A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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The changing face of facebook

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

 Facebook login screen circa 2004

Facebook login screen circa 2004

As a government communicator, how can you be sure you’re connecting with your audience with the continuously changing landscape in social media? A channel that is nearly ubiquitous in the world of online communications is Facebook. Boasting more than 1 billion monthly active users, Facebook continues to dominate the social media world and has its sights set on reaching “the next 5 billion” users, despite there only being about 2.7 billion people online today worldwide. Although relatively young (it just turned 10 this year), Facebook has been through a lot of changes and evolutions over the last decade, and its not always easy to keep up with them. I was personally thankful to see that creepy guy in the upper left corner of the login screen disappear for good around 2007, but the changes of course have been far more than simply aesthetic updates.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent changes, and how they may affect you.

Most people know that Facebook has an algorithm to give each of its users a tailored experience on the site, but not as many know that this algorithm is constantly getting tweaked to not only enhance each user’s experience, but also to give more value and reach to its paying customers. So where does that leave Facebook pages or organizations with no budget to use to promote posts? More often, the answer is becoming …cue the crickets. Some clients that I work with have already reported seeing a dip in their reach and likes on Facebook as recently as January 2014.  Diminishing likes, fewer comments and lower overall engagement, even for pages that have large existing audiences, may be a reality that more government communicators will have to work around in the coming year.

Facebook has also changed the standard for the type of content it deems likely that your audience will actually want to see on their News Feeds. Content that is timely, relevant, succinct and inherently shareable will be more likely to appear in your audiences’ News Feed, while content that does not fall into these categories may go relatively unnoticed. Since Facebook has raised the standard on the content that is likely to be shared across your audience, it may be time to make a plan to adjust your strategy to align with these new standards for content. Pictures, videos, and shorter, less wordy posts have been recognized as more likely to get your audience’s attention on email and social channels.

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Another notable change that the latest round of Facebook News Feed adjustments includes the ability for organizations to promote their content to people who haven’t liked their page by tagging pages or people that others have already liked in a post. For instance, if Bleacher Report tags the Toronto Raptors in a post, and I’ve liked the Raptors’ page on Facebook, I might see this post from the Bleacher Report, even though I’ve never liked the Bleacher Report directly. This cross promotion opens new doors for brands and organizations to promote each other, but it also may turn subscribers off if they suddenly see a lot of content from pages they haven’t previously liked.

With the frequent changes coming from Facebook, it will be essential for communicators to evaluate their content strategy to adjust to the changing environment – if your content is not getting noticed on Facebook, what are other channels you will use to reliably connect with your stakeholders? Email has consistently been recognized as the winning channel when it comes to directly connecting with subscribers, and Twitter at the very least will always display your content in your followers’ feeds, even if it only stays there for a few minutes. If you’re looking at your options for increased outreach this year, make sure to consider every method available to better engage with your audience, and be sure to stay informed on how to make these tools work for you.

How a Police Department established an online following more than eight times the size of their city’s population

Brimsfield OH Police

It’s not every day that a small police department makes an impact in their community and across the world through digital communications, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Brimfield, Ohio. The Brimfield Police Department (PD) has a city population of only 10,000 people, and yet their Facebook page has nearly 89,000 likes. That means that an audience more than eight times the size of the town is engaged in the day-to-day communications of the local police force. This robust social media following is causing a wider effect on the town with housing up 30 percent over last year at this time. Digital communication is putting this small town, and their police department, on the map. That’s the kind of success any government communications team would dream about.

So how can you replicate the success of the Brimfield PD through your digital communications plan for social media, email messages, website updates and more? After comparing a recent interview with Brimfield police chief David Oliver with our own government clients’ communication success stories we think we have it narrowed down to three key communication principles: be consistent, be relevant and be engaging.

Be Consistent

The message I’ve always said is if you’re going to do it, do it. You have to be consistent — and we are. Between 6:30 and 7 a.m., we have a good morning message with weather and traffic and we poke fun at people with birthdays. People rely on it. If I miss it, you see the messages — “Where’s the chief today? Can’t go on without the message.” It’s been comical on that end. But the expectation of our followers has built quite a relationship. Our followers know that good news or bad news, we’re going to tell you the truth.

