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Connecting with citizens through targeted and engaging communications

4 | By   Public Sector Network | November 19, 2021

Connecting with citizens through targeted and engaging communications

A new way of communicating

The way we all communicate has changed. The invention of the telephone was a genuine game-changer, but now nearly a century and a half later, communication takes many forms, particularly in the digital space, and government agencies need to be at the forefront of this revolution. In Australia, many of the federal agencies in particular have embraced social media and have re-created their digital strategies to match the expectations of their communities. This paper showcases examples from three of those agencies.

Celia Pavelieff, the Director of Marketing and Communications Advocacy & Development at the Australia Council for the Arts, says that the pandemic has been a boon in terms of the way Australians consume art. “Since March last year we’ve been tracking changes in behaviours and sentiments of arts goers in the wake of the pandemic.” Through their various surveys they have found that “almost half of the audience had attended an arts or cultural event online in the past month. And this was true across all age groups.” Despite what people might think of older Australians and their ability to connect digitally, “much of this audience is driven by social media content.” For instance, when Twitter began there was conjecture about how useful a tool it would be in terms of promotion and digital communication. Now, social media platforms like Twitter and others are “often central not just to our marketing, communications and digital strategies, but also to advocacy and politics as we now know it.”

The experience of social media is now fundamental to the creative, artistic and cultural industries within Australia and across the globe.

– Celia Pavelieff, Director, Marketing and Communications Advocacy & Development, Australia Council for the Arts

However, when it comes to promoting things like the arts or anything else, what is critical is the content not the platform. Emma-Jane Toscan, the Director of Marketing at Austrade, whose primary role is to promote Australia to the world, says that the key is “the power of storytelling, particularly in a digital landscape that is incredibly cluttered.” Austrade has been successfully promoting Australia for decades, but their primary goal is “to drive trade investment outcomes.” Many of the sectors they work with “were some of the most heavily impacted by the events of the last 18 months.” So they needed to find a new way of communicating, “a forum that our partners would want and utilise.” The solution was digital communication based on good content and storytelling.

Julia Brown, the Executive Manager of Engagement at the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC), says they started from a different angle. The RIC was only created in 2018 as “a federal government-backed specialist finance provider.” They provide loans to farm businesses and were created as a response to the drought. Their continued vision is to “build a stronger Australia through thriving regions,” though since they were borne out of a crisis, the pandemic didn’t really affect their strategies. The key to their digital success is their website, “which is really the source of all truth and the place where we have the most up- to-date information. All our other platforms link back to the website.”

Creating messages that resonate

For all three agencies, the audiences are not monolithic and the messages constantly change. Celia Pavelieff says that “the arts are a complex collective, so it made sense to segment the messages.” Not only are the arts themselves complex, but the role of the Australia Council is also complex. They fund organisations, develop programs, host regular awards nights and conduct research and advocacy. All of this needs to be communicated “with a cohesive voice,” but not to everyone at once. Social media in all of its forms allows for some of this content to be communicated, but also “allows us to hear from our audience about their sentiment, platform, language and interests.” This feedback can then be reflected back, and “if we’re listening correctly and reflecting accurately, we can use our audience conversation to get further feedback and develop our understanding of emerging audiences and their interests.” Ultimately, the goal is to spread the message of the arts “outside of our immediate circles.”

Creating messages that resonate therefore means “trusting and encouraging people to share our arts messages using their own voices.” The Australia Council provides organisations with “toolkits” and everything they need to create their own messages. This process “to truly, authentically create your own tone” used to take 12 months “but has now been reduced to three.” The Council itself has also changed their tone “from being quite bureaucratic to a more personal conversational brand.” Measuring success is difficult, especially given the nature of social media and digital platforms, though “news, announcements and videos perform well.” In general, “we prioritise shares and comments on every platform over reaction and reach.”

At Austrade, Emma-Jane Toscan says that their audiences are equally complex because they deal globally. Their ultimate goal is to “connect our audiences to opportunities, and to deliver leads.” After some research, they discovered that they had “two distinct audiences.” Those looking to build their capabilities and discover new opportunities, and those “looking to choose Australia.” So the question was, “how might we develop a campaign to leverage Australia’s nation brand and showcase our capabilities, and how might we bring Australia’s nation brand to life?”

