Friday, May 30, 2008

Dummies' Guide to Social Media

Commoncraft have made another fantastic video, this time focusing on Social Media.

This (older) presentation is also a great Dummie's Guide to social media: Social Media and Marketing: Evolution or Revolution?

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

NZ government website assessment - when did Australia last do this?

New Zealand is holding its 2008 web site assessment, looking at 500+ websites in the government domain, testing them against ten simple accessibility principles.

When was the last time Australia did a similar review?

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Getting (web) content right!

Here's a great presentation from Donna Spencer (formerly Donna Maurer) discussing how to get content right.

The key things she picks on are:

  • The reader is important - you're not
  • Really think about what the reader wants to know
  • Write as you speak - with a real voice
  • Use images as well as words - more people are visual than verbal
For government agencies that means dropping the stilted, us-focused govvie speak that infests many government websites (including the one I manage).

It's scary, it's difficult to get approved at times and it involves change.

But our customers would find out what they needed faster and with less confusion and frustration.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Managing taxonomies

I found this an interesting article on a systemic way to manage taxonomy creep.

Managing taxonomies

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

What are Australians doing online?

Hitwise has provided a great piece of insight into what activities Australians are actually doing online in their February monthly newsletter.

If you don't subscribe to Hitwise's service - which is not cheap - their newsletter is a great free way to keep an eye on some of the key trends in Australian online traffic.

Australia Newsletter - February, 2008

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The four purposes of an Intranet

As always James from Step Two Designs is both thought provoking and slightly controversial in his down-to-earth approach in this presentation, The four purposes of an intranet.

  • Content
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Activity
He makes a very good case for the areas which deliver the most ROI for an organisation.

It comes with voiceover which makes it easy to follow.

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To eTransact, or not to eTransact - is that the question?

I've been looking through AGIMO's 2007 report on Australians' Use of and Satisfaction with e-Government Services within the context of the channel research my Agency has been undertaking.

AGIMO's report make it clear that the online channel has become THE channel of choice for Australians to engage with Government.

To quote the report's executive summary,

The internet is now the preferred way to contact government.

  • Two in five (41%) people would now prefer to contact government by internet. This is a substantial increase from 2004–05, when less than a third (31%) nominated the internet as their preference.
  • At the same time, there has been an ongoing decline in preference for in-person contact; this has fallen from 33% in 2004–05 to 20% in 2007.
This has been driven by citizens' desire to engage Government at the time and place of their choosing. To avoid queues and phone wait times. To be in control of the relationship.

Naturally Government in Australia has sat up and taken notice. Massive funding is pouring into the online channel and Agencies are busy planning the closure of many of their outlets and call centres.


Many Agency maintain a phone-first philosophy.

This is driven by 'common knowledge' that their customers do not use the internet, that they are happy contacting Government strictly between 8.30am and 4.45pm (excluding international customers) and that only via phone can customers receive the level of personal service they crave (except for those customers who refuse to call Government agencies).

While I have expressed the view above in an emotive way, it does reflect the thinking of many senior people across the Public Service.

And they aren't totally wrong.

AGIMO's report measures both actual use and intentions. As they say about the road to hell, you can find yourself in very hot water if you plan for intentions while ignoring day-to-day reality.

Certainly online is a growing channel - growing faster than the wheels of Government can turn.

Certainly also people find phone and face-to-face engagement frustrating. Both require them to be in a certain place at a certain time.

And within my own agency - which is also 'phone first', I track more minutes of website use per month than our total inbound customer calls (and more visits than phone calls).

However Government in Australia is not yet ready to change the balance from calls or face-to-face to online transactions.

People say they are willing to transact online and, in many cases, the Australian Government has those services there, online, waiting for people to use.

When they begin using them in great numbers and the phone volumes drop off Agency Heads will revisit their channel strategy.

However until agencies see that occurring their philosophies will remain in place, notwithstanding the efforts on those, such as myself, who see the online channel as being the best way to effectively deliver consistent customer service to citizens in a cost effective manner.

Of course this is based on a few assumptions;
  • that the right services are provided online and they are usable and accessible,
  • that Agencies will resource and promote their online channels so people realise they have the choice to not call, and
  • that senior management in the Public Service - most of whom are baby-boomers, will adapt their reality to match customer behaviour, rather than attempting to follow the approach that has served them so well for thirty years.

I'm certainly interested in seeing what will happen.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

What is eGovernment?

I've pondered for a long time over the meaning and common understanding of the term eGovernment.

I've seen many definitions - often hinging on the delivery of services by government to citizens or the facilitation of communications between and within government agencies.