One of the keys to any digital communications strategy is consistency. The Brimfield PD has a social media schedule that they stick to every day. They post entertaining “good morning” messages with daily updates about the town. The police chief also posts up-to-date information with the latest news (good or bad) from the police department.

The positive impact of consistent content scheduling is clear: by posting frequently on social media, sending out regular newsletters, or routinely updating online content, your followers will know exactly when and where to expect information from you—increasing the odds that they will see your messages. Additionally, by consistently updating these digital channels you provide more opportunities to drive traffic to your website and your information.

Be Relevant

I think like a citizen instead of like a police chief. After almost 20 years on this job, one of the things I see are public officials who tend to think from the perspective of their responsibilities instead of thinking about Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane who wants to know why she’s hearing sirens. If a huge crash delays traffic, I can post what to use as a detour. We’re becoming an information-now society. People don’t want to wait until the 6 p.m. news and chances are it won’t be there anyway. When you tell people what happened or what’s going on, it gives them a sense that everything is okay.

The Brimfield PD is giving their followers timely information that they look for from a police department. They also pepper in some humor to keep the content fresh and interesting. They know “Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane” wants to know the scoop on local police-related disturbances, so that’s what they provide.

Government organizations, like Brimfield PD, have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. When you are writing online content, think about what your unique information is in relation to what your audience might be looking for. And don’t forget to reference any and all analytics you can get your hands on to ensure you’re broadcasting the messages that are relevant to your audience’s actual needs and interests—not just what you think their needs and interests are. One of the great tools GovDelivery provides in its digital communication management tool is the option to allow subscribers to pick the categories and topics they are most interested in learning about. Data like this can help set the stage for the theme of updates this audience is most interested in.

Be Engaging

…All of this has helped the community understand that we’re a team. If we’re going to reduce crime, the people have to be willing participants. People have become very protective of the department, and that’s huge for us. Some people use the private message function to leave a tip or to tell us about a nuisance in their neighborhood. We wanted to have any means of communication available so our department is the most functional operation it can be. I think the paradigm is shifting a little bit toward using social media as an outreach tool rather than just picking up the phone to call the police department.

The Brimfield PD is using digital communication as a two-way street. Getting their message heard is vital to the Brimfield PD’s mission, but hearing from their community is an important component to that mission.  Instead of just spewing out facts, they are encouraging interaction with the community by allowing members to leave a tip in a Facebook message or starting a conversation.

By encouraging your stakeholders to not only listen, but talk back, you provide an opportunity to build a relationship. Another police force, Stearns County’s Sheriff’s Office, embedded multiple options for citizens to submit tips to the Sheriff in all their email communications with County residents.

Through social media posts, email messages, blog comments, website forums and more—you can provide an opportunity for your audience to participate in your mission. Just don’t forget to broadcast those engagement opportunities out to your stakeholders.

Learn More

You may not be able to amass an online community on the same scale that Brimfield has overnight, but the basis of their marketing strategy is something that can be applied to any local, or broader, government organization to improve outreach and citizen engagement. Just remember to keep your digital content consistent, relevant and engaging and you are well on your way to developing a more robust relationship with your stakeholders.

If you’re looking for further reading on digital communications in the public sector, take a look at our white paper on integrating social media in government communications here. And if you have any suggestions, comments or questions about successful digital marketing tactics you’ve seen in government, comment below!

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency Matters

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

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

Word Choice Wins the Day

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

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

Keep the Subject Line Brief

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

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

 

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.

govuk

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!

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!

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.

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?

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

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

Tip #1: Connect everything

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

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

Tip #2: Be consistent

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

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

Tip #3: Share content by driving connections

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

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

Tip #4: Start a conversation – and then listen

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

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

Tip #5: Track, test and adjust

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

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

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

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

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

By 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."

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