A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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How a Police Department established an online following more than eight times the size of their city’s population

Brimsfield OH Police

It’s not every day that a small police department makes an impact in their community and across the world through digital communications, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Brimfield, Ohio. The Brimfield Police Department (PD) has a city population of only 10,000 people, and yet their Facebook page has nearly 89,000 likes. That means that an audience more than eight times the size of the town is engaged in the day-to-day communications of the local police force. This robust social media following is causing a wider effect on the town with housing up 30 percent over last year at this time. Digital communication is putting this small town, and their police department, on the map. That’s the kind of success any government communications team would dream about.

So how can you replicate the success of the Brimfield PD through your digital communications plan for social media, email messages, website updates and more? After comparing a recent interview with Brimfield police chief David Oliver with our own government clients’ communication success stories we think we have it narrowed down to three key communication principles: be consistent, be relevant and be engaging.

Be Consistent

The message I’ve always said is if you’re going to do it, do it. You have to be consistent — and we are. Between 6:30 and 7 a.m., we have a good morning message with weather and traffic and we poke fun at people with birthdays. People rely on it. If I miss it, you see the messages — “Where’s the chief today? Can’t go on without the message.” It’s been comical on that end. But the expectation of our followers has built quite a relationship. Our followers know that good news or bad news, we’re going to tell you the truth.

One of the keys to any digital communications strategy is consistency. The Brimfield PD has a social media schedule that they stick to every day. They post entertaining “good morning” messages with daily updates about the town. The police chief also posts up-to-date information with the latest news (good or bad) from the police department.

The positive impact of consistent content scheduling is clear: by posting frequently on social media, sending out regular newsletters, or routinely updating online content, your followers will know exactly when and where to expect information from you—increasing the odds that they will see your messages. Additionally, by consistently updating these digital channels you provide more opportunities to drive traffic to your website and your information.

Be Relevant

I think like a citizen instead of like a police chief. After almost 20 years on this job, one of the things I see are public officials who tend to think from the perspective of their responsibilities instead of thinking about Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane who wants to know why she’s hearing sirens. If a huge crash delays traffic, I can post what to use as a detour. We’re becoming an information-now society. People don’t want to wait until the 6 p.m. news and chances are it won’t be there anyway. When you tell people what happened or what’s going on, it gives them a sense that everything is okay.

The Brimfield PD is giving their followers timely information that they look for from a police department. They also pepper in some humor to keep the content fresh and interesting. They know “Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane” wants to know the scoop on local police-related disturbances, so that’s what they provide.

Government organizations, like Brimfield PD, have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. When you are writing online content, think about what your unique information is in relation to what your audience might be looking for. And don’t forget to reference any and all analytics you can get your hands on to ensure you’re broadcasting the messages that are relevant to your audience’s actual needs and interests—not just what you think their needs and interests are. One of the great tools GovDelivery provides in its digital communication management tool is the option to allow subscribers to pick the categories and topics they are most interested in learning about. Data like this can help set the stage for the theme of updates this audience is most interested in.

Be Engaging

…All of this has helped the community understand that we’re a team. If we’re going to reduce crime, the people have to be willing participants. People have become very protective of the department, and that’s huge for us. Some people use the private message function to leave a tip or to tell us about a nuisance in their neighborhood. We wanted to have any means of communication available so our department is the most functional operation it can be. I think the paradigm is shifting a little bit toward using social media as an outreach tool rather than just picking up the phone to call the police department.

The Brimfield PD is using digital communication as a two-way street. Getting their message heard is vital to the Brimfield PD’s mission, but hearing from their community is an important component to that mission.  Instead of just spewing out facts, they are encouraging interaction with the community by allowing members to leave a tip in a Facebook message or starting a conversation.

By encouraging your stakeholders to not only listen, but talk back, you provide an opportunity to build a relationship. Another police force, Stearns County’s Sheriff’s Office, embedded multiple options for citizens to submit tips to the Sheriff in all their email communications with County residents.

Through social media posts, email messages, blog comments, website forums and more—you can provide an opportunity for your audience to participate in your mission. Just don’t forget to broadcast those engagement opportunities out to your stakeholders.

Learn More

You may not be able to amass an online community on the same scale that Brimfield has overnight, but the basis of their marketing strategy is something that can be applied to any local, or broader, government organization to improve outreach and citizen engagement. Just remember to keep your digital content consistent, relevant and engaging and you are well on your way to developing a more robust relationship with your stakeholders.

If you’re looking for further reading on digital communications in the public sector, take a look at our white paper on integrating social media in government communications here. And if you have any suggestions, comments or questions about successful digital marketing tactics you’ve seen in government, comment below!

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.

