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When it comes to spending money to acquire social media likes or followers, government organizations are simply losing an uphill battle.

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Tossing money into a gamed and faulty system simply isn’t worth the risk, when you could be investing in more permanent links with individuals in your community. Can social media be fun? Sure. Is social media worth investing heavy dollars into and counting on to be a primary communication link for the communities you serve? Absolutely not. Here’s why.

Many people see public-facing Twitter and Facebook accounts as an easy way to display their organization’s popularity by the numbers. But focusing on those numbers, and the perceived popularity they suggest, can lead to some questionable practices that cause big problems for government organizations.

Most people are aware by now that the effectiveness of social media relies heavily on numbers and complex algorithms, which are changing all the time. More followers, more likes, more retweets, and more comments are supposed to translate to content becoming more visible to the people who follow your organization on Facebook or Twitter.

A multimillion-dollar business has been born out of the buying and selling of false social media interactions in an effort to manipulate these algorithms. The goal of these services is to attempt to increase visibility, or perceived popularity, and many claim to eventually encourage more real human engagement.

Sign pole social media on black backgroundBut there’s a big problem with these services and this process. Your organization will always be behind the eight ball in a game that simply can’t be won. People are cheating the system now and finding new ways to cheat it all the time, to adjust to the ever-changing algorithms used by social media services. You simply can’t keep pace with people who are buying and selling these fake interactions. And if you do try to keep pace and spend your organization’s budget in this arena, your investment is likely to be both ineffective temporary.

Since Facebook and Twitter are constantly attempting to delete faulty accounts that are used for this type of manipulation, any attention that is gathered from these methods could be destroyed at any second. It’s also important to mention the bad press and embarrassment that can result if your organization is discovered purchasing fake social media interactions.

So why spend time or money investing in a temporary and dangerous social media practice, when you could be using that time and money to invest in a proven direct contact method like your database of email subscribers?Time-Money

Keep using social media to interact with your community, but whatever you do, avoid buying the buy-in. Since email is the most direct, subscriber-preferred, and effective method of digital communication, your email subscriber base should be your number one priority at all times.

For inspiration and new ways to grow that subscriber base, check out the new GovDelivery Digital Outreach Guide to see a variety of innovative methods that your organization can use to start gaining new email subscribers today.

Status quo methods of digital outreach often result in status quo audience growth results. Engaging a new and different audience requires innovative tactics, taking chances, and having some fun.

At GovDelivery, we offer a wide variety of solutions that help organizations expand their reach to all kinds of audiences. From cross promoting content through the GovDelivery Network, to using social media posting and sharing options, organizations are consistently extending their reach with GovDelivery. Catering to trends and adopting creative outreach methods often yield great returns on investment.

Many organizations have already begun enacting effective methods of creative outreach, especially in an effort to reach younger generations. Here are a few great examples of those who have found success in reaching youth audiences in our modern digital world:

 

The President Has a Sense of Humor

In an effort to promote Healthcare.gov, and the coming deadline to sign up for health insurance, President Obama recently made an appearance on the popular FunnyOrDie.com sketch comedy show “Between Two Ferns,” hosted by comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis.

obama between two ferns

If you’re connected to the Internet in any capacity, you probably saw the video itself, or at least mention of it. The unexpected appearance of President Obama was enough to draw attention, but the candor, comedy, and self-deprecation shown by both parties sent the sketch into full-blown viral video status. While the White House has already done an outstanding job reaching digital audiences through email, text messaging and social media, a White House Spokeswoman revealed that FunnyOrDie.com became the number one source of referrals to Healthcare.gov, the week of the video’s release. To date, the video has now been viewed over 20 million times.

Most organizations don’t have access to websites as popular as FunnyOrDie.com, but sites like YouTube and Vimeo allow organizations to broadcast their own video content, which can be promoted through direct (email and text messaging) and indirect (social media) channels. The lesson remains: creatively marketing your message and going to where your audience already is, can have a huge impact on your reach. As proven by this video, a little comedy and a new spin can go a long ways.

 

The CDC and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies have always been a pop culture staple, from comic books to horror films, but with new television shows like The Walking Dead, the trend has made a recent resurgence.

cdc zombie

Taking advantage of the fad, and appealing to a younger generation, the Center for Disease Control began a campaign to address public health and emergency preparedness based on a fictional zombie apocalypse. With zombie-themed posters, a website, a blog, and a graphic novel, the CDC committed to finding a fun and unique way to appeal to a certain audience, while still putting out the same valuable content they needed to.

