Digital is one of the keys to drastically innovating, improving and redesigning how public services relate to and connect with citizens, whether it’s through email, SMS or website design.
There is increasing pressure for the public sector to adapt to faster forms of communication. With over half the UK population now owning a smartphone and with texting being the most popular form of communication - overtaking phone calls for the first time - public services need to keep up with how we use technology to remain engaged with citizens.
For an organisation that has to plan in decades as opposed to years, big projects are the norm. With big projects come big budgets and in the current climate these can be hard to find for new projects. So, what can public sector managers do?
One area where the digital industries come together is data. Today’s digital marketing industry has never been more targeted, personalised and relevant to the audience. We now capture new usable personal data that we couldn’t before. Useful data is the cream of the crop for making digital campaigns. They help brands develop relevant information for users.
For the public sector, all departments should be capturing the necessary consents from the public to email, call or SMS everyone they communicate with. This requires almost no effort and little money and without these details you can’t begin to go digital.
Give people lots of ways to communicate, either on your website or on a social network. Collecting data in the correct way will turn volume into value and will be the basis for any future digital campaign.
Digital providers have been working with local councils and health providers who started their digital services by sending information updates via SMS and email to residents who opted-in through the council’s website.
Even simple reminders for when to put out the bins can humanise a public service. The smallest campaign will give an indication of the level of interest, provide valuable experience within public sector teams, as well as provide a case study for future digital investment.
Lobby senior management
Senior management need to see the benefit of digital communications. This is best achieved by engaging them directly with the project early on - don’t present the process as a fait accompli.
An example that encapsulates these points is the Information for Parents Service launched by the NHS in May this year.
With 85 per cent of parents requiring more practical advice on caring for their baby, there was a need for a new kind of service that was fast, efficient and timely.
Together with digital experts and developers, the NHS created a communication service using SMS and email updates to help support parents through pregnancy and early childhood.
Expectant parents received regular email and SMS updates relating to stages of pregnancy, preparing for birth as well as tips and advice post-birth by signing up to the service via an SMS with the child’s name and due date. Although the project required in-depth work with a team of software developers, now that it’s running, there is little input required - as is often the case with digital campaigns.
A recent study found 77 per cent of people prefer to receive permission-based marketing via email, compared with only 9 per cent preferring direct mail. So what else can we apply digital communications to? Support for giving up smoking, eating better or keeping fit and active could be the next campaign - and they’re easy to set up and run with digital technology.
The NHS has a lot of communicating to do, but there is huge potential for the digital and public industries to work together and develop new services to engage citizens. Digital will save money, improve public services and increase community engagement; it’s a must for a better future.
Marc Munier is commercial director of Pure360