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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.

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.

amy2

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.

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.

 

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

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

Here are a few of them:

Facebook Buttons

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

Sharing

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

Mobile: Apps & More

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

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

TruthinessTurns out Stephen Colbert may have been on to something when he coined the term “truthiness.” According to a recent study by U.K. market research group Ipsos Mori that compared British citizens’ perceptions of statistical facts to the actual numbers, most people have a pretty skewed idea of the truth. As this article by The Guardian suggests, society is teeming with misinformation and misperceptions. And despite popular opinion, the blame can’t necessarily be placed on politicians or the media alone.

There are a variety of factors that come into play when we absorb and interpret information. From inherent biases and shortcuts to an inability to process very large or small numbers, it seems the odds are against anyone trying to convey a clear and concise message. So with all of this in mind, how do you as a government organization ensure that your message is easily received and understood by your stakeholders?

Sorry, Stephen, but it looks like “truthiness” may have met its match. With multichannel digital communications and a three-part approach, you can provide official content and set the record straight.

Here’s how:

1) Establish

The Internet has changed how people get their information. Gone are the days when face-to-face interaction and paper products were the primary methods of delivery. Adopting multichannel digital communications such as email, SMS and social media helps you offer information how, when and where your stakeholders want it. By allowing users to choose which channel they prefer to receive timely, relevant information, government organizations show that they understand and respect the needs of their citizens, which helps establish trust. When trust is built, it’s easier to engage and educate. Stakeholders must first view you as a reliable, straightforward source of information before they can trust you.

2) Engage

Once you’ve established trust with your stakeholders you need to engage them on a deeper level. Using social media to open up communication as a two-way street shows that you value your citizens as contributors, not just consumers. But simply retweeting a follower or responding to a Facebook comment isn’t enough. Once you’ve engaged your stakeholders through one channel, you need to re-engage them consistently. As Liz Azyan outlines in the white paper Digital Communications and Channel Shift in Government, re-engaging with your citizen base increases participation and feedback.

3) Educate

Now that you’ve established trust and engaged your stakeholders, you can set the record straight when you notice incorrect information. Government websites are great sources of information, but they’re also notoriously difficult for users to navigate. By utilizing multiple channels to direct stakeholders back to the specific parts of your website they want to see, you increase the likelihood that they will actually read and absorb the information instead of skimming and misinterpreting it. Constantly contacting isn’t necessarily communicating. You have to make sure your message is being received and understood before effective communication can occur.

The truth is a tricky thing, but it’s not as elusive as you might think. With a good multichannel digital communications strategy, government organizations can both reduce misperceptions and help create a culture of transparency, trust and accurate information.

What are some ways you help effectively communicate the truth?

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.

Co-written by Anne Doucot and Mary Yang

In my last post, I talked about how reaching the maximum amount of people that you can during an emergency can be the difference in saving more lives. And if you’ve been following along in the last couple of posts and podcasts from this series so far, you’ve also heard me talk about how important it is to get subscribers in addition to the use of a single platform, multichannel system. But, I know what many of you are thinking, once you get subscribers, how do you keep their contact information up-to-date?

With a single hey look hereplatform system that’s used by both your organization’s emergency communications department and public affairs office.

If you’re lucky, as an organization, you may only need to activate emergency alerts once or twice a year. That means, if your current system allows citizens to sign up to receive emergency alerts, that data may be quite old by the time you need to rely on it.

The solution to keeping contact information up-to-date is by using a comprehensive system that allows for both regular government communications and emergency notifications. The system should allow citizens to sign up for a variety of topics. With this kind of system, citizens can choose to receive updates on topics of interest and choose the method of communication they prefer (email, SMS, social media, etc.) The system should also allow citizens easy access to their profiles to provide updated contact data if they want.

As the communications department provides regular messages, the system will recognize if email addresses are still in use or if text messages are delivered. For organizations that use the same platform for their government communications and emergency notifications, sending out regular communications can continually test and cleanse the contact data for their citizens.

Join us for the third podcast for more information on how easy it can be to keep citizen contact information up-to-date.

For more analysis on current emergency notifications technology, download this recent Analyst Brief from IDC Government Insights.

sh Last week, one of the greatest cheesy movies of all time debuted on the Syfy channel. Sharknado.

In case you missed it, here’s the premise. There’re lots of really big sharks in the ocean and they’re all really angry. Due to some weird weather, the sea level begins to rise in Los Angeles and a freak tornado scoops up said sharks and rains them down on the city. 1990’s ‘C List’ stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (appropriately named ‘Fin’ in this film) take to the streets to kill the sharks and blow up the tornado using dynamite. Mayhem ensues. A cult classic is born.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey pal, where’s the spoiler alert warning?!?!”

