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Where PR and ad campaigns fall short, content marketing comes through

This entry summarizes an interview with GovDelivery CEO Scott Burns published by InTransition, a weekly podcast dedicated to the practice of content marketing in government. 

Content marketing is no longer a lofty private sector concept. If you work in government, content marketing is essential to reaching (and expediting) your strategic goals.

David Pembroke, host of the InTransition podcast, defines content marketing as “the creation, curation and distribution of useful, relevant and consistent content designed to meet the needs of a specific audience in order to achieve a desired citizen or stakeholder goal or action. It’s a modern approach that combines the power of strategic communication planning with the distribution of online and offline channels.”

Unlike content marketing in the private sector, in government, strategic communications planning isn’t focused on marketing products, it’s focused on marketing vaccines, or foster programs, or neighborhood safety.  Government markets things that change lives.

When it comes to shifting public perception or behavior, storytelling is the most powerful way to elicit an emotional response that truly makes a message resonate. What the government is marketing already makes for great storytelling, so let’s examine areas where content marketing can extend the reach of those stories.

Storytelling coupled with the drumbeat of information

With the rise in online content, social channels and other digital media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the public sector to get its message to the intended audience.  For example, vaccines are a key important preventative measure for public health organizations. When it comes to the flu shot, health agencies spend time, effort and countless resources promoting flu shot facts and benefits to ultimately control the spread of influenza. Driving awareness and securing public trust at a mass scale are necessary to ensure the largest percentage of the public gets vaccinated. But if someone does an online search for vaccination information or the location of their nearest flu shot provider, they might pull up a viral anti-vaccination video riddled with misinformation from a group that doesn’t believe in flu shots.

This is where PR and advertising fall short. PR and advertising efforts can actually limit storytelling and the ability to control a message.  That’s why organizations don’t get a return on a one-time PR or advertising campaign about the importance of vaccinations.  To truly shift behavior and perception, you need a strategy that incorporates storytelling and the drumbeat of information.

The CDC is a great example of an agency that couples storytelling with a consistent stream of information. The CDC posts flu maps online to showcase how the flu spreads around the U.S. It also provides regional updates of flu prevalence through other channels like email, which allows them to consistently connect with doctors, the public and other stakeholders to highlight the importance of flu shots. Through its content marketing efforts, the CDC offers a stream of consistent information to the broadest audience, giving it more control over the message.

How to get buy in and implement content marketing at your agency

Ready to take control of your message? Chances are your organization is already equipped to leverage a content marketing strategy. Here are a few tips on how to get buy-in, leverage content you already have and measure success:

Tip 1: Be aligned.  No matter what level of government, there’s always a lot of debate around what needs to get accomplished in a year. Start by asking questions and getting a consensus around the five most important things that need to get done this year, or better yet, this month. That question not only unifies multiple stakeholders, but more importantly it allows you to align communications, and content marketing, to shared goals.

Tip 2:  Be measurable.  The biggest hurdle to implementing a content marketing strategy is defining what success means.  Like a marketing funnel, you need to reach an audience, engage them with content, and convert them to a downstream action.  And it’s more than digital metrics (web traffic, impressions, opens, etc.), it’s about the end results. Whether it’s recruiting volunteers, driving online enrollments or getting people to pay their taxes on time, you have to know what’s at the bottom of the funnel so you have a clearer view of what you can measure. Get your toe in the water, measure what works and then iterate.

Tip 3. Be your own media house. Communications don’t have to go through a media filter anymore to get seen by your audience, so how do you shift to a culture of publishing? The good news: you already have the content. Look at what you have today and slice and dice for digestion and distribution across modern channels. For example, organizations that spend thousands of dollars on a weekly or monthly magazine could dramatically increase the longevity and engagement with their content if they simply cut it up and used it in the digital arena.

Tip 4. Be relevant. You can overthink every target audience you have, but it’s an important fundamental capacity to allow people to tell you who they are and what they’re interested in. Once your online presence is established, let your audience choose at a specific level what they are interested in. The age of broadcast is over, it’s all about narrowcast. Instead of offering a city-wide newsletter, you’re more likely to capture attention and drive engagement with neighborhood-specific crime information or road construction updates.  Think of it in the same way you structure a website, the more granular the content, the more relevant.

Tip 5.  Be consistent.  Government communicators typically have something to ask of their audience. Whether it’s voting or driving advocacy or simply getting your community to be prepared for an emergency, you can’t expect high levels of engagement if you make an ask without providing value. It’s all about consistency throughout the digital relationship and having a plan for when it’s time to ask more of your audience.

For example, Fish, Game and Parks organizations are putting efforts into bolstering license or permit sales. The most successful organizations are coupling value-add content throughout the year (catch of the week, fishing guides, lake restocking reports) and then when the time comes to ask for a transaction, they’ve provided valuable information that built those digital relationships. There’s a sensitivity between storytelling and when you really need to push a transaction. If you offer ongoing value, you’ll be more successful in converting your audience when it matters.

The moral of the story? Stop thinking of content marketing (or communications in general) as an independent function. Communications and marketing should be viewed as critical program support. When organizations move from thinking about marketing as an overhead function that’s associated with PR or advertising to thinking about it as enabling programs and missions, you get budget, buy-in, alignment and as a result: program success.

David Pembroke of the contentgroup interviews leading experts in government communications from policy makers, to agencies with government clients, to journalists and technical specialists. Read more at http://intransitionpodcast.com.au/using-content-marketing-to-drive-citizen-action#aeArvSgxrvw064MG.99