by Dannielle Blumenthal, Associate Director for Communications Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office
On October 21, 2015 the Federal Communicators Network (@FedCommNetwork) and the Partnership for Public Service teamed up for yet another great training event. This one focused on an issue that is obviously critical to federal agencies and their communicators: how to get your audience engaged with the information you want to share.
The event was kicked off by Samantha Donaldson, Communications Director at the Partnership for Public Service (@RPublicService), and moderated by FCN Board Member and Department of Agriculture employee Bernetta Reese (@bernettareese). The distinguished roster of panelists included:
- Ann Ramsey, Senior Video Producer, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (@HHSgov)
- John Verrico, President, Chief of Media Relations, Science & Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and President, National Association of Government Communicators (@jverrico)
- Michael Cirrito, General Manager, LinkedIn Federal Practice
- Mimi Carter, Vice-President, Environics Communications Inc. (@mimicarter01)
|(l-r) Bernetta Reese, Mimi Carter, Michael Cirrito, Ann Ramsey, and John Verrico|
The panel was followed by a small-group discussion yielding additional insights from each of the approximately 50 people in attendance. Interestingly, although the professional backgrounds of the group diverged widely, a number of common themes emerged:
Remember the Basics
- The focus should be on genuinely useful content; don’t ask for feedback on “which dog picture you like best.”
- Have a clear goal in mind. Often we communicate without actually knowing why.
- Market your agency’s services, not the agency itself.
- For the most part, government communications should be tailored to raising awareness; private sector methods aimed at acquiring paying customers may not apply.
- Avoid thinking of content as an expense; it’s a benefit to your agency that helps you to achieve the mission.
- Remember that you’re competing with every other source of information out there, government or not.
Avoid Common Mistakes
- Don’t put something out because your agency wants to hear itself talk.
- Negative feedback can be uncomfortable, but if you refuse to engage in any conversation then the conversation will happen without you.
- Do everything possible to eliminate the content silos in communication.
- Don’t be afraid to share content that others create. It’s not about ownership anymore. The more partners you have, the more likely it is that your message will spread.
- Don’t let anyone tell you that the government is inferior when it comes to communication. There have been government campaigns legendary in their effectiveness. (The CDC set the gold standard with its “zombie apocalypse” campaign generating awareness around fighting the flu. If they can do it, so can you.)
- Don’t give up. It takes time for a strategy to work and you never know which piece of content will be picked up.
- Don’t be afraid to be interesting. Begin with something that seems “simple” (like the TSA Instagram account) as a way of drawing users into your more complex mission and services.
Focus On Success
- Assess whether you’ve been successful or not. Don’t just keep going without taking stock.
- Measure not just views, but how long people are viewing and more importantly, whether they take action based on the content you are offering.
- A proliferation of social media tools may be exciting, but they’re more of a liability than a benefit if they aren’t kept up. Consider offering fewer channels with greater focus on each one.
Convince the Boss
- Empower leadership to do great content by focusing on small, achievable wins that will generate great feedback.
- Find out who leaders respect and show how your planned best practices are similar to theirs.
Do The Hard Work
- Figure out how people actually reach your content - do the best you can to draw a user map.
- Always have the video camera ready. You never know where the next good story will come from. Be prepared to spend significant time on finding good content.
- Make sure your content offers a similar message across different communication channels. this means paying attention to all the content your agency is putting out.
Consider Who’s Listening
- Differentiate between your different audience segments; each of them will perceive your communication differently. Speak to them in words that makes sense to them.
- Avoid using jargon - keep language simple, common, plain English. You are the human face of the government.
- Subject matter experts may not be fully aware of how the receiving audience will perceive a message.
Above All, Be Human
- Don’t be afraid to go “old school” - pick up the telephone to make connections.
- Trade shows and other in-person events are a great way to reach out to the public and form the kind of connections that can’t be made over social media.
- Remember that the outreach you do puts a human face on the government - keep it real.
- Use crowdsourcing tools internally that help you decide which areas to focus on and put out to the public. Employees know what the public wants and needs to hear.
For more information and to watch the video, visit the Partnership for Public Service on Vimeo. To join the Federal Communication Network, click here. Membership is free and open to federal communicators and contractors with a dot-gov email address.