Helping citizens is at the core of government’s mission, so shouldn’t it follow that helping is also at the core of government communications? In the age of social media and mobile, it can be easy to feel like your organization’s voice is just one in a countless sea of others. In an effort to set themselves apart from the crowd and get their message heard, some public sector organizations begin to act more like private; pushing their content on stakeholders instead of pulling it from them. Rather than focusing on helping their citizens, they’re caught up in selling to them.
In addition to this being a poor practice for the public sector, it’s also not an effective communications strategy. Private sector companies are beginning to catch on to the power of helping versus selling and are adjusting their marketing strategies to reflect the shift. If you’re feeling nervous about the prospect of implementing a private sector communications plans on a public sector budget—don’t be. Government organizations will always have a leg up in this arena because their content is designed to be helpful. Not only that, but new, useful government information usually self-generates nearly every single day.
So how do you turn this information into a communications plan that helps your organization’s stakeholders and supports your mission? Check out these tips for some ideas on how to get started:
Identify stakeholder needs
We talk a lot about listening to what your stakeholders want, and for good reason: if the ultimate goal of a government organization is to serve its citizens’ needs, then who better to identify what those needs are than the stakeholders themselves? There are active ways to ask your audience what they want—say, by offering them a choice of newsletter topics to subscribe to. And there are passive ways to gauge what your audience wants—like running monthly reports of Facebook metrics and seeing which kinds of posts got the most traffic. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but both can be powerful tools when identifying stakeholder needs.
Connect those needs to your content
Once you know what your stakeholders want, you can start shaping your content around it. Creating content is obviously an important part of any communications plan. But curating that content is what makes a plan strategic. Your citizens told you what they want; now it’s up to you to give it to them. Providing the public with the information they deem useful is one of the first steps in making the shift from selling to helping.
Disseminate your message
Now that you’ve got your content figured out, it’s time to share it. There are many different communication channels to consider, and each has its own unique benefits and challenges. Tailoring the channel to the content is essential to connecting with the right audience and effectively communicating your message. If some of your stakeholders are most interested in seeing pictures of all the wildlife found in your state park, perhaps Facebook is the right way to go. If some of your stakeholders primarily value up-to-date weather notifications, Twitter or SMS might be better options. Don’t just use communication channels for the sake of using them; use them in a way that’s as custom designed to meet your audience’s unique needs as possible.
Measure your success
What’s success without failure? Well, it’s not really success at all. Government communications is a constantly evolving field, and just like with anything in life, nobody gets it exactly perfect the first time around. By compiling metrics and tracking data about your communications plan, you’ll be able to better assess what parts of your plan were successful, what parts could use a little tweaking, and what parts may need to be dropped all together. By dedicating time to self-assessment, you help perpetuate a cycle of improvement and efficiency in your organization’s communications. And the better you are as an agency, the better you are for your citizens.