A blog for GovDelivery Clients

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


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

In the wake of the many emergencies we see every year, from terror attacks to natural disasters, emergency situations seem to be on the rise. And, as the number of emergencies increase, so does the need for government organizations to connect and alert their residents, communities, and other stakeholders quickly and efficiently.

I recently read the article “3 Tips for Posting Emergency Information Online”. In the article, a product manager from Google’s Crisis Response team discusses a few ways to share emergency information online and how search engines can utilize it.

While it’s always important to make data easily searchable and available on open platforms, posting information on a website or open map isn’t enough. If a citizen is trapped in their basement during a severe storm with a cell phone that doesn’t have Internet capabilities, they can’t utilize a search engine. They can’t access a shared local map. They can’t access an RSS feed. How will they get the information they need to stay safe?

During an emergency, the search engines, maps and open data help, but it’s so much more impactful to push information out and reach people directly instead of relying on them to browse for a landing page.

That’s why I wanted to respond to this article with: 3 tips for getting emergency information to the public

1. Build Your Audience 

While organizations should focus and plan for outbound communications during an emergency, it’s even more critical for them to focus on who they will communicate with. Powerful technology tools and strategies are critical for emergency messaging, but your message won’t matter if no one sees it. phone

When an emergency strikes, that’s NOT the time to try and find an audience of people in an affected area. Emergency groups MUST collect and engage a digital audience throughout the year, making it easier to connect with more people during an emergency.

All departments within government organizations should be building a direct audience of email addresses and phone numbers daily. If someone signs up for Parks and Recreation updates, they should be prompted to sign up for emergency communications at the same time.

2. Reaching People in a Mobile World

Most emergency communicators have an e911 list that gives them the ability to call landlines in an affected area. But the plain truth is that in today’s world, landlines are dying.  Data from a recent CDC study that showed more than 50% of Americans don’t have or use landline phones.  Combine that with the fact that there are over 322 million wireless phones in the United States, and emergency communicators now have a daunting task of reaching everyone on the go.

While it’s important to reach landlines, emergency managers who rely mainly on e911 technology are not reaching everyone they need to. Government organizations charged with keeping citizens safe and informed need to find new ways to communicate, across old and new channels, to provide safety information to citizens during an emergency.

To reach the broadest audience, emergency communications need a multichannel approach: send emails, SMS text messages, voice messages, social media posts AND display emergency information with a prominent Web banner. And if you want to take your efficiency to the next level, you should be able to disseminate your emergency message across all these channels from one platform.

Bonus tip: make sure your organization is able to integrate with FEMA’s IPAWS system, which can further disseminate your message across TV, radio, digital signs, and mobile push notifications (like Amber Alerts).


3. Focus on the content, not the process

But what about when an emergency really does hit? Are you focusing on content or process? Is it easy for you to get a message out, or are you fumbling with a system that you haven’t used in months?

Earlier I mentioned the importance of working across departments to build an audience, and the execution process is no different. If emergency management and other departments combine forces and integrate communications, the key communications staff will be familiar with the system and will be prepared and trained on how to send a message.

Having an emergency response plan in place critical, but emergency management personnel also need to leverage updated technology to take advantage of communications tools that are simple and automated. Because during an emergency, if you can save a few hours, minutes, or even seconds by using automation, that matters.

In the aforementioned article, Matthew Stepka, Google vice president of technology for social impact, was spot on in advising government organizations to publish advised alerts using open Web formats like RSS. Not only does that make this data available to Google, but it also makes the data available for automated and immediate outbound messaging. Emergency managers can hook their digital communications tool to these feeds, which can automatically package and re-purpose that content for email, SMS, social media and more.

The most successful emergency managers will leverage the strategies around sending critical information directly to the public, while also making that information available and open online. In the end, the more people you reach, the more people you’ll save.

For more on emergency communication, check out our free eBook: Leveraging Digital Communications in Emergencies.

In the public sector, email is an essential component of any best-in-breed communications strategy. With the steady increase in worldwide smartphone usage, email has become the fastest and most efficient way to reach people wherever they are. And because email offers a direct and personalized connection to your stakeholders, it’s imperative that you send email and that your email gets read. However, with advances in technology occurring every day, the world of email is dynamic and ever changing. When it comes to rules for reaching the inbox, no two email clients are the same.

Google’s popular email client, Gmail, recently began a roll out of their new inbox design which changes the way emails are organized and viewed. The new design automatically filters all emails, including those from the public sector, into four default inbox “tabs”: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates.


This change has some public and private sector digital communicators up in arms. Why? Many worry that this change creates default inbox categories that email users may not explore. The perception is that if content lands in one of these new tabs, it will decrease opens, clicks, and overall subscriber engagement. At GovDelivery, we simply aren’t finding this to be the case. Engagement rates have not changed significantly and there are even some benefits that come with the newly organized Gmail inbox. So fear not! We have everything you need to know about the new changes at Gmail.

What do the tabs mean? According to Gmail, the Primary tab contains person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs. The Promotions tab holds deals, offers and other marketing emails. Messages from social networks, media-sharing sights, dating services, and other social websites will be filtered into the Social tab. The Updates tab contains personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements. Any messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists should arrive in the Updates tab. The Updates and Forums tabs typically aren’t enabled by default.


Are the tabs configurable? Yes! Gmail users can turn these tabs off if they prefer the classic inbox view. They can also customize their tab setup based on how they prefer to organize their inbox. Gmail provides detailed instructions around how to do that here.

Users still have the option to “star” their messages. Stars let users easily mark certain messages as important or to indicate that they need to reply to them later. With the new inbox, any “starred” messages are automatically moved to the Primary tab. This feature can also be configured and turned off.



