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Guest Post by: Derek Belt, Social Media Specialist – King County, WA

Have you watched somewhat helplessly these past few months as your Facebook interactions dropped rapidly? Has the “reach” of your posts dipped as low as you’ve ever seen it, no matter how great your content is?

It’s not your fault. It’s Facebook’s fault. And they’re doing it on purpose.

Here are just a few recent headlines from across the web:

The times they are a-changing (again)

This is an important topic and one organizations across the world are having right this very moment, from government agencies to high-powered marketing firms. Bottom line, we need to change the way we think about Facebook. It’s no longer a great communications tool (if it ever was is genuinely open for debate).

For many of us, the whole reason our organizations got on Facebook in the first place was to share information with the public. Well, recent changes to Facebook’s computer algorithm have made it increasingly difficult to reach our audiences, and it’s only going to get more difficult.

What’s changed? See my presentation below:

State of Facebook 2014 from King County, WA

So what do we do now?

Facebook can still be a great A) customer service portal, B) market research tool, and C) advertising platform. But it’s not a great communications tool any longer. Facebook has moved to a pay-to-play environment, meaning they have turned off what’s called “organic” reach and are asking us to pay money to reach fans (including our own). For the majority of public-service agencies, this is unrealistic.

That brings us to email and newsletters. Email has long been one of the most effective forms of digital communications. But let’s be honest — social media has distracted us a bit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We jumped at the opportunity to be cutting-edge, and rightfully so.

What’s cutting-edge now is to leave Facebook behind. Seriously. Ask your teenagers.

Email: Don’t call it a comeback

Here’s the one question we need to ask ourselves about Facebook: Who are we reaching? If we have 1,000 fans but can only reach 10% of them due to Facebook’s limited reach (hint, hint, see the presentation above), is that really worth the time investment we’re making to share information on Facebook? Paying a few bucks here and there to boost our posts is cheap and (kind of) works, but it adds up quickly.

On the other hand, if we invest our time and resources in building and nurturing an email list or newsletter with the same 1,000 people, we know we can reach everybody on that list whenever we hit send. Please keep in mind that we’re just talking about reach here (i.e. the number of people who actually “got” the message). On Facebook, we can reach 10% whereas on email we can reach close to 100% factoring out bounce-backs.

Of course, open rates and click-through rates are traditionally low on email, but not as low as on Facebook. At least with email we know we’re going to reach the audience. After that, it’s on us. We can work to improve subject lines, newsletter design, and content strategy. Those are things in our control.

On Facebook, we control very little. We can’t even reach our own fans. So it’s a matter of 10% reach on Facebook vs. 100% reach on email.

Those numbers are striking. We need an exit strategy for Facebook.

It’s difficult to keep up with the newest social media trends; just when you think you know the most important sites available to communicate with the public, new ones pop up. There are currently no less than 70 networking sites deemed federal-compatible for government use, making the possibilities somewhat overwhelming.

iStock_000024950302Small_nextexitsocialmedia

The increase of social media platforms on the scene reiterates how important it is to have a robust digital communications strategy as a backbone. As new social media platforms come and go, having a good mix of digital communication tactics like email, text messaging/SMS, a strong website, as well as social media will ensure you never have any gaps  reaching your audience on a platform they’re comfortable with using.

GSA made two new additions to their approved list of platforms recently, Tint and CrowdHall. As a government communicator, you may be wondering if these social media networks will stand the test of time. Are they worth considering as another tool to add to your multichannel strategy toolbox? We’ve put together more information on both sites, designed to make it easier to manage your digital community, to help you make that decision.

CrowdHall: A public place to meet and discuss online

CrowdHall is making it easier than ever for public officials to have live and interactive discussions with the public. With CrowdHall, an organization can hold virtual town hall meetings via the host’s web page, Facebook, or directly on CrowdHall’s site. The audience votes on questions or topics, letting the host know the significance of the topic to the group. After participants have added their questions, they are notified when the host has answered and the crowd can continue to comment on each topic.

Unlike previous online town hall options available, Crowdhall allows the organization hosting the event to answer with photos, video, or text supporting their answer. Participants can return to the meeting and see what the crowd decided were the most significant issues. The participants are empowered by the experience of a town hall where they have a voice in ranking the most important issues and moderate their own discussions. Instead of talking “at” your audience, you can engage “with” your audience in an effective two-way conversation—a handy tool for many government organizations looking for another way to engage with their stakeholders.

Tint: Compile your social media posts into one visual display  

Tint makes it possible for you get the most out of all of your social media sites by putting them in one place. You sign up and create what visually can be compared to one “Pinterest-looking” page that displays highlights from all of your social media sites. The posts can be organized by hashtag or you can dictate exactly which images, words, or videos are displayed.

Since everyone has a different social preference, Tint is a great way to grab your audience via their preferred social network and keep them engaged. Tint also allows you to embed social feeds into your website, providing visitors with the most up-to-date and engaging information—another way to extend the life of your social media posts. You also have access to analytics that can help you determine your most popular social networks and posts to better assess what information to display for your audience.