I find these very narrow and 'government-centric' views of eGovernment. They are about the government doing to citizens, rather than enabling citizens to do with government.

In other words, they are focused on a command and control approach rather than collaborative outcomes through participatory engagement.

So I've formed my own definition of the term as below.

eGovernment involves the use of digital channels and tools to:

  • facilitate and support citizen participation in the process of governance
  • enable and extend meaningful dialogue to improve understanding between citizens and the government bodies that serve them
  • streamline and improve governance processes in order to improve citizen engagement
  • deliver appropriate cost-effective services and information to citizens

Explanation of terms
I use the term digital channels and tools to refer to any connected digital-based devices - computers, mobile wireless devices (such as mobile phones and PDAs) and so on. All of these devices can be used to enable anytime/anyplace connections between citizens and between citizens and government.

Where I use the term citizen I include all people, organisations and institutions that exist and/or operate within a particular legal jurisdiction.

While I do include the delivery of services to citizens in the definition, I see it as an outcome of the preceding processes of engagement. The engagement is critical for establishing which services are appropriate for citizens and can be cost-effectively provided via digital channels.

All comments and other views of the definition of eGovernment are most welcome.

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Reading (online) is for Neanderthals

Words - the stuff with which dreams are written.

One of the core elements of modern society is our ability to say and write down our feelings, opinions and gripes. To create meaning where none exists, or shine a light on that which does.

Those who are good at crafting words even get paid, by the word - although it costs none of us to use the self-same words whenever we wish.

Words are also the bane of modern existence - too many words, thrown at us from all quarters, overwhelming us with details.

Few of us have time to listen and read all the words presented to us each day. Many of us deliberately go out of our way to avoid words, seeking synopses, précis, executive summaries, briefs, briefings and elevator pitches.

Having satisfied my own word bug, let's get to the point.

Government websites are full of unnecessary words, frequently using jargon, bureaucratic terms and marketing speak.

If we want our audiences to absorb what we say, we need to use fewer, shorter and common use words.

This was reinforced by a recent Alertbox (from usability guru Jakob Neilsen).

Here's the summary and link - I'll leave it up to you whether you want to encounter more of Jakob's own words.

On the average Web page, users have time to read
at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

Full article: How Little Do Users Read?

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

eGovernment has failed citizens

Deloitte has released a report suggesting that eGovernment has failed to reach it's potential due to an over-reliance on technical delivery and failures to change Public Sector business models or adequately consider the customer at the centre of transactions.

A summary of the report's key findings is at CIO magazine entitled Governments Urged to Learn From Businesses

The report concludes e-government to date has largely failed to transform government service delivery as its original architects imagined it would. During the race to go online, public managers rarely stopped to consider such basic questions as who their customers were and what they wanted, impeding their ability to service those customers effectively and efficiently.

Customer-centred transformation goes well beyond automating Industrial Era business processes, the report says: it requires first stepping back to understand the end-to-end experience from the user's perspective and using those insights to improve the experience offered to customers.

The report also makes some strong points regarding the cost and efficiency savings of pursuing a customer-centric approach.

It's a thought provoking read.

The full research report is available at Deloitte's website entitled, One Size Fits Few: Using Customer Insight to Transform Government (PDF 2.7Mb)

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Post-it online - Make a note of that

This is a fantastic online campaign for a paper-based product.

It's an example of how organisations can use the tools that are already freely available on the web to extend their brand.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Explaining digital media to beginners

One of the most difficult tasks for anyone working in the online industry is to bring along an internal audience who are not 'digital natives'.

This often includes the people who control the purse strings in organisations, who do not quite get how these newfangled digital toys work - or that they are business tools and not toys.

Fortunately people are now beginning to realise that the internet isn't simply another hula hoop fad, but actually sparking that 'AHA!' moment remains a challenge.

A tool I find useful are the Commoncraft series of videos, which use simple concepts and physical objects to demonstrate digital concepts.

If you've not yet discovered Commoncraft, visit their Youtube channel and take a look.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

We built it - but why do they come?

April was a record month for the Agency website I manage.

We've been on an uptrend for awhile, but this month saw the traffic (measured in visits and unique visitors) jump north to an extent I did not anticipate.

It's definitely a nice surprise and gratifying to be able to claim that the website is growing faster than the average website growth rate in Australia (using Hitwise to prove this).

However how much is due to the work of my team and I, or that of the ICT team who actually code and deploy the site?

Websites are at an unusual end of the marketing and communications spectrum.

