A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

When I talk with state and local government organizations that are interested in communicating more with the public, there is a usually a pretty consistent idea on what kinds of information should go out to citizens. Far and away the messages we see most frequently from state and local agencies include council and committee meetings and agendas, upcoming events, emergency updates, and news releases. These types of communications are vital to government transparency and community preparedness, and public information officers that are committed to the regular communication of these key types of information do their stakeholders an invaluable service.

But too often, public communication stops with these essential communications, without expanding the message topics to other departments and programs, where great stories are often hiding in plain sight. We often talk about why storytelling is a great asset in communicating – but what types of stories do your residents want to read?

I usually recommend that communicators consider including some new programs in their outreach plans every year, focusing on the offices or departments that have a high amount of interaction with the public. These regular communications help to drive more stakeholder participation and further the mission of each group.

Here are a few examples across the spectrum of state and local government of how both subscribers and departments benefit from storytelling:

1. Stories about Police and Law Enforcement Programs police1
I receive regular updates from my Precinct Inspector at the Minneapolis Police Department– the officer in charge of monitoring and preventing crime in my neighborhood. When I signed up for these updates, I had no idea that I had a Precinct Inspector, or what he did. Through regular communications from Inspector Schafer, I’ve gotten tips on keeping myself and my property safer, what to look for to prevent crime in my neighborhood, and have been alerted of criminal activity.  I’ve also learned that overall crime in my area is down by 7% this year. Before I received these updates, I had no visibility into how my neighborhood was functioning with regard to crime and law enforcement. Not only do these updates give me the information to be safer and more aware of potential risks to safety, but I feel more connected to my community and confident that my neighborhood is becoming a safer place to live. This direct communication with citizens is something that any police, Sheriff, or public safety department could achieve by implementing a subscription process that allows key communicators to reach a target audience of stakeholders.

2. Stories from Animal Control and Animal Rescue agencies animal1
Who doesn’t love stories about adorable dogs and cats? Some of the most visited sites on the web like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Reddit have been attracting explosive traffic for years using cute cat videos and stories about rescued puppies to lure people to land on their site and continue to click through to more pages. Why not harness these techniques to drive increased numbers of adopted animals and donations to local shelters in your community? Oakland County, Michigan began seeing an increase in adoption rates after their animal services team started communicating through email and social media about stories of pets waiting for homes.  San Diego County features a pet of the week update to people subscribed to their County News topic that often attracts hundreds of views in less than an hour, which is often more visits than the typical animal in a shelter gets in an entire day.  The City of Louisville, Kentucky created Paw Personals, a weekly newsletter from Animal Services with playful descriptions of animals waiting for homes to help alleviate overcrowding in shelters through more adoptions. If your animal services team is not communicating regularly to drive action, it might be time to think about how to incorporate the story of local animals into your regular messages to the public.

3. Stories from Health and Human Services organizations health1

Valuable health and safety communications often travel from public health organizations to hospitals and health providers to then disseminate to patients and visitors, but what about the residents who aren’t visiting health care providers regularly? How do they get the information they need to keep themselves and their families healthy? In Minnesota, we frequently deal with extreme cold, so this winter, the Minnesota Department of Health sent out extreme cold safety videos in multiple languages to hundreds of at risk residents, helping to increase the visibility of cold weather shelter programs. In Arizona, Maricopa County automatically alerts citizens if air quality levels reach a point that might be dangerous to residents in certain areas, keeping citizens with respiratory concerns safer. King County Public Health offers personalized SMS/text message updates on how residents can learn more about enrolling in health care by attending events in their neighborhoods. These are the awesome types of stories that can be shared with the public to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to health.  If your organization’s goals for this year include a focus on increased citizen well-being through health education and outreach, start by building a community of engaged stakeholders to connect with regularly through a multichannel communication approach, and share what you’re doing to keep them healthier.

When I talk with GovDelivery clients about setting their communication plans for this year, I often encourage them to think outside the box when it comes to the types of information they’ll be sending to their stakeholders. Where are the untold stories of your organization? What types of successes could be shared on a regular basis? Chances are, you won’t have to look far to find them.

In the era of social media, where people are accustomed to sharing everything all the time, news spreads like wildfire. One mistake by an organization and a communications crisis is born. While certainly no communications team wants to deal with a crisis, it’s a part of the job and an important one at that. Response and communication during these times are critical, and it’s how you communicate and respond as an organization that can turn disaster into customer devotion.

Missteps happen in both the public and private sector. And although mistakes are a part of life, when they do happen, consumers and the media are quick to highlight and discuss them. Lately, this has been the case for athletic wear company Lululemon Athletica. For anyone who’s not a die-hard fan following the seemingly constant stream of media attention surrounding Lululemon, here’s a quick breakdown of the current crisis.

