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

top 10 RTP blog postsI know 2013 started just over a week ago, but it already feels like it’s been weeks since I celebrated the holidays and New Year’s with my family and friends. I think part of this is jumping back into the work day after some time off, but part of it is probably due to the fact that 2012 “year-end” reviews started weeks ago. (Google posted their Zeitgeist 2012 video a month ago! If you haven’t watched it, take a look and note how many cool events were driven by government organizations like yours.)

So I may be a little late to the game in adding my 2012 “top viewed blog entries” list, but I console myself that it’s only been a week or so. And with the belief that this list contains good reading that’s timeless. For those who may have missed these along the way, here are the top ten most-viewed blog entries on Reach the Public in 2012 and why I think they’re worth revisiting:

number 1

In this post, Lauren Modeen, Engagement Strategist extraordinaire, answers a question she received in a Reddit chat: how can you use rewards to motivate your online community?

She highlights four different ways that rewards can spur conversation and keep a community engaged, from simply featuring a member’s activity (whether that’s a discussion, question, or profile) to sending thank you notes or swag.

Why do I think this post is worth revisiting now? As we moved through 2012, it was impossible to ignore the impact of social media in government. Not just because it was a “new” way of amplifying the reach of government communications but also because of the emphasis on social. At the end of the day, people want to be part of a community; they want to interact with others who are interested in things they’re interested in. And government organizations began to understand that creating, developing and managing communities could be one way to truly drive mission value in a way that had never been done before.

Using Rewards to Motivate Your Online Community

number 2

This post was written quickly as I sat in a hotel room near GovDelivery UK’s office, up late with jet lag; so please allow me a moment to be a bit proud that it’s in this top ten list.

I logged onto my email to catch up on news in the communications world, and I saw the article on ReadWriteWeb detailing Mark Cuban’s opinion on Facebook. It was a fascinating read to me, mainly because of the very provocative but highly understandable situation Cuban faced with his basketball team (the Dallas Mavericks.) His organization had worked hard to gain Facebook fans, and they’d worked hard to engage that audience over a long period of time. So to come face-to-face with the knowledge that those connections aren’t actually available when you want them — or worse, that you have to pay Facebook to reach them — was jarring. For a government agency, that can mean a matter of life or death when you consider a situation like Hurricane Sandy.

Why is this post worth revisiting? It’s a good reminder that direct connections matter, especially in urgent situations. But it’s also good to remember that an integrated communications approach is still the key to ensuring that your government organization’s message is distributed as broadly as possible.

Abandoning Facebook

number 3

You’ll notice as you go through the rest of this list how much of these posts cover social media in government. Do you think it’s odd that the second most-viewed post was about abandoning Facebook but other posts in the top ten are about how to leverage or use social media? I think this is indicative of our society’s love/hate relationship with social media.

In this post, we summarize one of the most popular webinars I’ve ever hosted in my professional career (and I’ve hosted a lot of webinars). Our main speaker, Kristy Fifelski, also known as “GovGirl,” detailed her top 8 ways for government to engage citizens with social media – and boy, did we learn how hot a topic that was.

With nearly 1000 registrants, we had to expand our webinar contract (which had been limited to 250 “seats” to 1000 just in case everyone showed up.) And we had to expand our teleconference capability to ensure that everyone who attended could hear us. The experience gave myself and my IT team a mini heart attack – but it was all for a good cause, because this webinar was really amazing.

With concrete examples, in-the-field knowledge and expertise, and a fun presentation, Kristy/GovGirl gave our audience of government communicators key tips and tricks that could be implemented immediately to start using social media in more engaging ways. This is one post definitely worth revisiting.

8 Ways for Government to Engage Citizens with Social Media

number 4

Pinterest, another social networking site, launched in beta form in 2010 but didn’t start picking up more traction until mid-2011. By early 2012, it had become, as our post notes, “the hottest thing in social media.” By the end of 2012, the hotness had worn off a bit; but Pinterest remains a solid social networking site, with the most year-over-year growth for social desktop, web and app usage, according to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report.

So take a look at this post on how government organizations can leverage Pinterest. As a site that stresses the social aspect of images, Pinterest can be a powerful storytelling social platform that extends beyond the capabilities of a social network like Twitter. This post reminds you of some ways to leverage this storytelling foundation to generate more interest and provide more value for your stakeholders.

