Named as “L.A.’s Next Cool Neighborhood” by Vogue Magazine, this vibrant city maintains its buzz by focusing on community interaction leading to their recognition as Vision’s What’s Next Award winner for Citizen Engagement. Anissa Di Vincente the City’s Webmaster, Shelly Wolfberg, Assistant City Manager and Communications Consultant, Jon Barilone of Tripepi Smith join us for this edition of Digital Expert’s Corner.
How do you define citizen engagement?
Anissa: Having the citizen interact with us on some level, whether it’s email or Facebook or sharing and liking posts. Knowing that they’ve seen what we are doing and are following along and interacting at some level. We are constantly adapting and integrating new technologies. This year, in particular, has been a big year for us using social media. We’ve got visionPulse going. The tools are out there; it’s just a matter of figuring them out and using them for our purposes. At this point, we’re putting out an exponentially greater amount of content on different platforms. To top it off, we brought a communications consultant to help us with all this.
Shelly: To add to it, we want to involve as many citizens as possible as early in the process as possible. For example, we realize that some people aren’t able to physically attend meetings or prefer smaller meetings to large ones, so we stream all our meetings. It’s a matter of reaching our public in as many ways as possible. Moreover, it’s about listening to what the citizens have to say and deciding how we can connect with them. Community communications/involvement is so important to our City Council that’s it’s an integral part of our General Plan Update. Our City Council has consistently prioritized the need to gather citizen feedback on issues and policies, and that feedback informs policy decisions.
Jon: Citizen engagement can be defined as when you have residents participating in a dialogue/conversation with the city, rather than just being one the receiving end of information. Overall you need three things: tools, omnichannel dialogue, and a culture of responsiveness. From a logistical standpoint that means having Web 2.0 tools in place. From a staff and leadership perspective, it means creating an environment through which feedback and participation can be fostered and having a discipline in place that responses to feedback are timely and appropriate. Also, there is a reality that being responsive takes resources, so while tools are critical to efficiency, there will always be a labor-driven aspect to executing on engagement.
You’ve increased the overall amount of communications a huge amount and are now using more channels to communicate—plus you have a distributed list of content creators. How are you managing staff, content creation and approvals?
Anissa: Right now, we are laser-focused on communications. Previously, we were sending out emails and creating social posts, but now there is much more of an emphasis on cohesion and planning. For instance, we’re now letting departments know about upcoming social posting for the council agenda, so they can adjust their post accordingly.
As far as approvals go, the departments that have their own social media channels get approval from their corresponding department head. Anything that goes through city channels is approved by IT and the City Manager’s office. And anything posted on the city website goes through IT. For the website at least, we’ve had that approval process in place for a while. Overall, we have more staff post on their own department pages, and fewer people post on the overall city site.
Shelly: We meet quarterly with departmental staff to keep communications cohesive across channels like news, social media and calendaring. It’s become more formal and keeps our standard high.
Anissa: I’ll add that the emphasis Shelly mentioned also includes ensuring that we are aligned and consistent across all channels. We meet quarterly with quite a large group.
Jon: A big part of that onsite meeting is walking through the upcoming calendar and ensuring that communications are created around the items, so the public is informed. Part of my job is to act as a reminder that communication needs to be created and delivered uniformly. Our process is pretty solid, very little slips through the cracks. When you get a whole organization in a room and look across department silos to talk about citywide initiatives, some forward-looking magic happens. We all start talking about how to proactively inform the public and not just jump through notification requirements. The commitment of the City Manager to this process has been a critical aspect to its success.
How do you measure and track your performance?
Anissa: It depends on the medium and channel. We look at all of them individually. Obviously, we look at site views, our increasing number of subscribers on every channel, the fact that Voosting the number of our Facebook posts results in residents posting more. We don’t so much look at individual post reach, but overall reach. We see large percentage increases in all these areas.
Shelly: Tripepi Smith runs monthly reports on analytics for social media and the website. They are also tracking media mentions and reposts in a dashboard report. All of this gets communicated up the chain to Council.
Jon: Since February of 2017, the City has exponentially increased outreach and fostered community input through tools such as visionLive News Stories, visionPulse Topic Pages, social media sites, emails, etc. For instance, we’ve posted 89 visionLive News Stories. Additionally, we’ve increased our Facebook posting which has grown our reach 1,253%, and our engagements expanded by 872%. Twitter is showing increases in impressions and engagements by 228% and 219% respectively. Also, we created 12 visionPulse topic pages to gather feedback. So far, we’ve run a few polls and responsiveness is increasing there also. Overall, I think there’s no single piece of magic—just increasing the number of posts and content had a direct one-to-one relationship to our growth.
Like Shelly mentioned, the reporting is reviewed by the City Council, and we are prepared to deep-dive into the data or discuss overarching trends. As we like to say, “You measure the things that matter.” In Culver City, engagement matters.
How would you describe your community and what makes them so responsive to your engagement efforts?
Shelly: We are a small community of about 40,000 residents. We are surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. I think since we are a small town our residents feel like they have access to staff and officials so—they participate more closely with their government. This is a great thing!
The community has become more progressive in recent years is reflective of some of the other westside cities with whom we are regionally affiliated. Some of our residents have become very active about certain issues and are engaging back with the City in a grassroots way.
Also, Culver City is the center of the ‘creative economy’ in SoCal and people who are employed by these firms prefer to communicate with us using social and web tools. Sending a paper mailer to this group just doesn’t work. It comes across as old fashioned. Additionally, I think the demographics of our community reflects what is happening globally insofar as instant access to information.
Jon: This is a very tech-savvy community. The median age is in their 30’s with children. We just knew that social media needed to become a more prevalent tool because of how engaged our community is with it, particularly Facebook.
If you had to describe your entire digital presence in a few words, how would you sum it up?
Shelly and Anissa: Energized, Exciting, Interesting. We want to be seen as a vibrant, responsive, community—our web and social media efforts have reflected that.
Jon: Authentic. This is not about engagement to be cool. This is about genuine community outreach and participation desired by the Council and Staff.
What does the future hold?
Anissa: We’re offering more and more services with App or online components. Basically, we are upgrading services. We’ll be using NextBus so that passengers have real-time information and aren’t waiting too long for the bus. Potentially, we will offer in-app information about how many spaces are available in the public garage. We’re looking to implement technology to give citizens information that is useful for them. We’re always looking at ways to improve.
Jon: I’m hoping to offer channels where we can measure feedback in a more holistic way, so evolving from a bunch of posts and replies about a topic to a fully-formed public opinion that we can then present to the Council.
Learn How to Boost Engagement
If you are interested in learning more about boosting your online engagement check out our guide.