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Talking With Your Customers, Not At Them

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When you live in your customer’s experience, you realize the world is really changing. Technology has changed communications more in the past 10 years than previous generations saw in lifetimes. While it’s certainly a challenge to stay one step ahead, we’re at an incredible turning point. What was done before will no longer work, but the opportunity for success has never been greater.

Just think about direct marketing, telemarketing and communications 10 years ago. We really only had two options for customer outreach: earned media, through traditional news coverage, and paid media, through advertising. Nascent digital marketing offered limited options. Today, self-created content, often called owned media, has opened the door to an entirely new form of outreach that is proving to be an effective way to directly reach customers. Does this mean marketing and public relations are on their way out? Absolutely not. Both serve an important purpose and they become even more effective when combined with your own content.

In a world where government is expected to do more with less, content creation is a cost-effective way to build direct engagement with your customers and create more earned media opportunities, like reposts, retweets or shares. It’s all about tailoring the content for each platform, nailing the message and monitoring what works and what misses the mark.

The advent of social media is transforming customer and stakeholder expectations. They want a conversation with your organization, your experts, your leadership, and with others who share an interest in your content. Collaboration is increasingly a model for customer service, product development, and service enhancement.

Re-think Your Outreach Channels

Do you have a great blog post on your website? Before you share it across all social media platforms, ask yourself what angle of the post will your Twitter users find interesting? What will catch the attention of your Facebook followers? Is there a visual component for Pinterest or Instagram? Your audiences on each social media platform may be different so, your content needs to be too.

At the Census Bureau, we’ve found most of our media contacts and specialized journalists are on Twitter. We post content that features Census Bureau stories they may be interested in – maybe it’s a press release, an article we wrote or a simple graphic they can reuse on their outlets. Twitter is all about short, fast information. Anything more complicated will likely lose their attention.

We’ve found Pinterest to be a great place to share our more detailed infographics. Great content isn’t worth much if no one sees it. Be strategic in planned social media content for the channels users and purpose, and measure what works with your audience to continually adjust and improve.

Consistent External Messaging Begins Internally

We all juggle a lot of communication channels. Have a strong internal focus so the message doesn’t get muddled. Consistent messaging starts with a strong plan. Every person within your organization is a brand ambassador. They need to know and understand the message and believe in it, too. It’s hard to get your customers on board if you’re employees aren’t already there.

At the Census Bureau, our messaging begins with an ongoing internal editorial plan, which features engaging, journalistic-style coverage of topics surrounding our transformation efforts. We address questions head-on and encourage feedback. With more than 13,000 employees, and hundreds of people creating Census Bureau content throughout all departments, we want to make sure each person has a good understanding of the bigger picture, especially for our many content subscribers through platforms such as GovLoop.

Analysis Never Stops

The process doesn’t stop once the content has been published. Analytics are just as important as the content itself. In a previous post, I discussed our Customer Engagement Management platform, which is specifically designed to help us analyze content and evaluate our SEO strategies. We hold weekly meetings to discuss the latest data and determine what content caught attention and what didn’t. This information shapes our content strategy moving forward. It all comes back to data-driven decisions (especially at a statistical agency).

Owned media has the potential to be a direct line to customers. Whether it’s a tweet, email, a comment on a blog post, or a phone call, we have more ways to interact with our customers than ever before. But that interaction is two-way and with the use of these channels comes the expectation that concerns are addressed quickly, voices are heard and responses are clear. Done right, we can create a level of engagement that has never been possible before, especially with the broad audiences that we have in the public sector.

Stephen L. Buckner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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