Distributing health and preparedness tips through the vehicle of zombies allowed youth to have fun with learning, while making the information easier to digest for a younger generation. Needless to say, the campaign was a huge hit, and the CDC’s zombie content has gotten thousands of shares and comments since being released. Feel free to have fun with your content, especially when your goal is to educate your audience with tips and tricks.

 

Play and Learn with ChooseMyPlate.gov

MyPlate Kids Place

Promoting healthy diets and exercise to kids can be a difficult task. In an effort to engage youth and promote their organization’s mission, ChooseMyPlate.gov (a subdivision of the USDA), created a section of their website fully dedicated to the education and entertainment of kids.

With unique content including games, videos, songs, and printable activity sheets, ChooseMyPlate.gov created a safe space for kids to learn and spend time ingesting beneficial information, while better serving the organization’s mission.

 

In Conclusion

As evidenced by the above organizations, having a sense of humor, using creative marketing strategies, and catering to a younger generation, can have a huge impact on an organization’s digital outreach.

Going where the people are, not taking things too seriously, and playing off of trends, can have a great return on investment when done properly. If your organization is looking for a way to rejuvenate your content and expand your reach to a new and younger audience, consider taking a new approach, having fun, and spending some time outside the box.

 

By the GovDelivery Security Team

As a government communicator, you know your organization is constantly in the spotlight, and a phishing scam causes one fire you hope you never have to put out.  But when you operate with a high profile, you’re much more likely to become a target for phishers and spoofers. Here are a few tips on how you can prepare.

 What is spoofing and phishing?

  • Spoofing is when an unidentified sender attempts to send an email from your domain (or a similar domain) in order to trick unsuspecting recipients into doing something they might not normally do, such as opening an attachment or downloading a file.  Spoofers typically choose a sending domain similar to the target organization. For example, if the domain is state@agency.gov, spoofers might use state@agency.2.gov or state@agency.agency.gov.
  • Phishing is an attack where a sender tries to trick the recipients into giving up sensitive information, oftentimes resulting in financial gain for the sender. Phishing uses spoofing, as the sender attempts to send from your domain in order to collect information.

These aren’t technical attacks, but are known in the industry as social engineering attacks. Instead of trying to hack into your computer to get the information they want, hackers who use social engineering bypass technology controls and instead rely on the weakness of the users to simply provide that information directly. And unlike technical attacks, they’re far more difficult to protect against.

Government organizations send thousands of digital messages a week, making it a breeding ground for phishers and spoofers to take their domain, voice and email design in order to replicate a malicious message for the public.

Recent examples of spoofing and phishing in the public sector

The Ministry of Justice in the UK was the most recent target of spoofing.  Spoofers sent victims an email that appeared to come from the police department asking for the collection of parking fine payments. These emails instructed the recipients to download an attachment, claiming it was a form that required more information.

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The emails had been spoofed to make it appear as though they had been sent from the domain justice.gov.uk. The Ministry of Justice was able to quickly quell the situation by bringing awareness to the public. They got the word out through press releases in the local media, email communications and updates on their website.

With tax season coming up, one popular form of phishing is for unidentified senders to leverage phony Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms to collect data. Attackers might craft emails that appear to come from IRS.gov and request unsuspecting victims to fill in attached forms and fax them to a given number. This year, phishers have been using phone calls and emails in the State of Indiana, posing as IRS agents in order to target unsuspecting victims to trick them into giving out personal information.

How does GovDelivery help?

At GovDelivery, successful delivery of public sector messages to massive groups of people is our business. Public sector organizations send billions of messages per year using the GovDelivery Communications Cloud, and because we only send on behalf of government organizations, we have the best deliverability rates in the industry (98% of emails sent through GovDelivery are successfully delivered to recipients). Spoofing or phishing messages typically don’t reach the inbox, since they are sent from a phony domain. It’s less likely that your audience will even see a spoofed email, since these often land in the Junk or SPAM folders. Knowing that messages sent through GovDelivery reach the end recipient helps your audience better determine that your emails are legitimate (and spoofed messages aren’t).

