Trading in “red tape” for a “red light” message

Bureaucracy. It can be such a negative word in America. It brings to mind adjectives like “slow,” “inefficient,” and “outdated.” In many ways, it helped us coin the term “red tape.”

Now, this isn’t a rant against government bureaucracy. In reality, the executive branch couldn’t survive without it. It serves functions from carrying out laws to writing regulations to just simply helping people get the services they are entitled to. (Need a quick refresher? Here’s the Cliff Notes version of what the American government bureaucracy is.) However, the rhetoric railing against government bureaucracy for being inefficient and difficult to navigate often seems much too true.

Case in point: This week, I had to complete my exit counseling from the U.S. Department of Education regarding my student loans. (University of Delaware, I love you, but you come with quite a price tag.) It was pretty horrible, and not because it reminded me how much I owe the federal government. This exit counseling was filled with pages of text that I guess I was supposed to read and remember (there were short quizzes after each section). However, the federal government apparently hasn’t heard about “digital” content because here are a few examples of the pages I had to go through and was supposed to comprehend…

Well, at least the last one used a chart. Imagine going through pages and pages of this…

In today’s digital world, the average attention span continues to shrink. The AP recently cited our average attention span at eight seconds. Eight seconds — that’s it. This means that whether you are a government agency or a PR agency, your digital content (or any content, really) must be consumer-friendly. It means tables, bullet points, succinct content, photos, visuals, engaging text. Just because you have unlimited space in the digital world doesn’t mean you have space for unlimited text. Rather, unlimited space means you have unlimited opportunities to be creative.

I believe the best way to create engaging content is to ask yourself one simple question: Would I pay attention to this? Now, the Department of Education doesn’t necessarily need an infographic, but wouldn’t it be helpful to learn about loan deferment and repayment from a short video? Or, perhaps from a SlideShare presentation? Or, at the very least, from content with multiple headings and bullet points that are brief and easy to follow?

So, get creative. Trade in that red tape for a “red light” message — one that makes people come to a stop and pay attention to what you’re trying to get across.

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About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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