The guiding principle of “Create once, publish everywhere” holds true for publishing online content, and its relevance is increasing in government-to-citizen digital communication. Public-sector alert notifications company GovDelivery CEO Scott Burns echoed this sentiment during the Digital Communications Tour: Northern California held on Wednesday, April 3 in Oakland, Calif.

During the conference, Burns spoke to government employees involved with citizen outreach and emphasized key strategies to improve citizen engagement using constituent notifications.

According to Burns, before reaching out to citizens with notifications such as emergency alerts and traffic updates, for example, agencies must first build a strong database of contacts. By consolidating existing email contact lists using automated and integrated solutions, governments can more efficiently add new contacts, and reach their constituents.

9 Steps to
Digital Communications Success 

GovDelivery developed nine rules to follow for successful digital communication in 2013.

  1. Email is an essential foundation.
  2. Soon your emails will mostly be read on mobile devices – think about channel cross-promotion.
  3. Multiple channels drive maximum reach – make sure you’re leveraging them.
  4. Transactional communications are moving online.
  5. Metrics provide powerful insights into your effectiveness.
  6. Online communities make it easier for groups/individuals to work together.
  7. Be a storyteller (Talk about your government organization and what you’re doing).
  8. Find your voice and have fun.
  9. Integrations enhance and expand communication technology.

Not surprisingly, Burns said governments should continue to think about the impact of cellphones, since more and more citizens are accessing email and messages on their phones.

Steve Ressler, founder and CEO of public-sector knowledge network GovLoop, said mobile use is definitely on the rise and that there are many ways government departments can communicate with citizens via their cellphones.

“We’re seeing mobile change how we do citizen engagement, so you’re at a BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station and you can text out when the latest train is coming,” Ressler said.

COPE [create once, publish everywhere] is an effective strategy to get updates and notifications to the public, eliminating redundancies while still getting the message out to the people who need it. Sending one message in multiple forms (press release, social media, text message) can be effective as long as the information being sent out is worth distributing through multiple channels.

“It’s not a new concept, but government communication is very complicated. You have lots of different topics of information being managed in many different agencies,” Burns said. “It is a trend, it’s not a cure-all, but it is an important trend because [governments] have to do more with constrained resources.”

But some government employees feel departments have a long way to go before government-to-citizen communication is a fine-tuned instrument. Nicole Neditch, Oakland's online engagement manager, said there’s still room for improvement.

“I think governments are really far behind as far as the way in which people interact with websites,” Neditch said. “It has been a one-way communication for a long time and now people are starting to dive into a two-way conversation on the Web. I think we’re going to see a lot more services being offered online in the government sector.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer
Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.