Four Ways to Boost Citizen Engagement

Connecting with the public goes beyond updating a website or posting to Facebook.

As citizens demand ever better digital services, many government organizations struggle to deliver them, even with larger investments in customer-focused programs. Connecting with the public goes beyond updating a website or posting to Facebook. Your agency needs high digital communication engagement rates to be effective in delivering services and programs.

In a recent webinar, “20 Tips to Boost Your Engagement,” the GovDelivery team shared best practices and tips from agencies that have successfully transformed citizens’ experience with government through better engagement.

These tips generally fit into a four categories: 

Have a Strategic Plan

The most important part of any plan to improve engagement is to know your organization’s goals and develop a strategy for achieving them. Every email, Tweet or Facebook post should push towards accomplishing those goals.

You can leverage existing content—such as printed materials—to incorporate into your digital communication templates. And you should test those templates to make sure they actually work. The subject lines in your email messages should make people want to open and read the messages, for example. You can compare the effectiveness of different approaches using A/B testing.

When the Army’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation office was trying to promote its events at installations across the country, they struggled with how to connect with soldiers and their families. With the help of digital communication experts, MWR was able to adapt the imagery that had been created for printed programs into mobile-ready email messaging that could be tested for effectiveness and impact. Now they can easily adapt outreach materials to grow the brand awareness and increase attendance.

Finally, spread your message through multiple channels to make sure you’re hitting each segment of your audience, and then measure the outcomes. If things aren’t working, make changes and measure again.

Understand Your Audience

Personalized messages can be a powerful tool in boosting engagement, but first you must know who your audience is and how they consume information. 

Knowing your audience can be tricky. You can use online forms to gather information to determine the types of people that will read your content, and how they prefer to connect with you. You can then segment your audience into smaller distribution lists to make sure you are giving the right people the information they really want, how they want it.

Use imagery the audience can relate to and that reflects your message. If one segment of your audience prefers to receive text messages, then send text messages and make all content SMS friendly. Send emails to others who prefer email. Just don’t use communication channels your audience doesn’t use.

The Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services helps the city’s ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Given that many of its clients don’t have Internet access at home, but that more than 90 percent of Americans own mobile phones, RISE turned to mobile technology to better reach and engage individuals after being in prison. RISE was able to send reminders and updates to entire groups of program participants, as well as communicate with individual clients via text, all from one central dashboard. According to the RISE team, this new approached revolutionized case management for the organization.

The best way to understand your audience is to simply ask citizens for direct feedback about their experiences with your organization. Nothing helps build a relationship more than sharing personal stories.

Clarity Is Essential

It’s critical to provide clear directions. If you want people to register for an event or download a resource, explain how to do that. A simple button or image linked to your key landing page can go a long way to improving your engagement. No matter how you compose your message, make sure you communicate the value the reader will get for clicking through.

During National Preparedness Month, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready Campaign connects with a wide range of groups, including emergency management professionals, small business owners, and families. FEMA has developed tailored toolkits and content for each of these audiences, to empower them to improve disaster preparedness. Instead of overwhelming audiences with every piece of content at once, the Ready Campaign prioritizes content promotion with a detailed outreach calendar that targets the right piece of content to the right audience in simple messaging that is easy to interact with. By prioritizing resources, the Ready Campaign is able to increase downloads and ensure more people are prepared for disasters.

Work to Grow Your Audience

Improving citizen engagement isn’t the end of this story. Organizations need to continually and actively build that audience.  Building your audience doesn’t have to mean paying for expensive advertising.

The fastest way to grow a reliable audience is to improve the citizen experience on your website. Make it easy for people to sign up for updates with an overlay box that appears on key webpages. This will enable you to convert casual visitors into digital subscribers with whom you can communicate.

The best way to maintain your existing audience and cultivate a new one is to give people the information they seek—when they need it. Otherwise, they will unsubscribe. And when you have a new project or program, reach out to a new segment of people to grow another targeted audience.

When the Social Security Administration wanted to promote their “Social Security Matters” blog, they discovered audiences they had cultivated for past initiatives, but had neglected more recently. By reaching out to these dormant audiences with customized messages, they were able to more easily expand the reach of their blog much faster than with traditional outreach tactics. 

For more information about all 20 tips for better citizen engagement, please view this slide presentation or check out our related resources here, and here.

John Simpson is a digital engagement strategist with GovDelivery.