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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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.

Co-written by Anne Doucot and Mary Yang

In my last post, I talked about how reaching the maximum amount of people that you can during an emergency can be the difference in saving more lives. And if you’ve been following along in the last couple of posts and podcasts from this series so far, you’ve also heard me talk about how important it is to get subscribers in addition to the use of a single platform, multichannel system. But, I know what many of you are thinking, once you get subscribers, how do you keep their contact information up-to-date?

hey-look-hereWith a single platform system that’s used by both your organization’s emergency communications department and public affairs office.

If you’re lucky, as an organization, you may only need to activate emergency alerts once or twice a year. That means, if your current system allows citizens to sign up to receive emergency alerts, that data may be quite old by the time you need to rely on it.

The solution to keeping contact information up-to-date is by using a comprehensive system that allows for both regular government communications and emergency notifications. The system should allow citizens to sign up for a variety of topics. With this kind of system, citizens can choose to receive updates on topics of interest and choose the method of communication they prefer (email, SMS, social media, etc.) The system should also allow citizens easy access to their profiles to provide updated contact data if they want.

As the communications department provides regular messages, the system will recognize if email addresses are still in use or if text messages are delivered. For organizations that use the same platform for their government communications and emergency notifications, sending out regular communications can continually test and cleanse the contact data for their citizens.

Join us for the third podcast for more information on how easy it can be to keep citizen contact information up-to-date.

For more analysis on current emergency notifications technology, download this recent Analyst Brief from IDC Government Insights.

nnoimageTomorrow, Tuesday, August 6, 2013  marks the 30th anniversary of National Night Out.  National Night Out (NNO) is a unique group of crime and drug prevention events sponsored National Association of Town Watch (NATW).  The campaign involves citizens, civic groups, businesses, law enforcement agencies, neighborhood organizations and local officials from all 50 states, US territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide.

Neighborhoods across the country will be holding block parties tomorrow as part of NNO, encouraging people to get to know their neighbors and work together to promote cooperative, police/community crime prevention efforts. Last year’s campaign involved more than 15,000 communities worldwide. In all, more than 37 million people participated in NNO events in 2012.

The City of Minneapolis, Minnesota outranked all U.S. cities in NNO participation in 2012 (in the 250,000+ population category). Over 1,200 events took place, with over 65,000 citizens participating.  The city, whose participation rate (17%) has led the nation for cities of its size, expects another strong showing this year, with over 1,450 registered thus far in 2013. So how do they do it? Let’s revist their tips in hopes that other communities can use the same tactics in years to come!

Build Your Audience

From the crime prevention/community perspective, dwindling resources means increasing outreach to find neighborhood leaders, block captains, and business partners. The City of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) combats these challenges by leveraging their digital communications lists. The city has been using email alerts to reach residents and business with information on a variety of subjects and topics since 1995.  When asking for an email address, the MPD also inquires about the neighborhood in which the subscriber lives. “Being able to capture where the subscribers live or work, and where they aren’t, helps us know where we need to do our outreach,” says Luther Krueger, Crime Prevention Analyst at the MPD.  This has been especially helpful for the National Night Out events, where the MPD can quickly identify and then engage areas where they need block leaders or additional participants.

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Provide Resources and Make it Easy!

County, city or public safety websites should serve as a helpful resource for citizens who want to learn more about how they can be involved. The City of Minneapolis makes it quick and easy for residents and businesses to collect information, engage their community, and have a successful event. Here are just a few examples of the resources they offer:

  1. Event ideas
  2. Tips on how to meet your neighbors
  3. Tips on how to ask businesses for a donation or sponsorship
  4. List of all registered events in case people want to attend, but can’t host
  5. Reminders to keep the lights on
  6. National Night Out promotional flyer templates, in various languages

Incentivize Participation

In many cities and counties, there is a block permit fee to register a location for an outdoor event. The City of Minneapolis waives this fee for early registrants, reducing the need for costs and resources that could be used on the event itself. If communities share resources, the city essentially gives everyone the opportunity to have a free event.  Many county and city websites also tout in-person visits during NNO by officials to provide giveaways or prizes for families, children, and other participants.

