11 ways government can better spread its tech, open government efforts

I’ve talked with a number of government CTOs, CIOs and staff members about their technology and open government initiatives, and most seem disappointed that their efforts aren’t getting as much media visibility as they’d like. While everyone complains about not getting enough press, it is a little surprising some of these stories aren’t getting as much attention as they should.

These won’t land you on Oprah, but here’s a few ways you can make it easier to get on GovFresh and other local, niche news sites.

And before you ask yourself, ‘Who cares about getting on niche blogs or some hyper-local news site?,’ here’s why you should:

  • They will report it more accurately, because they get the beat, and their credibility within the niche community is important to them.
  • Because it’s important to them, they will report it more often.
  • Seeing how your initiative is filtered helps you understand what points resonate most and how to best refine your message to go mainstream.
  • Their passion will energize your own work. Talking shop with others about what you’re doing will re-enforce you’re doing great work, even when no one else seems to care.
  • The pitch is easier because the driver is passion and not news ROI.
  • News travels uphill. Mainstream media outlets follow what’s happening at a local level. By the time a story goes mainstream, it’s most likely been covered and filtered by a number of local media outlets, which essentially deliver the story idea on a silver platter.
  • Old media is on its last leg.

Here’s 11 ways government can better spread its tech and open government initiatives:

Blog

Setting up a blog is the foundation of your outreach effort. Levering free Website/blogging platforms such as WordPress allows you to quickly create an outbound ‘push’ eco-system, making it easy to post latest news and allow users to easily stay abreast of what you’re working on. A blog also creates a timeline of your story or past work that effectively gives them an easy way to get up to get up to speed and get the bigger picture.

Establish regular communications

Create a regular forum with bloggers and niche reporters to discuss what’s happening within your department, answer questions or get a temperature reading on ideas you’re considering. This can be a monthly conference call, coffee shop conversation or Skype call. You might even get some great (free) advice.

Leverage social media video sites

Video is a powerful way to share your message. It doesn’t have to be the next ‘Avatar.’ It could be a short, 30-second Flip interview with the CIO explaining the importance of the initiative. Once you’ve created a video, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo or other service that makes it easy to embed. Posting video in a non-embedable format is a lost opportunity and waste of your time. I’ve often discovered local and federal government videos, only to find they’re in a non-embedable format. So close yet so far away.

Make it easy to subscribe

Using WordPress automatically makes it easier for citizens to keep updated via RSS. Setting up email alerts via Feedburner is easy and free. Create a Twitter account and tie your blog posts into Twitterfeed that can automatically post to your Twitter account.

Guest post

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has written several times on Mashable and TechCrunch. While you may not have access to that opportunity, bloggers and local media are more than willing to feature guest posts, whether it’s from the mayor or a junior staff member.

Add contact info

Making the email address or contact form prominent so that bloggers and reporters can connect with the right person quickly is key. The quickest way to lose a story is to make it difficult to find how to contact you.

Follow back

By this, I don’t mean following in the Twitter sense. I mean follow what they’re writing and talking about. Establish a give-and-take relationship.

Respond quickly and follow through

I’ve had thorough background discussions on new initiatives that have helped me frame questions to a CTO or CIO only to hear nothing back on my emailed questions. While I understand written answers take time and may seem like wasted effort, you can pretty much guarantee your message is accurately delivered. Despite the craving bloggers have for content, an outdated story is worthless even to them. Not responding at all is worse. It completely discredits you’re supposed ‘open’ government mantra.

Invite them to press events

The questions niche media will ask can help more mainstream reporters better understand the questions to ask or help frame the angle in a more mainstream context, especially if you’re not executing these last two points. This should be no-brainer, but most still only invite local news television or major city newspaper reporters.

Personalize it

Yeah, there’s an app for that, but explaining what the app does is one thing. Showing how it makes citizens’ lives easier is the best way to build an angle. Not every story is as simple as a SeeClickFix pothole story, but if you think creatively enough, you can put a face on any initiative.

Simplify the message

Lose the tech jargon. Even if you think your target demographic is under the age of 30 with a MacBook Pro and iPhone, it doesn’t mean they get the significance of you building your site with open source code or made data available in a machine-readable format. Describe the story as if you were explaining it to your parents.

Some of this will take upfront time to set up, but will pay off in the long run and, who knows, maybe Oprah will call.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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