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Do numbers no longer matter?

After reading through what may have been my hundredth list of government communications, social media, and technology predictions for the new year, I came across one prediction that warranted a break in my obsessive trend reading: “numbers no longer matter.”

In the Huffington Post’s list of 12 social media predictions in 2014, author Penny C. Sansevieri says:

“There was a time when we all clamored for a huge number of followers… Now it seems that while big numbers are great, engagement is better.… Think of it this way, what if you were speaking to a huge crowd of people but they all fell asleep during your presentation. Rude? Maybe. But also perhaps an indicator that you need to be more engaging or, at the very least say something to keep them from falling asleep.”Numbers

This prediction doesn’t tell the whole story in the public sector, where the number of people you reach with a message can have a profound impact on citizens’ lives. Government communicators work to reach the maximum amount of people with important messages—like to take shelter from a winter storm. The number of people following or subscribing to that organization to get notifications on that impending snow storm is incredibly important, as is how many of those people go on to engage with that message by forwarding, retweeting, or sharing it.

So, to better apply Penny’s observation in the public sector, I suggest this update: numbers are no longer the only things that matter. Citizen engagement and interaction with your messages has a direct impact on whether you as a government communicator can reach your organization’s mission goals. One of your most important tasks is to inspire action in citizens. Whether it’s to get a flu shot, complete a tax form, or file for a fishing license, citizen engagement with your organization’s messages is crucial to meeting mission goals. You can’t achieve these mission goals if citizens don’t engage with the messages that encourage participation in your programs. (But again, you also can’t complete your mission goals if citizens never hear from you in the first place.)

So how do you increase engagement with the messages your organizations sends and posts so as the article says, “you keep [your audience] from falling asleep”? Here are a few engagement tips:

  1. Keep your message clear, brief and interesting. It’s more likely to be read and engaging for readers when they don’t need a dictionary on hand to understand what you’re saying.
  2. Don’t ignore the analytics. Check your email, social media and website analytics often. Measure which messages see higher engagement rates and resonate more with your audience and then adjust accordingly. Make sure you’re sending out the type and style of content your audience wants, instead of just the content you want them to have.
  3. Optimize for multiple platforms. There’s no easier way to make stakeholders ignore your messages than to not allow them to read it. Optimizing your emails and websites so that stakeholders can read your messages on desktop or mobile devices is imperative to ensuring you’re providing the opportunity for engagement.

Do you have any additional tips for optimizing engagement? Do you agree that numbers are no longer the only things that matter? Comment below!