Wading through all the Gov 2.0 tweets that fill my stream, I happened to come across a recent venn diagram cartoon making the rounds in the higher education circuit that struck a chord with me as a local government webmaster. The cartoon is a diagram showing two circles: the first titled “Things on the front page of a University Site” and the second “Things people go to the site looking for.” They overlap only on “Full name of school”.
Replace “University” and “School” with City, County, etc. and I think you can see where this is headed. All too often the home pages of government websites aren’t serving up the information that citizens are actually looking for. I’ve looked at hundreds of local government websites and sometimes even the most basic information isn’t there: “Welcome to Johnson County!” Thanks! Johnson County, Arkansas? Johnson County, Vermont? Johnson County, Delaware?
Where I might expect to find contact info and hours of operation, I often instead find a picture of the Mayor or the City Manager or the County Commissioner.
Every time I see a new municipality or local government agency announce “We’re on Twitter!” or “We’ve got a Facebook page!” I think to myself “That’s great, but if you can’t even get the right info out to your citizens via your website, how do you hope to do it via social media?”
The answer to all the questions this topic raises can be summed up in two words: Content Strategy. This is such an obvious thing that it’s stunning that content strategy is only just now emerging as a new discipline for the web.
One of the great thinkers in this “new” discipline is Kristina Halvorson. She wrote the book on Content Strategy; Literally. Her solution to fixing the type of content issues mentioned above involves five efforts:
- Do less, not more.
- Figure out what you have and where it’s coming from.
- Learn how to listen.
- Put someone in charge.
- Start asking, Why?
I’m not going to go into details about Ms. Halvorson’s five efforts. For that you’ll need to read her book or go see her speak. From what I’ve seen and heard, for us government folk, number four might be the very first step many of us need to take; and the highest hurdle to clear.
Regardless, now feels like the right time to get involved with Content Strategy. Too often we government web people have been playing catch-up with the rest of the web. The next great leap forward isn’t “social media” or whatever other tool is right around the corner. It’s the content strategy that drives the use of all those tools and more. It’s what our citizens want; have always wanted; and will continue to want.
Consider this your call to arms.
Ron Pringle is a local government webmaster and the President of the National Association of Government Webmasters (NAGW). Learn more about NAGW by visiting www.nagw.org.
Is your city, county, state, agency an exception to the rule? Are you already employing content strategy? Leave a comment and tell me about your successes and/or failures.