Although some social media sites may disappear before the majority of the public can even think to login, keep new networks that may help you strengthen your stakeholder connections on your radar, with a strong multichannel digital strategy in your back pocket as well. By using new communication tools to connect with new loyal audience members, you can also cross-promote your website and email messages to those new audience members to strengthen that connection and make sure they’re never missing out on any important messages.

Do you think you’ll use CrowdHall or Tint? What other new technology are you thinking of implementing in your organization? Let us know in the comments below!

After reading through what may have been my hundredth list of government communications, social media, and technology predictions for the new year, I came across one prediction that warranted a break in my obsessive trend reading: “numbers no longer matter.”

In the Huffington Post’s list of 12 social media predictions in 2014, author Penny C. Sansevieri says:

“There was a time when we all clamored for a huge number of followers… Now it seems that while big numbers are great, engagement is better.… Think of it this way, what if you were speaking to a huge crowd of people but they all fell asleep during your presentation. Rude? Maybe. But also perhaps an indicator that you need to be more engaging or, at the very least say something to keep them from falling asleep.”Numbers

This prediction doesn’t tell the whole story in the public sector, where the number of people you reach with a message can have a profound impact on citizens’ lives. Government communicators work to reach the maximum amount of people with important messages—like to take shelter from a winter storm. The number of people following or subscribing to that organization to get notifications on that impending snow storm is incredibly important, as is how many of those people go on to engage with that message by forwarding, retweeting, or sharing it.

So, to better apply Penny’s observation in the public sector, I suggest this update: numbers are no longer the only things that matter. Citizen engagement and interaction with your messages has a direct impact on whether you as a government communicator can reach your organization’s mission goals. One of your most important tasks is to inspire action in citizens. Whether it’s to get a flu shot, complete a tax form, or file for a fishing license, citizen engagement with your organization’s messages is crucial to meeting mission goals. You can’t achieve these mission goals if citizens don’t engage with the messages that encourage participation in your programs. (But again, you also can’t complete your mission goals if citizens never hear from you in the first place.)

So how do you increase engagement with the messages your organizations sends and posts so as the article says, “you keep [your audience] from falling asleep”? Here are a few engagement tips:

  1. Keep your message clear, brief and interesting. It’s more likely to be read and engaging for readers when they don’t need a dictionary on hand to understand what you’re saying. Check out this post on fighting jargon in your organization for guidelines on writing in a more plainspoken style and this top 7 Reach the Public post on writing creative, engaging content.
  2. Don’t ignore the analytics. Check your email, social media and website analytics often. Measure which messages see higher engagement rates and resonate more with your audience and then adjust accordingly. Make sure you’re sending out the type and style of content your audience wants, instead of just the content you want them to have. Read through this post on analytics and segmentation for more tips.
  3. Optimize for multiple platforms. There’s no easier way to make stakeholders ignore your messages than to not allow them to read it. Optimizing your emails and websites so that stakeholders can read your messages on desktop or mobile devices is imperative to ensuring you’re providing the opportunity for engagement. Check out these tips on optimizing your website  and emails with responsive designs to accommodate every platform your audience may be reading your messages on.

Do you have any additional tips for optimizing engagement? Do you agree that numbers are no longer the only things that matter? Comment below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Personal Information Requests and Subscription Confirmations Are Down

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

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

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

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

Welcome Messages Increase; First Message Delivered in One Week Ideal

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

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

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

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

Increased Frequency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How does intensive outreach link to behavioral change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers want useful content

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

But they also want the best content

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

And they want it delivered in the best way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

usda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

utah.gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: John Simpson, Engagement Consultant, GovDelivery

September is National Preparedness Month, an initiative developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake of 9/11 to help citizens better prepare themselves and their communities for emergency situations. Thousands of individuals and organizations from across the country take part in awareness activities and training events designed to help others make an emergency kit, plan for disasters, spread the word about preparedness, and encourage others to do the same. September is full of stories about leaders stepping up and working to make their communities better aware of what they can do to prepare. Yet, people often do not know where to start. Which is why FEMA created the National Preparedness Community.

The National Preparedness Community is an online collaborative community organized by FEMA that allows citizens from across the country to connect with others on preparedness best practices and build relationships with emergency management personnel. With over 38,000 members, those who sign up are able to engage with members in their local area, collaborate with those having similar professional backgrounds, and easily search for events happening in their local area. For example:

  • A small business owner in New York can learn best practices around compiling a business continuity plan from another private sector leader in Illinois.
  • A Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, trainer can connect with another emergency management expert in the same city about classes available in the neighborhood.
  • A local organizer can keep the conversation going after an awareness event by encouraging attendees to join in the online discussions.

The National Preparedness Community provides individuals and organizations the platform to take their passion for preparedness beyond their local community or neighborhood and onto a national, collaborative stage.

But just because September is designated as National Preparedness Month doesn’t mean the collaboration stops at the end of the month. Disasters strike year-round and many emergencies occur without warning. The National Preparedness Community operates every day of the year, providing you with best practices around preparedness and access to emergency management professionals that can share their knowledge on the best ways to protect the people we love. Take the pledge to prepare yourself, your family, and your community by joining the National Preparedness Community.

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