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Author Archives: Mary Yang For GovDelivery

For government communicators and IT professionals, driving traffic to the website is one clear metric that can be tracked and analyzed over time as a measure of success. And, with Google Analytics and similar tools, you can point to increased Web traffic as part of your success as an IT professional or communicator.

But in this era of digital noise, you can’t trust that simply building a good website will produce the traffic you want. If you work for a larger government organization or program you may have the budget to run a massive advertising campaign to attract visitors to your site, but if you’re like most public sector organizations and programs, you’re faced with decreasing budgets and a strong push to drive mission goals and prove value.

That’s why we believe in not just promoting your website and the content you have for the public, but also in the need to build direct digital connections with your stakeholders and nurture a relationship with them over time. That’s where digital outreach can really impact your goals in clear and measurable ways. In a recent Washington Post article on Healthcare.gov, the reporter found that:

GovDelivery…was the number-one source of referral traffic to Healthcare.gov in September and October. That means when a user came to Healthcare.gov from a link on another site, that site was frequently Govdelivery.com — more often, even, than the websites of Medicaid, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services…[So] all that traffic to Healthcare.gov from GovDelivery? It came through…email…Not Facebook, which accounted for roughly 2.6 percent of traffic. Definitely not Twitter, which drove only 1 percent of Healthcare.gov’s visitors to the site…

In addition to being the number-one referrer to Healthcare.gov, the service has also managed to sign up more than 1 million subscribers for the Department of Health and Human Services’ ACA email list, a company spokeswoman said. (The department’s goal is 7 million.) [emphasis mine]

Healthcare.gov screenshot

The folks in charge of running and maintaining Healthcare.gov and the marketplace recognized that they needed not just a one-time hit, but a true digital connection to communicate with stakeholders on a continual basis. Since 85% of adults with a household income of less than $30,000 and 93% of adults with a household income between $30,000 and $49,999 use email, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, it only made sense to connect with those stakeholders through digital channels.

But what does this mean for you? To start, do you know how engaged your stakeholders are with your communications? Does your website get the traffic you want it to? If individuals come to your website to seek out more information, do you know if they are coming back to check out your new content? Are you reaching all of the stakeholders you want to be reaching? These questions are inextricably linked. Reaching more stakeholders enables you to drive more website traffic, just like Healthcare.gov. And by allowing stakeholders to sign up to receive specific topics through digital channels they prefer, you now know what’s important to each individual and how they want to receive it, so you can proactively communicate relevant information when there’s something new to share. Over time, these interactions deepen your relationship with stakeholders and help build trust.

Thankfully, if you’re a GovDelivery client already, you’re in good hands. The Washington Post also reported that:

GovDelivery definitely falls in that “digital outreach” sphere…[it] is the contractor that powers just about any email alert you get from a federal (and in many areas, local) government agency. Think weather alerts, emergency notices, small business newsletters — those are all run through GovDelivery…

With more than 1,000 government organizations of all sizes across the US, UK, and Europe currently using the GovDelivery platform to connect with more than 65 million stakeholders worldwide, we’re ready and excited to help you build and maximize those stakeholder connections to meet your mission or program goals and drive real value.

For more strategies & tactics you can implement easily check out our recent Essential Digital Strategies Guide for Government Communicators . Or contact your Client Success Consultant  to find out what you can do with the GovDelivery platform to boost your outreach.

How to Gain Subscribers During Special Events

May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Mary Yang For GovDelivery in Best Practices | Events | Tips & Tricks - (0 Comments)

Many government organizations and agency departments plan and promote special events or seasonal occasions that relate to the constituency they serve and support. Highlighting these events through communications and digital content provides a fun and timely way to interact with the public, and can even serve as a platform for gaining subscribers and engaging citizens long-term.

earthThe Environmental Protection Agency replaced its normal home page with specially designed interactive presentations to commemorate Earth Day. The overlay, which included a stunning photo of Earth from space, was a visually pleasing way to inform the public about Earth Day and related events the EPA was sponsoring. The special home page provided slide shows, links to events for volunteers, and an invitation to send in photos from home.

