The commercial benefits of digital marketing are well documented. Smart businesses and charities are already using search engine optimisation and search marketing to reach buyers and donors at the instant in which the buyer seeks what the organisation has to offer. The trend towards digital is delivering significantly increased return on investment in marketing, as costs are reduced while conversion rates are increased.
But some front-line public organisations have only recently begun to experiment with digital marketing tactics - although their efforts have been extremely successful.
Greater Manchester Police launched a Twitter micro-blog feed: @gmpolice. Their tweets raise the profile of their work, whilst helping them to engage with the people they serve. Twitter also enables them to highlight the trivial incidents people report, potentially reducing time wasted in logging and responding to them. And faced with a major incident GM Police could potentially use Twitter to deliver vital information to people who need it.
@gmpolice has more than 18,000 followers - with a followers-to-following ratio of around 100:1.
The celebrity-publicised #SerenaBeakhurst Twitter campaign to find the missing London teenager received an overwhelming response - and found her!
A police Facebook campaign to find the killer of Joanna Yates received more than 63,000 views and generated many new leads, while on Twitter the topic #JoannaYeates received a similar number of tweets within the first day. CCTV footage on YouTube received over 70,000 views.
(Even the much maligned police force of China's usually insular regime is embracing social media engagement!)
The UK stories, at least, tell of highly successful digital marketing campaigns by any standards. Such dramatic social media success begs the question: what next? Where do they go from here?
More specifically, should they be thinking in terms of broader digital marketing strategy? Could there be a role for other digital marketing tactics in the front-line public sector? Might digital channels and social media even have a place within the military? I really think so. (Social media could be used to counter disinformation deploy propaganda for example, or even to raise a groundswell of support for a revolution or coup d'état to depose a genuinely dangerous regime with minimum bloodshed.)
At this point we are mainly seeing isolated tactical campaigns. The next logical iteration is for front-line public organisations to adopt a strategic approach to digital marketing - to develop integrated marketing and communication strategies with a digital backbone. Given the proven power and cost-effectiveness of digital media campaigns, this progression seems inevitable. And in difficult economic times, when budgets are under pressure, digital marketing in general - and social media in particular - has the potential to cut costs dramatically - enabling officials with an important message to reach out to huge numbers of people - for free.