A blog for GovDelivery Clients
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GearsBy Rishi Vajpeyi, Solutions Consultant

Among content management systems—software that enables publishing, editing and modifying content on a website—Drupal continues to be a major player in the public sector space following its widespread adoption by the White House, Small Business Administration, House of Representatives, Department of Energy, and Department of Education, to name just a few customers.  In fact, the United States Federal market has several hundred websites launched or in the process of launching with Drupal. State governments have also begun adopting Drupal as their content management system due to the plethora of open-source, government specific modules currently in circulation.  To date, 175 state-government websites across 38 states and territories are running or launching on Drupal, and this number is expected to grow.

Government organizations are putting more effort than ever into building dynamic and engaging websites. However, the opportunity to provide information to website visitors is limited to their visit. In order to offer the greatest service to the visitor, organizations need to give them the opportunity to continue to receive information even after they leave a website.  The GovDelivery Drupal integration allows government organizations to make their website content available as outbound digital communications, increase their digital outreach and provide mailing capabilities that are both secure and scalable.

This month, GovDelivery is excited to launch new and updated modules that allow organizations running Drupal to enhance the power of their website by leveraging GovDelivery’s digital communications platform and messaging services. The new modules available within the Drupal interface are the Subscription Sign-Up Service, Topic Creation Service and Integrated Transactional Messaging Service.

Email subscription boxes drive an average of 30% more subscribers when positioned correctly throughout your web properties. The GovDelivery Sign-up module allows Drupal administrators to place sign-up boxes anywhere within a Drupal website to convert more website visitors into direct email or SMS communication subscribers.  These sign-up boxes connect to the GovDelivery digital communications subscription process, making the collection and organization of your digital audience easier than ever.

Does your organization have multiple departments? Or a variety of topics that your audience should know about? With the Topic Creation Service module, organizations can easily take advantage of cross-promoting information across a breadth of topics. The Topic Creation module integrates with GovDelivery’s digital communications platform to create subscription topics for every taxonomy term or content tag within the Drupal website, allowing website visitors to subscribe to these topics. When a new page, story, or custom content type is published with tags, all subscribers are sent a triggered email or SMS notification automatically. Creating new topics is a breeze and when you offer more topics, you are more likely to garner a larger audience across the entire organization.

Adoption of government websites and online services drastically increases when paired with transactional messaging.  Any new user to an online system, change to a profile, or fee payment should all generate a follow up transactional message. Capitalizing on the timeliness of these interactions reaches users when they are most engaged. The GovDelivery Transactional Messaging module gives Drupal administrators access to GovDelivery’s bulk-mail sending infrastructure. This module mitigates the need for a backend SMTP server for a Drupal website by replacing it with GovDelivery Transactional Messaging. Bulk messages can now be sent securely, effortlessly and with ample reporting. Sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time drives the most engagement.

If your organization is using or plans to launch a Drupal website, please contact us through our Customer Support site at support.govdelivery.com. If have any questions or comments about integrating your Drupal website with GovDelivery, feel free to reach out to us at info@govdelivery.com.

By Richard Fong, Technology Project Manager

Nestled in Southern California just south of Joshua Tree National Forest is Coachella Valley, which includes the Salton Sea. With an average annual rainfall of three inches, water is a vital resource. In 1918 the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) was created to “protect and conserve local water sources.” Today CVWD meets “the water-related needs of more than 107,000 homes and businesses across 1,000 square miles.”

CVWD understood the resource constraints of paper-based communications and knew that the move towards digital was the right direction for the organization. This led CVWD to implementing GovDelivery Digital Communication Management to help them build outreach and maintain consistent communications with stakeholders. Additionally, as an organization with established communication processes in place, having a solution that was easy to integrate into existing processes was important. With GovDelivery APIs (application programming interfaces), this was easy.

CVWD’s Public Information Officers (PIOs) already had the ability to create a news release and post that content to their website. To maintain legacy systems and continue using communication processes, CVWD integrated GovDelivery’s Send Bulletin API into their custom CMS (content management system) to automate the dissemination of those news release bulletins to the public. This integration conveniently allows CVWD PIOs to trigger a Send Bulletin API call to GovDelivery after their news release has been posted to the website, which then creates and pushes out an email to subscribers with the new information. The integration started with the news releases but has recently been expanded to include board agenda meetings.

CoachellaJesse Ruiz, Web Editor for CVWD, said he wanted to streamline the communications process, specifically how to allow staff to publish content and send a GovDelivery bulletin without leaving the organization’s CMS or website.

How does this automation benefit Coachella Valley Water District? By leveraging API technology to automate content distribution, Jesse was able to save the organization and his colleagues time and money. The PIOs can preserve their current work flow while adding the ability to send a bulletin from GovDelivery with a click of a button from their system. Additionally, there was little or no training required.

Emergency communications is a critical process to get right. It literally is the difference in saving more lives when a disaster strikes. So, what exactly is the one-two punch needed to be truly effective when communicating with the publicRed boxing glove concertina on white background during emergencies?