While the EPA’s Earth Day home page is a great example of tailoring digital content to inform and educate stakeholders on issues that impact an organization’s mission, the organization missed a prime opportunity to offer an easy opt-in for email alerts. An out-of-the-ordinary web element like a special home page or highlighted overlay is one of the best ways government communicators can spark interest from a visitor and subsequently call attention to the proactive digital communications offered by the organization. Techniques such as these can even double or triple sign-ups to subscriber lists.

A sign-up form or link is easy to add on to a specially designed event home page and offers a convenient call-to-action for visitors attracted by special event information. This approach leverages the additional traffic that might result from a special event and also maximizes the long-term impact of the short-term custom content by offering ongoing email updates to visitors with specific interests.

On special days or events such as Earth Day, agencies like the EPA can turn new visitors looking for event-specific information into stakeholders by asking them to subscribe. Be sure to offer updates on a variety of topics, and consider a category of updates for subscribers interested in special events or holiday-related information in particular. Taking advantage of times of peak interest in your department or agency’s website can result in big wins in subscriber numbers and stakeholder engagement.

Has your department tied subscription sign-up opportunities into promotions for special events going on in the community? Share your tips on turning one-time special event visitors into lifetime stakeholders in the comments.

Highlight on Accessibility

January 18th, 2013 | Posted by Mary Yang For GovDelivery in GovDelivery Features - (0 Comments)

By Billy Reisinger, Senior Software Engineer, GovDelivery

WeCo_logoGovDelivery is passionate about helping government entities reach their citizens through digital communications.  We are in the business of spreading the word – and we want every single message recipient to be able to consume information easily and quickly.  Most of the time, this means reading an email or text message. Sometimes, it’s watching a YouTube video. But what we forget is that many times, those folks to whom information is delivered are living with some sort of disability, and our government clients are mandated to make their communications accessible to every person regardless of ability.

As part of our mission to make our product accessible, we have an ongoing partnership with WeCo, a company that provides accessibility training and certification.  It is striking to know that, according to WeCo, 20% of the active US workforce has some form of a disability.  Given such a large percentage, it is critical to our business and our clients’ success that we build our products to be accessible from the start.

To that end, several of the technical, client support, and marketing staff here at GovDelivery recently participated in an informative training with several members of WeCo. They helped us assess and improve the accessibility of several of our technologies and provided thoughtful discussion on what kind of digital actions we need to be cognizant of from an accessibility standpoint.  Not only is WeCo is an excellent resource for accessibility training, but they also employ experts in the field of accessibility – people with disabilities – to educate and test their clients’ products.

We’re excited about our ongoing partnership and how the work we do together can help government organizations distribute information as widely as possible and help those living with a disability receive information that they want or need. To that end, WeCo has recently launched a crowdfunding initiative on Indiegogo to spread the word on the unique and critical service they provide. If you’re passionate about accessibility, take a look and find out more about the important work they do.

If you work in or around Federal government in technology, it’s impossible to have missed the White House’s new strategy for the federal government, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. In the White House blog, U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel discussed the strategy as a critical roadmap for government to take advantage of technological advances and ultimately deliver better services to the American people through digital means.

While the strategy is important, much of it needs further interpretation and deeper analysis. But there were real-world examples throughout the roadmap that offered clear insight into how Federal agencies could deliver against the strategy. One such example was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is “liberating web content” by using a “create once, publish everywhere mindset.” Essentially, the CDC syndicates their content and data via application programming interfaces (APIs) so that information was seamlessly flowing into multiple channels. The CDC example was one of the most clear and immediately applicable pieces of the strategy to me. It’s easy to see how other Federal agencies could provide official content while enhancing their digital interactions with the public in a similar way by automating content distribution to various channels.

