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Trust, reach, and individual connections: Scott Burns on the Power of the Message

Our CEO Scott Burns closed out this year’s U.K. digital communications event with some important insights into something we’ve talk about often on this blog, “The Power of the Message”. As Scott notes in his introduction, the climate of public sector communications has changed a lot over the years. A decade ago, government agencies would talk about themselves and their services in a way that was very public relations oriented. Recently, however, that has shifted into a much more user-focused apwrofmsgpproach.

“What’s happened over the years is this incredibly exciting convergence of communications with service delivery and customer service”, Scott said. “Over and over you see the connection between communications and the reality of the mission you’re trying to serve; using communications as a vehicle for real and meaningful change”.

Public sector agencies are having to do more and more with less and less. Communications has been a big part of making that possible, and that’s because of how powerful effective messages can be. You can calculate the power of the message with math, Scott said, but ultimately, it all starts with the value of one message to one person.

So how do you increase the value of each connection? Scott focused on three key points.

First, you need to make your messages timely and relevant. “You can construct the best message in the world, but you’ll never beat the open rate of an email with the subject line ‘earthquake in San Diego’”. People care about what’s happening right here, right now, so positioning yourself as a reliable source for up-to-date information is essential. Second, you need to connect your messages to your mission. If you have certain areas of your website that drive more traffic but don’t necessarily have a lot of mission connectivity—like, say a section on the Social Security Administration’s website about the year’s most popular baby names—leverage those opportunities to drive people to other important parts of your site. Third, you need to promote valuable actions: pay your taxes, remember to move your recycling bins to the street, or participate in this seminar. Constructing a message that encourages action and engagement generates a level of learning that helps prevent further challenges later on.

Another key component to harnessing the power of the message, Scott said, is trust. Studies have shown that the more familiar you are with something, the more you trust it. If you want to create familiarity with your citizens, you have to connect with them on a regular basis. Another way to build trust is through stories. “People trust other people more when they understand their story. The same thing applies to organisations”, Scott pointed out. Finding the right balance between information and storytelling isn’t easy, but it is incredibly valuable if done right. Finally, trust can also be built by using a multichannel approach and leveraging your stakeholders’ trust in their peers. The more people that click that “Share” button on your site, the more you extend your network of trusted stakeholders.

But, of course, the best message in the world doesn’t matter if it doesn’t reach anyone. Reach is like the macaroni to your cheese, the peanut butter to your jelly, or, as Scott put it, “the flour that bakes your cake”. If you want to increase engagement and traffic to your website you’ve got to have reach. To do that, you have to balance individual message creation with a strategy for how you’re going to build your audience.

To learn more about the power of the message and how to extend your reach, check out Scott’s full presentation here.