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Practical benefits of online media for government

Republished from eGovAU.

Some of the practical benefits for government of online social media are beginning to emerge from various jurisdictions around the world. One that has particularly struck me as very positive is the use of online media by Washington DC to convince felons to voluntarily turn themselves in.

Written about in Using Social Media to Improve Public Safety – DC’s Fugitive Safe Surrender Prompts 530 Offenders with Warrants to Voluntarily Surrender in a Church (Doc) (and also available in the DC Public Safety Blog blog), the paper details how many fugitives wanted to turn themselves in, but had difficulty trusting police and the legal system to treat them fairly.

While the DC Safe Surrender program was in operation to allow fugitives to turn themselves in at a place of worship, thereby creating a more comfortable experience and a greater sense that they would get a fair go, there were fugitives who still were unsure of how they would be received and, frankly, thought it was simply a scam.

So Washington DC employed an integrated media strategy, using television and radio advertisements to drive fugitives and their friends and families (who often did the research for them) to the DC Safe Surrender website where the program could be clearly explained.

To add faces and personal experiences, the website featured videos of fugitives who had surrendered speaking about their decision and how they felt.

The website not only supported fugitives in making the hard decision to trust the legal authorities, but also convinced the media and other institutions to support the program.

By building the sense of trust and transparency the site has led to a large number of people surrendering and allowing their cases to be heard, reducing the workload on enforcement agencies and also the possibility of those on the run of re-offending simply to stay out of the clutches of a legal system they didn’t trust.

That’s the power of the online channel. To allow individuals to share their experiences in a one-to-one fashion, establishing a level of trust that is hard for an institution to match.

Once this trust is established it can be referred or inferred from the individual back to an institution, allowing institutions to build their level of trust with individuals.

This isn’t a new approach for the commercial sector – it’s known as word of mouth advertising. It has been shown many times that the trust built out of personal relationships is much more powerful than trust in ‘traditional’ advertising.

Could your agency improve its outcomes by improving the level of trust and respect your customers have in it?

If so, online may offer you approaches to build this trust in a more cost-effective and interpersonal way than the old ‘print-radio-TV-outdoor’ mix of advertising options.

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