A more recent example of this “create once, publish everywhere” approach is at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which recently launched two widgets to allow anyone to easily publish and distribute FSIS content on other digital properties (websites, blogs, etc.):

  • News & Events Widget consolidates several feeds from FSIS’s email subscription service and provides access to news releases (including recalls) and newsletters.
  • FSIS Policy Widget consolidates the following feeds from FSIS’s email subscription service: FSIS Notices and Directives, Federal Register issuances, scenario-based training, compliance guides.

FSIS_widget

The FSIS mission relies heavily on public outreach as it is “responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.” This is critical for the public and stakeholders, including farmers, grocery store suppliers, and more. FSIS’s widgets allow specific information to be broadcast broadly beyond typical communication channels, such as press releases or website updates. Stakeholders or even just the general public can take the code for the widget and use it on their digital properties, helping to promote official content much more quickly and widely.

The FSIS widgets pull directly from digital communications that FSIS is already producing, so keeping the information in the widgets updated does not entail any additional actions or resources. The widgets automatically populate with the most up-to-date news or stories, such as food safety tips and updates during severe weather and recent food recalls. Furthermore, FSIS’s widgets provide an embedded ability for the public to sign up for ongoing updates from FSIS via email — a service that already has over 100,000 active users and that links back to their website, helping to increase web traffic. Leveraging information-sharing widgets to syndicate content saves FSIS time, money and resources, and it also provides the public and partners with an easy way to redistribute relevant and valuable information that directly impact people’s lives and safety.

The Digital Government strategy provides a clear path to delivering better citizen services by leveraging technology and urging government organizations to “go digital.” While there are many milestones to meet, the truth is more than half of all Federal agencies – such as the National Guard Bureau, Disability.gov, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – are already managing digital communications using a cloud-based platform with open APIs to easily reuse and redistribute content so there is a firm foundation in place to deliver progress against milestones rapidly. FSIS’s widgets are just one clear example of the impact of how creating once and publishing everywhere can provide greater value for both the public and government.

GovDelivery client, Maricopa County Air Quality Department, was recently recognized by the National Association of Counties (NACo) with a 2012 Achievement Award for the County’s Rapid Response Notification System, which alerts residents and stakeholders of a pollution problem and provides on-site response from department inspectors and stakeholders to identify and discourage pollution activity to reduce the risk of pollution impacts.

Maricopa County enjoys many days with clean air, but there are several days out of the year when air pollution levels approach, or even go above, the federal health standard. The Air Quality Department’s mission is to provide clean air so residents and stakeholders can live, work and play safely. To help do this, the Air Quality Department maintains a robust ambient air monitoring system with 23 fixed monitoring stations reporting hourly readings. These readings provide air monitoring data that feeds into the notification system and uses automation to create the messages that alert citizens and stakeholders.

We wanted to take a moment to congratulate Maricopa County for being one of only three counties across the country to be recognized by NACo with 33 Achievement Awards. We’re excited about the work that we’ve done with the Air Quality Department, and we definitely think their success is a testament to the ways that governments can help keep residents and stakeholders safe and healthy with digital communications.

 

Digital Communication Best Practices Guide Now Available

May 10th, 2012 | Posted by Mary Yang For GovDelivery in Best Practices | Client News | Tips & Tricks - (0 Comments)

Last week, GovDelivery released a new guide – Public Sector Digital Communication Management Best Practices: The Critical Role of Email – that details tips and strategies culled from more than 500 state, local, federal and international government organizations.

With all the buzz around social media, why is this guide focused on email? The PEW Internet and American Life Project’s recent survey of internet usage showed that 92% of adult online users using email. It’s clear that email is the central hub of online communication. With this knowledge, it’s critical for government communicators to incorporate email as the cornerstone of any communication strategy or outreach effort.

