Serving the many masters of government agency websites

Serving the many masters of government agency websites

By Joshua DeLung

This is part one of a four-part blog series on strategically addressing internal and external stakeholder needs on .gov websites.

As government communicators and agency website managers know, running a .gov is no easy task. In fact, it’s a tangled web (no pun intended) of content types and digital structures with multiple owners and influencers. Everyone, unrealistically, wants their content to live on prime real estate, which is often the homepage.

Without a clearly defined and enforceable governance structure, managing an agency website quickly becomes an ad hoc beast mired in bureaucracy and piecemeal solutions. But before you get to the governance discussion, you must identify your target audiences, what each group wants, and how you can address their needs through your agency’s website. Only then can you determine what types of relationships and requests your governance model should address and what tactics can be implemented amid limited staff and resources.

Your primary audience: End users

During the next few blog posts, I’ll cover four specific audiences .gov websites typically need to address. This time, I want to specifically talk about the audience that is probably foremost in web managers’ minds: the end user. Not always, but for the majority of sites, this will be a segment of the general public, a.k.a. John or Jane Taxpayer.

End users need to know more about your agency’s services and programs, and they visit the site to do something — file, apply, request, pay — or learn something, such as finding information on laws and regulations or what your agency does.  Also, they usually visit government sites for reasons defined in the agency’s mission statement. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s mission is to “Aid, counsel, assist and protect … the interests of small business concerns.” The target audience here is really the small business owner, which is why the most visible content on the site is aimed at those end users — people looking to start a business, get financing or learn more about contracting. It’s the reason why the SBA launched a suite of new products, such as the size standards tool, SizeUp tool and events calendar, to provide services and information to small business owners.

To help satisfy end user stakeholders, consider the following:

  • Tools: Create cross-platform applications that help target audiences get things done faster, with less paper, on any device.
  • User interface and information architecture: Ensure clean design makes it clear where key information lives, and don’t make users dig too deep to get results.
  • Responsive, cross-platform design: Make your website work on any type of browser on every type of hardware so it can effectively reach the largest segment of the target audience possible.
  • Social media and communities: Build relationships with your stakeholders by engaging them through social media and within agency-specific communities hosted on the website.

Next time, I’ll discuss expectations of Administration officials, including appointees within your agency, and how you can address their concerns with your .gov website. In future posts, I’ll cover program offices and Congress as stakeholders who have influence on agency websites, then write about the ultimate goal here, which is answering the question, “Just how do I balance all these competing requests for attention?”

Image courtesy Flickr user Kjunstorm

About Joshua DeLung

Senior Director of Communication Services, specializes in strategy, public relations, writing/editing and social media.

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