 

By John Cook, Vice President of Marketing, GovDelivery

Last week I introduced the first two trends that I believe make marketing imperative for any government agency that is concerned about citizen engagement. I’d like to continue with three more trends you need to consider…trends that turn marketing from a dirty word into a vital tool.

Trend # 3: Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience

captureIn the olden days of marketing, way back in the 20th century, marketing was composed primarily of outbound, interruptive campaigns. Marketers would create campaigns that were specifically designed to interrupt you from what you were thinking about and get you to think about them. They would leverage direct mail or advertising to deliver their message to a targeted audience. If successful they would interrupt the intended recipient (or unintended recipient) by getting their attention.

The Internet changed that. We no longer try to interrupt people from their thoughts. We now try to connect with them when they are thinking about us or the products and services we provide. It is at this precise time that our content engages them. Our content is the magnet that draws interested people to us.

But it isn’t enough just to engage them, we must also capture them at this moment. By “capture,” I mean we must provide them with engaging enough content that they will fill out a form, thereby giving us their name and contact information so we can connect with them later. Every government website should have a visible mechanism that allows citizens to sign up for topical alerts. This works similarly to the form in marketing. A government organization’s sign-up process should be straightforward, highly visible and on multiple pages. Citizens simply won’t keep coming back to your website over and over again to find the information they need. You must make it easy for them by providing topical alerts that they can receive via email or text.

Let your content be the magnet that draws your citizens to your digital properties and then do everything you can to capture them. This changes the nature of your dialogue from a one-time chat to an ongoing conversation. And that is exactly what a government communicator (and marketer) wants.

Trend # 4: Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is simply positioning yourself, or your organization, as a voice of knowledge and expertise in the marketplace of ideas. This is critical in helping people associate your organization with specific topics when looking for information to solve a problem.

Old school thinking may preclude government from participating in this type of activity. But why? If your organization has information or offers services, you are an expert. People want to hear from authorities. If you have can provide knowledge, why not position yourself as an expert and drive greater awareness to your organization and its mission?

The rule of a self-fulfilling prophecy is also at play here. If your communications position highlights your organization’s expertise, people will believe it. As more people start to think of your organization as full of experts, more people will begin to look to your organization for information. In addition, people will repeat what you say and even post links to your information. There can be a viral element to your messaging where it spreads apart from your own efforts. This is the goal of your online thought leadership activity.

The Internet opens the door to building thought leadership, and hence your audience, in a variety of ways. In addition to the content discussed above, you can leverage tools like webinars (online seminars and presentations) and public relations activities like press releases or media outreach. Align yourselves with other thought leaders by re-posting their content. Since video content is a powerful draw, use it liberally. The next time someone in your organization speaks at an event, post the video online in short segments. All of these things will help build thought leadership for your organization.

Again this all comes back to helping the public find information from content that you already have. Thought leadership is a powerful way to help you do that and achieve your mission.

Trend # 5: Social Media and Building Awareness

The days of ignoring social media are over. I’m sure most of you have some sort of social media presence – although some of you in government may not even be able to access your organization’s Facebook page at work! Still, social media cannot be overlooked as one of the greatest distribution channels ever created to help you build awareness.

build awearenessBuilding awareness is important because it will move people to engage with your organization when and if they have a need for information. Social media is the ultimate online tool to spread the word. This is true in part because you can engage people where they already congregate (think Facebook and Twitter) rather than requiring them to come to your website.

If you create content, it is absolutely essential that you post and promote it on your social media properties. Social media helps you cast as wide a net as possible, and it is through this exponential outreach that you can further build awareness about your organization and its mission.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics said, “We will no longer search for products and services, they will find us via social media.”

This is a critical point. Social media is indeed becoming a critical tool for how people find products and services. And its impact will only grow. 92% of children in the US have a digital footprint/shadow. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old, so the percentage of socially engaged people will only increase. 93% of marketers use social media for business. Government should, too. If you ignore this channel, you do so at your own peril.

To summarize I believe government organizations should embrace marketing – especially online marketing. Here are 5 trends that have changed the game:

  1. Content Marketing
  2. Storytelling
  3. Inbound Marketing that Captures Your Audience
  4. Thought Leadership
  5. Social Media and Building Awareness

Marketing is fundamentally about educating your audience on potential solutions you offer that can help solve their problems. Why would anyone shy away from that?

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.

If a Tweet is published in the Twittersphere and there are no Followers around to see it, does it have an impact? Unlike the classic tree falling in the forest scenario, this question has a resounding answer: No. It doesn’t take a famous philosopher to understand that even the most beautifully crafted Tweets, emails, or Facebook posts don’t count for much if there aren’t any stakeholders reading them.

