As technology and social media become more prevalent, more government agency leaders recognize the importance of maintaining strong relationships with their constituencies. Exactly how to accomplish effective citizen engagement, however, is not always clear.

To educate governments on this matter, GovDelivery and EfficientGov hosted a webinar on Jan. 24 outlining best practices for digital communication -- knowledge gained from working with more than 500 public-sector organizations worldwide, said GovDelivery Communications Director Mary Yang.

As government budgets continue getting squeezed, organizations are faced with the responsibility of proving return on investment before spending resources on projects, said GovDelivery Product Marketing Manager Jennifer Kaplan.

Being proactive in making government services and data available, however, can lead to both savings and improved customer service. And by building a permanent audience, personalizing the content the audience receives, and analyzing and curating that service delivery over time, governments will be able to meet their communications goals, said Kaplan, whose presentation primarily focused on the continued dominance of email as a communication platform.

  1. Make it easy to sign up! “It sounds simple, but there are a few things to think about with the sign-up process,” she said. Reaching as many people as possible leads to the most effective programs, so the sign-up process should be easy and customizable. Users should be able to find the sign-up function easily, and there should be channel preferences that allow users to customize the content they receive. Kaplan also encouraged governments to do research in order to stay relevant and familiar with their audience, lest they lose them.
  2. Promote, promote, promote! “No one is going to sign up for your communications if they don't know about them,” she said. “So promote the heck out of it.” Kaplan demonstrated several  best practices for promoting communications, including government websites that effectively promote email newsletters by prominently displaying the sign-up boxes on their websites.
  3. Assess. Before you can improve the communications you have, Kaplan said, your organization must assess the current situation to identify methods of improvement. This can include mapping the structure of an organization, identifying agency functions and thinking about the technology being used throughout the organization.
  4. Automate. “We really see automation as the biggest way to have a cost savings,” she said. “With automation, you can leverage content you're already posting on your website or through internal databases.” Automation can circumvent the need to invest in new IT infrastructure or personnel to carry out many communication tasks. One example Kaplan pointed to is the California Public Safety Department's integrated database and communications system.
  5. Harness the Data. “There's a ton of data out there. It's really important to not only harness this data, but keep it and package it in a formatable way that you can share and analyze with others in your organization,” Kaplan said. By analyzing data on a quantitative and qualitative level, organizations can target their audiences in more relevant, engaging ways.
  6. Engage. “You're competing for attention in the inbox from the likes of the Amazons, the eBays, the JCrews and Nordstroms,” Kaplan said. So creating attractive and engaging email newletters is crucial to getting people's attention.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.