Maximum outreach plus multichannel distribution. This combination is an absolute necessity for today’s emergency communicators to be truly effective.

In my other recent posts on emergency notifications, I mentioned how reaching the maximum number of people during emergencies can help to save a lot more lives. Maximum reach needs to be a main goal for all government organizations, particularly Offices of Emergency Management. Just having a large list of subscribers doesn’t allow you to rest on your laurels. You have to actually be able to reach them when you need to. That’s why it’s critical that you use a multichannel approach when sending emergency notifications.

Think about all of the communication tools we use. Between the multiple email addresses (work, personal, etc.), mobile phone for voice and text messages, various social media profiles, and home landline phone, the number of communication channels goes on and on. This is why it’s critical for you to use multichannel distribution during an emergency. When an emergency hits, you need to use multiple channels to ensure that people get the information they need in order to take necessary precautions. Bottom line: by sending out emergency notifications through multiple channels, you are much more likely to reach them.

Many government organizations are still using a system in which they are relying solely on a landline channel to try to get a hold of people in emergencies. The problem with this approach is that a lot of people no longer use their landline phones, and those people would have to be home to get the emergency alert. With a robust, single-platform, multichannel system, you dramatically increase the chances of reaching citizens, wherever they are at the moment you’ve sent that message.

Easy Button1Maximum outreach, along with multichannel distribution, are key elements in reaching people in emergencies. There are solutions that provide multichannel communications, making it easy to integrate all of these emergency communication strategies, such as email, voice messages, SMS/text messages, and social media postings. When you have these in place, you can create one message and push it out through all of these channels at once. It’s like you’ve just pressed your very own “Easy” button!

Join us for the fourth and final podcast for more information on the power of combining maximum reach with multichannel distribution in emergencies.

By Richard Fong, Technology Project Manager

Moderate impact. Low impact. Collision. Cleared.

If you travel on highways anywhere, wouldn’t it be nice to have these types of messages delivered to your email or phone so you could anticipate a change in your route and save time?

With some cool technology, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has started doing just that.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit and speak with Tom Stidham, a developer with WSDOT. He stated that, before using a proactive digital communication system, they would post traffic information on their website and then push out alerts via Twitter. While these two channels did their job, WSDOT was looking to increase their proactive communications by providing email and SMS alerts to people traveling throughout the state of Washington.

By using GovDelivery’s Send Bulletin application programming interface (API), Tom was able to quickly a­­nd effectively integrate these alerts with their current work flow process to send automated messages to the public. These messages include traffic incidents, road conditions, and construction­ alerts.

The public can now sign up to more than 50 email and SMS alerts for different regions within the state, including areas such as the Oregon border and the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, and metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma.

What does that mean for the people who live and visit Washington? They 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 updates they want. And, maybe most importantly, if there’s a critical road closure (think the Skagit Bridge collapse), the SMS or email message that alerts residents and visitors to a potentially life-threatening road event can help save lives and protect property.

For more information on how you can leverage API technology to help your organization, watch my webinar, “Using APIs for success in Government."

Are you relying on Facebook to communicate with the broadest audience possible online? Think again.

Just because a citizen, business or stakeholder likes your Facebook page, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will see all of your posts. In fact, according to a recent comScore report, commercial brands that post an average of five to seven times per week only reach about 16% of the fan base they have worked so hard to establish. So, that post about a new economic development initiative or that weekly public health tip may have gone unseen.

How is this possible? Facebook has a powerful algorithm called EdgeRank. EdgeRank determines the most “screen-worthy” content. In other words, EdgeRank filters what posts each user sees in their newsfeed. Two people may both like the Department of the Interior’s Facebook page, but one person might see some of their posts while the other person might not see any. Unless you want to invest dollars on sponsored posts or spend hours analyzing engagement history, comments, and content aging, your organization is simply at the mercy of Facebook.

It’s time to take control of your communications, and Facebook can actually help! The answer? Convert your Facebook audience into a built-in base of subscribers who you can reach directly, anytime.

CE_City_EdenPrairie_Facebook_EmailPromotion (2)

According to Pew research, 94% of adults online leverage email. Email is the #1 way to reach the broadest audience directly with personalized, archive-able content. This is especially critical in an emergency situation, where you need to reach as many people as possible. Even though email is your direct connection, social media can be a powerful acquisition tool to help build a list of people you can reach 100% of the time.

In 2013, government organizations are taking control of their messages by employing cross-channel promotion. People who like you on Facebook may not know that you have an email or wireless communications list. Invite them to sign up!

The City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota does this very well by posting links to their email subscription page in their timeline. Not only do they provide a value proposition for opting in, but they set the expectation around what types of information they send, as well as how often a subscriber can expect to receive email.

The Social Security Administration leverages GovDelivery’s Facebook sign-up app, which automatically displays for any Facebook user who navigates to their page (whether a users likes their page or not).

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An added benefit is that the user can establish a relationship with your organization, without having to broadcast it in their own newsfeed.  This is an effective strategy, as it can be set up once and will collect email and wireless subscribers automatically everyday. Instructions for GovDelivery customers who want to install this app can be found here.