Leverage Social Media

NNO is a social event, and social media can be the most powerful promotional tool. Not only can NNO be promoted on a county or city’s Facebook and Twitter pages, but communities and neighborhoods can create their own pages to invite friends and followers. Page and account administrators can post information and updates about the event, and get feedback from attendees on everything from food and games to whether a theme should be involved.  Don’t forget, city and county employees at every level can get the word out.  In the City of Minneapolis, the City Council, Mayor, and Chief of Police all actively promote national night out on social media, in mailings, and at other events.

Remind Your Participants!

Many police departments plan NNO weeks, or even months, in advance. To ensure the date is highlighted on citizens’ calendars, be sure to send them a few friendly reminders.  The City of Minneapolis sent various email alerts and social media posts reminding participants to register their event as well as directed them to check out all of the great resources on the website.

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Get Out There!

The point of National Night Out is to unite communities and public safety for the purposes of crime prevention. Showing up and participating at local NNO events increases trust and transparency and allows officials to continue educating citizens about safety while providing essential crime prevention information. City employees should hit the streets; meet business owners and residents; and bring back details on successful events that can be leveraged by communities the following year.

Follow Up

Just because National Night Out ends on August 7th,doesn’t mean community engagement should cease. NNO is an amazing opportunity to make relationships with participants who can be contacted to be crime prevention block leaders or community representatives throughout the rest of the year. Don’t miss out on the chance to build and solidify those connections. Krueger reminds us: “An organized community, partnering with police, solves problems more quickly, and with more sustainable crime reduction, than either partner acting without the other.”

For more information, or to find out how you can get involved, check out the National Night Out 2013 website.


At GovDelivery, our mission is to help transform the way government organizations communicate with the public and we’re continuously improving our platform towards that goal.

This summer, we’re excited to release new enhancements that will both improve how you use GovDelivery, and make your organization even more effective than ever before. We’ve designed responsive subscription pages, added customer service tools and training videos, highlighted our emergency notification system, and more

Responsive Subscription Pages

Reaching more people through digital channels is one of the most important things your organization can do to achieve your goals. Growth in the mobile device market has rapidly accelerated the use of digital channels like email, SMS, and social media.

With the growing use of mobile, GovDelivery clients are generating more sign-ups and reaching more people than ever before. In fact, GovDelivery clients have now reached over 50 million people, and over 30,000 new people are signing up everyday. With hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets in the United States, it’s important that your website visitors can easily sign up for updates in a mobile friendly way. If your sign-up process isn’t designed to accommodate a variety of screen sizes, subscribers can have difficulties, become frustrated, and abandon the subscription process.

That’s why GovDelivery is pleased to launch our new responsive subscription pages. These pages scale to meet the width of whatever device your new subscribers are using.

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We’ve added an improved call-to-action for navigation buttons in the sign-up process, and optimized the size and placement of all fonts, free-form text boxes, and radio buttons. We’ve also increased the space in between each action, making it easier for subscribers to make selections with a finger. These design improvements will increase your sign-up rates and improve the overall user experience for your new subscribers.

Training Modules

Last quarter GovDelivery launched a brand new support site, which gave us metrics on the content that matters most to you, our administrators. With the popularity of our training section, we’ve begun developing new and improved video content to help you learn more in less time.

We still offer our weekly live training sessions, but we’ve reorganized our video content and begun developing a catalog of new training videos that anyone in your organization can watch on demand. You can view and review as many videos as you’d like, on your own time, about the subjects that matter most to you.

Our first new series of videos focuses on our Advanced Bulletin Editor, which allows your organization to control the branding, look and feel of your email newsletters. Our second new series provides best practices and step-by-step instructions on getting the most out of GovDelivery’s integrations with Twitter. Check back throughout the year for more videos, as our catalog continues to grow.