Pew Internet chart

The guide provides public sector employees with more than 20 pages of comprehensive best practices around digital communications and email, and it’s broken up into three main sections:

  • Effectiveness: building the largest possible base by leveraging existing contact lists and promoting sign-up options across organization websites and partners
  • Efficiency: streamlining and automating complex communications across email, SMS/text messaging and social media
  • Engagement: driving users to online and offline activities that create the most value for the public and the organization, ultimately creating mission value and changing behaviors that will create an immediate or, in some cases, lasting impact

The guide showcases examples from all levels of government – from Louisville, KY to King County, WA to the White House and Driving Standards Agency (UK) – to give you a clear idea of how your peers are implementing some of these digital communication best practices.

Here are a few of the tips that I found most interesting:

Effectiveness: Use Social Media to Get More Subscribers and Launch Email Outreach into Social Media

This may seem counter-intuitive but how many citizens know that your city, county, state, department or federal agency has a Facebook page? Or a Twitter feed? Or a blog? By leveraging social media to promote your email subscription services and vice versa, you reach a substantially larger audience.

Remember, it isn’t about communicating through a single channel. You want to push your information out as broadly as possible to reach as many people as you can.

Efficiency: Automatically Send Email Content to SMS and Social Media Channels

With the brilliance of technology these days, you should be able to automate your communication channels so you aren’t manually posting in several different channels.

This means that you should look for a platform or solution that allows you to create an email update and have that update post directly to social media channels or sent via SMS/text message at the same time.

Engagement: Content Best Practices – Provide a Clear Call to Action

In the business-to-consumer or business-to-business world, it’s easy to have a clear call to action: “buy this new product” or “download this coupon.” In the public sector, this hasn’t been as widely followed. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. This is definitely one of those best practices from the private sector that the public sector can adapt and adopt.

When a reader takes an action from your email newsletter, that is true engagement. And for the public sector, engagement helps drive mission value. For example, in the Midwest, an email update that alerts citizens to snow emergencies and urges them to move their cars off the street so their cars don’t get towed provides a clear call to action that benefits everyone and provides immediate and long-lasting value.

These are just three tips from the guide that I found useful. For more tips, download the full guide at http://bit.ly/GDDCMGuide.

Does your government organization utilize any communication strategies or tactics that have been highly successful? I’d love to hear them. Share your best practices in the comments.

3 Tips on Reaching a Broader Audience with Your Email

April 10th, 2012 | Posted by Mary Yang For GovDelivery in Best Practices | Tips & Tricks - (0 Comments)

In an earlier blog post, Top 3 Email Tips to Engage Your Stakeholders, we lay out some simple tips on crafting targeted email messages, effectively conveying your message and eliciting responses from your audience. Once you have identified the reason your audience should read your message, worked on a clear and personable communication style, and provided an interactive process for your audience to respond to your information, it is time to consider how to make your email marketing strategy work even better.

Creating powerful and engaging messages for your subscription list will help you attract and retain subscribers, but where do you go from there? Here are three tips on how to ensure your emails reach their optimal target.

1) Save Your Emails from the Spam Filter

A study on commercial email subscriptions revealed that over 20% of permission-based email does not reach the inboxes of intended subscribers. So, how do you keep your emails out of your audience’s spam filters?

Let Your Audience Control Email Frequency

Some users would like a daily reminder of what is going on with your communications, while others may prefer a weekly overview or emails containing information limited to specific topics. Provide the reader with the option to select from daily updates to weekly digests when they sign up for your subscription. Allow them to decide how often they receive messages and they will be less likely to mark your message as spam in the future.

Make Your Message So Good, Your Readers Will Miss It When It’s Gone

Following our tips on creating messages that are compelling, entertaining, personalized and interactive will help you build email communication that your audience looks forward to as a source of value and timely, relevant information. Work to continually improve your content and achieve the reputation of a trusted source, and your audience will let you know when they are not receiving your subscription. Gaining this type of feedback from your readers enables you to respond to any deliverability issues.

