The key to creating a stirring conversation at an early morning meeting – aside from fuelling the participants with copious amounts of caffeinated beverages – is tabling a topic of shared interest in front of a vibrant group of professionals.
Such was the case when an impressive array of marketers and communicators from the Canadian federal government, Crown Corporations, and non-profits were brought together to discuss the challenges they face when attempting to engage citizens through digital marketing at a breakfast think tank held in conjunction with the 2013 Adobe Government Assembly. No fewer than 18 government departments were represented at the table.
Session moderator Mark Emond of Demand Spring kick-started the conversation by asking the group what digital marketing and the associated outreach meant to the departments in attendance.
The group’s interest in the topic was evident from the outset and an enthusiastic exchange of ideas was under way. From a historical perspective, the initial mandate of government on the web was to move every print-available communication online – automatically – regardless of suitability. But, did we still need printed communication? And what of Canadians without online access to digital resources?
What was clear was that digital marketing wasn’t the end game, but a means by which the government could ensure its greatest reach and be inclusive to all its constituents, a notion supported by the group in its entirety.
The road to engagement
On the topic of engagement, some department representatives expressed concern over how to effectively continue traditional in-person interactions in the online world, and similarly, how to move away from one-way to two-way online communication. Also at issue is government’s ability to foster and successfully engage its audience online.
Paramount among the barriers tabled was the availability of content and the associated interaction provided simultaneously in both of Canada’s official languages. Concerns surrounding the timeliness of every interaction, and the levels of approval any communication must go through before it’s shared were also voiced. Proper risk analysis procedures and considerations take time and effort, potentially creating yet another impediment to timely response.
Bridging each of these concerns is the atypical success realized by a communications team represented at the think tank. Through the use of social media channels, one government department noted its team’s ability to respond to incoming questions on Facebook and Twitter, and to blog comments within just a few hours – thanks to a communications policy that only requires the approval of responses for issues deemed subjective. The department representative on hand also made note that it rotates its communications personnel through its Twitter and Facebook accounts, ensuring the entire team is adept on each platform and understands how to consistently convey the department’s messages.
Yet another government department has successfully engaged a younger demographic through blogs, original video content and Facebook interaction. By deploying a content strategy that lines with broader government priorities, this department has done its best to duplicate the in-person experience online, giving community managers the flexibility to build their own personality in to their interaction.
The need for analytics
For the risk-averse, social media monitoring software enables departments to be responsive and efficient in addressing questions and concerns from Canadians. Such solutions, along with analytics, though still relatively scarce within government deployments can and will help government agencies justify their digital outreach programs based on actual data.
At this stage of the digital outreach game, many of the government departments represented at the roundtable noted shortcomings in their organization’s understanding of how to measure their social media outreach, and how their efforts can track back to their key performance indicators (KPIs). Think tank attendees said it’s time to shift focus beyond the number of followers and likes to engagement, as it’s the social interaction and the click-through statistics that reflect the effectiveness of digital communication efforts.
To affect the required change of mindset, think tankers stressed the need for a fundamental change in how social media is viewed within government – from media type to cultural norm. For this to happen, teams must be able to report on their social transactions and clearly be able to show cost savings.
Achievable? Yes – with, and only with, the approved deployment of web and social analytic solutions.
Canadian government marketers and communicators are nothing short of passionate when it comes to their digital outreach initiatives. With the shared goal to create true interaction and measure the effectiveness of their programs to foster continued investment, the door to future think tank-based conversations is open.
Stay tuned for the second installment in this on-going series of events at which we will continue to share our engagement successes and challenges.