Why Should Government be Interested in Pinterest?

number 5

That’s right, folks. The Internet and technology is no longer the sole purview of the young. In this post, we take on the idea that you can’t reach older demographics with digital means. That’s bollocks, as the British would say.

“Studies show that senior citizens are fast adopting email as one of their primary methods of digital interaction and communication. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 87% of senior citizens use email and search engines, while the Nielsen Company found that checking email was the primary online activity for 88.6% of seniors.”

If that’s not a prime reason to review your communications strategy and ensure that you’re using your digital communications to reach a broad spectrum of stakeholders, take a look at this post to find out which age group uses digital technology to do what (i.e. to get email, to use a search engine, to look for health information, etc.) The statistics will surprise you!

Tech-Savvy Senior Citizens on the Rise

number 6

The title says it all. Here’s a guide to help you with the best practices we’ve found in utilizing digital communications to reach your stakeholders and the public.

The post talks about why the guide is important and some of the strategies used by well-known public sector organizations. In fact, the guide’s been accessed more than 8,500 times since it was released last April.

The guide itself is a pretty deep dive into what works for digital communications, culled from over a decade of work with government organizations worldwide. If you don’t have the time to sit down to read it all, why not download it and try to tackle one tip or trick a week?

Digital Communication Best Practices Guide Now Available

number 7

Our friend and professional colleague, Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop, allowed us to share his thoughts on internal communications.

In the world of Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0, he tackles the next version of internal communications, drawing on current technologies used to communicate with the public to help facilitate internal communications. For instance, Human Resources could use text messages/SMS to remind employees of form deadlines.

As one of the top ten most popular posts of 2012, I think this post speaks to the need not only to reach the public to drive mission value but to reach our own internal audiences to help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same big goals.

Internal Communications 2.0

number 8

I have to be honest: this was one of my favorite posts from 2012. Why? Because it brought something virtual and often “abstract” or conceptual into something physical that I understood: a shining example of how great communications can be.

In this post, our resident community management expert, Lauren, addresses the question, “How do I design an online community? What’s it supposed to look like?” And her answer is, in my opinion, pretty awesome.

If your government organization has an online community or is even thinking about starting one, take a look at this post. It’s a critical piece to consider when developing a community. Oftentimes, when we think about communities, we consider finding people who are going to be the community managers and hype people; how to keep an online community going; or how to generate discussion – all of which is important. But a clean, easy, and structured online community helps with all of that, and Lauren gives you an easy-to-read road map here.

How to Design an Online Community

number 9

Just a few days ago, Joseph Marks posted a short note about content on government websites, noting that most “dot-govs fail on content, not technology.”

That makes this post increasingly relevant. As a communications person myself, the power of content is becoming more and more apparent. It’s what drives connections between an organization and its audience.

In this post, our Digital Marketing Manager/Guru, Mike Bernard, tackles the idea of content marketing for government and provides ten tips that your organization can start using immediately to leverage the power of content to help meet your agency’s goals and drive mission value. From repurposing content to curation to making content easily shareable, these tactics can help you see an uptick in your outreach programs.

Content Marketing – Government Style

number 10

If you’re remotely interested in government technology, you probably already know the acronym “APIs”. It was hard to miss Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel’s tweet about it.

That’s why I think this post was one of the most-viewed from 2012. In 2013, I’d be surprised if APIs weren’t a continuing hot topic. The integrations available with this technology make it a critical component of the Federal Digital Government Strategy, but even more than that, it allows connections in ways that make government more efficient. What’s not to love?

In this post, Richard Fong, a (master) Technical Implementation Consultant, discusses his work in helping the US National Weather Service (NWS) implement APIs to help get the word out with tsunami warnings. Their API integration with their digital communications tool allows NWS to send out tsunami warning communications more quickly than ever before, helping to save lives in situations where seconds really matter.

It’s a good post to end the list, too, because it’s a great reminder of the crucially important work that government organizations do and how critical communications are in helping organizations meet their mission in serving the public.

National Weather Service Using APIs for Tsunami Alerts


So that’s our top ten list of most-viewed blog entries on Reach the Public. Was there one that you found especially insightful that I’ve missed here? Did you find these posts useful? Let me know in the comments!