Work with a Partner that Provides High Deliverability

Email deliverability is much more complex than many people realize. If you’re sending your email out with an in-house solution, you have to manage all the technical aspects of different email formats, spam filters, and Internet Service Provider (ISP) relationships to ensure they remain healthy, while measuring the deliverability rate of your emails. That’s a lot of work! If you feel that time and effort would be better focused on other aspects of your communications, put a trusted email marketing partner to work! GovDelivery is just one example of a partner that can coordinate your subscriptions, and we offer a 98% delivery rate and the peace of mind that someone with email marketing experience is getting your email to the inbox of your readers.

2) Test Your Email Format

Do you know if you get more opens and click-throughs with plain text or HTML emails? Plain text and HTML emails each have pros and cons. Plain text emails look more like the emails your readers might receive from a friend, and all email programs will display these messages in a consistent way. HTML messages allow formatting like colored text, images and links, and support advanced design features like columns and headers. You may get more clicks and opens with one version versus the other, so be sure you try and continually test both to gauge what your subscribers prefer.

3) Try New Methods to Build Your List

“How do I build my list?” may be the holy grail of email marketing because it is not immediately clear what successful subscription lists are doing right. You need to hone in on what makes your target reader hand over their email address to a subscription list. Here are a few options to consider:

Use an Overlay

Using an overlay, which darkens your website and highlights a small box for email sign-ups can help double or triple sign-ups to your email list.

The Department of Interior recently launched an overlay and saw dramatic results. They were able to increase their email sign-ups from 80 to 90 sign-ups per day to over 300!

Department of Interior Web Overlay

To find out what works best for your organization, try testing an overlay form for a month and see what results you receive versus your typical sign-up placement.

The New Trend: Use a Prominent Sign-up Box

If you don’t want to use a pop-up form or an overlay, you can try placing your sign-up box in the top or middle of your website’s screen where even mobile visitors will see it immediately. This way, you can ask for email sign-ups in a way that can’t be missed. Your reader has the opportunity to sign up easily if interested or continue to the rest of your content without disruption. Best of all, this method also successfully generates two to three times the number of email sign-ups as a less-prominent sign-up form.

The City of Cerritos is a great example, with a prominent sign-up box on their homepage. The graphics and visual also helps emphasize the call to action to sign up for updates.

City of Cerritos home page

Provide Social Proof and Incentives

There are two key things to include in your sign-up box. First and foremost, ask for the reader’s email address. Second and almost as importantly, provide social proof for why they should subscribe and continue to subscribe to your messages. An automated calculation based on the number of subscribers will help make your case: “Join over 20,000 in-the-know citizens.”

As a bonus, include a short message or a direct incentive to convince the reader why they should sign up. The message might promise “Weekly tips,” “Daily news” or “Personalized links,” while some subscription lists offer an incentive in the form of a PDF e-book, brochure or paper to first-time subscribers. For example, the CDC offered a zombie comic book, while FEMA provided a list of citizen preparedness tips.

Government organizations looking to connect with their citizens via email marketing and subscription lists are already on the right track by providing timely and relevant information, enabling interaction and conversation between readers and the organization, and defining an official yet approachable internet persona. By following these tips for even more effective email marketing, you can leverage your carefully crafted messages to reach a broader audience and produce a bigger impact.

Top 3 Email Tips to Engage Your Stakeholders

March 28th, 2012 | Posted by Mary Yang For GovDelivery in Best Practices | Tips & Tricks - (1 Comments)

Email is one of the most powerful mediums of communication in our technology-driven world. It is cheap; it is effective; and it almost instantaneously broadcasts to millions of clients. Recent studies have shown that, while social media communications is increasing significantly, “email continues to deliver the largest share of both impressions and visitors.” But, if people don’t read your email, they won’t get the message you’re trying to send. This means it’s imperative for government organizations to carefully craft messages in order to communicate effectively with the public.