In many cases, GovDelivery is also able to handle the technical side of email spoofing or phishing attacks, since we might notice an attack before our clients do. Fraudsters will often send high volumes of phishing emails at once, so we are able to monitor and detect any unusual activity around GovDelivery domains (such as an influx of replies or inquiries to our GovDelivery Subscriber Help Center) and immediately alert the impacted organization.

Even though smaller attacks may go unnoticed, some ISPs or recipients may also reach out and send an email to abuse@govdelivery.com or postmaster@govdelivery.com as well, at which point we’ll evaluate and alert the impacted organization.

However, if fraudulent senders attempt to spoof your organization’s domain without using the GovDelivery name, we may not be able to catch those incidents since we won’t have visibility into how the domain is being used.

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What can your organization do?

While it may seem tempting to sweep a phishing attack under the rug, offering resources and open communication to your audience is the best way to reduce the amount of people who will fall prey to a phisher or spoofer.

  1. A phishing or spoofing attack can quickly become a PR issue. Many organizations choose to get the word out immediately during or after an attack with website, email and text updates, similar to the Ministry of Justice. By bringing awareness to the public, organizations can reduce the likelihood that others will fall for to the attack
  2. As a proactive measure, GovDelivery recommends providing resources and information on your website, giving your audience a place to validate any questionable emails they receive. It’s always a good idea to remind your audience that you will never ask for sensitive personal information through email, such as a bank account or social security number. Here is a great example from HM Revenue and Customs in the UK.
  3. For more in-depth preparation and damage control tips, check out this comprehensive article from CSO Data Protection, “Phishing: the Basics”.

Remember, no organization is impervious to phishing or spoofing, but they can prepare themselves should the unfortunate situation occur. For more information on how to protect yourself, check out the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s article, “Phishing” Fraud: How to avoid getting fried by phony phisherman”.

 

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

When I talk with state and local government organizations that are interested in communicating with the public, there is always a 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?  Chances are, you won’t have to look far to find them.

For more information, contact info@govdelivery.com.

In 2014, new office holders and their communications teams will find new opportunities and challenges when they leave the campaign trail or the nomination hearings and take office.

As you begin your new positions, you can expect to be flooded with action items, but what about your communications? You’ve spent months reaching out and connecting with stakeholders. If done right, you can easily get a quick win by capitalizing on this momentum and carrying these outreach tactics over to your administration. To do this effectively, you need a powerful tool and proven strategies for success.  If you’re an elected official at a public sector entity that’s already using GovDelivery, you can rest easy knowing that you have that powerful tool in place.

Whether you, personally, are one of the new names, or you’re part of a team transitioning into a new administration, we’ve put together some guidance to help you capitalize on this important time and jump-start your communication efforts for the coming term.

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Step 1: Take Steps to Start Building Your Audience

You may already have a base of people that you can reach through digital channels.  Typically, elected officials choose to leave these databases as part of a campaign or external organization.  Applicable laws should be reviewed before uploading data from a campaign into government-owned systems, like GovDelivery.

However, many new officeholders choose to take the following steps to build their “post campaign” outreach:

  1. Setup a sign-up option that is prominently featured on your website.  There should be a direct sign-up box embedded in a visible location on all pages and you should consider using an “overlay” that will ask all new site visitors to sign-up. Here is an example from our test environment.
  2. At events and in emails sent to your campaign lists, you may be able to direct people to sign-up at the website you’ve put up for the office once it is launched.
  3. Make sure you are offering updates on specific topics.  “Updates from the Mayor/Governor” are not nearly as popular as “Transportation Strategy Updates” can be.

Step 2: Provide Great Content

contentexamplesThe most common emails we see from elected officials are general newsletters, but you have so much more going on: events, legislation, initiatives, and more.  Use video, blogs, pictures, and topic-oriented communication to draw in more sign-ups to your information and to engage users with what you send out.

Each touch point strengthens citizen engagement.

Mayors can send pictures from press meetings or visits to local businesses. City Council members could send video from local parks, promote summer recreation leagues, or document a new bridge being built, and state senators can send updates on new or pending legislation. Any activity or initiative that illustrates helping your community can be packaged and shared digitally.

Elected officials can also keep the media informed and drive awareness around press events. Storing media contacts and using private lists is a great way to quickly disseminate timely and accurate information to radio, television, newspapers and new media such as bloggers.