While they exist in a public (albeit virtual) space, there's realistically little passing trade who can stumble upon them.

Websites rely on people discovering about them through other means such as word of mouth, advertising, search engines and other websites.

Without these discovery approaches any individual website is virtually invisible except by lucky chance.

If your role is to manage a website, but you do not have influence over the communications going out from your organisation, you have to really consider whether you have much impact on the website's success.

Certainly the content can be kept timely and accurate, the navigation well-thought out and the design superb.

But if you built a shop in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain you'd probably get more passing trade (though they might glow a little).

So how does a website manager solve the audience drought problem?

If you listen to an SEO enthusiast, the secret is in optimising your search engine listing - Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

This involves a collection of techniques to ensure that when someone is searching online for appropriate keywords your site is up the top of the results list.

It can also involve paid search advertising, where you place paid ads next to search terms that may lead someone to your site. The bonus is that you only pay when someone clicks on the ad, making them a very cheap option.

There is also link exchange - where you agree to link to someone else's website if they link to yours. This works well if the other site already has the audience you want to attract, otherwise it can be a waste of time.

There's online advertising - banners, pop-ups, spots, and all the different shapes and sizes available. This is less targetted, but can still deliver good results if ad sites are well selectd.

Sponsorship and social marketing are also possibilities - sponsor another website or post your web address in appropriate topic forums and blogs.

However there's a vital ingredient all of these online tools lack.

  1. They're all online tools and don't reach your audience when they are not online, also
  2. if your audience doesn't know they need to visit you, why would they click on you in search results, a banner ad or a sponsored site anyway?
So what's the best way to get an audience to your website?

Your comms
My role as Online Communications Manager means that besides looking after the website and intranet (and advising on online advertising), I also poke my nose into any Agency communications or marketing activity just to make sure that our website is front-and-centre.

To ensure that my nose doesn't take any damage in all this poking, in return I give the people preparing the material the one thing they cannot get on radio or TV, in print media, in our own printed materials or in any other form of communications outside the web - unlimited space for their messages.
  • You're restricted to a 30 second spot on radio?
    No problem - tell the audience to come to the website and we can provide a home page item and 50 pages of background material.
  • Your new printed customer publication is restricted to a 64 page fold (due to print and envelope stuffing costs)?
    No problem - let's convert the document into a 120 page website section, which includes all the detailed information you really, really need to tell customers but cannot fit in a shorter form.
When people visit a website they've made a conscious decision to do so. That makes them more engaged than if the material simply arrives in the mail or is blasted at them from the car radio. This opens the door to tracking what they really want - which pages do they/don't they visit? How long do they stay? Do they email us? Do they post about us online?

I've found this kind of tit-for-tat trade a powerful tool to both ensure that the website gets the coverage it needs to be found and help reinforce in peoples' minds that the web isn't simply another distribution tool for the same material.

Your staff
The other very powerful and influenceable way to get your site into customer minds is via your call centres and other staff. This involves communication within your organisation.

To get your staff to recommend your website you must first convince staff that your site has something of value for customers.

To do this you must first identify and provide appropriate tools and content. This includes material of high value to your customers as well as content that staff find difficult to explain over the phone, or tools that allow them to complete calls faster.

Once the tools and content are in place there needs to be an ongoing commitment to educating staff that your website is the place to go. Call centres often experience higher turnovers than other areas of an organisation and staff can only keep so many things in mind at once, so a once-off campaign won't deliver lasting results.

So how do people find your website?

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blogging in government intranets

I have been working on building the correct conditions for intranet blogging within my agency.

This has involved introducing the concept (or 'meme') into the collective consciousness of key managers over the last twelve months, through;

  1. forwarding links to online blogs which were of interest to individual managers,
  2. publicising the increasing use of the agency's intranet by staff and the specific effectiveness of certain communications using the medium,
  3. providing information on different approaches to communication using language and materials readily understandable by a lay audience (such as Commoncraft videos),
  4. positioning my self as knowledgeable in the area - by being knowledgeable, and
  5. identifying existing problems within the agency which could be addressed through the medium of a blog - such as team communications across diverse sites.
It's a slow process but has begun to bear fruit. Our Internal Communications team is now interested in exploring the use of a blogs by senior managers to provide a two-way communications option for their engagement with staff.

There's still the need for executive mandate, to fund ICT to deliver and the challenge of supporting senior management in developing blogs - helping them develop appropriate communications styles and approaches - but the seed has been planted!

Here's an interesting article from Andrew McAfee of Harvard's Business School which demonstrates one of the benefits of internal blogs.

Homework the Teacher Learns From

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