A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues

Email is one of the most powerful mediums of communication in our technology-driven world. It is cheap; it is effective; and it almost instantaneously broadcasts to millions of clients. Recent studies have shown that, while social media communications is increasing significantly, “email continues to deliver the largest share of both impressions and visitors.” But, if people don’t read your email, they won’t get the message you’re trying to send. This means it’s imperative for government organizations to carefully craft messages in order to communicate effectively with the public.

Crafting an engaging email requires some basic tenets of good writing: having a reason to write, successfully communicating that reason and eliciting a response (i.e. creating engagement) from your audience. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1) Have a reason to write

Why do you read anything? A good email, like a good book, needs to have interesting and relevant content. After all, if readers of your email are engaged and interested, they are more likely to pass on this information, respond to it, or interact with it in other ways.

Is your message compelling or, at least, entertaining?

Remember that subscribers are, first and foremost, human beings. They are receptive and respond to what they find appealing. Your message content determines if your subscribers read and respond or ignore your message. You can make a difference here. Your subscribers have already taken the first step of opting-in to receive messages from you, trusting that you have relevant information to share with them that is important, but you can help them take the next step of interacting with your content by providing information that is relevant or attractive. For example, a look at the 2011 State & Local Communications Report shows the kinds of topics that gained the most subscribers in 2011 and clearly demonstrates what types of information the public is looking for:

2011 Digital Communications Report_Top 11 Growing Topics

2) Communicate clearly

Having a reason to reach out to your subscribers and sending relevant information is great, but you also need to communicate clearly in your message. Part of communicating clearly is being personable and conversational. Your readers need to know that they are receiving communications from people, not automatons. There are a couple of key tips to help you communicate clearly and ensure that your subscribers are paying attention to your messages: :

Be recognizable

People are most likely to open an email from someone they know and trust. In today’s world, fear of viruses, scams and spam have made email users savvier about the information that gets filtered out. People must be able to identify the message as one to keep, which is only possible if the email comes from a source that is easily verified and trusted. Government organizations will have official .gov email addresses, but your agency should also take steps to ensure that emails have an equally email persona (e.g. “City of Minneapolis” is more trustworthy than “Judy Wellsworth”).

Personalize your message

Next, be creative and informative with your subject line. Subject lines can motivate a reader to open the message. Think about what’s important to your target audience or the public today. What do they connect with, what are their concerns, what do they want to learn more about? This can help you determine your content and shape your subject lines. For example, GovDelivery’s 2011 Federal Digital Communications Report shows that the most-shared government communications and subject lines were ones that connected easily with citizens – alerts that impacted daily life, such as the IRS increasing mileage reimbursement rates and information on a more national scale, such as the official moment of silence time in remembrance of September 11th.

2011 Digital Communications Report_Federal_Shared Updates

Next, although it may seem like a small thing, personalize the email to the individual recipient. This can make a big difference in getting someone to read your message. Wouldn’t you want to read a message that was addressed to you, with your name at the beginning of the email, rather than a generic message sent to “Resident?” It is simple and easy to do, with the right personalization macros, and the payoff can be huge!

3) Elicit a (positive) response in your target audience

Just like a book, if you get the reader to open your email, then don’t disappoint them. Some tips on how to avoid disappointment are:

Identify the type of response desired

Do you want your users to use the information you provide, forward your message or take action in some way? Once you have decided how you want your users to interact with the information you are providing, ensure that they have a way to do so, e.g. at the end of your email, offer a space where they can provide feedback or a way to easily forward your message to their family and friends.


Give them a reason to read your next communication

It is important for government organizations to be timely with their emails, sending out pertinent information about upcoming opportunities with enough time for users to plan for them or about current topics of interest while they are still current. For instance, USA.gov recently blogged an answer to a question from a citizen, titled “Why the Price of Gas is Rising.” With recent news stories of gas in Florida reaching $6 a gallon, this email was timely, gave the public information that was relevant and engaging. This means, the next time USA.gov sends out an email, citizens have a good reason to open the next email. Give the public something extra and current.

As a government organization, you often are at the forefront of news and information. Harness your direct connections to information to provide timely updates to the public, and your government organization will accelerate its growth in reaching the public through email as well as interact and engage with them in a much more personalized manner. You’re already working hard at growing your subscriber base – now maximize your impact by implementing some of these simple tips.

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