Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional

Trends in government communications in 2019

This feels like such a cliched topic for an article, but the beginning of the year is the right time to think about what we should be focusing on as communications professionals. It’s the time many of us turn our minds to what the year will hold. Here are my thoughts on where those of us working in government should put our efforts this year.

If you google “trends in communications” you will read a lot about AI, VR and wearable tech but for those of us working in government comms we are still struggling to get social media right. Let’s be honest with ourselves, what we can achieve and what is trendy is not always the same thing.

In Canberra this year it will be all about the election. A whole lot of communications teams will be starting the year finding “opportunities” for their Minister or for specific electorates, working on red and blue books, and preparing for potential MoGs or name changes. Many teams won’t get a chance to think about their channels or communications approaches until next financial year.

Just in case you plan on spending caretaker working on your own communication plans here are my thoughts on the top trends for government communicators in 2019:

  1. Data to inform communications

I have written about data-driven communications before, I believe this year is when we see it coming to the front of what we do. I know, I know “we don’t do numbers, we do words” but times they are a changin’. We are working in the era of data, it is all around us and embedded in so many of our communication channels. It provides the proof for what we do and our outcomes, it gives us insights into our audiences and direction for our messaging. If you don’t start to embrace it in 2019, I guarantee someone else in the organisation is going to ask you why you haven’t.

2. More genuine engagement

For a long time in Government we have been talking about engaging our publics but how genuine has that engagement been? How many of us have done it simply to tick a box rather than actually want to change our approach based on feedback? Is it time we really started listening and engaging early in a meaningful, responsive, accountable and inclusive way? It’s hard, it’s time-consuming, and it can be expensive but as the public becomes more astute to the way government works and online channels make engagement easier, and quicker isn’t it something we just need to start doing?

3. Loosen the reigns on social media

For government, social media can be scary. In my survey in 2017, public affairs practitioners said one of the key barriers to effective social media implementation was risk adverse executive. This is the year we start to fight to run social media the way we know it needs to be run. More creative content, two-way engagement, participation in online conversations, trialling new ideas. It’s time to use our knowledge and experience and start to move into a space where we can more effectively utilise this communications channel.

4. It’s all about the narrative

How many times last year did you hear an Executive use the term “narrative”? It seems that all of them have heard about “storytelling” and are running with the idea like it’s a new concept. This is something that we communications professionals have been doing for years but forget about that fact. It is time to capitalise on this new-found enthusiasm and harness it to create more consistent messaging and content that is more audience focused. This will require some work, while this concept is out there not everyone actually knows how to implement it or what a “narrative” really looks like. 2019 is a good time for some internal training and knowledge sharing to demonstrate our expertise across the organisation and create a more coordinated approach to communication.

5. Mobile-friendly internal communications

For internal communications professionals we are moving into a world of employees who work remotely, in multiple office locations, and staff who work off laptops and mobiles rather than desktops. The way our staff work is changing. We need to change with it. If your department or agency isn’t there yet, they won’t be far away. This means its time to start thinking about your communication channels and your content, and whether you need to make changes to fit this new work environment. How can you engage people who work from home? Is your intranet mobile friendly? Do you need to video conference people into face to face meetings? Internal communicators will need to rethink how they engage with staff, as the “good old channels” may not fit the way your people work by the end of the year.

6. Becoming a respected profession

This is our year. With communications moving to digital. More executive understanding the importance of external reputation and messaging. Engaging and communicating with staff becoming more of a focus (thanks in part to the State of the Service survey). It is time that we stood up and were seen as a key part of any organisation. We are a profession and need to start acting like one. We need to stop apologising for who we are and what we do and make our presence known. We aren’t here to make things pretty, we are knowledgeable, experienced professionals who make a significant contribution to the organisation. Time to yell it from the rooftops in 2019.

Every year is a big year in government communications. There is never really a downtime to plan and strategise but trying to think ahead to what you need to work on this year is key to not falling behind.

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