It was the the tweet heard around the country: “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody”
The first official announcement that law enforcement agencies had concluded their manhunt for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev didn’t come at a press conference. It didn’t come from a press release or a dispatch over a police scanner. It came instead from two tweets. The tweets went instantly viral reaching millions of Americans in seconds.
The tweets showcased the power of government to directly and effectively communicate with citizens. Long gone are the days when a public affairs office would only draft press releases and disperse them to reporters. Now government messaging is about maximizing their reach in emails, twitter, facebook and text messaging to reach the most people, in the fastest way possible.
But how do you do that effectively? GovDelivery is doing their part to help with “The Power of Reach” tour. The goal of the tour is to showcase private sector thought leaders and public sector experts who will provide insightful communication strategies and tactics that you can use to be more effective, efficient and engaging, ultimately driving stakeholder action and meeting mission goals.
One of those experts is the founder and CEO of GovLoop, Steve Ressler. In case you are unable to make it to GovDelivery’s Power of the Reach tour, Ressler agreed to share some of his messaging best practices with us, here.
Q. Why is the Power of the Reach Tour valuable?
- A. The goal is to help state and local folks especially understand the power of reach for government. It is really obvious outside of government that reach is important. For example, if you are a TV show, you want high not low ratings. But in government we don’t often think about the importance of reach. It is much better to reach one million people to tell them to get the flu shot than 10,000. This tour is really talking about why reach matters and then how to do it.
Q.How has government communications changed in the past 10 years?
- A. In the past, if you were in a government public affairs shop, your job was writing press releases. You spent a lot of time on each release, you made sure you were getting the release to the right reporter, unfortunately for you, you still have to do that, but now it is even more important to get your information out directly to citizens. The information could be dispersed through a variety of channels like email, text messaging, twitter, facebook etc.
Q. In your messaging you want people to take a secondary action, right?
- A. Taking an action shows the sophistication of government messaging in the last decade. For awhile messaging was checking a box that indicated that the message was out. That was all that mattered, now things have changed. Just like if you were an email marketer for Amazon, they only care about a message if you open the email and then buy a purchase. That second click is what matters. Government now cares about if you take an action too. So if they send out a notification about alternative site parking in NYC, the whole goal is that you click on the message and then move your car.
Q. Why is messaging so hard?
- A. Government communication is a skill. The key is to provide information to citizens in the method that they want to receive the information. The message has to be styled in a way that is incredibly clear. The Plain Language Act is a big asset in the messaging mission. It gives very clear directions on how to communicate plainly. It should be instantaneous to get what the citizen wants. If you are at a bus station and you want to know when the next bus is going to come, you don’t want a 10-page PDF of the entire bus schedule. You just want to know when their bus is on the way.
Q. How do you attract followers?
- A. GovDelivery CEO Scott Burns calls this the Harry Potter phenomenon. When a new Harry Potter book arrived at bookstores, it also marked the best day in sales for all other Harry Potter books, because it gets customers in the store. You are more apt to more books when you are already in the store. That’s how government should think of messaging too. For example, there are a lot of things that draw people to government data, like the baby names registry at the Social Security Department. While they are on the baby names site, it is a good time to remind citizens to check their social security check status. The good cities do this especially well. For example, while you are paying your parking ticket online the final screen prompts you to the locations of where you can get a free flu shot. Or when you are at Jury Duty you asked to sign up for weather information.
Q. How do you build trust in your messaging?
- A. People look for government information that is clear and the source of authority. Even now with government trust being low, people still trust health information from the NIH. I think it is also very important to be consistent when delivering that high quality information. Make sure the emails are formatted correctly and delivered on time. You want to meet your citizen’s expectations.
Q. How do you build your network effectively?
A. Tips to get emails:
Remind folks in the areas where they are seeking government information about the alerts.
Create an overlay. Some states when you go to their page, the Governor will ask you to join him and give him your email.
- Cross promotion is key. That is one of the big benefits of GovDelivery is you can sign up on the next screen. It shows you other government information around you.
For more information on where the tour headed next, and how you can be involved, click here.