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GovDelivery’s Emergency Notification System

At GovDelivery, emergency communication is in our DNA. For over 10 years, the public sector has used our digital communications platform to keep stakeholders informed during emergencies, and to communicate critical information in the aftermath as well. In 2013, during 3 of the worst disasters in the United States, GovDelivery was there.

  • During the Boston Marathon bombing, the Wellesley Police Department, City of Baltimore and other organizations all used GovDelivery to send out information about transit service interruptions, road closures, school closings and more.
  • During the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, GovDelivery helped support the fire team to send communications, including press releases and updates, around the tragic fire that took 19 lives.
  • When tornados devastated communities across Oklahoma, GovDelivery teamed up with the City of Moore, Oklahoma and the state run OK Strong (the official website for resources and recovery efforts related to the tornado damage).  Within 4 days, OK Strong was able to start pushing out crucial information such as rumor control, disaster assistance and displaced animal location.

In an emergency, it’s important to use all available digital channels, including email, text messaging, and Twitter, to keep people informed. But the public sector can take their effectiveness to the next level by using our Emergency Notification System to reach even more people, in more ways (including voice dialing, geo-segmentation, and integration into FEMA’s IPAWS network).

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about GovDelivery’s Emergency Notification System, download our free brochurehead to our website or contact your dedicated Client Success Consultant.

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A Twitter Support Channel: @GovDSupport

Customer service has always been one of our top priorities. Not only do we strive to achieve the fastest resolutions possible, but we also want to make sure solutions are shareable. And sometimes, those resolutions can be delivered in just 140 characters. That’s why we’ve created another way to connect with our knowledgeable Customer Support team: our new Twitter support account: @GovDSupport.

For those on Twitter, you can tweet @GovDSupport with questions, requests for help, or product enhancement ideas, and we’ll respond as fast as we can. We’ll also be posting valuable resources, including new knowledge base articles, helpful blog posts, and more.

If you aren’t members of the Twitter community, you can always get in touch with our customer support team anytime at support.govdelivery.com.

Status.govdelivery.com

At GovDelivery, we continuously monitor the status of our Digital Communication Management platform and all of its related services.  Part of the reason we have over 1000 customers in the public sector is their trust in our products, and we want to further increase that trust by being transparent with the status of our service.

Our new informational page at status.govdelivery.com offers a view of the performance and uptime on the main functional areas of the Digital Communication Management platform, including email delivery, subscriber pages, web services, landing pages and our administrator interface. Use the status legend or click on an icon for more information. Don’t forget to bookmark this page and come back to it to check in on what’s going on under the hood.

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We’re excited to give you access to all of these new tools and features and we’re proud to help improve the way you and your organization build your audience and interact with your community.

In my last post, I discussed how a siloed communications system doesn’t work in emergency communications. The term, silo, refers to departments within an organization working separately with little to no communication with each other. For example, in the public sector, emergency notifications are typically handled separately from the communications team.

Taking full advantage of technology and the wide variety of communication tools available is often a bit slower on the adoption scale for government organizations. Add to that a siloed communications approach, and you have a combination Emergency Informationthat creates both inefficiency and ineffectiveness in reaching the people you need to reach in emergencies.

In a crisis situation, reaching the maximum amount of people that you can within the community that could be affected can be the difference in saving a few lives versus saving a lot of lives.

The Town of Ocean City, MD, discovered this need firsthand in 2011 when Hurricane Irene devastated the area. In the aftermath of the storm’s destruction, residents felt that the town’s communication could have been better before and during the storm. The town knew it needed a better communication system and a more flexible way to quickly get messages to more residents, especially in times of emergencies.

Ocean City administrators began using their website as a way to gain subscribers with the help of a digital communication management system (DCM) and started offering various topics that would be of interest to residents, allowing people to sign up for information and emergency alerts. When Hurricane Sandy hit the following year, the city was prepared, pushing important information alerts out to residents via SMS/text messaging and email.

So how can your organization gain more reach?