Handling crisis communications

LulupantLululemon’s communications crisis kicked off in March 2013 when they released see-through pants. Upon criticism that these $98 yoga pants were sheer, the company immediately issued a recall, promising to have them improved and back on shelves within 90 days. Lululemon responded quickly to the problem with a press release and an accompanying FAQ sheet, answering customers’ most immediate questions in a straightforward manner. Throughout all the media attention, Lululemon remained calm, responding to new questions and updating information as the situation developed.

Although many applauded Lululemon for their quick response and crisis control in March, the company has found itself in the negative spotlight yet again.

A couple of weeks ago, while still working toward recovery from the sheer pants fiasco, Lululemon’s co-founder Chip Wilson unraveled the company’s crisis communications efforts during an interview on Bloomberg TV where he blamed “women’s fat thighs” for the transparency issues linked to the company’s product problems.  Wilson’s comment spurred a media explosion, alienating both potential and loyal customers and even sparking a Change.org petition requesting that he apologize for “shaming women’s bodies.”  Needless to say, Lululemon is facing another communications crisis. Seemingly taking matters into his own hands, Wilson took to YouTube last week, posting a video apologizing to his employees for his comments.

Whether or not Wilson meant to insult women, and people everywhere, I can’t be certain. However, his comment, among others, gives us another example of how to handle crisis communications. Government organizations have a responsibility to communicate to and with their constituents. As a government communicator, you should strive to communicate in a way that doesn’t alienate stakeholders. While those in the public sector are not selling athletic apparel, I think there are some valuable lessons to take away from Chip Wilson and Lululemon.

Respond quickly. When mistakes happen and crisis occurs, it’s critical to respond quickly. Don’t let your audience sit around waiting and wondering what’s going on.  Address the issue as soon as possible, whether you have a little or a lot of information. By responding right away, even if it’s to tell stakeholders that you are aware of the situation, you decrease feelings of distrust. When people are sitting around waiting for a response regarding a situation, it’s easy to make assumptions about why they haven’t heard anything. By responding quickly, your audience feels in the loop, which is critical to a successful recovery.

In March, Lululemon responded immediately to let their customers know what was happening with a press release and an FAQ sheet. People appreciated this and responded positively.

With the more recent crisis, Lululemon has taken a different approach, waiting days to take action. Because Chip Wilson waited to acknowledge his upsetting comment, customers and the media had ample time to share their feelings and opinions in tweets, blogs, articles and Facebook posts, with words like “backlash,” “social outrage” and “scorned” being used to describe people’s reactions to Wilson.

Be Honest. While this one might not be the easiest, it’s certainly the most important. Everyone appreciates honesty. No one likes to be disappointed, and by being honest, you foster a stronger relationship with your audience.

Here again, Lululemon does some good and some bad. In March, Lululemon was not shy about the problem. Lululemon acknowledged the allegations and was honest about the lack of quality in the product. While many loyal customers were disappointed, they appreciated the honesty and trusted the company. And that trust transformed itself into a huge growth in stock and sales later on.

chipwilsonOwn up. If you or your organization made a mistake, take responsibility for what happened. This is the issue Wilson and Lululemon are facing now. Instead of just owning up to the inappropriate comments he made in, Wilson directed his apology to his employees and organization, failing to acknowledge the massive amount of people he insulted. If Chip Wilson would have gotten on camera and apologized to everyone, especially Lululemon’s devoted customers, he could have led his company down the road to redemption.

Acknowledge your customers. When a crisis occurs, it’s natural to focus on what happened, how to stop it and what to do. However, you can’t forget about your customers. It’s important to reach out to your customers and remind them how important they are. A simple statement thanking them for their support can make a huge difference. It may not seem important, but when things go wrong it becomes easy for customers to abandon ship, so to speak. While taking the time to release a statement about what’s going on, take the extra minute or two and let your stakeholders know that they are important. A simple, “We sincerely apologize for the mistake that’s occurred, and we’re working to fix it as soon as possible,” is all it takes to make people feel a little better about a situation.

This is where Lululemon is still struggling today. Yes, Wilson made a step in the right direction by apologizing, but he apologized only to his company, not the customers who keep Lululemon a multi-billion dollar company. Without customers, Lululemon can’t exist, and Wilson’s lack of acknowledgement towards them is certainly not helping him retain customers or loyalty.

Follow Through. When a crisis occurs, it’s important to immediately do some form of damage control. However, it’s also important to put a plan of action in place to figure out what you can do to resolve the situation in a timely manner. Set goals. Make these goals attainable and open to everyone within your organization and outside of it. Let internal and external stakeholders know where you are as an organization and what you are moving towards.

