Top federal market research firm, Market Connections, released its 13th Federal Media and Marketing Study 2021, a survey of federal workers’ media habits. Designed to help federal marketers to shape marketing strategies, the report combines demographic data mapped to media habits and preferences of federal employees.

This year’s study results were based on surveying nearly 2,700 federal workers in the summer of 2021. It delivers insights on federal media engagement, their trust of information from different media sources, and how much time they spend with digital, print, TV and radio content.

For marketers building campaigns to reach federal civilian and defense buyers, here are seven key insights from the Market Connections study.

1) Federal workers are still teleworking

While 51% of federal workers are teleworking full-time today, another 18% are telecommuting part-time. Looking to the future, although many expect to move away from full-time telework, 67% expect at least some telework.

This shift in work location is impacting how and where government personnel are consuming media and marketing content.

  • Personal devices: More telework means greater access to personal devices, giving workers more access to personal digital media properties and social media during work hours
  • Print subscriptions: Fewer employees in the office means fewer people reading the print publications that get delivered to, and passed around, the office
  • Radio: Though 30% of workers are still going to the office five days a week, 45% are not going into the office at all. Fewer commutes reduce the number of people listening to the radio to and from work

Marketers will need to re-examine their marketing mix to reach federal workers who are spending at least some of their work week at a home office.

2) Webinars are a strong complement to in-person events

With so many federal employees (and, presumably, government contractors) still working from home, much of the business of the government is being handled online. The same is true for educational and networking events.

In-person event attendance hit a low in this year’s study, with only 21% of federal decision-makers attending any in-person events. Defense employees were more likely than civilian to attend in-person events.

Continued COVID precautions are keeping personnel distant from future in-person events, as well. In fact, more than half of federal workers are planning to avoid all in-person events in 2022. Given the choice of attending a future hybrid event in person or virtually, just more than half would opt for virtual attendance.

Webinars, though, are a different story. Webinar participation increased since 2020, which already had spiked due to COVID since the year before.

For an industry known to value personal relationships and connections, the persistent reluctance of federal workers to attend in-person events means that marketers will want to find other ways to connect. Webinars provide a strong option for sharing educational content.

Important to note, a high number of participants would opt for in-person attendance for hybrid events. So, monitor the traction for trade shows and events because as government returns to in-person participation, marketers will want to be sure their teams are ready to welcome them.

3) Most federal buyers trust content from professional organizations, peers

Not all content is created equal, of course. Sources matter to federal buyers. Professional associations are the most-trusted source, followed by peers and colleagues. Least trusted are government contractors, a trend that worsened since last year. Compared with 2020, the 2021 study found a higher percentage of study participants who “don’t trust at all” government contractor content – a signal that contractors have some work to do to rebuild trust.

Interestingly, 38% of federal employees participated in webinars hosted by government contractors. That’s less than webinars hosted by professional associations (52%), but more than those hosted by research firms (22%) or media properties (20%). What’s more, 38% of federal workers say they have no preference when it comes to who hosts the webinars.

Though government contractors are not considered a top trusted resource, there are many opportunities to partner with professional associations to support government workers with valuable thought leadership and industry education. Webinars, alone or with an association, may be well-received – provided that the content truly is educational.

4) Federal workers on the move

Though federal workers may be physically staying at home, many are looking to shift their career status through retirement and/or job change.

  • Half of experienced public servants plan to retire within five years
  • 27% of most experienced government workers (GS 13+) plan to retire in the next three to five years. (That figure is 25% for those below GS 13)
  • 13% are actively looking for a new job/position. Another 37% are not actively looking, but are open to new jobs

Both defense workers (29%) and civilian personnel (18%) are using social media to look for potential job opportunities.

Marketers interested in recruiting federal workers will be pleased to see that 50% of their target audience is open to new positions. Organic social and paid digital media should be considered as part of an integrated recruitment marketing campaign.

5) Social media is one way to connect with federal contacts

Greater access to personal devices from home environments has allowed federal employees to more easily engage on social media, for the second year in a row. More than a third are using traditionally personal social media platforms for work purposes – and there is a lot of diversity in which platforms are in use.

This year’s top five most-used social platforms are:

  • Facebook: Keeping the top spot from last year, Facebook has the highest percentage of federal workers engaged – with many on Facebook daily!
  • LinkedIn: Continues in the number two spot for feds, as they connect with coworkers and colleagues online.
  • Instagram: Overtaking Twitter for the third spot, Instagram usage is on the rise.
  • Twitter and Pinterest: Rounding out the last two spots in the top five, Twitter and Pinterest are the next most-often used social platforms by federal employees.

Defense workers are more likely than civilian to use social media for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Following professional or trade associations
  • Following federal government agencies
  • Networking and building professional contacts/relationships
  • Researching products, services and companies

Social media offers a potential “in” with their federal constituents – especially on the defense side. As always, success in the federal market comes from personal connections and social platforms are one more way to build and strengthen connections with customers. The study’s authors caution that “contractors need to tell personal stories” on social, to personally connect with the individuals using the platforms.

6) Podcast listenership is down

Compared to 2020, podcast listenership is down. Still, 44% of federal workers listen to podcasts. Though most podcasts are personal, 27% of feds turn to podcasts for work-related news, politics and education.

There is an abundance of podcasts now active in the government marketplace. Unless there is truly a new angle, federal marketers would be cautioned against adding too many more. That said, experts addressing topics on the right podcast could still be a valuable part of a thought leadership strategy.

7) Federal digital media time

Federal employees are spending less time-consuming news (online, TV, radio, newsletters and print content) compared to one year ago. Print, in particular, has low traction with this audience. When they are looking for news content:

  • 46% access news content online for at least 15 minutes daily
  • 39% watch the news or news programs on TV
  • 32% listen to the (traditional) radio

TV remains the strongest for breaking news and local updates.

Marketers will want to look for opportunities to engage with federally focused online news sites. Check targeted media outlets for advertising, bylined article placement, white paper promotion and thought leader interview opportunities that fit the company’s goals and strategy.

Every year, Market Connections discovers and shares federal media and marketing insights. The above list is just a sampling of what they (and we) learned this year.