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Government Agencies Must Master Digital Citizen Engagement in 2021

Government agencies must continue to step up digital communications and outreach strategies in 2021, incorporating the breakthrough lessons learned in response to global pandemic challenges.

Collectively, we’ve “vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption,” reports McKinsey Digital. Past engagement patterns are no longer the norm. Government communicators must respond in new ways to meet the needs of work-at-home employees and digital-savvy citizens.

A lot changed in 2020. In-person events were restructured as virtual seminars, meetings and training sessions – for both employees and external stakeholders. Social media, email and training platforms were purchased to improve engagement, targeting and service delivery. Chatbots were created to to more swiftly answer end-user questions in real time. Website tools were developed to provide on-demand interactions.

At the same time, customer acceptance of digital interactions leapt forward. Accenture finds that 78 percent of citizens see the benefits of using virtual agents to receive services from a government agency. A majority (84 percent) are open to sharing personally identifiable information in exchange for more personalized experiences.

In 2021, digital content expectations will continue to rise. The communications landscape is changed forever.

“By continuing to go digital, agencies can streamline operations, become more agile and better meet the needs of employees and citizens,” writes Brian Chidester in Nextgov.

It’s Time for Government to Think of Users as Customers

With or without a lingering pandemic throughout 2021, agency communications specialists must continue to build better digital engagement strategies for stakeholders. That starts with thinking more analytically about government users as customers.

“Customer data is going to become an increasingly precious commodity,” according to new insights from a Content Marketing Institute (CMI) report. Although focused on the business-to-consumer (B2C) community, the CMI report provides valuable advice to government communicators.

“As we saw from this year’s research, building credibility and trust is a huge goal for content marketing now,” said Robert Rose, the report’s author. “You’ll need the data in order to know where and how to be trustworthy. But you’ll need to be trustworthy in order to get the data. If that sounds like a Catch-22, it is. But delivering value to audiences before they become customers is the way out of it.”

At issue, based on the CMI survey, is that while 63 percent of B2C marketers changed their targeting and messaging strategies, only 34 percent re-examined their customer journeys. Also, only 26 percent increased time spent talking with customers; a mere 18 percent revisited customer personas, which use quantitative and qualitative data to help define specific customer profiles and needs.

Insights on what audiences want from digital content is lacking. And while trusting relationships are built on having great audience insights, content shops are, unfortunately, “data rich and insight poor,” added Jacqueline Loch, a customer innovation expert with St. Joseph Communications, Canada. Loch was a presenter at CMI’s Content Marketing World 2020 conference.

Such insights are vital, agreed Eric Goodstadt, the president of Manifest. Also speaking at CMI’s event, Goodstadt said that “trust starts with knowing the user, by leveraging data to drive information that’s relevant to the user’s situation.”

Converting Data Into Engagement

Making sense of the data requires a deeper dive. Loch provided some essential questions that communications and outreach professionals should ask and answer about their audiences:

·       What does the audience like, feel and trust about your content?

·       How do we know if we’re fulfilling their needs?

·       How do we know if we’re furthering our relationship?

·       How do we know if the content is achieving the goals?

Finally, it’s essential to serve our audiences the right content, at the right time and in the right context. This includes identifying and creating content for critical learning moments throughout the customer journey.

For example: Is content available for initial introduction or discovery for those who are not familiar with our services? Do we go beyond to provide interactive experiences for citizens ready for further exploration? Do we help with more advanced adaption and mastery for more advanced users?

Think of content more as a utility, not a commodity, said Andrew Wheeler, CEO of Skyword, a content strategy company.

There is an overabundance of content to bring people into the top of the consideration funnel, where customers and citizens first become aware of a service or product. But content dramatically decreasing as you go down the conversion funnel, said Wheeler at Content World, even though customers have real needs to learn more or even begin to experience the product or service.

“We are short-selling our customers,” he said. “We need to work harder to grow the relationships we already have.”

As content creators, we must work harder in 2021 to understand our audiences and identify critical learning moments. Only by knowing their unique pain points, needs and levels of understanding can we build the deeper digital relationships that today’s customers now demand.


Author: Barry Lawrence | Senior Communications Consultant