send automated messages to the public. These messages include traffic incidents, road conditions, and construction­ alerts.

The public can now sign up to more than 50 email and SMS alerts for different regions within the state, including areas such as the Oregon border and the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, and metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma.

What does that mean for the people who live and visit Washington? They can find out what’s happening on roads throughout the state without having to constantly check Twitter or the department’s website. They get the information they need, controlling what updates they receive by subscribing only to the updates they want. And, maybe most importantly, if there’s a critical road closure (think the Skagit Bridge collapse), the SMS or email message that alerts residents and visitors to a potentially life-threatening road event can help save lives and protect property.

For more information on how you can leverage API technology to help your organization, watch my webinar, “Using APIs for success in Government."

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference where the keynote speaker, Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group, presented his latest research report, “The Collaborative Economy.” The premise of the report is that social technologies have changed everything from communications to marketing to customer care, which has brought us to an era of consumers sharing products and services among one another in lieu of purchasing through businesses. He described this marketing shift in power in three phases: the “Brand Experience Era,” the “Customer Experience Era,” and the “Collaborative Economy Era.” According to Jeremiah, we are now in “The Collaborative Economy Era.”

Phase 3 involves many of the same concepts that fueled the social revolution in Phase 1 and Phase 2- innovative companies have created spaces for people to share reviews on products and services with each other, but in Phase 3, “The Collaborative Economy,” consumers are often completely bypassing existing institutions to purchase these products and services.

The difficulty for businesses is that consumers can now purchase a product, and literally share it among many other people by reselling or renting the product or service out. As the collaborative economy grows, business revenues could dramatically reduce if a company is unwilling to embrace this movement.

The only way for corporations to play into this space, is they have to let go in order to gain more, and that’s a big leap of faith for many companies to do, but it’s the only way.

-Jeremiah Owyang

Companies who sell products or services to consumers risk failure as people bypass traditional means of transactions in favor a sharing economy.

Here’s an example:

A new Toyota Camry costs about $25,000 to buy. Tack on interest payments, insurance, fuel and routine maintenance, and the cost of owning that shiny new Camry climbs even higher. Given these costs, let’s say you decide to forgo buying a car and instead use services like Citibike and Lyft to get around. That’s one less car purchased. You discover that this system works out nicely for you and so you tell your friends what you’re doing. Several of them think it’s a good idea and they go for it too. The result is four more cars not purchased. Now imagine that this idea spreads across the country and 10% of the population decides to get on board. You now have a 10% reduction in the number of new cars being purchased in the US. The entire automobile industry would be in crisis. If you’re Toyota, Ford, or Volkswagen, this is a scary proposition.

Let’s then say you love the sharing idea and you start applying it to other areas of your life. You use AirBnB to find a place to stay instead of booking a room at the local Hilton. You use 99dresses to get your clothes rather than going to Nordstrom or JCPenney. You skip Wells Fargo and go with Prosper and PayPal for your banking needs. The list goes on and on. Pretty soon traditional industry is disrupted and businesses collapse.

Owyang predicts that companies will need to refocus what they do in order to remain relevant. Those who are able to find ways to facilitate this new collaborative environment will be able to generate profits while those who ignore it will fade from prominence.

It’s an interesting concept.

Fortunately, government organizations are already poised to be leaders in the new collaborative economy.

Share Data

The free exchange of data is what will make the collaborative economy work. Government organizations are already beginning to release mountains of data as a result of the Open Data Initiative. Numerous companies are using this data to create cool new applications where people can learn about health code violations, recreation options, transit routes, road repairs, public safety and much more.  By coupling government data with user created content, governments and the public are able to collaborate to make life better for everyone.

Partner many organizations

One way that government is already poised to aid the collaborative economy is in its ability to partner many different organizations together. Since government organizations are not beholden to the whims of shareholders, they can share information between different units of government. Government can also rally businesses, non-profit agencies, as well as religious and community groups to unite around a common cause or objective. Often, these projects fall into the economic development category where the government helps with land acquisition and clean-up; and businesses provide stable jobs. These are great for local economies, but they are just the tip of the iceberg as we move toward a collaborative community.

What would it look like if a state health department and the CDC were able to bring businesses, non-profits and local parks departments together to rally around diminishing childhood obesity? What if the Small Business Administration were able to get business owners, the Better Business Bureau and Yelp together to train new business owners how to use social media or improve customer service? Maybe the USDA could solicit help from non-profits working with new mothers, restaurants, and grocers to provide feedback on ways to improve WIC and SNAP that go beyond the basics of “this item is covered,” and “this one isn’t.”

There are lots of possibilities out there but one thing is certain. As people search for ways to get the goods and services in non-traditional ways, government organizations have a huge opportunity to bring the players together on an issue and dream up new ways of doing things.

Serve as “trust broker”

One of the biggest challenges to the collaborative economy is the trust factor. Do you trust someone to rent out your house? What if they wreck it? What if someone uses your information to obtain a fraudulent loan through Prosper? What happens if you hire someone from TaskRabbit to take your clothes to the cleaners and they steal your stuff? These are all concerns that people have as they begin to venture into the collaborative economy. Fortunately, this is the exact sort of thing government organizations were set up deal with. Police…check. Courts…check. Helpful regulations and guides for vendors…check. Mediators and liaisons…check again. Government organizations can use transparency in these collaborative practices to gain trust among the public.

Standardizing systems

Like any new concept in its infancy, multiple standards emerge until, eventually, a winner is declared. Think Betamax and VHS, Laser Disk and DVD, or MySpace, Friendster and Facebook. Government wields enormous weight when it comes to setting standards for an industry. While you won’t typically find government weighing in on the Betamax/VHS sorts of discussions, they do evaluate things like encryption coding or payment processing procedures. Government also has a lot of muscle when they decide to purchase something. What if government organizations got involved with shaping the new collaborative economy standards? Or, with giving guidance on the way data should be submitted to meet requirements?

There are numerous scenarios of how this could work out. One thing is certain, if government organizations are involved from the beginning, there will be plenty of opportunities to shape the conversation in a way that works best for everyone.

What are some ways you see government being involved with the new collaborative economy?

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