Understanding your audience: The DOI’s communications cocktail

social media cocktail The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Director of Digital Strategy, Tim Fullerton, knows a thing or two about making lemonade. When he took over the department’s digital communications in 2009, the DOI had no content management system for its website, no social media accounts, no video capabilities and no dedicated staff.  It was, in essence, pre-historic. But with a lot of passion and a fine-tuned strategy, Fullerton has managed to transform the DOI’s web presence from a few lemons into a delicious John Daly cocktail with a twist.

In addition to a frequently updated website, the DOI now boasts over 88,000 Twitter followers, 20,000 Facebook likes and 69,000 followers on Instagram. It’s been highlighted by Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, CNN, Slate Magazine and The Washington Times as one of a handful of government agencies that are doing social media right. The weekly video series, “This Week at Interior,” is now the most clicked-on page on the Department’s website.

So what exactly is Fullerton’s recipe and how can your government organization tap into that mixology magic?

Let’s break it down, cheesy metaphor style.

Step one: do your research

If a patron walks into your bar, sits down on a stool and says “surprise me,” what’s the first thing you’re going to do? Give him the old once-over and try to figure out what he likes, right? Just as you probably wouldn’t serve a middle-aged man a Cosmopolitan, you shouldn’t implement a communications strategy that’s not tailored to your stakeholders. In order to know how to tailor your strategy, you first have to understand who your stakeholders are.

When Fullerton took over the DOI’s digital communications he found that there were two main problems: first, most people didn’t actually know what the Department of the Interior was or what it did. And second, those that did know what it was didn’t know how to interact with it. With the help of Google and Twitter analytics, Fullerton was able to identify which channel of delivery and what kinds of content were most successful with stakeholders, and thus, tailor his strategy to address the DOI’s problems through those means.

Step two: choose your ingredients wisely

In the world of communications, content is king. As this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article points out, the most successful government agencies on Twitter are those with the richest content. For NASA, it’s live updates from astronauts. For the freshly sqeezed contentU.S. Bureau, it’s interesting statistics. And for the DOI, posting captivating pictures of the outdoors is the most effective way to simultaneously increase its audience through retweets and favorites, and address the DOI’s identity problem by reinforcing it as the official public lands agency.

Government organizations have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. While your organization’s content may not be as inherently interesting as, say, the Curiosity Rover’s Mission to Mars, it’s still unique. But don’t let that fool you into content complacency. Just because you think an article about the migration pattern of barn swallows is absolutely scintillating doesn’t mean your stakeholders will. Fullerton’s cardinal rule of social media is to only share what’s worth sharing. Keeping a vigilant eye on your analytics is one of the best ways to ensure you’re consistently providing shareholders with the content they want, instead of the content you want them to have.

Step three: get in the mix

There’s a reason James Bond always orders his martinis shaken, not stirred. When it comes to cocktails, the way you mix your ingredients is just as important as the ingredients themselves. The same principle applies to communications. Your organization might have the greatest content in the world, but if you don’t know how to use it right your stakeholders won’t stick around for long.

In this article published on the social media strategy website, Sprout Insights, both Fullerton and NASA Social Media Manager John Yembrick note that engagement is essential for social media success. Interacting with your audience not only helps you better understand what they’re looking for, it also shows that you value their input and are interested in having a two-way conversation. Liking Facebook posts, retweeting your followers, and responding to YouTube comments in a timely manner should be part of any sound communications strategy.

By doing your research, cultivating your content, and creating conversation, you’ll be well on your way to creating the perfect communications cocktail for your own unique government organization.

What are some other strategies you use to better understand your audience?

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