Last week, Kristy Fifelski, known as “GovGirl”, shared tips and tools for government organizations looking to take their social media efforts to the next level in a GovDelivery-sponsored webinar titled “You’re On Social Media…Now What?”. The upbeat presentation provided useful ideas beyond the simple how-to’s of setting up a social media presence, offering actionable tactics for government organizations looking to expand social media efforts to reach new audiences, better connect with existing audiences, and create real value through content that citizens care about.

Key takeaways for the audience included ways to engage citizens to get views, likes and comments, how to respond to negative users and downbeat comments, and tips for successful ongoing management of government social media. For those unable to join us for the event, here is a countdown of the top eight ways government can give their social media presence a boost.

8 ) Review social media policies. It is never too late to draft your organization’s social media policy, and if you have previously created one, it is a good idea to update your policy to help clarify best practices in using new or updated social media tools. Be sure the policy identifies who is authorized to post and when they should be posting information. Clear up any vague terms around who is authorized and responsible for creating content and how they should identify themselves on social media platforms, including on their own accounts. Do not forget about staff and elected officials that represent your agency. Those that feel comfortable with social media may not be aware of the need to align their social media presence with your agency’s online image. Within your policy, clear terms can help protect your agency, inform users of your social media channels about acceptable use, and invoke your ethics policy within your social media policy.

7) Repeat and reinforce staff training. Sit down with your staff and review training beyond basic procedures and be sure to include elected officials. Employees will need a regular review of best practices – train early, and train often. Teach employees how to engage using social media beyond using automated tools. Relying on automation to deploy content can alienate citizens and make your content boring. Having a “conversation quality” to your tweets and posts encourages your audience to interact and add to the dialogue. You can create this quality by directing employees to create custom content and reply to users that get involved in the conversation.

regulations.gov tweets

Automated social media results in repetitive, unrelatable content



Staff-generated content invites citizens into the conversation


6) Expand to new channels. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, have you thought about Google+, Quora or Pinterest? Google+ is relatively new but is quickly becoming a more viable tool for engaging with a new and expanding audience with the addition of brand pages. Quora is a social question-and-answer tool that can allow your organization to pose questions and receive answers from citizens. The answers can be ranked and voted up or down, allowing your agency to “crowd source” solutions. You may not connect with the bulk of your constituents, but it can be an interesting way to get a new perspective on the public’s viewpoint. Pinterest is a visual social tool that allows users to share images that interest them, which can be useful for your organization if you have a highly visual story to tell.

5) Integrate – EVERYWHERE! Include icons and links to your social platforms on organization websites, emails and digital communications. Twitter provides tools that allow you to share your Twitter account and feeds right on your website and even allows you to set up widgets for others to use and share your feeds on their websites and blogs.

multi-tweet visual

How the State of California integrates multiple Twitter feeds on its website

Include links to all of your accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn – and cross-reference each of these platforms across your multiple accounts. For example, write about your Facebook on your Twitter, and write about your Twitter on your LinkedIn page. Encourage visitors to “like” related agencies and their social media accounts, too!

social media cross-links

Include cross-links to social media accounts across your website

4) Incorporate mainstream references. Including things that citizens enjoy, relate to and are paying attention to will enhance citizen connection and interaction with government social media. Tying pop culture references like movies and TV shows to your content can direct new users to your content in an entertaining way. The CDC blog used the popularity of zombies to promote disaster preparedness awareness, and received so much attention that the website crashed!

3) Solve real problems that people are frustrated about. The so-called “Negative Nelly” draws attention to a problem that they feel is being ignored. Your social media response creates an opportunity to personally addressing citizen frustrations, change perception on public administration and public service, and create a real return on investment in government social media efforts. For example, a tweet from a citizen frustrated about construction affecting their family business exposes an opportunity to form a win-win plan to redirect traffic to their establishment. Use your social media platforms to acknowledge the information you receive from citizens and follow up when you investigate the issue. Residents will be surprised when you are actually able to solve their problem and may even share the good experience with your agency over the same social media channel they used for the initial complaint!

City of Reno Twitter feed

City of Reno Uses Twitter to Respond to Real Citizen Concerns

2) Plan for emergencies. Social media is incredibly important in emergency situations because it offers an outlet for real-time, instant communication with the public. Develop and document a social media approach in case of emergencies, and practice the procedure before a real emergency happens. Government webmasters and managers in charge of social media channels should have a seat in Emergency Operation Centers to integrate communication efforts with other government functions and be a direct part of the response effort. Government-run social media can broadcast corrections to misinformation, create an official hashtag to distinguish information on the emergency situation, and respond to social media users sharing out-of-date information.