BeatingOddsIn many ways, effective digital communications is all about the odds. The more people you reach, the better the odds are that some of them will take action. And just like gambling, the real communications “high rollers” are the ones who’ve figured out strategies to beat the odds. In our recent webinar, “Accelerate Your Outreach for Maximum Impact” GovDelivery Engagement Consultants Lauren Modeen and John Simpson offer a wealth of simple tips and tools for taking your government communications plan from the nickel slots to the high-stakes poker table.

Let’s roll the dice and look at a few of them:

Overlays

In the world of web property poker, overlays are a straight flush. Designed to grab the attention of stakeholders and convert one-time Web visitors to subscribers, overlays are simple, unobtrusive lightboxes that pack a big punch. When a user visits your website an overlay window will pop up on their screen asking them if they’d like to subscribe to updates and prompting them for an email address. By asking your Web visitor to sign up for updates and providing easy access to do so, overlays allow your organization to continue engaging with stakeholders without requiring them to continually visit your site. Deceptively simple but incredibly effective, we have seen government organizations that utilize overlays see an average increase of 250 to 500 percent in new subscribers.

Direct Sign-Up

When it comes to reaching new subscribers, where you put your sign-up box is just as important as what it looks like. Placing a simple sign-up box where visitors will easily find it can increase your organization’s number of new subscribers by an average of 30 percent. Though open website real estate may be hard to come by, dedicating a spot above the fold in the upper right or upper left corner next to your other communications icons will get you more return for your money in a high-stakes game.

Checkboxes

checkboxOnce you’ve played a winning hand, it’s time to collect your chips, right? Though it seems obvious, many organizations make the mistake of not taking advantage of a key opportunity. Adding a subscription checkbox at the bottom of any form on your website (e.g. the Contact Us form) that requires a user’s email address is a great way to avoid asking for the same information twice. Getting stakeholders to visit your website is the hard part, so making sure you maximize the opportunity to connect with them once they’re there is crucial.

For more tips, great government examples, and in-depth information about how you can beat the outreach odds and increase your mission impact by optimizing your communications, check out the full webinar.

The days of getting gold stars and an extra juice box for our accomplishments might be over, but that doesn’t mean we care any less about knowing when we’ve done a good job. As a government agency, it can be difficult to figure out if you’re getting your message across. Many private sector companies rely on click-through rates (CTR), which are calculated by looking at the number of people who clicked on a link in an email in relation to the number of people who received it, to big gold starhelp determine if their email campaigns are successful. But as we’ve discussed in other blogs, what works for the private sector doesn’t necessarily work for the public.

So how can your government organization measure the effectiveness of its emails? By looking at an entirely different metric altogether: Engagement Rate.

Why Engagement Rate?

Because many public sector emails are solely informational and don’t require any link clicks—say, for a tornado warning or transportation emergency—CTRs aren’t an accurate way of determining whether the message reached its intended audience. Additionally, because messages like these are urgent and need to be conveyed as quickly as possible, they generally won’t be sent at the optimal time to get the most click-throughs. Engagement Rate effectively resolves these issues. GovDelivery calculates Engagement Rate by taking the number of unique email recipients who opened an email or clicked on a link in an email over time and flagging them as engaged. The number of engaged users is divided by the total number of unique email recipients who received an email during the same time period. Activity is then tracked over a period of 90 days.

Why 90 days? Because one of the things that makes Engagement Rate such a successful metric to use is that it measures effectiveness by tracking engagement over time. Tracking Engagement Rates over time means that your organization is measuring against its own performance based on how engagement has increased or decreased over the course of the past quarter. By comparing how many subscribers opened your emails or clicked on a link one month versus another, you can start to gain an idea of what worked and what didn’t with your specific email strategy.

The comparison trap

It’s common for our clients to ask for an industry standard CTR to compare their efforts to. While this may seem like an easier way to get your hands on that Capri-Sun you so longingly covet, unfortunately it’s not the most accurate. Different sources will cite vastly different CTR percentages they consider to be successful, so there’s no real way of knowing what’s right.

With Engagement Rate, GovDelivery generally considers 50% engagement a success. However, this is where many organizations fall into the comparison trap. Just because a certain public sector agency consistently has above 50% Engagement Rates doesn’t necessarily mean their email campaigns are more effective than yours or should be mimicked. That organization might only send highly-targeted emails to a small list, and thus their Engagement Rate would be much higher than an organization responsible for sending out timely weather reports to a large number of people.

As humans, we tend to have an innate desire to compare ourselves to our peers. But if Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte decided to start comparing his lap time to his teammates instead of to his own previous times in order to measure whether his training regimen was successful, he wouldn’t be an Olympian much longer. When it comes to government communications, comparing your organization to others is a surefire way to shortchange yourself and base your strategy on misleading information. This is exactly why measuring Engagement Rate over time is so important. Every organization is unique, and in order to fully understand what worked and what didn’t, you can’t look anywhere else but in your own backyard.