Sorry about that.

Obviously, this movie is designed to be a low budget, tongue-in-cheek, comedy/thriller that’s the entertainment equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies…at first the idea sounds delicious, but you end up regretting it by the time you’re finished.

The thing that’s most amazing to me about Sharknado is that it actually is a good case study in communications best practices, so here I’ve compiled the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications.

1)  Be trustworthy

You might be wondering what could possibly be ‘trustworthy’ about this movie. Well, it’s called Sharknado and features Tara Reid and Ian Ziering battling airborne sharks in a tornado…you immediately know what you’re getting with this one. No one is tuning in thinking this is going to be Spielberg’s next Oscar winner. You watch because you think the idea of tornadic sharks sounds funny.

In the same way, your messages need to be honest and transparent about what you are trying to communicate, even when the information might be difficult to deliver. Always give people the straight answer. People will be far more willing to hear tough information when they feel like you’re telling them the truth, but rarely forgive if they feel they’ve been deceived.

2)  Give your audience what they want

The folks in charge of programming over at Syfy know exactly what their audience is interested in. A quick Google search delivers a long list of awesomely awful movies Syfy has aired. These blockbusters include masterpieces such as Sharktopus, Piranaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Megapython vs. Gatoroid, and Dinoshark.

Clearly, there is a subset of the population who loves these kinds of movies and keeps coming back for the content they love.

This same approach works for communicators too. At GovDelivery, we advise our clients to offer a wide variety of topics that people might be interested in as subscription topics. That way, people can sign up to get the exact information they want.

For example, one person might go to the IRS website to look for information about filing personal income taxes. Another might search the site to find out how to file business paperwork to get a taxpayer ID number, and another person may want to know about the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit.

By allowing people to subscribe to only the information they find valuable, you can provide excellent customer service without burying people in superfluous information they don’t want or need. Your customers will be happy and you won’t be wasting people’s time.

3)  Spread the word

One of the things that Syfy did expertly with Sharknado, was create compelling content that people wanted to share and then get that message out to the masses. Sharknado generated more than 604,000 tweets in an 8 hour time period on the day the movie premiered. That’s 1,258 tweets per minute! The official movie trailer has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube and the movie poster showed up all over my news feed on Facebook.

While not all of the information you need to communicate is as riveting as Sharknado, efficiently getting your message out to as many channels as possible is essential for ensuring maximum viewers. Try to find tools that will simplify the delivery of information. It will save you time and make sure you are catching your audience on their channel of choice.

4)  Capture people’s attention

No one can deny that Sharknado was attention grabbing. But what if you are talking about something more mundane than flying attack sharks? Just because your message isn’t flashy, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to jazz it up.

For example, you’ve probably heard how the CDC made emergency preparedness interesting with their Zombie Apocalypse campaign. The US Census Bureau found a way to make economic statistics come alive with the America’s Economy mobile app. The Virginia Tourism Association tapped into the growing craft beer trend and created an interactive map for a craft beer tour. You know there’s an audience out there for that idea. Louisville, KY decided to try new ways of capturing people’s attention by putting city content into a new channel where people were already congregating. The Washington DOT even found a way to make traffic information compelling by using a map goof-up to highlight road improvements.

Before pushing your information out there, take a few seconds to think if there’s a way you can make your information more compelling. If you can capture people’s attention, you will have a better chance of them remembering what you want them to know.

5)  Don’t be afraid to have some fun

Sharknado is a great example of having some fun with your content. No one expects this movie to win any awards; it’s purely for entertainment purposes.

Remember your main goal as a communications professional; you are trying to get people to engage with your content, sign up to get additional information from you, and come back for more in the future. If everything you put out is safe, boring to read, boring to look at, in outdated mediums and doesn’t move anyone, most people won’t be back.

Even serious government organizations can have some fun every now and then. And, finding new and exciting ways of getting your material in front of the eyes of the public should be fun for you. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I went this direction to make my message more engaging?” Don’t stress yourself out with this. Take it slow. Bite off small pieces at a time and get creative. Maybe you’ll come up with something even more interesting than Sharknado.

There you have it, the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications best practices.

What things would you add to my list?

Oh, in case you missed it, Syfy is re-airing the movie in August. And in case you’re already a diehard fan, Sharknado 2 is already in the works! Syfy is even offering a chance to get in on naming it. You can submit your title ideas via tweet to @SyfyMovies using #Sharknado.

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