Lululemon did a great job of this in March. They heard the complaints and immediately addressed them. They took the product off the shelves and reached out to their customers about what they did, what their next steps were and what they were going to do to resolve the issue. Lululemon followed through on that plan; people saw that and a few months later its sales and stock were up.

Communicating during crisis is a big responsibility that accompanies our job as government communicators. People depend on our information in times of distress and unknowing.  With so many different ways to handle crisis, the challenge can be handling it successfully. In these situations, the most successful organizations are those who directly address their audience, provide them with some form of information and leverage the strategies and communications tools around. Ultimately, the better your organization can respond to crisis, the more able you are to serve your citizens and create satisfaction.

communication bubblesLike you, we’re breathing a giant sigh of relief that the federal government shutdown has ended and that hundreds of  government employees are finally able to go back to work. But as much as you may want to jump back into the projects you were working on, it’s hard to ignore that the public’s confidence in the government has been shaken. Even though the shutdown was covered widely in the news, many citizens and stakeholders were surprised when they tried to reach out to a government agency only to find it out was not able to address their requests because most government employees were furloughed. While many agencies have worked hard to engage with and earn the trust citizens, it’s hard to argue that there will probably be some rebuilding to do on that front.

As representatives of a government organization, you are accountable to your stakeholders – whether this is the general public, citizens, business owners, farmers, etc. This makes the role of government communicators critical in sharing your organization’s important information to ultimately gain the trust and confidence of your stakeholders. And as the shutdown ends and lives start to return to normal, ignoring your audience’s mood and concerns would be a misstep. So before you dive back into the projects you had sitting on your desk when you left work on October 1st, take this opportunity to communicate directly with your stakeholders and address the situation head on. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Send your stakeholders a message letting them know you’re back at work and excited to begin communicating with them again. Take a moment to thank them for their patience during these frustrating times.
  • Use all the channels you have available. Send personalized “we’re back/thank you” messages to stakeholders via email or SMS/text messages or more generic posts on social media if you want to communicate broadly.
  • If you use digital communications, take advantage of this opportunity, where you’ll likely have more “eyeballs” on your organization, to include sign-up information in your communications. Suggest that stakeholders sign up for various direct communication channels – such as email or SMS/text message subscriptions – and promote the social media channels you’re on.
  • With the 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy for stakeholders to expect that requests made before or during the shutdown get handled quickly. Why not communicate your organization’s plan and timeline for getting operations back up to speed, and acknowledge or ask that stakeholders continue to be patient just a little while longer as your teams/staff get back to work.

As a government communicator, do you have any tips for your peers in re-connecting with the public and your stakeholders? What are you doing to re-engage and reassure? Please share your ideas & thoughts in the comments.

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

Time is something that communicators never have enough of when it comes to their work: building their audiences, managing their brand, staying current with content, meeting the demands of their stakeholders, etc. Many times the government communicators I work with are  balancing an ever-expanding task list between a few key team members, each working to draft press releases, communicate with the media, keep the website current, prepare emergency communication strategies, respond to inquiries, and manage social media – just to name a few! Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle, especially as demand for digital content and services grow and stakeholders expect to find everything online.

Luckily, today’s communicators have more tools to help them wrangle the different aspects of their job into a well-oiled information machine. And with a few quick strategic changes, they can save more time than ever before while meeting citizens’ needs on a consistent basis.

Here are three key steps you can take that will help you cut down on the time spent communicating,  increase your reach through more channels, and most importantly, connect to more stakeholders.

GovDelivery_ChannelsIntegration – Most clients that I engage with agree that it is no longer enough to only use a single form of communication to reach their diverse base of subscribers, but they also are not sure where the extra hours will be found to manage multiple communication platforms. While it may seem like an impossible feat, there is a solution.- Make your content channels work together in one simple process. You may have 8,000 subscribers to an email list, 10,000 Facebook fans, another 3,000 twitter followers, and another 50,000 people are viewing your website each month. Does that mean a neverending login-test-post-comment-update-edit-repeat cycle for your team? It doesn’t have to. By leveraging  tools that are specifically geared toward making your channels work together, you can cut down on the number of different channels you have to access to post your content, while maintaining a consistent style and voice throughout all your communication channels.

There are various tools out there for communicators to leverage. GovDelivery’s digital communications platform allows content that originates on one channel to be effortlessly communicated across all of your networks with one click.  And social media engagement tools like HootSuite are also helping more communicators manage their social media outlets from a single dashboard that measures the responsiveness of their audience. Furthermore, content management systems can be leveraged to push content from one channel to another with proper programming and permissions.