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For public sector organizations using GovDelivery, any content, such as pictures or videos posted to your website, YouTube, and other digital properties can automatically be distributed to your subscribers without you lifting a finger. Learn more about our Automation functionality here.

Step 3. Keep Track of Your Progress

How do you keep improving if you can’t measure the impact of what you’re doing? Individual and aggregate reports within GovDelivery provide insight into which pieces of content are the most engaging among your constituents. Metrics allow you to see what’s working, and what isn’t. Monitor these on a weekly or monthly basis to measure your progress over time and make necessary changes for better results.

GovDelivery provides an Account Performance Report, giving you a 360-degree view of the performance of your communications program. The best part? You can email a copy to anyone in your organization that contributes to, or cares about, your communications. Learn more about our Analytics functionality here.

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Step 4: Continue to grow your audience.

As your time in office continues, it’s critical to continue building your audience, so audit and make use of what you already have. Transportation groups typically have lists of subscribers for road closures and weather alerts. Parks and Recreation departments have contact information for those who have registered for events or community sports leagues. These untapped resources are your “Pot of Gold”, and they can also be sent an invite to sign up for information from you and your organization.

GovDelivery is already setup so that anyone new signing up to updates from any topic within your organization can automatically be shown the updates from your office (For example: just like Amazon cross promotes products, someone can sign up for the “Mayor’s Newsletter” and the “Mayor’s Transit Initiatives” right after they sign up for “Snow Emergency Alerts” from Public Works).  In addition to cross promoting signing up to your office’s content to people visiting your organization’s website, GovDelivery makes it possible to collaborate with other government organizations to reach even more people through the GovDelivery Network.

Your potential outreach may be much larger in this new position, and we hope some of these tips help you capitalize on the opportunity to reach more people and communicate in a world-class manner in your new role as office holder or staff member. By using GovDelivery to get the word out and keep your stakeholders informed, you can cross “successful digital communications” off your list… before you even take office.

Check out our Email Best Practices Guide and our Digital Outreach Guide to gain more best practices.

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor at GovDelivery

In spring of this past year, Gmail introduced their new inbox tabs, effectively separating incoming email content into general categories for their users, and adding a unique feature to the world of email. As the year comes to a close, Google has made another significant change to the Gmail service. Many email clients like Gmail or Outlook don’t display images in email by default, and require users to turn on images for each message or by send. Now, however, Gmail will be displaying all images in emails by default. Once again, Google has made an interesting and impactful change for those who work in digital communications and subscribers alike.

In just the few days since Google debuted this new feature, there’s been widespread conversation about how this change will affect the Gmail user experience, as well as the reporting metrics for email senders. To help you navigate the newest Gmail update, we’ve put together a simple explanation of the image display change, including how this will affect you and your organization.

How will displaying images by default work?

Automatically displaying images sounds like a pretty benign change, and for the most part it is – but there’s a lot happening behind the scenes. On the subscriber facing side, Gmail users won’t have to click that annoying “Display images below” link to be able to see images in their inbox.

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Outside of the convenience factor, Google is also touting safety and security enhancements as a result of the images feature, by serving images from their own secure servers.

As a quick refresher, email opens are tracked by email service providers using an invisible, single pixel image file in each email. When the email is opened, the image is downloaded from the email service provider’s server, and an open can be tracked. And since the tracking of email opens is directly related to image loading in emails, this change may have a significant impact on email metrics for your organization. The good news is that the change is likely for the better.

In the past, if a subscriber opened an email and read it, but chose not to click on the “Display images below” link, it was impossible to track their open. Now, however, Gmail will automatically be displaying those images, and thusly an open will automatically be tracked when a Gmail user opens an email, without them having to actively allow images.

images now displaying

For a more technical explanation of how and why Google is executing this change, you can read the announcement on the official Gmail blog by clicking right here.

So what does this mean for my organization?

The most likely (and noticeable) impact that this change will have on your organization is that open rates might increase slightly for your bulletins over time, as Google rolls out this update to all Gmail users. While there weren’t large numbers of Gmail opens that were untraceable before, there should still be a somewhat noticeable increase in the amount of opens you have from bulletin to bulletin, based on the fact that every open that occurs in a Gmail email client is now trackable. More generally speaking, this change should ultimately lead to more accurate reporting of opens for GovDelivery subscribers with a Gmail email address.