Increasing your engagement

Once the 90 day period is up and you’ve calculated your Engagement Rate, what’s next? If your Engagement Rate is below 50% and you can’t quite figure out why, here are a few general tips for increasing engagement:

1) Good subject lines. The best subject lines in emails are short (usually under 50 characters), sweet and to-the-point. You want to hook your readers in while conveying exactly what’s included in the message. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what makes a subject line effective.

2) Use links. Utilize linking to avoid sending excessively long emails and to drive traffic back to your website. But make sure that the links are positioned properly and spaced out throughout the email. Don’t hold them all until the end, or you risk subscribers never getting past the “email fold” and missing out on valuable information.

3) Quality subscriber list. By making sure your list of subscribers only includes those people who are interested in the information, you increase the chance that they’ll actually engage with it. This is where utilizing a Digital Communication Management system can be especially beneficial.

To learn more about calculating your Engagement Rate, measuring engagement over time, and strategies for increasing your rate, download our new white paper, Industry Perspective on Engagement Rates for email messages.

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?

When you hear the word “trend,” your mind probably jumps instantly to fashion. Every spring and fall, designers pack the runways with models dressed in what is considered to be the latest and greatest in hair, makeup, and clothing. These trends set the tone for what will pop up in stores throughout the globe. However, when it comes to other types of trends, current technology trends can significantly help improve the success of your organization.responsive web design

Trends can help identify what customer’s desires may be, what the current and future markets are like, as well as identify what competitors are up to.

But just like those skinny jeans hanging in the back of your closet, or that iPhone 4 that you bought last summer, trends come and go. They change. And, just like fashions that may look great on supermodels but don’t look so great on you, what works for someone else may not work as well for your company.

After reading this you don’t have to go out and become an expert in all of these trends, or even apply them all to your current web design. The key is to learn a little about each one and see if there’s a way to integrate some of these ideas into your own organization that makes sense with your goals and objectives for success.

Advancements in mobile technology have brought mobile-friendly website trends to the forefront of 2013 trends. Here are a few trends that you should definitely pay attention to:

Parallax Scrolling Sites

Parallax scrolling sites have long been used in video games, but the trend is catching fire in the web design arena. Parallax scrolling allows designers to control the depth of design objects on the website that they are designing. With the help of HTML5 and CSS3, it helps the developer to use animations that look great and cost almost nothing. 3D images are possible as well as faster page speed. It is a cosmetic tool that can impress visitors that have never seen your site before. It’s your “wow” factor.

Large Buttons  

You have heard it before: “Bigger is better.” But it’s true, small buttons can be frustrating. Customers want to be able to see the same images on their mobile device that they do on their laptop at home or work. It shouldn’t be hard for them to see what’s on your website. Make it easier for them by not only making the buttons big, but use color to make them stand out even more. Convenience equals more return visits to your website, and therefore more business.

Vertical Scrolling 

Scrolling typically can be vertical or horizontal. However, vertical scrolling is important for mobile device users. It allows them to scroll down a page and be able to see the menu so they don’t have to scroll back up. It may seem like a no-brainer because it is. It is simple and it saves time.

But, if you’re like me, you feel like 2014 is already knocking on our door. So what are some upcoming trends that you should keep an eye out for in the next year? Here are a couple of design trends that are likely coming to a website near you very soon:

Flat Web Design 

Flat web design focuses on typography and the use of color. Typography has normally been used in the print world and now web designers use it to give their websites a much cleaner look. Imagery is used only when needed. This type of design tries to make the website easier to understand, with cleaner lines. Choosing the correct font type and size can help make the website stand out.

My typography professor in college would ask us to explain why we chose the font we did in our project, trying to get us to articulate why a certain font spoke to us, and what that said about us. The same deliberation should apply to your company with regard to flat web design. Make sure the type of font you choose reflects your company and its values.

Simplified website designs

It’s surprising for a company not to have a website, so having a website isn’t good enough anymore. You need to show visitors what differentiates your organization from others, and your website is a great tool to help you communicate that information. So make it crystal clear. Focus on your top priorities for your website and stick to them and that will help you in developing a simpler website. Keep the website layout as simple as possible, by avoiding unnecessary clutter that will distract the visitor from the message that you wish to convey.

As technology enables us to be more and more mobile, you should also make sure that your organization has a mobile version of its website for customers. The more your customers know about you and what you can do for them, the better.

These are just some of the web design trends that I can see taking off in the next year or so. Although some of these trends may fade, and future trends may not be implemented exactly the way people think they will, trends still provide some guidance to improve an organization’s Web presence. Many times, your organization’s website is the “face” of the organization, giving visitors and customers a clear first impression of your organization. Make it count.

After viewing this short list of current and future design trends, what other trends would you add to this list and why?

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.

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