The UK government’s Central Office of Information (COI) is a more fully realized equivalent to the communications side of the Government of Canada’s Privy Council Office. They’ve moved aggressively into the digital space in the last couple of years.
Lund points to a key driver for the COI’s digital efforts:
The COI can’t choose its audiences; government has to deal with every individual and every business.” He went on to cite social issues such as obesity, smoking, binge drinking and climate change as the big challenges for behaviour change: “we’re changing habits, whole ways of life, starting things and giving things up. If we can change behaviour we will make a huge difference to society. Digital communications is at the heart of that.
Social marketing meets social media: it’s a natural fit for governments and digital communications – one of the key drivers for moving our comms and marketing efforts into a 2.0 space.
Digital Becomes Social
More on the COI’s approach to social media:
He also placed critical importance on social media at the heart of the COI’s digital strategy. He used the example of the RAF campaign of “Afghan Diaries,” which saw video diaries created by servicemen posted on YouTube in what Lund described as an “unmediated and unvarnished view of what it’s like to be in the RAF.”
This is not unlike what the Government of Canada’s AfCam initiative. But perhaps closer to the spirit of the U.S. Air-force’s approach to new media, in which “every airman is a communicator,” i.e. encouraged to engage online and given the tools to do so responsibly and constructively. See the official Air Force blog, which is “designed to have posts written by any Airman, anywhere at anytime”. More deets on their approach, including their instructional guide “to help guide Airmen into being communicators”, on the new media page at AF.mil.
Incidentally, I wouldn’t consider raising awareness about servicemen as classic “social marketing” – it’s less about behaviour change than it is about improving the perception of the military by humanizing it for the rest of us. But that’s a quibble.
Nonetheless, what I hear in Lund’s remarks is that digital strategy today is really about social strategy. This is where our stakeholders are at; it’s no longer effective to simply build the website and hope that people will come to it. Rather, as government communicators, we need to go to where our communities are online.
On the importance of integration:
Lund championed the need to link up all channels: “it’s not enough to do digital by itself – you have to link it.”
Totally agree. I may be all digital, all the time, but in my job I need to keep awareness of what’s going on in other channels, whether mass media, face to face, correspondence, etc. But even within the digital space alone, it’s important to link up the varying channels – after all networked communications is about many channels – email, websites, social networks, etc. And many channels within each of these categories also. Consistent messaging, but also literally surfacing the linkages across digital channels – a simple example: crosslinking from your main web presence to your various other presences, such as what the Public Health Agency has done on their “Mobile and Social Tools” page.
Lund on the next big challenge for the COI:
On the next phase of development for the newly installed CEO, Lund sees trying to change the way that government and citizens interact as a primary objective: “I want people to get involved when policy is being created.” He added: “whether it’s for education, policing, health or power stations, we want to let people into the process of government… get big numbers engaged in a debate.”
No small task. That is a massive social marketing undertaking — changing the citizen-government relationship. But by now, we know that online is a key enabler to citizen engagement in the twenty-first century. We’re seeing that in the USA with the Obama administration’s digital efforts towards greater transparency and openness. Closer to home, though, the Government of Canada has much to do. While there are many smaller “digital engagement” examples cropping up, including as the ones I’ve mentioned above, so far I haven’t seen signals that we’re moving towards having an overarching, government-wide digital engagement plan.