Are there exceptions to this?

Firstly, subscribers who aren’t interested in having images display automatically can turn this feature off in their Gmail settings; however automatic image loading will be the new default.

Secondly, there are certain ways of opening a Gmail email that won’t be affected by the new automatic image-loading feature. This applies to people who have a Gmail email address, but open their emails using another client (i.e. native email apps on iPhones and iPads, or Outlook and other desktop email clients). Due to the limited number of people who open their emails within the actual Gmail interface, there is some contention about how impactful this change really will be.

In Conclusion

At GovDelivery, we’ll continue to analyze and monitor the results of this new change to the way Gmail handles images, as well as the effect on reporting metrics. From everything we’ve seen thus far, we can confidently say that this update will give Gmail users a better experience while improving GovDelivery’s ability to track those users, and provide your organization with more accurate metrics – an all around win-win situation.

With over twelve million Gmail subscriptions to public sector communications (and counting), using friendly and engaging image content throughout your bulletins is more important now than ever. For information and best practices on creating engaging and impactful email content, you can download our Email Best Practices Guide right here.

As powerful winter storms sweep across the United States, receiving critical safety information can mean life or death for some. With over 67%* of the US covered in snow this week, government entities across the US are hunkered down, making sure the public gets the information and resources they need to make life-saving decisions about travel, shelter, and more.

In Minnesota, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul began promoting their winter weather communications weeks ago. While government organizations typically use various channels to post weather information (like social media), the main focus in these cities was to collect subscribers by requesting email addresses and phone numbers in advance, through print mailers, television, and radio advertisements. By continuously building lists they own, these two cities ensure they can communicate with, and actually reach, the largest number of people possible (instead of hoping citizens saw a Facebook post or tweet about winter weather).SnowMailers

In addition to reaching out before the winter season begins, another imperative moment to collect subscribers is when a storm actually hits. A flurry of traffic will flow into government web properties, creating the perfect opportunity to get a larger percentage of the population signed up to inclement weather information.

The City of Minneapolis also offers a contextual sign-up link on all of its winter weather information web pages to grab the attention of anyone looking for snow information while browsing the website. This is the best opportunity to convert web visitors into direct subscribers of their digital information. And by cross-promoting other subscription topics from the city to those who sign up for snow information, Minneapolis is able to grow its audience for many other departments such as public safety, transportation, or parks and recreation.

MplsWebsite

Over the past few days, hundreds of thousands of email and SMS alerts were sent by government organizations using GovDelivery to warn members of the public about impending severe weather. Through email and SMS messages, organizations are able to alert subscribers days or hours in advance of approaching storms. Using GovDelivery automation tools, Maine Emergency Management Agency and the City of Baltimore were able to trigger these messages using localized content from the National Weather Service. If someone is traveling or unable to get information from a televised weather report, an email to their inbox or  SMS text message to their phone is the most efficient way to proactively inform them.

NWS_Examples

Keeping travelers safe in the midst of slippery roads, downed trees, or detours also requires mass communication. State agencies like Oregon Department of Transportation send winter weather driving warnings and preparation tips.

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The Washington Department of Transportation sends real-time SMS text messages to inform travelers about road conditions and whether or not snow tires are necessary. With real-time alerts, travelers can find out what’s happening on roads throughout the state without having to constantly check Twitter or the department’s website.

They get the information they need, controlling what updates they receive by subscribing only to the topics they want. And, maybe most importantly, if there’s a critical road closure, the SMS or email message that alerts residents and visitors to a potentially life-threatening road event can help save lives and protect property.

The public also needs to be informed of office and building closures or the temporary suspension of services. Instead of waiting for citizens to call in about shelter information or building closures, the City of Auburn, Washington and the City of Dallas, Texas use GovDelivery to proactively send information about shelter locations, hours of operation, and closures of buildings and services. These communications reduce strain on internal resources by keeping the public updated before, during, and after a severe storm.

dallasauburn

While many parts of the United States are already in the thick of the winter storm season, it’s not too late to reach out to existing subscribers to get them to sign up for life saving weather information. The City of St. Paul sends a yearly email to remind citizens to update their contact information, provide resources, and encourages them to share weather communications with their friends and family. It’s also a great idea to set a calendar reminder to send a similar email reminder next Fall.

