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8 Ways to Leverage Digital Communications for Increased Public Engagement

Citizens look to government agencies as experts in the areas they serve. Whether an agency provides information during emergencies, offers context to understanding newly enacted laws or policies, or serves as a trusted research resource, the citizen engagement and the way agencies communicate impacts lives.

Setting a digital engagement strategy focused on citizen service is the best way to arm audiences with knowledge. Effective communications strategy starts with aligning organizational objectives, identifying audiences, and creating a presence that goes beyond just an agency name. From there, sending messages through the right digital channels, finding new re-engagement strategies, implementing automation, and refining through analytic insights builds the communications program agencies that makes a difference.

Here are eight ways digital communications can improve citizen engagement:

  1. Align measurable objectives with communications
  2. Identify and segment your audience
  3. Build your brand
  4. Send messages that get read
  5. Increase channels, increase engagement
  6. Engage, then reengage
  7. Befriend automation
  8. Analyze, rinse, repeat

Let’s dive into each category…

Align measurable objectives with communications

How does your organization define success? Success comes down to reaching a measurable goal. The success of your strategy lies in answering “why” you’re communicating to begin with.

Set a baseline to give your organization an outcome to benchmark against. Now, how do you define your agency goal? Agency goals are long term and broad; they create a blueprint to follow. Agency objectives, on contrast, should point towards your overarching agency goal. Communication tactics are campaign types and marketing solutions that drive toward an objective that supports a goal.

Here is an example of how this breaks down:

  • Agency goal: Reducing tobacco-related deaths
  • Objective: Drive the adoption of programs like QuitPlan
  • Communication tactic: Use text messages to send reminder and drive adoption of QuitPlan

Identify and segment your audience

Now that the baseline of your campaign is in place with your goal, objective, and tactics, it’s time to move forward with audience development. Unlike business-to-business or business-to-consumer-focused organizations, government institutions have a different battle to fight when it comes to defining a core audience. As a government organization, your audience is diverse, you’re communicating to people with varying levels of educational attainment (i.e. reading levels), cultural backgrounds, ages, races, and belief systems.

The more intelligence you have about your audience, the easier it is to communicate with them, and better, prompt a desired action. Start with defining expressed and implied demographics. Expressed demographics are gathered by directly answering questions – for instance, a form on your website when the person’s interest is highest – whereas implied demographics are gathered when a person performs a specific behavior that you then categorize. The information we glean from implied demographics allows for newly subscribed audiences to be marketed to a bit differently than people who have been long-time subscribers. Implied demographics allow you to target individuals who did not open a previous email with a different message – like a different subject line or email format – to foster engagement. You can also target people who consistently click on a specific piece of content with a call to action.

When you define your audience, think about the following demographic parameters:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Cultural background or language
  • Educational attainment
  • Job description

Combining expressed and implied demographics creates the most accurate audience segmentation. For example, females with children who clicked on animal links might volunteer for a youth outdoor birding program. An organization will have better engagement for the program using both expressed and implied demographics.

Take your audience development a step further and mix psychographics – personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles – into your audience segmentation.

Build your brand

Your brand boils down to the public’s perception of your organization. While branding benefits the bottom line in publicly traded companies, it equates to trust with government agencies. That trust is built from a collection of shared experiences with your brand.

Each digital touch point you have with your audience offers a chance to solidify trust. Here are some ways you can secure trust:

Offer full transparency about agency on-goings in blog posts, press releases, and website content

  • Create a style guide, and use that as your brand bible
  • Keep your content error free
  • Create email templates to balance quality and scale
  • Systemize sign-up process/forms
  • Adopt a unified footer within your organization for all employees

If you create a transparent, professional, and unified experience with your brand, then your audience will trust you.

Send messages that get read

Technology and the pressures of modern life affect people’s abilities to focus on the task in hand. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average human’s attention span dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013… That’s one second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

Though you have a shorter time to engage your readers, there is a silver lining to communicating to readers with short attention spans. Web copy is incredibly conducive to the modern-day reader. Use your website as a central hub for information and support your messaging through email marketing and text messaging. Drive awareness and citizen engagement through these two channels with “teaser” content that drives people to your website.

A typical mobile user checks their phone more than 150 times per day. Do you spot a goldmine for marketers? Leverage mobile-friendly designs with large fonts, buttons, and calls to action and make sure your website and emails are optimized for mobile devices. Or, create a mobile app that targets back to your overall organizational goals.

The adage is true: “Content is king”… Especially entertaining, informational, and engaging content that connects with your target audience on a visceral level. Content can come in the form of words AND images. Multimedia content should evoke reader emotion and tie directly to the content it supports. If you do not have photos or want to avoid the traditional stock photo, solicit your audience for photos. On the right is a great example from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Increase channels, increase engagement

In using a multi-channel marketing strategy, you not only reach a wider audience, but you are able to reinforce your organization’s message. Using email, mobile, and social can support your message tenfold.

