CHANNEL SHIFT: A future for public sector comms in 2013?

3754894091_d721283588_oIt’s always been tricky working out the impact of good communications.

Back in the day, you’d get a big ruler, a sheaf of cuttings and work out column inches.

Then maybe work out who could have read them.

Proudly, you’d boast of how 500,000 would have seen your campaign.

Then everyone would pat themselves on the back.

Only thing is, that nice as that is that just doesn’t prove a hill of beans.

How many turned a page and ignored it?

Add social media into the landscape and things get even more complicated. That niche Facebook page with 200 liking it? A waste of time? Not at all. Not if its the right number for that niche activity.

How do you measure success?

What counts? Likes? Retweets? Twitter followers?
Maybe the number of press releases you wrote or the tweets you sent?

The impact of communications – traditional or digital – must be not the passive audience who glanced at it but what people did as a result of it.

So, in other words, it’s how many people signed up for that course or how many used a web form instead of calling a help desk.

Frustratingly, that means it’s not a universal measurement. Getting 12 people signed-up for basket making session could well be just as much a success as getting 100 to join a library.

But it’s more than that.

One thing that’s always irritated me about measurement – particularly social media measurement – is a the vagueness of the results.

Take Klout. Break the news to your chief executive your organisations’ score is 55 and they’ll more than likely look at you strangely.

Other monitoring that produces a notional number also leaves me cold.

Your rating has gone up by 2.2. So what?

But it could well be that comms people already have the answer to all this right under their noses.

The cost of things counts 

A few years ago, web standards organisation SOCITM did some research into the cost to local government of doing things for residents when they got in contact.

Doing something face-to-face costs £8.62, by telephone £2.83 and the web 15p.

Accountants PWC apparently also did some similar work calculating the cost of local government replying to a letter was around £10.

So maybe one way to evaluate some comms activity was to look at the situation before you got involved and then look at it after.

In other words, helping channel shift, that act of going from the expensive offline to the cost effective online.

Did the number of phonecalls dip? Did the letters fall? Did more people use the web to report it?

ImageUsing a compare and contrast you can come up with a notional sum of money saved.

That’s a figure that really start to  pass the chief executive credibility test.

That’s also a language that officers can understand too.

That could well be the beginnings of an argument not just to better evaluate but critically to help explain and justify the role of communications in the public sector in 2013.

That’s quite a powerful idea.

Further reading

Dr Gerald Power’s white paper for Govdelivery on channel shift which is here.

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  1. Measuring outcomes in social care is even more difficult – we want to be able to empower people to use information resources to manage their own care and support, so we’re actually trying to reduce demand for our services. If is it possible to plot expected increases in demand for social care (based on an aging population) can we relate any reduction in demand to communication activity? If we know the average cost of a care package, then we can calculate the reduction from expected spending that our work has achieved. I’m not sure if anyone is doing this – love to find out…

  2. Great post Dan. I’ve been saying and blogging about this for a while but I’d suggest that comms people need to be involved in channel shift even deeper and at a very early stage. Channel shift should always involve some business process re-engineering or a process being built from scratch around the customer for a change instead of internal processes and systems. Your web team needs a place at that table if any of it is going anywhere near the web and the chances are they’re already doing user testing so know their customers’ frustrations. PR people also need to be round that table because they will know how best to persuade people to make the shift and, if they’re using demographics for campaign planning, whether the timing is right or the shift is even likely.
    Don’t leave channel shift planning to IT and/or customer services or you might have an impossible campaign on your hands further down the line.

  3. Pingback: The Dan Slee Blog

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