Thought Leadership Thursday
Web and Technology Strategies in the New COVID-19 Environment: Challenges, Benefits, and Opportunities
Thought Leadership Thursday Article
Dear NAST Members,
I have had the great privilege of serving as a Steering Committee member and branding, web, and technology advisor for the National Institute of Public Finance (NIPF). Recently, I collaborated with NAST staff to launch the new NAST.org, Unclaimed.org, and SDMN.org websites (with the new CollegeSavings.org coming soon).
Working with many diverse organizations and industries in the technology and marketing space (including 20+ Fortune 500 corporations and numerous State Treasury and government-related organizations), I have a deep appreciation and admiration for the tremendous work done by State Treasurers and their staffs to make the lives of citizens better every day. I am honored to have been considered a Thought Leader for today’s column during the unprecedented challenges of 2020 and to continue the virtual conversation.
It only took a matter of days for organizations, schools, and citizens across the United States to rapidly shift to a 100% virtual model. For State Treasuries, this has meant—among the many challenges—adapting to the new normal (at least in the interim), IT departments working overtime to support the new demands, communications departments rushing to distribute custom messaging, and leaders being faced with addressing essential business functions, workforce management and remote contingency plans, and the difficult decision regarding business-critical conferences, board meetings, and outreach events—to cancel or not to cancel.
Each state is unique, each organization is unique, and thus the challenges of each are unique. However, in times of adversity, there is a unique opportunity—both organizationally and personally—to emerge even stronger than before. At the center of the discussion, given the new virtual requirements, has been the question: How can we leverage the web and technology effectively to engage citizens, make new strides, and position ourselves for growth and even greater impact in the future?
When aligned and executed properly, web and technology strategies directly impact achievement of top-level departmental goals and are essential components of overall success. This is being realized now more than ever—as Treasuries and organizations throughout the U.S. and globally discover new ways to connect and strive to increase engagement and immersion for key programs.
Whether the focus is maximizing State Treasury and program websites, converting meetings and conferences to online platforms, or keeping your workforce engaged, the effective use of web and technology serves as a strategic vehicle for building and strengthening the organizational brand and telling the critical story—key components of long-term, sustainable success. While these merely scratch the surface of discussion, the following are four best practices and suggestions for navigating the new environment:
Embrace New Opportunities to Connect
While there may be no substitute for face-to-face interactions—and we all long to return to in-person collaboration—we must recognize that in the absence of the workspace to which we’re accustomed, each virtual meeting and webinar can help meet a psychological need to connect socially. In the current environment—when given the choice—meeting participants are opting to meet via web conferencing (and turn the cameras on), when in past years, an audio-only conference may have been preferred.
Virtual meetings can also provide a benefit that goes beyond traditional team building and may be even more effective in helping break the “approachable” barrier. A well-executed virtual meeting allows participants to invite others into their homes—which while virtual, remains one of the most welcoming acts possible. Dialogue that occurs in these interim meetings—without the more formal business attire, surrounded by favorite reading materials, and with the occasional, unplanned appearance by the family dog—can actually lead to improved, more substantive in-person conversations and teamwork when the world re-opens. At that time, well-designed initiatives may not be replaced by in-person options, but rather provide an additional layer of depth to the program, working in-tandem with the in-person offerings.
Be Cognizant of Newly Available Time
One of the more-welcomed benefits for many has simply been much-needed time in their daily schedules—time with family, time to reflect, and time to explore education and offerings that would normally have been crowded out of a full agenda in the fast-paced daily routine. As a result, there are new opportunities to engage citizens—whether a simple task such as taking a minute to search for unclaimed property, or more-meaningful investments of time, such as completing a financial education program, starting a college savings plan, or taking the first steps toward retirement readiness.
NAST is currently wrapping up its second week of its first virtual Treasury Management Training Symposium. This year’s innovative platform is allowing State Treasurers, their staffs, and professionals in all locations to further maximize their education by completing unlimited, valuable sessions without the typical hurdles of overlap or competing schedules. In other industries, we have witnessed increased participation from those who have been unable to attend in-person in the past, due to scheduling, but are now engaged with the new programming.
Leverage Your Website as a Strategic Driver of Success
An organizational website should be directly aligned to impact achievement of top-level organizational goals. From a branding perspective, the website gives the public insight into the character, core values, and vision of the organization, along with the tools to improve the lives of citizens through the beneficial programs and customer service delivered. A well-designed website can serve as a catalyst for numerous organizational benefits and increased results—both tangible and intangible.
Conversely, an outdated or poorly designed website can serve as an obstacle to success. This was demonstrated recently when a highly qualified business invested heavily in television advertising but was not seeing results in corresponding phone calls. Following a rebrand and redesign of the website—with a different strategy around the overall approach and presentation—the business began seeing immediate increases in call volume and subsequent appointments.
Be Creative and Strive for Excellence
Let’s face it—standard government documentation can be inherently boring for the majority of audiences. It doesn’t have to be. State Treasuries offer extremely valuable services to the public. An initial challenge is always engaging and educating citizens of these valuable programs.
Leverage best practices for design, and don’t be afraid to be creative in the process. If added creativity captures the audience’s attention and engages them—consistent with your organization’s core values—and communicates the core message effectively, it will lead to subsequent results.
There are many variables that are part of a winning design formula and a presentation that “works.” However, always set the bar high for your web and technology initiatives. In today’s environment, audiences may be overloaded by sea of online information and/or approaching “Zoom burnout.” Well designed and executed initiatives can result in a refreshing contrast and help elevate State Treasury programs to new levels—reflecting the tremendous and beneficial work that continues to be done on a daily basis—especially when facing unprecedented challenges.
Thank you for the exceptional work that you do to benefit the public each and every day. My thoughts and prayers remain with those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and I hope everyone is staying safe and well.
Founder and CEO, Orange Reef Sustainable Business Results
National Institute of Public Finance, Member, Steering Committee