This blog is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent research brief, Engaging Citizens and Improving Outcomes: Digital Communications for State and Local Governments. Download the full brief here.
In today’s competitive environment, companies know that outreach and engagement can make or break their business and drive the outcomes they need. But in government, the focus on improving these areas has been less pronounced. Oftentimes, government is the sole provider of a particular service, and the supporting tools, outreach and communication have not been optimized to meet the needs of increasingly tech-savvy and mobile customers.
And sometimes when digital technologies are not optimized and citizens are not engaged or made aware of government information or programs, mission outcomes are not met. In the public sector, failure to meet those outcomes can be drastic – children might not receive free school lunches, the elderly might not get flu shots or permits of all sorts might not be renewed in time.
But with the voice of citizens being heard more via social media and online technologies, things have recently started to change. Public-sector digital communications strategies are evolving to help organizations better connect with citizens and promote their content. Although we have more tools to facilitate this today than ever before – everything from email automation to A/B testing to audience segmenting – there is still room to share and learn best practices for digital communication.
To gauge where state and local governments are in their digital communications, and to figure out better and more efficient strategies to help them reach citizens and drive outcomes, GovLoop partnered with Granicus, a leading public-sector digital communications company, for this research brief and a survey of public-sector employees.
In the following pages, we’ll discuss the digital outreach and communication priorities of 179 public-sector survey respondents, go over tips and tactics to make outreach efforts more successful, and hear insights from two Granicus executives: Natalie Fedie, Vice President of Customer Success, and Andrew Krzmarzick, Vice President of Solutions Consulting.
Strategies for Overcoming Persistent Challenges in Digital Communications
There are many reasons for state and local governments to be optimistic about the future when it comes to digital communications. But as discussed earlier, the survey results show that many employees don’t feel that their digital communications and outreach are as sophisticated or targeted as they could be.
According to our survey findings, governments face several major challenges in digital outreach and communications: lack of budget (41.7 percent), lack of staff and skills (26.3 percent), and no leadership buy-in (10.3 percent). Additionally, 61 percent of respondents said that their digital communications team did not exist or was very small.
“Our staff is small and very busy, and we have only two dedicated people focused on communication objectives,” wrote one respondent. “All three issues – leadership, staff and resources – are a problem for us. We lack strategy,” wrote another. “There is a general lack of recognition of the importance of digital communication.” added another. Technology, when used effectively, can help governments overcome each of these challenges to achieve stellar digital communication – and they’re all tied together.
Additional resources and staff aren’t always within the control of state and local governments, given that some departments are so small, but there are specific steps that can reduce the need for these while maintaining — or even increasing — productivity. When you’re able to prove with data that you’ve increased productivity and reach, you’ll more easily be able to convince leaders to support other strategies and investments.
The challenges are real and persistent across state and local governments, no matter where you go. But with the technology available today and a smart strategic approach, governments can use a variety of strategies to address these digital outreach and communications challenges.
Automation. Automation is becoming more common in private-sector marketing as software is increasingly able to handle segmentation and marketing campaigns. The Advanced Package in the Communications Cloud has this capability. Its automation enabled the Wrexham County Borough, Wales, government to go from spending a full day sending emails to two hours, for example.
Cut the cost of paper. With the level of reports, agendas and meeting minutes that government organizations produce, it’s not uncommon to spend a significant portion of a budget on printing and managing paper documents. By cutting out these costs, agencies can save valuable resources. The City of Stockton, California, streamlined its paper-heavy process for applying for board and commission positions and saved significant resources per year. Not only will cutting the cost of paper free up funding, but leveraging digital solutions instead of printing has also been proven to increase citizen engagement. See the Meeting and Agenda Management Overview for more information.
Use Prebuilt Campaigns. Prebuilt campaigns allow agencies to share their brand story, mission, programs and resources efficiently and with scalability and agility. They’re user-friendly and intuitive to communicators at any level. The benefits of prebuilt campaigns within the Communications Suite include the ability to onboard new audiences, cross-promote programs and services with similar organizations nationwide, and reengage inactive audiences.
Leverage APIS. With advances in technology, especially with application programming interfaces (APIs), the ability to maintain financial or citizen relationship management systems is easier than ever. APIs pull in personalized information and then send out transactional messages to their intended recipients, and can even update citizens on important information such as legislative bill updates. Transactions with government organizations that were generated from paper-based communications can move to an all-electronic process, saving your organization time, money and resources.
A/B Testing. Sixty-six percent of survey respondents said they do not use A/B testing (comparing two versions of an email to see which performs better). By not using A/B testing, they’re leaving a valuable strategy on the table that doesn’t require expert strategy or extra resources. A/B testing allows for side-by-side comparisons so agencies can better optimize their content and maximize impact. With A/B testing, you can test many variables, including subject lines, message content, images/video, message length, format and call-to action buttons, to see which resonates best with your audience.
Capture Strategy. A capture strategy refers to the methods and strategies by which you acquire email subscribers and grow the number of people receiving your communications. Growing your agency’s audience is easier than it sounds, but nearly 37 of survey respondents said they do not have any capture strategy at all. A few key ways to do this are through website overlays, text message campaigns and engagement with passive followers on social media. These underused techniques allow your agency to broaden its reach with resources that are within its capabilities.
Data and Metrics. Data is a communicator’s best friend. It allows greater visibility into how well your message affects your target audience. It helps you understand who cares about your messages, what topics interest your subscribers, what techniques are most effective in generating a response and, most importantly, what elements of your communications strategy drive the most engagement. And yet, 62 percent of survey respondents said they do not yet use their data or metrics to drive action or engagement. Leverage the data your agency gathers from communication reporting, website metrics and customer surveys by analyzing it and allowing it to drive action and decision-making.
“The long and the short of it for [a] small staff is that you must use data and technology to prioritize and optimize your activities,” Krzmarzick said. A possible resource to turn for help with measuring and prioritizing is the Granicus 2016 Benchmarking report.
Maturity Model. The Granicus Digital Engagement Maturity Assessment allows communications departments to assess their strengths and weaknesses in how they engage with their audiences on digital platforms. It’s a framework that allows you to analyze your departments’ digital outreach and engagement efforts. Six key areas determine the analysis: people, audience, outcomes, solutions, data and security. In each area, you can determine if your department is emerging, proficient, experienced or expert based on criteria for each area. Each level corresponds with a number that you add to determine your overall digital engagement maturity score. This will help you figure out weaknesses in your digital communication efforts.