Webmasters must embrace marketing

A Web site can be so many things simultaneously that it often is difficult to communicate what a Web site can do for a federal organization.

The Web can be used as an engine to conduct transactions and to disseminate information. It can be used as a way to enhance the dialogue between the agency and its stakeholders and customers. And it can be an engine to spread the word about what the agency does.

For purposes of this article, I will focus on just one feature: the use of the Web to market what the agency does to support the public. Sometimes this is called "outreach."

Webmasters should embrace their emerging role of marketing the agency's message to the public. Marketing is not a bad word. It is the body of knowledge that describes how to get an organization's message out, define products and services and create the business strategy of the organization using a proven set of processes, tools and techniques.

In industry, Webmasters already would have placed marketing at the forefront of their efforts by default. Federal Webmasters might as well embrace this role and assume leadership in these efforts.

A key challenge for the federal Webmaster is to understand the congestion of messages on the Web and to create new methods for getting the word out about the agency. Compounding the problem is that the federal government has so many messages to convey; it's impossible to promote them all at the same time.

However, a structure does seem to be emerging for marketing agency messages to cut through Web congestion and the volume of federal messages: FirstGov, the Federal Consumer Information Center, agency home pages and cross-agency portals are emerging as essential components of today's new federal outreach strategy.

FirstGov is becoming increasingly well-known as a brand name for the federal government. Effective advertising has spread the word about the Pueblo, Colo.-based Federal Consumer Information Center. Even agencies have a sort of brand name. The Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department and the Defense Department have "market recognition" and are brands in and of themselves for the services they provide the public.

In addition, topic-oriented portals such as FedBizOpps and FinanceNet are becoming important brands for conveying important horizontal views of the federal government.

Collectively, these Web sites form a top-level tier of marketing messages. The high-level messages can then be "parsed" on other key Web sites to provide an ever-increasing level of detail, eventually zeroing in on any individual's or group's needs.

Attracting more people to your own Web site requires cooperation in these cross-government activities. Through careful design of these high-level portal sites in a collaborative manner, the federal government can make the most effective use of its scarce funds for marketing.

Bottom line: If your message is to move out further in the communities you currently serve or into new communities, you must cooperate with key, widely public Web sites as part of an overall hierarchy of communicating with the public.

Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the Federal WebMasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.

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