1) Celebrate success! Management and officials need to be informed and understand the value of social media. Demonstrate real problems you have solved using social media (see tip #3) and how social media has positively affected the public’s perception of your department, no matter how small the success. Forwarding positive feedback to department heads or individuals in charge of department-wide communication is a great way to share the impact of social media interactions. Help public officials see that allocating resources to social media is a good decision and creates real solutions in the community.

If you have enjoyed these tips and want to find out more, check out Kristy’s website for more information. If you’d like to be notified of upcoming GovDelivery events or webinars, let us know at info@govdelivery.com. Also, you can view the webinar recording online and download the slide deck from Kristy’s presentation on SlideShare.

Have you applied any of these strategies to enhance your organization’s social media presence? What will be your next step to further leverage your social media efforts? Let us know what you think or celebrate your most recent social media success in the comments!


You may have heard people talking about the hottest thing in social media, Pinterest. For those not aware of what Pinterest is, it’s a “Pin-Board” styled social photo sharing website. The site allows you to create and manage theme-based image and video collections. Popular topics include recipes, fashion, celebrities, animals, design and nature.

The way it works is you create topics that are of interest to you and fill up your Pin-Boards with photos and descriptions of things you like pertaining to that topic. Then people who share your interest in that topic can comment on your Pins, re-Pin your images or share them by email, Facebook or Twitter.

Think of those photo collages you made back in junior high but way, way more fun, interesting and easy!

So what’s the big deal? There are tons of photo sharing sites out there. Why should government organizations care about Pinterest?

Excellent question. Allow me to offer up some suggestions of why Pinterest is important:

1)  Pinterest is growing like crazy! Pinterest is currently the 17th most visited website in the US and 81st worldwide. Over the last 3 months, site traffic has grown by 226%! People are just flocking to Pinterest, and you should do your best to communicate with people where they already congregate.

2)  Pinterest is very sticky! Since people are always adding new, visually appealing content,  Pinterest makes people come back often and stay for a long time. This results in people spending large blocks of time looking at stuff on Pinterest. This is a captive audience and you can be in front of them with your content.

3)  You have the content people love! The government has the amazing content people love on Pinterest. The National Parks Service could post pictures of Old Faithful, animals in Glacier National Park or the fall colors in the Boundary Waters National Canoe Area. State health departments could post photos of viruses that cause disease and then comment on the need for getting vaccinated. Elected officials could post pictures from press meetings or visits to local businesses. Cities and counties could post pictures from parks or summer rec. leagues or document the new bridge being built. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

4)  Claim your URL!  Since Pinterest is still new, all the good URLs are not taken up yet. When you sign up, you can get www.pinterest.com/minneapolis or www.pinterest.com/USDA. Claiming these URLs while you can is extremely important if you want to make it easy for people to find your content.

5)  Pinterest is driving traffic! A recent study found that Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined! That’s a lot of people finding their way back to your website simply by posting some great looking photos online.

I know that some people are thinking after reading this list, “That’s all fine and well, but I don’t have time to do one more social media thing and I don’t really know what my city/county/agency would even post on there.” I recognize that everyone is super busy, especially these days when reduced budgets mean increased workload for everyone. I also realize that if you’ve never thought of what you might do on Pinterest, figuring out what sort of interesting content you have might be the furthest thing from your mind.

But I have a couple of responses to that thinking:

1)  Give it a try if for no other reason than satisfying point #4 above. Starting your account takes less than 5 minutes and will ensure you get an easy-to-find URL. Then put a reminder on your calendar once a week to go in and spend 15 minutes uploading a couple of photos and re-pinning other people’s photos to your account. It won’t take long before you develop a very nice Pinterest account.

2)  You have more content than you realize. Here are some ideas I’ve thought of that government organizations can implement easily:

  • Natural resources departments can post pictures of animals (birds and fish are always winners) or scenic nature shots.
  • Transportation departments can post pictures of bridges, construction trucks or aerial photos of highway interchanges.
  • Education departments or school boards can post whimsical photos of children at play (don’t forget media releases of course) or highlight teachers who are doing an excellent job.
  • Cities can post cool pictures of police cars, fire trucks, new civic buildings, historic homes, interesting artwork or architecture in the city hall.
  • County parks, nature preserves and fairs are great places for photos.
  • How about taking pictures of the inner-workings of municipal facilities such as water treatment plants to show the public how things work? There’s a whole TV show about how things work!
  • Transit and port authorities…Hello, buses, trains, cranes and ships! What’s not to love?
  • Elected officials post pictures of ribbon cutting ceremonies, important business developments, meetings with important people and much more.
  • Tourism boards have more amazing pictures than anyone I can think of. Post away.
  • The military could post pictures of tanks, planes, ships and places around the world.
  • History centers, museums and archives are sitting on a treasure trove of America’s past. People love images of the way things used to be.
  • Food safety agencies can post pictures of bacteria or what to look for when food spoils. This kind of stuff will definitely get people’s attention.
  • How about having a photo contest where you post a really focused picture of something your agency deals with and have people guess what it might be. Then announce the actual item after a week of guessing.
  • Do you create interesting graphics for reports you create? Post the graphics and link it back to the reports on your website.

Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about in terms of using Pinterest. I would love to hear additional ideas of how your organization could use Pinterest to post interesting content, increase citizen engagement and drive traffic back to your website. Let us know what you think.

You can get caught up the first six cool social media stats, tool, and books here. I searched high and low, near and far to bring you the next set. Enjoy!

Cool Find #7: 15 Commandments for Government Agencies on Twitter Guide. Shameless plug for my amazing GovLoop co-workers, but this guide “Thou Shalt Tweet” is super helpful for anyone working on social media initiatives in a government agency.

Cool Find #8: Embedding Tweets. Yesterday I was in a roundtable discussion with Adam Sharp, the Government/Politics lead for Twitter. He reviewed everything that is coming down the pike with the new Twitter. To sum up his review: I am ecstatic. But perhaps one of my favorite (albeit simple) features of the new Twitter is the capability to embed tweets. Yup, just like you can grab the embed code of images on Pinterest or videos on YouTube, soon (in the next couple of weeks), you’ll be able to embed tweets on any third-party website. Here’s the full scoop.

Cool Find #9: Ergoarchive. Does this sound familiar? You read a great article, watch a great video, and then a few days later you start racking your brain thinking: “where did I see that great stat, infographic, etc?” If it does, this tool called Ergoarchive might prove helpful. As described by the company: it keeps track of all your web stuff! It saves every web page, every update in your social streams to help you organize, archive and search your browsing history. It’s in the beta stage right now, but you can try it early by requesting an invite.

Cool Find #10: Copywriter’s Handbook. Ah, yes. I thought it was super important to include this book because while I’d love to recommend tons of other books on social media, perhaps we should first learn how to write, and edit. Otherwise, all the social media initiatives in the world won’t help us. At first I thought I’d recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a book that’s been on my desk since 8th grade, but this one is geared more for the web.

(Image source)

Cool Find #11: If This Then That. Or IFTTT. Here’s a really simplistic description by tech geek Scott Hanselman “IfThisThenThat lets all your online stuff work together to do way more interesting stuff.” Or, here’s the more technical description: “IFTTT is a cloud-based open-ended web workflow creator building on existing social APIs to create more sophisticated distributed aggregated tasks.” Basically, it allow you to create more efficient workflows. Here’s an example:

(Image source)

I know, I know, it sounds philosophical and a bit vague. But if this peaks your interest, read more about it, and you’ll see why this is super neat.

Cool Find #12: Tip for Government Agencies: Before writing the press release, at least agree on the first 140 characters. For my last cool find, I wanted to share not a tool, stat, or book with you, but a thought. And this one is specifically geared at agencies or anyone directly in the public eye. Yesterday, when I was in my roundtable with Adam Sharp, he was describing the pace at which Twitter moves. “Faster than earthquakes” he said, as we were all recalling how thousands along the east coast on August 23, 2011 heard about the earthquake on Twitter before they actually felt the tremors. So, if it’s true Twitter moves faster than earthquakes, what does that say about the PR office of a government agency waiting hours and hours to put out a press release on a particular subject? If news travels that fast, waiting for copy to get approved, WAY after an event happens is probably not good for the agency. Why? The agency most will be entering the conversation long after the news is on the wire. Adam’s recommendation? Before the press release, try to at least tweet the 140 characters you can agree on.

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