By making it a priority to get as much information as you can from your stakeholders before an emergency. What type of information and how much you gather will depend on your organization, but you must start with the basics, such as phone numbers, email addresses, home and work addresses, and any other contact information that you need from your stakeholders. Getting this information before an emergency strikes allows you to proactively get critical information out to residents, which can in turn potentially save someone’s life.

Join us for the second podcast for more on the importance of getting rid of siloed communications, and achieving maximum reach in emergencies.

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant at GovDelivery

Today’s government communicators are tasked with staying on top of the latest communication trends to create and deliver messages or content that stakeholders want to receive.  And we all know the only way to determine success is if we measure it, which means government communicators end up using to private sector definitions and measurements. You can find information on average open rates or click-through rates all over the internet. This also leads public sector successprofessionals to compare themselves to private sector counterparts. Unfortunately, this is the best the public sector has been able to do in the area of communications metrics – up until now.

If we consider what’s important to private sector communicators, certain goals come to mind:

  • Brand recognition
  • Increased market share
  • Promotion of new products and services

If you get messages like I do (on a daily basis), revenue-centric goals are often the focus. Successfully increasing sales through promotions and moving customers away from competitors are the tangible marks of a successful private sector campaign.

Not all of these success metrics are specific to the private sector – things like branding and promotion of events are certainly areas of cross-over when it comes to public sector messaging and campaigns goals. However, public sector communicators also have unique goals based specifically on mission: keeping people healthy; finding homes for lost pets; or tracking down dangerous suspects. In fact, more often than not, the success of a public sector campaign is based on these intangible mission-oriented goals, and measuring these results is not always as easy as taking a simple inventory of how many shoes sold after you sent 50% off coupons to a list of 10,000 email addresses.

Successful public sector communications often require more collaboration, creativity and open exchange of ideas from multiple departments and teams than a private sector marketing message. For instance, a police officer writing a report on a wanted suspect may have to quickly communicate the suspect’s identifying information to a communications specialist, who will then craft and send an eye-catching message (so people will open it) to stakeholders through multiple channels. In turn, communicators want to know the impact of their efforts and may need to reach out to other teams to determine the results of specific messaging.

Communicators may struggle to gather data from healthcare providers on the number of people who went in for flu shots the weekend that their healthcare social media update was posted vs. the previous weekend with no promotion, especially when they do not know who to contact for records at a healthcare facility.  This requires planning and open communication between teams to achieve the goals that best serve stakeholders, but it also means knowing what you’re trying to achieve before you start creating your messages.

What are some examples of measurable results from communications efforts? A few recent examples that stand out include:

Stearns County Sheriff’s Office recently started connecting with stakeholders via a digital newsletter. Embedded within the newsletter was an option to submit tips via email, telephone and a web form. Within 13 minutes of sending their newsletter, the sheriff’s office got their first tip from one of the newsletter’s recipients.

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) recently alerted followers via Twitter to sign-up for email and SMS updates during a period of service delays due to a collision of maintenance vehicles. Communicating major delays quickly and directly through multiple channels helped BART riders avoid closed routes and minimized incoming complaints to BART customer service. BART collected 800+% more email and SMS subscribers during the service delay (compared to their regular service periods) as riders signed up to receive direct updates through two of the most popular communication channels.

The City of Moore, OK recently coordinated disaster recovery efforts after EF4 tornadoes ripped through the city, leaving a trail of destruction that included loss of life, severe injuries, and destruction of homes and property. Moore city officials quickly responded with outbound messaging, giving residents resources to contact emergency services and to get the help they needed in the wake of the disaster.

Each of these examples show how mission goals means different measurements of success. How does your department define success? Are you measuring the number of subscribers, clicks, opens, or likes after a certain message was sent? Or, do you strive to achieve a healthier population, a safer place to work and play, or a way to get more people involved with civic events? What may seem like the simplest step in the process – knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with each communication – is often the step that is most over looked in an effort to produce more content and faster responses to the public. What successful communicators recognize is that defining the goal that you’re trying to achieve can help streamline communications – instead of throwing out as much content as you can, focus on a goal, and execute a communications campaign to achieve measurable results toward that goal.