With so many channels and services available, it’s often difficult for government agencies to determine the best way to reach their constituents. At the 2018 Granicus National Summit, we asked three public servants to explain how their agencies chose a digital path forward that effectively engaged their citizens. Our speakers included:
- Chip Harman, Content Strategy Manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- Shelly Klein, Customer Services Technologies Administrator for the City of Hurst, Texas
- Britney Smith, Public Information & Communications Manager for Leon County, Florida
While each presenter told a different story about a different community of users, each offered the same advice when it came to citizen-centric communication and engagement.
Know What Your Users Want
First, they agreed that it was critical to understand your unique user base, what they want and how you can meet those demands.
Harman’s team works on the MyHealtheVet portal, a website for veterans to find a wide range of resources related to health care. The challenge for his team is that the portal offers so many services and is so often being updated that it’s difficult to make sure veterans are aware of their options for care. They have to send targeted information to effectively reach users with the information that’s relevant to them.
To meet that objective, the team partnered with Granicus to conduct A/B testing in 2017 on their newsletter templates and messaging. After incorporating the results of those tests, they were able to send more targeted emails to veterans.
“We grew up to 330,000 subscribers, then 10 months later we grew by 180,000,” Harman reported. “But that’s not the best part! The best part was what veterans were doing with these newsletters. They were using them to reach the services they wanted.”
Leon County learned a similar lesson about knowing their user needs in 2016. The county, where Tallahassee is located, hadn’t been directly hit by a hurricane in over 30 years until it was hit by Hurricane Hermine. Because it had been so long since the city dealt with such a natural disaster, Smith said they felt unprepared and didn’t know how best to serve their citizens.
After the hurricane, the county made a concerted effort to change that. They held several listening sessions to understand what their constituents needed before, during and after major disasters. Then, the government used that information to create a kit of resources for future emergencies.
Use Every Available Channel
Leon County’s “Ready to Go” kit isn’t simply a paper template to reach citizens. It’s a multi-channel strategy to reach residents at every phase of an emergency, including before it hits.
In 2017, Smith and her team had to use the kit for the first time when another hurricane, Irma, hit the county. Through each stage of the disaster, the government talked to its citizens to keep them informed and safe. Smith reported that the county executed 3 press conferences prior to landfall, 11 news releases reaching 200,000 citizens, 70 social media posts generating more than 12,614 likes and shares, and 766,281 engagements on Facebook by the end of that hurricane period.
Hurst, Texas is taking an equally multi-channel approach to communications, even in times when there isn’t an urgent community need. Klein said the city makes all relevant information related to city services, news and alerts available via its email newsletter, text notifications, online portal and mobile app to make sure they reach constituents wherever they are.
Leverage a Network
But the City of Hurst is not only presenting information in multiple places, it’s using that omni-channel approach to create and levarage a network of engagement. The town boasted 3,500 new subscribers last year – a big win for the small town nestled between the two major cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. But more impressive is the fact that 505 percent of the growth came from their network.
The GovDelivery network that Hurst connects citizens to relevant and related services, whenever they interact with the city. That lets the city engage constituents in more services, and grow their subscriber base.
Similarly, Harman’s team engaged with the GovDelivery Digital Engagement service team to create an email subscription campaign and grow subscribed. They were able to use 2.8 million registrants who had submitted emails in the past for services related to MyHealtheVet in their next email campaign.
Present Timely Information
Finally, our speakers emphasized the importance of timeliness. “‘When we put out something that’s important, we want it in the hands of the people who need it as soon as possible,” Harman said.
At the VA’s health portal, that information is most often related to updates in patient services and care options. But our presenters warned not to assume that timely information was always critical. Timely simply means giving users the information they want, when they want it.
For instance, in Hurst, Texas, the government learned that residents were especially interested in which animals were open for adoption in real-time. To meet that demand, they partnered with local pet shelters and a public adoption website to integrate adoption information into their own city’s mobile app.
In Leon County, Smith’s team found that it wasn’t just emergency care that merited constituent attention during hurricanes. “People most want to know when they have their lawn back so their grass doesn’t die,” laughed Smith. So, after Hurricane Irme, the county government gave residents up-to-the-minute details about debris pickup.
These examples highlight the ultimate insight our speakers provided. To engage citizens, government must focus on citizens – what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.