What about mobile? With more and more email people reading email on their mobile device each day, it’s important to look at how the new tabs change the mobile viewing experience. According to a study conducted by email testing and tracking company Litmus, only 19% of Gmail opens actually occur in Gmail on a desktop computer. A whopping 66% of Gmail opens are occurring on mobile devices.

However, the number one email client for Gmail users is the iPhone’s built-in mail client, accounting for 34% of all Gmail opens. Interestingly, the iPhone’s native email application does not support Gmail tabs, so there is no impact here.

While Android phones and the Gmail app for iPhone do support the new tabs, this makes up a smaller percentage of opens (20%, according to Litmus).

Inbox tab organization isn’t new. Add-ons and applications like Priority Inbox and Clean Sweep have been offering sorting and organization functionalities to email users for years. While new filtering options like these can affect how your Gmail users receive and interact with your emails, these new tabs make it easier for readers to find your messages. Instead of being pushed to the second or third page of the Gmail inbox behind Facebook or Twitter notifications, marketing promotions, etc. your emails may have their own placement at the top of the Updates tab.

As Gmail tabs become more widely adopted, users will inherently know where to go to find your messages.

What’s next? As your partners in communications, GovDelivery watches deliverability for our clients closely. As we mentioned earlier, government organizations that send email to stakeholders through GovDelivery have not experienced a noticeable decrease in engagement across the board, and we are always working behind the scenes to ensure optimal delivery of your bulletins.

While it’s not necessary, or recommended, to take any action to bypass Gmail’s new filtering, there are a few things we’ve seen email industry communicators do to be proactive in making sure their emails are getting read:

  • To increase the likelihood of your communications landing in the Primary folder, increase your readers’ engagement with your messages as much as possible. Include smaller bits of information that require readers to click through to page on your website to read the rest of your message. This will also increase your website traffic and allow you to connect stakeholders to additional information you offer that they may not know about.
  • Remind subscribers to update their Gmail preferences so that you as a sender always appear in a specific tab (directions here https://support.google.com/mail/answer/186534?hl=en). Many companies in the private sector have been doing this for quite some time. Here are a few examples:


  • You can also do nothing at all! Ending up in another folder, like Updates, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Arriving in a separate tab means your emails will land among less competition. This means less chance of mass-deletion and a higher chance of grabbing your audience’s attention.

While Gmail is the first email client to implement tabs on their users’ behalf, it’s important to watch and see if Yahoo and Outlook (formerly Hotmail) mimic Gmail’s new inbox platform.

For more information on this change to Gmail, check out their recent blog post: http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-new-inbox-that-puts-you-back-in.html

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor at GovDelivery

As a government organization, you want to make your website as useful as possible for your constituents. Most organizations use site analytics tools like Google Analytics to gain meaningful metrics around the usability of their website, their most popular content, and where their visitors are coming from. This in turn allows them to constantly improve and develop strategies on how to keep people coming back, ultimately creating a better experience for their visitors.

In fact, the Digital Government Strategy calls for government agencies to implement performance and customer satisfaction measuring tools on all .gov websites. According to Howto.gov, ”Agencies should ensure that they collect, analyze, and report on a minimum baseline set of performance and customer satisfaction measures. It’s important to collect a variety of metrics—not just visits or page views—to get a holistic picture of how well you’re delivering your digital services and information” 

But to be truly holistic, organizations must look at what actions they are taking to affect these metrics.

Beyond simply monitoring what happens with traffic on your site, there are tactics you can employ outside of the site that can directly improve those numbers. You’re likely already collecting data around your web engagement, but what about your digital communications? Many departments or groups send outbound messaging, such as email newsletters, to drive recipients towards an action (like a click-through to your website). Integrating data from your outbound email bulletins into your website analytics delivers meaningful insight around how your proactive communications drive traffic and website usability. Knowing how email drives website traffic and causes people to spend more time on your website allows your agency to make strategic, data-driven decisions.

With new link tracking options for email, GovDelivery allows your organization to get more data than previously possible around how your email bulletins are driving traffic to different areas on your website. Starting this week, your organization will have the ability to add a set of parameters to the links of all outbound emails. You can add these parameters to meet your organization’s naming conventions by simply submitting a ticket to GovDelivery Support.

Parameters are small pieces of code appearing at the end of links in your organization’s email bulletins. These parameters are universally recognized by site analytics tools, like Google Analytics, and help you identify the origin of web traffic coming from email. Parameters are always set up in pairs. Here is an example of parameters your organization could add:

URL parameter

After you request your parameters, your site analytics tool will recognize them and your web analyst will notice the source and medium of web traffic coming from your GovDelivery bulletins. For example, if your organization uses Google Analytics, the new source and medium will display in your Reporting tab:

Source and Medium - Final 2

Note: If your organization uses other tools such as Site Catalyst or Foresee, you can configure the parameters. If you want to update these parameters, open a ticket with Customer Support.

Link tracking is a relatively simple and universal metrics strategy, which provides your organization information on the way your digital communications strategies and web traffic overlap. As a supplement to GovDelivery’s comprehensive reporting system, you can now send an email bulletin to your subscribers and monitor the impact in a deeper and more widespread fashion, including just how much traffic GovDelivery emails are sending to your website. The more your organization knows, the better-informed decisions you can make. GovDelivery link tracking parameters are just one more tool we provide to help you realize benefits and make the most efficient and intelligent decisions possible.

For more information on government web performance metrics, visit HowTo.gov. You can also check out the Google for Gov group on GovLoop, the premier online community where more than 60,000 public sector professionals connect.