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Digital Communications Tour: Government Communications Panel

This morning I attended GovDelivery's Digital Communications Tour in Washington D.C. This half day event, part of a multi-stop tour, is the place to learn best practices and strategies on government communications and digital government from public sector experts. Speakers included Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop, Scott Burns, CEO and co-Founder of GovDelivery, Tim Fullerton, Director of Digital Strategy, US Department of Interior, and Darryl Madden, Director, FEMA's Ready Campaign for Emergency Preparedness.

The last session of the day featured a panel discussion with Steve Ressler, Scott Burns, Tim Fullerton and Darryl Madden. The focus of the panel was how and with what tools government agencies are using to effectively spread their message and reach the public. Tim noted that while their communications strategy was a holistic approach, email was by far the most effective way to get information in front of the most people. Social Media, on the other hand, was an effective channel to reach people where they are, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. In terms of emergency preparedness, Darryl noted that reaching and educating as many people as possible was important because in an emergency, citizens are the ones that help the most. The more educated people are about resources, shelters, facts vs rumors, etc the more helpful people can be.

Later in the panel, the audience was able to ask questions about what they are seeing in their agency and common struggles to communicate internally and with the public. One question revolved around delivering the best content and understanding what your audience wants to see, and then how to actually get that information to them. Tim Fullerton noted shared data and analytics can be your best friend in terms of understanding what resonates with people, what doesn't and where people are finding your information. Following the data can help agencies do what is working and cut what is not. Scott Burns noted that it is important to re-use content and test various communications channels and messaging tactics. Darryl Madden agreed and noted that good content is ever-changing and shouldn't be static.

Another question focused on how to make your agency a reliable source of information. The panelists all agreed that being timely and having the ability to update your social media channels quickly and in real-time is essential to being a trusted and reliable source. If you are reporting on an emergency event that happened several hours ago, you are behind. However, putting the correct information out and being accessible for questions is equally important to maintaining and engaging your audience and being viewed as a credible source.

Darryl Madden discussed the importance of growth and reach. With GovDelivery's help, FEMA's Ready Campaign has increased their following by over 500% to approximately 30,000 people. Moreover, their reach is actually much larger given the "multiplier" effect and people passing along your information. Tim echoed Darryl by stressing that many people don't know exactly what the Department of Interior does, so explaining their mission and how it relates to the average person is critical to meet goals. As budgets decrease, growing the reach of digital communications becomes even more important for government agencies. Scott suggested that agencies invest in their digital communications and reach now so when an actual emergency or event occurs and you need to alert people, you already have a large audience.

Steve ended the panel discussion by noting that if you are going to do something, do it well. Government agencies don't have the resources to do everything so you need to focus on what people want. Moreover, building an engaged community takes time and it is essential that you listen to your audience to learn how they like to interact and find information. Listening to your audience is also important to ensure you are not overloading people with information. Allowing people to sign up for alerts or information they actually want, being specific, and making it easy for people to unsubscribe are all ways to provide the right amount of information to people. Tim ended by saying, "content is king." Having catchy email subjects and good content is the best way to grow your reach, maintain your audience and see the results you want.

For more information of citizen engagement, be sure to visit the Citizen Engagement Resources Page.

GovDelivery is the #1 sender of government-to-citizen communications, serving over 550 government entities worldwide and more than half of major U.S. federal agencies. Organizations use GovDelivery to send over one billion messages every quarter on a broad range of topics including national emergencies, health alerts, tax policy changes and more. Check out their User Group on GovLoop.

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