No matter where we work, we depend on email. And more and more, we depend on newer forms of electronic communication, too. On many government websites, we find buttons that connect us with new media and social media websites. We communicate via blogs, Facebook, twitter, discussion groups, and instant messaging; and we comment on web articles, podcasts and videos.
Writing through new media technology is not really different than writing an email or letter: we need to know how to best present our message—whether it’s to a customer, a colleague, or a group of partners on a project. Who is our audience and what do they want to know, and what do we want them to know? Whether we are writing for a blog or a website or a YouTube script—or even instant messaging via online chats, cell phone texts, or tweets—we need to present our message clearly and concisely. (The latter three, of course, are generally already pithy—lol.) See the February Child Support Report for “plain language” tips.
What is different about new media? It’s the possibility of engaging our customers and colleagues by inviting them to join in the conversation. We can promote our services, share expertise, and help them to cut through bureaucracy by simply putting our message where they will see it. This means we are better able to “brand” our program as customer-friendly; we are saying “we want to communicate with you in places and in ways you connect in the modern world.” New media can be an important part of a communication strategy to build relationships with employees, partners and customers through feedback and dialogue.
States, counties and tribes have led the way in finding innovative tools for communicating with customers, employees and the public. Not all forms of new media will work for every program, but they may offer no-cost or low-cost choices to help you brand your program, as we see from Contra Costa County’s experience in the Child Support Report.
OCSE has just launched the first phase of its redesigned website as part of a broader initiative undertaken by our parent agency, the Administration for Children and Families, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In researching our options, we reviewed many of your websites for good ideas. Check it out—we think you will agree that it presents a more welcoming face to the public. We are just at the “look and feel” stage; in the future, you will have access to the resources you can get from our current website. We plan to expand into more media venues as we phase-in sections of our new website.
At OCSE, we started small in the realm of new media by posting this Commissioner’s Voice column as a blog. It offers a forum for you, the readers in the child support community, to comment on the monthly topic and share ideas.
It’s a little scary having a child support blog because child support is an issue that can cut deeply for both parents. The question we asked ourselves is whether we were prepared to hear strong viewpoints and take criticism sometimes. (For customers with a question or comment that relates to a personal child support case, the blog links to OCSE customer service staff.) Do we have to be cautious when using new media? Of course; we need to consider security and guard against displaying “personal identifying information.” We need to explore secure software packages and share our knowledge.
Some of you use e-communication methods through the QUICK application when you view case information in real time, or through your electronic document exchange system. Others use instant messaging to connect with each other in your organization—to ask who to contact in another location, for example. And others offer a “live chat” with a child support representative during certain hours in the day.
Might instant messaging be useful for the Interstate Case Reconciliation Project or Central Registry workers? Or perhaps among workers who respond to customer inquiries? Would you benefit from making podcasts available for colleagues or customers to listen to at their leisure? Would new media help you reach parents in the military about your services or push out information fast in an emergency?
I’d like to learn about your experience with e-communication tools. Please comment on this blog, or contact your state technical support liaison or the OCSE social media coordinator to discuss possibilities in new media.