The Content Corner: Using Content as a Tool for Improving Citizen Services

May 9, 2016

It is very refreshing to see the large contingent of government communicators who are always seeking to do their job better, with a well-founded desire to provide those they serve with an enhanced experience. Based on a few examples, such as the many listserv emails that are sent across agencies, DigitalGov’s constant content stream and readership, and the many conferences and sessions related to communications—including webinars—it’s easy to say we have the best job in government.

The General Services Administration (GSA) even has a Chief Customer Officer (s/o to Anahita Reilly, the Deputy Chief Customer Officer)!

We work to make people informed, and hopefully happy. When people are happy, they want to make other people happy and the message spreads.

Facebook graphic for the 13th annual SMILE Conference

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking along with communicators in the law enforcement community at a conference with an appropriate acronym called SMILE (Social Media in Law Enforcement). One key takeaway that we all should consider emulating is reaching out to the community for feedback on ways we can better serve them. I was impressed with the ways law enforcement is using various social media tools to improve law enforcement/community relations.

This was also a recurring theme at the Government Digital Communications Summit, where we learned many tactics for engaging our stakeholders. Many agencies, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security, are using a variety of different email platforms to drive action, with email blasts as the main content type. (Did you attend? Please share some of your feedback.)

The concept of micro-learning over time was a key takeaway for me from the Summit—learning how to provide the right amount of information at the right time. To use a football reference: go for the “first down” sometimes instead of the “touchdown,” emphasizing the value of developing a long-lasting relationship with your stakeholders. As teams move down a 100-yard field, incrementally getting 10-yard first downs along the way, the payoff is worth the movement down the field. As attention spans continue to shrink, it’s imperative to keep your audience engaged and interested in your content. Moving to incremented learning helps you build to the ultimate goal.

Illustration board from the 9th annual Government Digital Communications Summit

Similarly, we should consider asking for feedback and refining messages and tactics based on that feedback. This builds genuine relationships with our stakeholders. We also need to provide easily consumable chunks of information rather than, like many of us may relate to from school, “cramming” it all at once. Interaction can bring key messages to life, thereby making them more impactful.

If you are doing a campaign, continue to follow up with your audience. does a great job of this through their prize competitions, following up at the right intervals and at the right time.

With content that is connected in theme, map the journey you expect your audience to make. Provide clear deadlines and action steps, and socialize them. For example, instead of a message from FirstNet (the independent authority with the mission to deploy the nationwide public safety broadband network) that vaguely says: “Click here for more information about…”, we may consider something that personalizes the message, such as “You can affect the future of public safety communications. Submit your feedback by [date].”

Calls to action are very important. Most of us are extremely busy (or at least we act it), so often we are seeking the bottom line: How does this affect me? What do I need to do with this information? A call to action takes out the guesswork and points your audience directly to next steps. People tend to focus more on information that is directly related to their situation.

Have methods for analyzing your audience’s engagement with your content, and refine your tactics. Seek to segment your communications, assisting stakeholders along their journey by following up and seeking genuine feedback.

The commitment to caring is a key goal that should be shared by all staff at your agency. I’m sure most of us have felt awkward at some point when starting a new job. During the first several weeks, you are seeking to learn as much as you can about your job and the agency you’ve joined. But this process shouldn’t stop, especially for communicators, as our job is to constantly learn more about our agency, find out about new developments, and build close relationships with staff. Think about who you can connect with in your organization, especially those who you don’t understand or don’t know what they do; get to know them and listen.

After we’ve looked inward, we can consider if our digital communications are aligned with the organization’s priorities. Re-evaluate your agency’s purpose/mission, and communicate that throughout the agency to ensure all employees have a shared understanding of “why we are here and why we are doing this.” This is the basis of the customer-centered business model.

As government communicators, continuing to experiment with different ways to connect with the public is imperative to getting our message across. With everything you do, ask: “How does this impact our audience?”

Do you have a loyal assembly of subscribers to your content via email or other methods? Please share! At FirstNet, we are working to develop additional methods for receiving more feedback on our content; and not just to do it, but to do it in a way that will be mutually beneficial.You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.