Crafting an engaging email requires some basic tenets of good writing: having a reason to write, successfully communicating that reason and eliciting a response (i.e. creating engagement) from your audience. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1) Have a reason to write

Why do you read anything? A good email, like a good book, needs to have interesting and relevant content. After all, if readers of your email are engaged and interested, they are more likely to pass on this information, respond to it, or interact with it in other ways.

Is your message compelling or, at least, entertaining?

Remember that subscribers are, first and foremost, human beings. They are receptive and respond to what they find appealing. Your message content determines if your subscribers read and respond or ignore your message. You can make a difference here. Your subscribers have already taken the first step of opting-in to receive messages from you, trusting that you have relevant information to share with them that is important, but you can help them take the next step of interacting with your content by providing information that is relevant or attractive. For example, a look at the 2011 State & Local Communications Report shows the kinds of topics that gained the most subscribers in 2011 and clearly demonstrates what types of information the public is looking for:

2) Communicate clearly

Having a reason to reach out to your subscribers and sending relevant information is great, but you also need to communicate clearly in your message. Part of communicating clearly is being personable and conversational. Your readers need to know that they are receiving communications from people, not automatons. There are a couple of key tips to help you communicate clearly and ensure that your subscribers are paying attention to your messages: :

Be recognizable

People are most likely to open an email from someone they know and trust. In today’s world, fear of viruses, scams and spam have made email users savvier about the information that gets filtered out. People must be able to identify the message as one to keep, which is only possible if the email comes from a source that is easily verified and trusted. Government organizations will have official .gov email addresses, but your agency should also take steps to ensure that emails have an equally email persona (e.g. “City of Minneapolis” is more trustworthy than “Judy Wellsworth”).

Personalize your message

Next, be creative and informative with your subject line. Subject lines can motivate a reader to open the message. Think about what’s important to your target audience or the public today. What do they connect with, what are their concerns, what do they want to learn more about? This can help you determine your content and shape your subject lines. For example, GovDelivery’s 2011 Federal Digital Communications Report shows that the most-shared government communications and subject lines were ones that connected easily with citizens – alerts that impacted daily life, such as the IRS increasing mileage reimbursement rates and information on a more national scale, such as the official moment of silence time in remembrance of September 11th.

Next, although it may seem like a small thing, personalize the email to the individual recipient. This can make a big difference in getting someone to read your message. Wouldn’t you want to read a message that was addressed to you, with your name at the beginning of the email, rather than a generic message sent to “Resident?” It is simple and easy to do, with the right personalization macros, and the payoff can be huge!

3) Elicit a (positive) response in your target audience

Just like a book, if you get the reader to open your email, then don’t disappoint them. Some tips on how to avoid disappointment are:

Identify the type of response desired

Do you want your users to use the information you provide, forward your message or take action in some way? Once you have decided how you want your users to interact with the information you are providing, ensure that they have a way to do so, e.g. at the end of your email, offer a space where they can provide feedback or a way to easily forward your message to their family and friends.

Give them a reason to read your next communication

It is important for government organizations to be timely with their emails, sending out pertinent information about upcoming opportunities with enough time for users to plan for them or about current topics of interest while they are still current. For instance, USA.gov recently blogged an answer to a question from a citizen, titled “Why the Price of Gas is Rising.” With recent news stories of gas in Florida reaching $6 a gallon, this email was timely, gave the public information that was relevant and engaging. This means, the next time USA.gov sends out an email, citizens have a good reason to open the next email. Give the public something extra and current.

As a government organization, you often are at the forefront of news and information. Harness your direct connections to information to provide timely updates to the public, and your government organization will accelerate its growth in reaching the public through email as well as interact and engage with them in a much more personalized manner. You’re already working hard at growing your subscriber base – now maximize your impact by implementing some of these simple tips.