Municipalities across North America share a common goal to increase community engagement, but their understanding of what that means and how to achieve it are less clear. Let’s define engagement as involving citizens in decision-making processes to build policies that benefit the community.
How to get there involves a strategic approach to understanding your citizens and building the outreach campaigns to reach them. But you may be wondering, are there any shortcuts? Are there ways to boost engagement immediately? Our experience shows that it always pay to the do the research and get a deep understanding of your citizenry. That said, there are some ways to leverage your agency website for immediate improvements.
Make it Easy to Connect on Social Media
By now most municipalities have social media accounts, and hopefully have mapped out a basic strategy to reach residents. Many citizens already see social media as a prime way of engaging with friends and consumer brands, and engaging with the local governments seems like the next logical step.
It sounds simple, but the most important step you can take at this juncture is letting people know where to find you on social media. They will not engage if they don’t know you exist. Take a look at your agency’s website – are social media icons or links visible on the homepage? Are they hidden in the corner, or front and center? The City of North Port, Florida, for example, reported seeing a huge uptick in visitors to their Flickr account when the added a bold icon button to their homepage.
Make it Easy to Connect with eNotifications
Most local government CMS platforms, including Vision’s, include eNotification functionality that allows residents to sign up to receive alerts about news that’s relevant to them. If you’re not using this functionality, why not try it out? These notifications are a great way to publicize engagement opportunities, like events and surveys, to your most likely participants.
Once you have eNotifications up and running, think about how easy they are to find on your site. The City of Yankton, South Dakota homepage prominently features a Sign Up for Alerts button that quickly gets visitors into the eNotification flow.
Make it Easy to Learn More with a Blog
Though blogging hasn’t been widely adopted in the local government world, increasing numbers of agencies use this channel to provide context and commentary around issues that need it. It’s not that your social channels and website pages cannot do this, but a blog provides a complementary, owned channel that residents can access in one central place.
Interested citizens who may not otherwise participate may connect with this channel, because it’s how they access information they seek in other parts of their life. Missoula County, Montana for example uses their blog to give more details about elections, facility improvements and committee openings.
Build a Plan for the Future
While it makes sense to make fast and easy changes to your website to boost engagement, it’s still vital that you do some deeper investigation into what works best in your community. In addition to being in the right places – like on social media, eNotifications, and a blog – you need to make sure that the topics you share with residents are interesting and encourage them to get involved. The feedback you receive from residents also needs to be reflected in the programs you institute. This creates a feedback loop that generates trust and future participation. In upcoming posts we’ll investigate more ways keep this feedback loop going. Download 10 Steps to Developing a Social Media Strategy to help get you optimize your social media channels, and read more about engagement on our blog.