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Better Communication Between Government And Citizens

One of the topics I have been focused on professionally lately is improving the communication between government and citizens. 

In my work with political campaigns, businesses, non profits, and individuals, I am fond of repeating over and over that “if you don’t define the conversation about your brand, someone else will and it is going to be negative” over and over and over. 

This week a good example of that occurred when the Secretary of Commerce had a seizure and crashed his car on three separate occasions in a matter of minutes.  Almost immediately right wing groups were placing attack ads to fill the void that was necessary while the White House gathered the information necessary to make a statement about the incident. 

Granted, this incident speaks more to the level of our political discourse, but it illustrates a larger point.  That if you don’t get out your message first and clearly, someone else will do the messaging for you.

How does that apply to government and citizens? 

I’m glad you asked. 

First, government is in the business of providing services.  I’d almost stretch to call them the largest provider of services in the history of mankind, but you know….let’s leave it at government is in the business of providing services. 

As we hear over and over again from the Mitt Romney campaign, government workers are overpaid, there are too many of them and we need to get rid of them.

The reason this argument is so effective is because of ineffective messaging by the government agencies and unions that represent them. 

Sure, I live in Washington DC now and I know government workers and political hacks…and I know one thing for sure, government workers do work pretty hard for their money, in situations that are often no ideal.

Above I illustrated a great example of how if you don’t frame the conversation for yourself, you will have it negatively framed for you.  It is rather simplistic, but here are a few steps I think government can use to get its message out more effectively. 

1.  Social Media:  Some agencies have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google+ streams, and whatever other social platform fits their mission.  That’s great, but are they using it to just stream out press releases that people don’t necessarily want to read anyway? 

How about when you use social media, you act like some of the better brands do and engage citizens? 

Instead of just having a one way conversation that proposes little in the way of benefits to the citizens, you have conversations, present case studies and offer value so that people are able to have a positive association and interaction with the agency. 

2.  Use your personalities:  Each of the leaders of the agencies in some way is a brand and personality.  I understand that they are busy people, but make your leaders more easily accessed.  Have Google+ hangouts or Twitter chats on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.  Get them out into the public, not just to the standard industry constituents, but get them in front of citizens that may not have any idea the useful things the agency is doing. 

A good example is the work Hillary Clinton is doing around the world.  Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that she has been a great ambassador to the world for what America does. 

3.  Tell better stories:  This ties into the first and second points quite nicely.  Too often I find that agencies are getting out the necessary information, but not in a way that really makes it effective to a larger audience. 

So agencies, tell better stories.  Illustrate why what you are doing is going to be awesome for people.  Give your constituents a mental peg to hang the information on and for me that means telling a story. 

I’m not saying don’t issue the press release or data, but I am saying find a way to enhance that information and sell it a little more. 

What do you think?  Am I on target or way off base?