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Government obsession with newspaper coverage

I asked a senior government communications employee for their communications objectives the other day. Their response was ” to be on the cover of The Globe & Mail” (our national Canadian newspaper). A few weeks ago another client gave me a similar response: “To have an article written about us in the Ottawa Citizen” (our nation’s capital newspaper). When I asked them about their digital presence, they replied that they already have a website (which by the way, appeared on the 8th Google search result page for the most important key phrase relating to their initiative) .

This is usually the time that I take a deep breath…

Forgetting the fact that news of declining newspaper readership is all over newspapers themselves, I begin to wonder at moments like this if certain communications people have ever read a single magazine/publication/journal/article/blog from their industry. If they did, they would know that a few things have changed.

Let’s focus on the most important item…

People use search engines to find information (92% of the online population here in Canada). In fact, over 2 Billion searches are performed on Google each day. You now have access to tools that can tell you how and when people are searching (e.g. Google Insights for Search).

So what?

Your number one goal should be to ensure that people looking for information regarding your initiative can find you. And not just find your website, but rather find your “digital presence”.

What am I talking about?

If you’re not engaged in the discussion surrounding your initiative on at least one other relevant 2-way channel (i.e. blog, twitter, social network, photo/video sharing site, etc…), then you may as well not be present at all. Being on the cover of Globe & Mail will get you a big hit of traffic on that particular day, however it will quickly fade into oblivion as you have no place to sustain the discussion.

A solid digital presence will ensure that upon searching for relevant keywords, people will notice that your various web properties dominate the first few pages of Google, and thus you will easily be able to funnel in the majority of your target audience.

Need an example? Type my name “Mike Kujawski” into Google. Rather than having only my website show up, you’ll notice that Google brings up my various other web properties such as Slideshare, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube in addition to thousands of places that I have contributed content to. On all of these, I have content relating to my niche. I have also made sure to have at least a few listings on the first page of results for terms such as “government 2.0”, “public sector marketing” and ” social media in government”. The best part is that I can measure the quality of traffic coming in via each search term and closely monitor their actions (using Google Analytics).

This is how you create a sustainable holistic web presence. Why isn’t this a primary goal for everyone involved in communications?

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  1. Matt Moore

    I see your point here, but I think you’ve missed the important point of push vs. pull. For some topics, push must come first.

    Search engines, social media and other technologies are all “pull” media where one must (1) be intersted in a topic and (2) know where to look and how to set up pull mechanisms to gather that info. Often, these are very narrow niches (e.g., gov’t use of Web 2.0 technologies) and might be issues that the average person might not think of (e.g., refugee reform, copyright reform, flu shots).

    Newspapers, especially the front page facing you at bus stops and convenience store, are a great “push” mechanism to make people think of an item and spur them to find more information. In the cycles of the public service, often a topic is of great importance for short bursts depending on the government’s priorities at that time so a newspaper headline serves that role very well.

    Yes, I agree that information must be out there and easily found, but the best RSS feeds, social media presence and optimized site is passively sitting there and fairly useless unless there is a way to raise awareness. Just as digital presence is important, do not discount the importance of getting on the front page.

  2. Hey Matt, while you are right that “push” still has an important role, you’re missing the point as to how it is directly intertwined with pull.

    Fictitious Scenario:

    If a government official makes it on the Globe & Mail cover regarding a speech they made dismissing the anti – H1N1 vaccine movement, many people will read it. Not only that, many people that previously were “not thinking” (as you specified) about that particular issue will now be thinking of it. And what happens when people start to “think” about something? That’s right, they Google it.

    So now the government official in question is satisfied that their opinion made it in the paper and yet when people Google for more information regarding the H1N1 vaccine, they are bombarded with conflicting points of view from other “reputable” sources. Why? Because they are not leveraging the full potential of what proper Digital Presence/Engagement could bring them.

    The two work hand in hand, my point is that there is still way too much focus on the “push” in government. I think you would agree.

  3. A simple step more departments could be doing is studying search behaviour of Canadians in particular regions by using tools such as Google Insights for Search. This way they can cater their digital content to match the language of the target audience in question.

  4. I understand your point completely Mike. As a web analyst (for the Government of Canada) I see too many of my colleagues doing their job with blinders on.
    Nothing personal Matt but your reaction is usually the same reaction I get when I suggest using more social media.

    People react (and I am not implying that this was your reaction) as if I am trying to take something of theirs and replace it with some newfangled gadget. Just so we are clear, no one is suggesting we drop traditional comms channels for social media. Every channel has a purpose and an audience, be it newspaper, tv, radio, billboards, etc.

    All we are saying is that social media allows us to really target information to our audience in a new and powerful way and that we need to use these new tools in the pursuit of our organization’s goals and mission.

  5. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for discussing this. Given some of the comments above, I’d like to ask: What about the online “push” mechanisms? (Display ads, video-embedded ads, ads in games, Content Marketing/Viral Marketing (Content that will rise in popularity/go viral due to its value, thereby generating awareness of an issue), Proactive Media Relations, Corrective Blogging etc.) Either way, I’m not sure government spends enough time/resources on “where Canadians are spending their time” i.e. more and more so online. The proportion of communications budgets’ online spend has generally been so out of sync with the percentage of time Canadians spend online (including mobile). However, I am seeing some shifts in the right direction.


  6. Good post Mike! The key, as you and I discussed a while back, is that mainstream and social media are complementary, particularly in these, the early days of online media. The way for governments to look at the problem (and the opportunity) is that traditional strategic media engagement can be used to spark citizen interest in a conversation; but new media channels must then be open to allow that conversation to take place. Of course, that is assuming that governments (and other organizations) are interested in a conversation!

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