Content marketing in the public sector — tips and ideas to get you started

Published 24 March 2016

Content marketing should be a technique developed and used by public sector communications teams as part of their overall marketing and communication strategies. Why? Let me explain…

I’m currently studying for the ADBL’s Digital Business Leadership course and a recent module has focused on digital channels to market. The course has provided many private sector examples of how they are incorporating content marketing into their marketing mix, and how they are creating value from their products and services to form longer-term relationships with their customers. And it’s prompted me to think about how the public sector can use this technique to engage with citizens in more effective ways.

The public sector landscape

It is increasingly challenging for the public sector to communicate effectively with citizens and service users, while protecting their organisation’s reputation:

• The tough financial landscape they face comes with the challenge of communicating service changes and cuts to residents and service users. 
• People are used to the speed and convenience of their interactions with businesses and have similar expectations of their interactions and communication with the public sector.
• Spend on marketing and communications in the public sector is subject to public scrutiny so needs to be targeted to the audience they are trying to reach, demonstrating value for money and evaluated for its effectiveness.

While content marketing won’t make these challenges any easier, it does provide opportunities for the public sector to improve the way it manages demand for its services and the way we communicate and offer value to the public. In turn, this increases public engagement, awareness and trust in services.

What is content marketing?

Before I go on to share my ideas and tips for how the public sector can start content marketing, it’s worth sharing the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of content marketing:

“a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

While the public sector is generally not selling, they do want to attract people to read the information they provide, usually to achieve one, some or all of the following outcomes:

1. to raise awareness about a service, problem or topic
2. to change public perception about an issue, or 
3. to alter people’s behaviour, for example, by regular exercise, stop smoking.

Creating interesting and engaging content that has value to its target audience will attract them to come to you for information. For the public sector, this can reinforce credibility and value to residents, businesses and service users. Once they are there — and ‘there’ is likely to be your organisation’s website — you can encourage them to access services online (cheaper than having to take a phone call), take part in public consultations, subscribe to email alerts, follow you on social media and share your content with friends and family. And it can be done cheaply or within existing resources in public sector communications teams.

4 types of content marketing to get you started

There are lots more than just four types of content marketing (the Content Marketing Institute has a comprehensive list of different content marketing types). My aim is to give you some ideas for quick, cheap and effective ways to create content that has value to your audiences and gets you thinking about how you might approach content marketing for your organisation.

  1. Web pages: This is easy — you already have your website that has lots of useful content. The next step is to make sure it is offering as much value to your target audiences as possible. If you haven’t already, consider the following:
    * Don’t ‘hide’ useful information in PDFs — instead, publish this information on web pages that are much more easily shared on social media and more easily viewed on mobile devices.
    * Make sure your content is written clearly and succinctly, focused on answering the questions that people come to your website to have answered.
    * Think about how your content displays on a mobile device — is the key information immediately visible? Is the website optimised for mobile viewing?
    * Make the most of headings, short paragraphs and bullet points to clearly present your written content.
    * Consider other, more effective ways of presenting content, such as using ‘how to’ guides, images, infographics and videos (see more about this below).
    The Government Digital Service has a great style guide for the way they present content on 
    * Make your web pages easy to share with prominent social media share links on each page.

2. Infographics: you can transform complex information into infographics that are easy to understand and visually appealing — and they are popular on social media. You could use them to explain council performance. Coventry City Council has published its performance infographics on Flickr. Or perhaps to more simply display a process, for example Devon County Council’s adoption process.

Creating infographics doesn’t have to be costly either. You can use free resources such as Piktochart, and Canva to create them.

3. Lists: Another popular and simple-to-create content type, popular on social media. How about lists such as top 10 library books loaned this month, 4 things to consider when buying a second hand car, 3 simple swaps to a healthier you, 5 popular coastal walks? If you don’t own the content, you can still curate lists on topics that are relevant to your target audience and have links with your own organisation. For example, 20 things to keep your child busy during the Easter holidays that could reference some of the services your organisation provides as well as others it doesn’t. Short lists also lend themselves well to other formats such as images or infographics.

4. Videos: Cisco predicts that by 2019, 80% of the world’s internet traffic will be video content, proving that video consumption is a popular pastime. Of course, you only have to check out your own Facebook or other social media feeds to see the amount of shares videos get. You can use them to add a personal aspect to a campaign — for example, Kent County Council filmed foster carers talking about why they started fostering, as part of a campaign to increase the number of foster carers in the county. You can use videos to explain council tax increases or new policies, or to explain processes for applying for a school place. They can make difficult subjects more approachable. Cornwall Council has shared some tips with The Guardian for how other councils can make the best use of film.

5 tips for content marketing in the public sector

  1. Have a content marketing plan to prioritise what content you are creating, in what format and on what channel. This could include an editorial calendar for a well-defined target audience that integrates with your social media marketing plan. Think about what format will work best for your audience, pay attention to its visual appeal and identify the best channels to reach them and the types of content that works well for that channel.
  2. Start with what you already have and build on it. You already have a wealth of content that people are interested in. The next step is to re-purpose it so that it is presented in engaging formats (video, infographics, lists etc).
  3. Create content that provides value for your target audience. Think about what would be helpful to your customers. You can see from your website traffic the types of information you have that people are looking for. Listen to customer feedback — you’ll see where you’ve been helpful land where you haven’t. Talk to your Contact Centre to see what opportunities there are to add value to the information people are asking for. Google’s algorithm bumps up content that is valuable and targeted to your audience, making it easier for people to find.
  4. Think mobile first because more and more people use their smartphones and tablets to consume interesting content, especially on social media channels. Your content should be easily readable and viewable on mobile devices.
  5. Set targets and evaluate performance. Digital content and channels provide lots of useful data that you can use to evaluate the performance of your content. Metrics such as website visits, conversions, bounce rates, likes, shares and followers give you a good picture of what works, what doesn’t and why.

How can you learn more?

In doing a lot of research for this blog, obviously I found a lot of useful information by Googling ‘content marketing tips’. There are four websites I’ve found particularly helpful:

Content Marketing Institute (they have some in-depth ‘how to guides’ on content marketing) 
Content Group Australia (they have some useful examples of how the Australian public sector are using content marketing) 
E-Consultancy (this article on content marketing and useful tools for content writers) 
The Digital Engagement Guide by Helpful Technology provides some great public sector examples of digital engagement.

You could take a look at other public sector social media sites to see what content marketing they are doing. And you can get inspiration from the private sector just by looking at your own social media feeds.

There’s plenty of guidance on the internet — good luck with your content marketing. I’m certainly inspired!