Newspapers, radio, and television were the only sources of news for townships for many years.
Today, however, these traditional platforms are some of the least relevant, and effective ways, to engage with localized populations – why?
- Many small-town newspapers have folded or gone digital
- Radio and local news stations face such fierce competition for advertising spend that fewer and fewer prioritize airtime, or journalists, to report on local events
Long work hours and busy schedules have also rendered town hall meetings a thing of the past in many communities. These factors contribute to a growing communications crisis situation faced by many US towns and communities.
Why city communications matter
“Crisis” may seem like an extreme term to use when talking about city communications.
But “lack of trust” is one of the biggest issues faced by many local governments today.
According to Pew Research, less than 20% of Americans trust the government to “do the right thing,” and poor communication is a major reason for this low rating.
Quite simply, local governments struggle to get residents involved if their communications are un-engaging and not inclusive.
Lack of inclusion weakens relationships between community leaders and constituents. And when people feel disconnected, they’re less likely to voice concerns because they feel no one is listening.
This is a big issue, because disengaged citizens are uninformed citizens.
From tax hikes to urban development projects to changes in HOA CC&Rs, there are dozens of issues about which community residents should be aware and it’s their right to have a say.
It’s difficult for community leaders to inform citizens if they don’t have an effective and accessible communication channel however.
In many cases, citizens only learn about changes once their governments have acted upon them, a fact that extends the divide between authorities and citizens.
This is an untenable situation, especially if a crisis event such a severe storm knocking out power, or flooding or fire occurs. In situations like these, citizens need to know where to turn for information. