There are a lot of cases where there are some blinders on in terms of when to take the message offline. For example, one of the very best places to get people signed up to email alerts is at a neighborhood meeting. It’s one of the best ways to reach people and get them signed up. And it’s incredibly difficult for us to get our clients to gather email addresses or mobile phone numbers in person because often the people who are doing the online digital work don’t show up to the neighborhood meeting. So that is probably the biggest mistake that we see.
Based on your analysis, where do you think the market is going? Is email, for example, a dying medium?
We have made a big investment in social media and networks, but what I think people don’t understand is that new channels often reinforce each other more than they compete with each other. Email might have killed the fax machine, but Twitter is not going to kill email. Email is a foundation channel; it has incredible benefits in terms of the kind of outreach that the government needs to do. We have seen then demand for email go up dramatically as people have gotten more engaged online and in social media. That seems to be happening everywhere in the market. We are seeing across our client base 30,000 people or more signing up new for email every single day. The No. 1 mobile app is email. It is not just our observation, it’s just the facts. Email is not going to die. It’s going to be around for 100 more years.
What’s your opinion of governments that are investing in staff positions for social media directors or Web 2.0 gurus?
I think it’s a good idea to have a social media director at an agency. Anytime an organization is putting focus on a communication position, I think that that is a good idea.
But basically calling somebody a social media director is like calling them a Web 2.0 specialist. They will be outdated pretty soon. It actually makes a bias toward a particular tool, and I think that there is going to be a coming together over the next three to five years where there is no such thing as a social media expert — there will be a communication expert who has current knowledge of how to use social media, and there will be communications experts whose knowledge is dated. My view is that the social media expertise needs to be integrated into every single position so that it’s part of the toolkit for the library director just like it is part of the toolkit for the public information officer. I think that it will happen naturally. It’s important that we don’t outsource this incredibly important knowledge of experienced public servants to people just because they are the young, hot social media expert. I think that is very dangerous, so social media tools need to be integrated into the outreach strategy that includes phone, print and neighborhood meetings.
How much is your company thinking about the emerging trend of machine-to-machine communication? The idea is that citizens driving past the DMV would immediately be sent a text message reminding them to renew their driver’s license.
What government doesn’t do very well is to do that sort of age-old McDonald’s trick: asking everyone if they want fries with their hamburger. This idea of machine-to-machine communication can be executed in a very simplistic way just by looking at every moment of interaction with the citizen as an opportunity to introduce to them other ways that they can get value from their relationship with government. In order to support that as a technology platform, we’ve had to rearchitect our entire platform over the past three years to be entirely open.
The FAA manages a database of 5,000 different airplane parts that are tracked for emergency directives. The agency has set it up so that that database can automatically send messages with PDF attachments to all the people interested in those aircraft parts whenever there is a problem. Maricopa County, Ariz., has an air quality system that is tracking the quality of air all the time and automatically triggers alerts out through GovDelivery. So I think that era [when machine-to-machine communication is everywhere] is around the corner and that can be very exciting.