StPaul_email

With pending severe weather across the country, it’s more important than ever to leverage the GovDelivery to provide citizens with the critical information they need to stay safe. For more tips on how to make sure the maximum number of people are receiving your critical information, check out our Best Practices for Digital Outreach.

*Source: MPR News

GovDelivery client King County, Washington recently kicked off a new mobile communications initiative to spread the word about their healthcare offerings and services. Here is a guest post from King County on how text messaging is helping the organization reach more people. 

An innovative new texting program is making it a little easier to find in-person help with the Washington Healthplanfinder website.

It takes time — and some comfort with online shopping — to navigate the Healthplanfinder website, where residents can compare plans and enroll. For people who’ve had trouble with the website, or are unable to get online, King County has trained more than 600 in-person assisters, real people who can help folks make tough decisions about insurance.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Now, King County residents can use text messages to meet up with one of those in-person assisters.

People can text “KING” plus their zip code to 468311 and get information about opportunities for help in their area. For instance, this weekend, the Healthplanfinder Mobile Enrollment Tour is visiting Kent (Saturday, 2-5 pm). If someone in Kent can’t make it during those hours, they might text “KING 98032″ to 468311. This person will get additional upcoming times and locations where they can find assistance in Kent – all sent directly to their phones.

Someone who lives in Capitol Hill might text “KING 98122″ and receive times and locations for Central Seattle.

A similar idea proved valuable to connect people with a nearby flu-shot during the 2009 pandemic flu scare in California.

Subscribers get a text message each time there’s a nearby enrollment opportunity — so a secondary benefit is getting that occasional reminder to sign-up for insurance.

The program isn’t just about convenience either – it’s about equity. Young, low-income people of color use text messaging more than any other demographic. These people are also a lot more likely to be uninsured, and they’re the people the Affordable Care Act can help the most. Where the Internet and traditional media fall short, text messaging fills in the blanks.

The program is currently offered in English, but a Spanish version will be available by the end of the year.

Other health jurisdictions, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are offering text message programs, but none this robust.

“This program, like any good text message program, is designed to provide customized, valuable information that will encourage people to take action,” said Public Health – Seattle & King County Public Information Officer Hilary Karasz, who has spent several years studying text messages as a tool for public health practice.

Congratulations to Carl Haggerty for winning the Leadership Excellence award from the Guardian’s Public Leaders Network! Haggerty is the Digital Communications Manager at GovDelivery client, Devon County Council. He champions and develops the digital agenda within the council and oversees the council’s corporate web presence and intranet. We were lucky to have him as one of the featured speakers at last week’s annual UK Digital Communications Event, Reaching More People.

The Guardian featured an article on Carl last month describing his merits that won him the Leadership Excellence award:

“The award goes to Haggerty for his energy and openness in building on his belief that local government should be both open and digital, and for his work in a part of the country – rural south-west England – not always renowned for its innovation. Haggerty… is responsible for developing ways to engage and involve local people and encourage greater democratic and community participation”.

Carl’s energy for building an open and digital local government was evident in his presentation at “Reaching More People” where he spoke about the current state of local government. While organisations are facing the challenges of moving to digital services, Carl also said there’s a huge opportunity right now in public sector communications. “We still have a huge role to play in terms of providing public information”, Carl said. Ensuring that communications are designed with a “user-driven” mentality is one of the top priorities in the changing digital landscape.

In his presentation, he noted, “There’s a shift for us to think about how we really focus on user needs not just assuming that someone turns up on a council’s home page and then starts there and navigates through some kind of glorious organisational structure. But actually it’s about putting the user first and the organisation is kind of irrelevant in that point. If we have a role to play to provide public information we should do it. If we have a role to provide a service we should do it. And if we have a clear role to provide information and advice that help people find services in their local community we should do it”.

Carl reviewed three main principles that are “reusable” across organisations for communicating with audiences. Communications should be:

  • User-driven and evidence based
  • Targeted and personalised
  • Digital by Design

ReusablePrinciples

The idea of moving to a self-service, self-help communications strategy is one that Devon County Council has been successfully putting into practice. If you’d like to hear more from Carl and his tips on developing an “open by default, digital by design” government communications strategy watch his presentation here.

Congratulations to Carl on the award and an engaging presentation last week! You can follow Carl or the Devon County Council on Twitter or visit the council’s website to learn more about what they are doing to improve their digital agenda.