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Harness Your Citizens’ Voice in Your Digital Strategy

The most savvy brands in the world know that consumers trust the opinions and content created by other consumers. At a time when the public trust of government continues to decline, agencies have an opportunity to increase trust of their services and showcase their city, county or state to prospective visitors and business owners through the use of user-generated content (UGC).

Citizens, visitors and business owners post in interactive forums, use social media or even write their state and local government agencies about services they need or want. The key to effectively using, responding to and acting on this user generated content is to have a robust digital strategy. Agencies need to figure out how to best engage their users while still maintaining a strong brand and providing easy access to their content.

During GovLoop’s recent online training, Increase Trust and Engagement by Harnessing the Power of the People’s Voice in Your Digital Strategy, during the State & Local Virtual Innovator’s Summit, panelists discussed what user-generated content is and why it matters to a government agency, as well as why transparency is essential to enhancing the citizen experience.

The training kicked off with Warren Kagarise, Communications Coordinator, City of Issaquah, Washington, who talked about what he called “the social side of city hall.” When he came on board, he made sure that his department pivoted to put social and citizen communications at the forefront of their strategy.

Kagarise and his team operate 10 social platforms on a regular basis, and are active at least daily on four: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

“Our philosophy is one of customer service excellence,” he explained. “We treat social media as a 24/7 customer service desk. I know that sounds daunting – we’re fortunate to have a team of four, and we’ve set a high bar that we will respond as quickly as we can. That may not work for every agency, but you should find something and a level that works for you, a level that serves your citizens and is appropriate for staff.”

Even just a simple acknowledgement on social media that’s a promise to follow up on an issue can be beneficial, Kagarise said. “We respond to 98 percent of social media interactions in less than 24 hours,” he said. “And we respond to 72 percent of interactions in less than 60 minutes.”

Kagarise said his approach to using user-generated content is one of transparency. When users post issues to social media platforms, everybody can see that the government is engaging with citizens and real issues. It’s not hidden in a form or in a private email.

“This helps us build a sense of community,” he said. “Online we can have folks come together, have a sense of pride, and learn more about what it means to live here.”

Next up was Bruce Ableson, Director, Livefyre Strategy & Solutions at Adobe who spoke about the next evolution of community and content, stressing that it was all about transparency and trust with your citizens. “User generated content lowers barriers with citizens and makes your interactions authentic,” he said.

Abelson’s point was that today, citizens increasingly expect a digitally-enabled government. And in a digital world, content is king. The average person engages with 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase in the private sector. In government applications, citizens may not be making a “purchase”, but the same concepts apply. “People are five times more dependent on content than they were five years ago,” he said. “User-generated content is more trusted and memorable than other forms of content, and the data proves it.”

So it’s imperative that government at all levels work to utilize and take advantage of user-generated content from their citizens. One example of somebody doing it right, Abelson said, is the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM engages bloggers on Tumblr to create beautiful entries about public lands. Influencers exist in all corners of the Internet, and for BLM they include archaeologists and recreation planners. Public writers on their Tumblr bring an authentic voice and view, and UGC  provides content that BLM could not produce themselves. Done right, curated content focuses on the “product” and using social provides another avenue into BLM’s content.

User-generated content can be a potential goldmine for your organization, Abelson explained, especially for departments who are not staffed up to produce the amount of content that citizens demand. “There are 80 million photos shared per day; 500 million tweets every day; 300 million photos shared per day; 432,000 hours of video uploaded daily; and 9,000 snaps sent per second,” he said.

In short, UGC is critical to the entire user journey and your marketing strategy as a government agency. Harnessing the power of user-generated content will help you create a community, power your online brand, increase transparency, and empower your citizens to interact with you more.

You can see the full slides from the presentation here.

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