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Think Like a Publisher for Your Agency

Government is constantly creating dynamic, informative and engaging content for citizens. But who’s reading it? Unfortunately, many agencies have little idea how their information is being used, by whom, and in what format.

According to Jeff Turner, Chief of Sales and Marketing at the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), that needs to change. In a presentation at the Granicus 2017 Digital Communications Summit, Turner explained how agencies should rethink the way they promote their content.

Established in 1861, GPO administers the U.S. government online bookstore and the 1,250 libraries that comprise the federal depository library program. It’s tasked with helping other federal agencies “create, preserve and disseminate their content” to citizens.

But while GPO is the official publisher for government, Turner said that every agency has to start thinking like a publisher. That means going beyond simply creating content.

“There are three crucial things you have to do: create it, get it out there, and then promote it,” Tuner said. “Most agencies focus on the first one, but ignore the other two.”

To ensure information actually reaches the citizens for whom it’s intended, Turner offered a number of strategies to help agencies think like publishers.

First, he encouraged agencies to take time to understand their audience. Consider how and why they interact with your content by asking questions like:

  • What topics are they interested in?
  • Where do they go to find content about those topics?
  • In what formats do they like to receive their content?
  • How can you get your content out in front of them?
  • How can you make your content easier for them to find?

This information can be gleaned from first-hand encounters with constituents, but Turner also recommended analyzing internal and external data to gain a broader understanding of citizen preferences.

Use data points like subscriber volumes, message open rates, and downloads to analyze what people are doing and saying, and where there might be discrepancies between those two data points.

At GPO, they use GovDelivery Communications Cloud to analyze user preferences. When new users subscribe to mailing lists via the service, they indicate which topics they want to receive messages about. GPO monitor those sign-ups, as well as the click and open rates of the messages they send to subscribers, to understand what subjects are resonating with their audience, in which formats.

So far, that tactic is working. Since 2009, GPO has sent over 45 million bullets to subscribers, and they’re already seeing success. They routinely see more than 30,000 opens for their more popular topics.

The agency also analyzes their online bookstore sales by agencies. Where there are fewer sales in a topic for which subscribers have indicated a high interest, GPO uses that discrepancy to prioritize promotion or even creation of new content.

While GPO has a wealth of publishing data, Turner also encouraged agencies to look at publishing industry benchmarks as well. A quick scan can offer valuable lessons for agencies trying to keep up with publishing standards and mediums for the modern citizen.

“Just consider this one data point,” Turner said. “73 percent of adult Americans read a book in the last 12 months. That busts two myths in one blow. Myth No. 1 is that nobody reads books anymore. Myth no. 2 is that print is dead.”

By monitoring industry standards and trends – and combining that with an understanding of their own audience behaviors – agencies can make sure they’re effectively prioritizing and promoting their content.

At the same time, Turner explained that agencies shouldn’t silo themselves or their content to only those mediums or topics that are growing in popularity. Instead, he recommended following an “and strategy.”

“Many agencies will ask if they should create a print or digital format but the answer is ‘yes’,” he joked. “Create it once but publish it everywhere.”

That means agencies should publish content in every available format. Then, they need to promote it in as many forums as possible, including press releases media appearances, conferences and emails.

Turner recommended partnering with GPO to leverage their social media, text, and other messaging channels. GPO’s reach with the Communications Cloud has grown from 115,783 subscribers in 2013 to 205,071 in 2016. That audience can be easily but strategically engaged to promote content from any agency.

“It’s really necessary to get your content out where people are looking for it,” Turner said. That’s why every agency needs to think like a publisher. Government can no longer create content and then walk away. It has to focus on promoting that information to the citizens who want it – where they want it, how they want it, and when they want it.

This blog post is a recap of Granicus’s recent Digital Communications Summit. To see more posts from the Summit, head here. You can also watch a livestream of the event.