Email marketing, which is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to recipients, is effective for a variety of reasons. In fact, according to the Direct Marketing Association, an organization makes an average of $40 for every dollar spent on email marketing.

An eMarketer study unveiled that the average user spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting and using social media and other forms of online communication. Texting is the third most popular way to communicate, behind email and Facebook, so it’s integral to include text messaging in your organization’s strategy. With nearly 300 million people on mobile devices, mobile-enabled outreach offers new opportunities to connect with people at the right time and place to drive action.

Social media are digital communities where users create and share content. Social media networks like Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumblr can augment your organization’s message by expanding your reach and cross-promoting content that lives on other owned channels. But here’s the Catch-22: the free ride for most of these channels is over. Facebook, for example, implemented an algorithm called EdgeRank, where it becomes harder for your message to reach your fans. These channels have become less organic and more about a pay-for-play game. However, social cultivates better relationships and broadens your reach, so use it to support other marketing channels.

Let’s not forget about search. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high rank on the search results page of a search engine. The placement of your organization’s search result is not in your hands – it’s in the hands of the search engine’s complex (and secret) algorithm. However, you can influence the rank of your page by optimizing your website for frequently searched keywords and producing content that supports semantic search. You can do this by continually publishing content. Another tip? Make sure your email platform offers your email communications as a public landing page. This will increase your presence in search results and further spread your content across the web.

Engage, then re-engage

Your first battle in capturing the attention of your audience is engagement. Your audience is most apt to perform an action upon initial sign up. On average, subscribers are four times more likely to open a welcome email and five times as likely to click through it. Welcome emails, or the initial email your agency sends out, and “What’s New” emails, or emails that promote new information about your organization, are two examples of early engagement strategies.

Once you hook your audience, your re-engagement strategy – where you identify an inactive audience who hasn’t performed a specific action and communicate with promoting new or relevant information – will help your organization’s cause. Engagement declines for multiple reasons, but understanding why your audience interacted with you in the first place and winning them back on new marketing channels is the key.

Here are some things you can do to re-engage your audience:

  1. Surveys: Ask your audience to complete short and sweet questions to gain more insight into their likes and dislikes.
  2. “We Miss You” email: Identify inactive audience members who haven’t opened or clicked a recent message.
  3. Abandon cart: Retarget individuals who have abandoned forms/enrollments.

Befriend automation

Marketing automation is all about personalizing a message based off of previous actions taken (or not taken). With marketing automation, your message is tailored to each audience member, making the communication highly personalized. Plus, you save time, energy and money by repurposing existing web content versus reinventing the wheel. Marketing automation includes email drip campaigns and triggered messages for lifecycle campaigns.

Here are some examples of marketing automation:

  • New buyer welcome cycle offering resources to license or permit purchasers
  • Appointment or enrollment reminders triggered from a CRM or other system
  • 30-,60-, and 90-day purchase and renewal reminders triggered from an eCommerce platform

Only 9 percent of the respondents in our Digital Engagement Trends study indicated they plan to use marketing automation in 2015, so it’s definitely a missed opportunity for most organizations.

Web content automation and RSS content automation offers a chance for marketers to leverage their websites and resulting RSS feeds as content distribution engines for communications, effectively aligning emails and updates with their publishing workflow. For instance, GovDelivery offers a solution where you can grab, package and send new web or RSS content via email, text messages and social media. Not only does this keep your audience engaged with new web content, but it supplements content creation by leveraging what’s already posted to the website.

Here are some examples of web or RSS content that can be automated:

  • Photo or video of the week triggered from Flickr or YouTube
  • Events triggered from an online calendar
  • Crime tips or reports triggered from a public safety website or database
  • Meeting agenda, minutes and updates triggered from a government transparency system
  • Legislation, rules, laws or regulation changes triggered from a regulatory website or database

The more automation you leverage, the more time you save AND the easier it is to drive adoption of marketing techniques throughout your organization.

Analyze, rinse, repeat

Nearly 35 percent of federal government survey respondents plan on improving their use of data analytics. Analytics tells a powerful story of digital engagement. It is the proof that your organizational goals and objectives have been reached. How can you know if your message is resonating with your audience if you can’t measure the impact of what you are doing, right?

Here are two ways to capitalize on data:

  1. Have high-impact goals: Report on digital impact on high-level goals. Did event reminder emails increase attendance? Did text messages with healthy recipes contribute to lowering instances of diabetes?
  2. Test and optimize: Test subject lines, email content, images, and anything that may impact how your message resonates. An example: Try an A/B Test. Send to 50% of your audience in the morning and 50% in the afternoon to see which gets opened more.

The best part about analytics is that you gain insight to put towards future communication strategies. Continuous improvement brings growth and success.

Get started on putting together an effective digital citizen engagement strategy by talking to the experts at Granicus’ Experience Group (GXG)!