Collaboration_RSSAutomation – What’s better than channels communicating with each other, you ask? Channels that communicate with each other automatically. With little or no manual process at all, government agencies are able push content to multiple channels through RSS (Real Simple Syndication),  APIs (application programming interfaces), or other feeds to replicate content from one channel to another. RSS feeds are handy because they often come as a built-in feature in most content management systems, and they make it easy to send updates to subscribers whenever a Web page’s content changes. The standardized feed can then be easily read by email clients or web browsers, allowing subscribers to get information without having to continuously check Web pages for content changes.

While RSS feeds are great, APIs take automation a step further by allowing a feed from a Web portal or database to be pushed directly out to applications that interpret and deliver content to subscribers.

A great example of this is Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). WSDOT recently connected their traffic alerts to an API that automatically pushes alerts to subscribers when road conditions in their region are impacted by weather, construction, or traffic congestion.

Social media outlets like Twitter have some great 3rd party automation options as well.   Twitterfeed is a tool that allows you to automatically post content from a blog or Web page to Twitter, making the process of posting and promoting your new content as easy as a simple click of a button.  Another great tool is WordPress’s Tweet Old Post plugin, which helps drive traffic back to older, but still relevant, pieces of content on your blog.

Coordination – Communication, done correctly, is a lot of work. To maximize your output, you’ll want to make sure that all of the work you and the rest of your agency does to reach your target audience is following some sort of unified, coordinated strategy. I’ve encountered a lot of clients who have brand-building rockstars on the communications team who work to create consistent brand image, but they often struggle with other departments within the organization independently creating and sending content through various channels with inconsistent strategy. An uncoordinated communication strategy can sometimes chip away the work that others are doing to build a consistent image and reputation for the organization, and might even be duplicating efforts of other departments. How do you address this without putting sole responsibility on one team to communicate on behalf of all departments? With coordination and standardized expectations for everyone who is responsible for communicating with your stakeholders. Marin County, CA has done a great job with this by creating a Social Media Responsibility Guidelines document, along with a best practice Social Media Playbook. These serve as mandatory training guides for anyone using social media on behalf of their department, and help promote consistent, coordinated channels of communication, each working toward the same goal. The County communications team in Marin keeps an eye on the communication efforts of individual departments without having to bear the full weight of all content creation and output themselves, meaning more of their time is free to focus on their top goals and objectives for continued public engagement and service.

By integrating channels, automating output and coordinating content generation among various players in an organization, government communicators can continue to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to meeting stakeholders’ needs for information and service.

 

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

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

Frequency Matters

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

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

Word Choice Wins the Day

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

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

Keep the Subject Line Brief

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

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

 

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.

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.

awardLast week, winners of the 2013 Best of the Web Awards were announced, offering an opportunity to see how state and local government organizations are leveraging the web to communicate with the public. Cities, counties and states were judged based on their demonstration of innovation, usability and functionality for users. Honorees were also required to possess sites “that display effective governmental efficiency and service delivery.”

Alameda County, California, took first place in the county category for their use of a clean and easily navigable website as well as their successful social media strategies. They have built an intuitive website that is highly compatible with mobile devices, making it easy for visitors to get information quickly on their terms. The County also clearly displays all the ways the public can connect with the County by placing prominent digital communication and social media icons throughout their website. This allows Alameda County’s website visitors to connect with the County in the ways they want, receiving information through communication channels that are relevant to them.

“We’ve focused a lot on our citizen engagement with our open data initiative — I think that’s very fresh and current,” said Tim Dupuis, the interim director of the Alameda County Information Technology Department and the county’s interim registrar of voters. “Coupled with social media and how aggressively we’re going after the mobile apps space and self- service — all of these things combine to make something that really engages our public.” (GovTech.com)

Alameda County is just one example of a government organization utilizing technology to enhance government-to-citizen communications. Many of the organizations nominated are doing awesome things, and we here at GovDelivery are excited to congratulate a number of our clients on their awards. Congratulations to additional GovDelivery clients:

County Category:

1st Place- Alameda County, California

3rd Place- Orange County, California

4th Place- Sacramento County, California

5th Place- Stearns County, Minnesota

City Category:

2nd Place- Riverside, California

3rd Place- Raleigh, North Carolina

Finalist- Palo Alto, California

State Category:

5th Place- Maine

Finalist- Nebraska

To see a complete list of winners, click here.

To find out how your organization can be considered for a Best of the Web award, click here.

On this day, we, like many of you, are taking a moment to remember the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Build Your Audience 

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

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

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

2. Reaching People in a Mobile World

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

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

mobile_devices_final

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

 

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

3. Focus on the content, not the process

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

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

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

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

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

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