Don’t forget, channel cross-promotion works on Twitter too! The Office of the Governor in Minnesota generates a sense of urgency by tweeting an announcement of their impending newsletter a few minutes before it goes out.

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This strategy works well on Twitter too! The Office of the Governor in Minnesota generates a sense of urgency by tweeting an announcement of their impending newsletter a few minutes before it goes out.

Louisville, Kentucky also sends a tweet when new subscriber lists are available. This is a great tactic for building an audience for a temporary initiative, new project or when departments merge.

Social media allows government to engage with their constituents in a way that was never possible. When you are engaging an audience through those channels, they can also be used as a strong promotional tool to get more people to opt in to your email communications. For more ways GovDelivery integrates with social media, websites, and more, check out our Integrations Library.

By Mike Bernard, Digital Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

Yesterday, I attended an outstanding webinar, by my co-worker Richard Fong, about using APIs to improve how the government communicates with the public.He discussed what an API is and why they’re so important to government organizations.

Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) are a hot topic in the government these days. Earlier this year, the White House released a new strategy for the Federal government called Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. This new digital government strategy lists API use as a key element in fulfilling the vision for more open, responsive government communication. And U.S. CIO, Steven VanRoekel tweeted out earlier this year about APIs, with the hashtag “#yesitsthesecretsauce.”

Fong noted that API use has become more critical because the way we access information has dramatically changed. “In the past, businesses and organizations went to the Web because that’s where the customers were…we all sat in front of our desktop monitor and browsed the Web to get content. Then something happened. Technology evolved. The browser stopped being the exclusive gateway to information and content. A few trends that pushed this included social media, mobile, and location-based services.  The public started to consume content using smart-phones, tablets and other intelligent devices,” states Fong.

Fong went on to highlight some of the excellent work being done with APIs throughout the government. For example, here are a few of the API integrations he mentioned in the webinar:

These are just a few of the success stories that Richard covered in his presentation. If you’re interested in exploring creative ways to improve communication with the public, check out the recording of this webinar.

And, if you are in the Washington D.C. area, you should consider attending our Annual Federal Digital Communications Event on October 16th. There will be in-depth discussions about the White House Digital Strategy and how you can use APIs to advance your communication goals. Space is limited, so register today.

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.

 

By Richard Fong, Technical Implementation Consultant

Tsunami events in 1946 and 1964 devastated Hawaii, Alaska, and the coastlines of Washington, Oregon, and California. The 1946 event started with an earthquake magnitude of 8.1 near Unimak, Alaska. Tsunamis inundated the coast over 100 feet above sea level and destroyed many structures near the Unimak area. The waves arrived in Hawaii about 4 to 5 hours later, and 159 people lost their lives due to the ensuing tsunami, which occurred before any warning systems were established.

Due to the 1946 and 1964 events, two warning centers were created: the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WCA). Each Center has an Area of Responsibility (AoR). West Coast/Alaska’s AoR “consists of Canadian coastal regions, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the ocean coasts of all U.S. States except Hawaii.” WCA’s mission is to “help protect life and property from tsunami hazard by providing tsunami information and warning messages to its area-of-responsibility.” They are also tasked with developing new processes to improve responses time and message content to residents.

Since these two tragic events, warning systems have been developed to keep people safe. One of the methods now in place is digital communications, which the National Weather Service (NWS) employs to get out the word about weather and climate forecasts to help protect the public.

NWS quickly and easily drafts messages with forecast information, including severe weather updates, and uses GovDelivery Digital Communication Management to deliver those alerts via email and SMS/text message to nearly 140,000 citizens and stakeholders. But with events like tsunamis, seconds matter, which is why the NWS utilized cutting-edge application programming interface (API) technology to send out tsunami bulletins even more quickly than before.

When issuing a tsunami hazard bulletin, speed and accuracy are extremely important. In order to provide near real-time messaging, the GovDelivery Send Bulletin API is used to rapidly disseminate tsunami bulletins to the public. The application integration is able to send both an email message to subscribers as well as an SMS/text message to mobile phone/wireless subscribers. GovDelivery APIs are designed to automate previously manual processes, so this was a perfect option for NWS to send critical tsunami updates.

With online documentation and support from GovDelivery staff, NWS was able to quickly write the integration. Because the APIs employed open standards such as REST and XML, it made deploying the solution easy.

During the April 11, 2012 earthquake, a number of tsunami messages were sent to the public and officials. While no tsunami warning was issued for the U.S. or Canada, the message was sent once the earthquake was identified.

How does this automation ultimately benefit organizations such as the NWS? Simple: NWS and other government organizations can get out of the business of sending out communications (and all the operational logistics this entails)  and focus instead on their core business mission. For both the WCA and PTWC, the mission is to watch for and alert stakeholders to potential tsunami threats as quickly as possible to protect the lives and property of the public. Taking on the process of automating these alerts with near real-time messaging helps NWS get even closer to fulfilling their mission objectives, and that’s a process no one can properly put a number on.