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Access Anywhere – IRS Goes Mobile with Help from GovDelivery

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unveiled an updated version of their smartphone application, IRS2Go, in early February. The app was “designed to provide taxpayers easier access to practical tools and information,” and the update included an application programming interface (API) integration with GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM), which allowed app users to sign up to receive Tax Tips via email directly from the IRS.

As this was GovDelivery’s first mobile app integration using our API, I wanted to find out if the app would extend the IRS’s reach with regard to its email subscriptions. With some help from our seriously awesome team here at GovDelivery, we looked at the IRS’s DCM data to see if their app and integration to GovDelivery DCM positively impacted their subscriptions to the Tax Tips topic.

In the first month after the release of the updated app, the IRS received a total of more than 14,868 subscriptions to the Tax Tips topic, and 72% of those new subscriptions from the mobile app! As a point of comparison, subscriptions to the same topic last year during the same one-month period only totaled 4,390.

What can you learn from the IRS’s success?

1) Email isn’t dead. It’s just being accessed a different way. With the growth of social media and text messaging, there are inevitable stories of how email as a communication channel is dying. This is simply untrue, and the IRS’s data is a great proof point. In fact, a recent study on digital trends shows that the increase of smartphones users has led to an increase in mobile email (versus accessing email via a computer): “The mobile email audience for both age segments [12 – 17 and 18 – 24] saw double-digit growth in the past year, with mobile email users age 18-24 climbing 32 percent.” This same report found that “41 percent of mobile users accessed email from their device,” compared to a mere 35.3 percent using their phone for social networking.

Tip: Make sure that your emails are accessible and can be easily read via a smartphone or other mobile device (i.e. a tablet).

2) Give the public information they want. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project recent report, The State of Mobile America, shows how apps are dominating mobile phone usage in America. But it also dives deeper, showing that 74% of smartphone owners use apps that provide direct connections to “news, weather, sports or stock updates.”

Tip: You’ve got information that is essential and value-driven for citizens, from recycling updates to severe weather alerts. People want information that’s trusted and can enhance their lives. Offer those kinds of updates, and you’ll see your email subscriptions increase greatly.

3) Timing definitely helps. Do you think the IRS simply updated their app in early February because it was ready? My guess is no. It was a highly choreographed release, meant to coincide with tax season in the US. And that helped – a lot. The IRS knew that this was a particularly busy period for the agency. They create and have access to the most up-to-date tax information, and instead of relying solely on third-parties to disseminate that information to the public, the IRS leveraged the timing of their release and APIs to integrate their app with GovDelivery DCM to gain more subscribers.

Tip: You probably know the busy periods for your government organization or agency. Leverage that knowledge to run a campaign to increase subscribers for specific topics. If you award grants, why not use an overlay or a prominent sign-up box on your website to a “grants tips” topic just before your agency announces new grants that are available? If your department is responsible for property tax information, take advantage of the periods in the year where you deliver property tax statements to drive email subscriptions to a “property tax information” topic.

4) APIs are the future. Last week, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel tweeted “‘API’ #thereIsaidit #yesitisthesecretsauce #gov20” in response to a Fierce Government article that “speculated APIs would play a major part in the forthcoming digital strategy.” (Source: NextGov) If you want to jump on the API bandwagon, now is a brilliant time to do so. VanRoekel’s new government digital strategy is due out this month, and it will undoubtedly highlight the processes government agencies and organizations can automate to drive efficiency and effectiveness.

Tip: If you’re a GovDelivery customer and you want to find out how you can use our APIs to automate some manual processes, give us a call or email us at [email protected]. Many of our customers are already using our APIs to automate bulletin sending, subscriber management and other manual processes.

Has your agency or government organization launched a mobile app? Do you have an integration in place to capture email so you can continue to communicate with the public beyond the app? We’d love to hear if you’re having success in the mobile arena. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Original post on Reach the Public.

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William Lim

I would add that app developers, especially for government where the priority is to disseminate factual information quickly and widely, need to create apps that work across all mobile platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry), or even develop WAP mobile sites that are accessible regardless of smartphone platform (and accessible to an extent by even “dumb” phones with data capability). Some agencies (such as public transit or emergency weather) should even set up or maintain existing SMS text alert systems. I have personally found that in an emergency where 3G/4G cell networks become jammed, SMS is likely to continue functioning. Let citizens choose how and how often they want to receive information, whether through email, app, mobile web, or text.

Mary Yang

William, thanks for the comment I couldn’t agree more with all of the points you make. It is frustrating to find out that an app I want is unavailable on the platform I’m using — it means I’m going to settle for another app that does something similar; you lose so much if you lose that first point of connection.

And with the recent tornadoes tearing through the Midwest, SMS is definitely the way to go with emergency notifications. It’s quick, real-time, and can convey urgency easily.