We were looking to create a campaign platform with a central idea strong enough to execute over time, be flexible enough to work across sectors, and it had to resonate among global audiences. Plus, it had to be accessible regardless of the channel.

– Emma-Jane Toscan, Director of Marketing, Austrade

They also wanted the campaign to “showcase our smarts and our beauty, as well as our irrepressible sense of optimism that drives everything we do.” The campaign therefore “landed here: Australia is known the world over as a sunny place populated by people with equally sunny dispositions. But the reality is our nation’s characteristic ‘brightness’ goes far deeper.” This then led to the slogan, “Shine with Australia,” which has already “been executed across multiple digital and mainstream channels.”

At the RIC, Julia Brown says when their agency was first set up, “we saw unprecedented demand for our drought loans, but they were all paper-based.” Initially, given the time sensitivities involved, it was too complex to set up a digital process. But after things settled down, customer research revealed that “80% of our customers would be interested in lodging their applications digitally.” The key was to “keep the customer at the centre of the process.” Once a process was developed, it was tested and “we were able to identify a number of quick wins.” The critical part was to come up with “a customer journey map, but that took longer than expected because the loan application process is quite detailed.”

In other words, customers didn’t trust the process until they understood it.

Case studies and good story-telling

For each of the agencies, one way to achieve resonance was through the development and deployment of case studies and new content. For the Council for the Arts, this was about good story-telling in a unique way. Celia Pavelieff says that during the height of the pandemic, they used their digital channels in ways they haven’t been used before. “The ‘In Conversation’ series was an online conversation, often with people not in the same room or even in the same state, but we made it look like an intimate conversation. It was about starting conversations.” When the awards came along this year, they too were “reimagined as a new celebration reflective of our hybrid online world.” Whereas previously all the awards events were by invitation only, “we opened the doors virtually, and this offered the opportunity to meet and engage with new audiences.” The First Nations awards were particularly popular in this respect. There were also regular interviews with artists, “which allowed them to answer questions about their practice, making the video vignettes relevant to specific art audiences.” And content from research was “shared digitally and graphically, which was an entirely different way for us to share that research.”

At the RIC, it was a similar story. Julia Brown says that “we use the case studies to really get our customers to tell the story of how they’ve used our loans.” Some are short vignettes, some are longer-form interviews, “both written and with video content.” But the important point is that “we then cut that content differently to suit the channel and to really provide that content across all channels in different ways.” Often these videos drive traffic to the website, which leads to more applications, so there is a time sensitivity about some of them, which needs to be taken into account.

One of the key findings that we had through the testing process waheading-color-alignments that customers were wanting to see some really clear communication points and an understanding of what they needed to do next, and what the RIC was doing next in the process.

– Julia Brown, Executive Manager, Engagement, Regional Investment Corporation (RIC)

Emma-Jane Toscan says that once Austrade re-developed their campaign and slogan, they started by trying it in the agri-business space. For an international audience, it was about shining with Australia “as your partner to sell high quality food.” This led to a specific agri-business slogan, ‘With Us’. “Food and drink by nature is inclusive, so we’re putting out the invitation to those buyers to partner with us.”

For all three agencies, success was not measured just by the number of clicks and likes. Celia Pavelieff says that given the way they presented their content, it ended up “in the US, in the Czech Republic and across schools and tertiary institutions.” That is true success for them. The point is that they create all forms of posts, from long-form videos and stories, to “bite-size tweets, Insta posts and still images,” all designed “to be shared across all our digital platforms.”

Emma-Jane Toscan says that their new campaign “has never been done before by Austrade in this way, so it is actually setting benchmarks.” It has so far generated 28 leads. “That’s not a lot, but it’s 28 more than we had before.” The key has been collaboration and “looking to optimise every possible chance we get.”

For Julia Brown, their process continues to be “iterative. Tweaks are happening and improvements are being made as we go.” They key for them has been about “delivering a digital strategy quickly in a time critical environment, whilst keeping the customer at the centre and identifying quick wins as well as longer term gains.”