Best practices for communicating in a digital world

By: The Digital Communications Coordination Unit, Privy Council Office

Meeting people where they (already) are – online!

There is an age old adage in comms: meet people where they are. Today, that means online. In Canada, 94% are internet users and 83% are social media users. The Government of Canada’s web presence,, receives almost 100 million visits each month and official social media channels have millions of followers.

Our digital channels therefore represent the primary interaction point that most people have with government – for information and updates, to access services and resources, and to engage and provide feedback on a variety of initiatives.

But beyond where we meet people, the experience people have with our digital channels is intrinsically linked to trust, confidence, and successful delivery of Government of Canada communications, programs, services, and initiatives. People’s expectations have been set by those who are doing digital well – from media and entertainment industries, to online shopping, to secure transactions like banking.

The pandemic has only accelerated this shift towards digital services, which means that the Government of Canada must continue to advance its efforts to deliver clear, consistent, high-quality digital communications to keep pace with the expectations of those we serve. Beyond technology, digital excellence is about collaboration, user-centricity, interaction, and engagement.

Think digital from the start

“As you progress in your digital maturity, you start to put digital first by prioritizing digital channels over traditional ones … to meet [people] where they already are—online.”

Digital communications are part of an ecosystem and digital should never be viewed as the strategy in isolation of other activities. From announcements and promotions, to issues management, to engagement, to service delivery, to providing research and insights, there are so many ways that your digital channels can be used to support your organization’s priorities. Web and social media channels should be a key part of your planning, delivery, and measurement.

After an announcement is made, people may turn to web to get more details, learn about eligibility or rules, or to apply. They may google and land on, or they may see posts promoting a new program in their social media channels or on an ad on TV. It is imperative that there is content to support them, content they can use, trust, and recognize as coming from the Government of Canada.

From here, digital communications teams can also analyze feedback and metrics, not only to report on performance, but also to inform and adjust content and messages, develop new themes and tactics, and also provide insights to shape the next phases of the strategy.

It is important that digital communicators get engaged early on in the planning of any strategy or initiative. Bring forward ideas and opportunities to support the overall objectives and contribute to better communications. The earlier you approach an objective with a digital lens, the more effective you will be.

Digital-first means people-first: Tactics for web and social media

Digital excellence is about people. It’s not necessarily about using the latest technology or jumping on a trending tactic. It means building and shaping your digital content for the way people will experience it.

This means content that is clear and easy to find, understand, and engage with. No one wants to spend a long time navigating bureaucratic language.

Your web presence is where people come to do something, find something specific, or apply for a program or service. Modern web content needs to be designed to make this experience as easy as possible for users. User-centric web content should be:

Check out the blog from the Digital Transformation Office at the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) for a variety of informative, proven, and evidenced-based guidance, tips, and articles on improving your web content at

Your social media is for engagement (not one-way communication). Government of Canada social media channels are also key tools to engage with people, deliver sustained campaigns, listen and respond to questions, and provide more specific advice, tools, and information about programs and services. Here are some key components for delivering an effective social media presence:

Collaboration: Building synergies will strengthen your digital content

High-quality content needs to be aligned and integrated. Collaboration is both the goal and the lever to doing digital right. As previously noted, most people see the Government of Canada as one organization: “the government”.  The importance of collaboration – coordination and alignment – across domains and portfolios has been noted repeatedly over the years, and was made clearer over the pandemic.

It may be harder than working in silos, but the impact is worth the effort. Throughout COVID-19, people have turned to Government of Canada digital channels regularly, for timely updates and to access support measures, guidance, and requirements that were continuously evolving and spanned numerous departments and agencies working collaboratively.

This gave the Government of Canada a no-fail mission to move quickly from silos to a united government-wide approach. The result was unparalleled alignment across hundreds of social media channels and thousands of pages of web content to make sure people could consistently and easily get what they needed. This not only helped to amplify the reach of our communications, but it had a crucial role in providing consistent, reliable, and trusted content.

As we look forward, communicators will be able to build on this collaboration and capitalize on changes in culture and in practice, and all the relationships, synergies, and workflows established together to support better alignment, integration, and results. By working as a community, we benefit from ideas, insights, expertise, tools, and contributions from all across the Government of Canada. When we bolster our efforts and leverage the talent throughout the enterprise, it help us better reach, engage, and support Canadians in ways that resonate and reinforce the importance of our collective efforts. Better cohesion leads to a greater impact.

Measure, analyze, adjust: Use insights to inform your communications

Last, but certainly not least: decisions should be based on evidence. In planning phases, consult different sources to understand people’s needs, topics of interest, and terminology to help plan your digital strategies. You can find insights that already exist from many areas of your organization, including public enquiries, program and service data, errors and feedback, web insights like top pages and search terms, media and public environment analyses, and results of previous digital campaigns. Referring to data during planning will help to set objectives and plans, with relevant and measurable key performance indicators (identify which metrics need to be collected). You may also conduct user-needs research to help design content, and conduct usability testing on web content during the development phases, with actual users.

After content is published, regularly review web and social media analytics, such as page visits, feedback, search terms, on-site searches, call-center enquiries, social media comments and conversations, and public opinion research insights to identify and focus on the top information and services Canadians are seeking.

By analyzing insights regularly, you can identify trends, and see what works (and what doesn’t!) on your channels. This evidence helps tailor content based on audience needs and make timely adjustments to campaigns in order to reach the set objectives. It also has a key role in planning for future campaigns.

Use evidence, measure, and adjust to create successful content and campaigns.

Get in touch!

Over the past year, as members of the Digital Communications Coordination Unit at the Privy Council Office, we’ve had the privilege of working with the digital communications community across the Government of Canada. This includes hundreds of experts working together, breaking silos, creating spaces for collaboration and co-creation, and driving user-centric whole-of-government content and campaigns – in order to provide all those we serve with better digital experiences.

Our team (Mary Beth Baker, Brenna Maher, Justin Mathews, and Caroline Perron) are always eager to learn from, support, and welcome digital communication colleagues into the web and social media communities in our collective, no-fail mission to advance digital excellence. If you have any questions or simply wish to connect, feel free to drop us a line at!

Mary Beth Baker
Brenna Maher
Justin Mathews
Caroline Perron
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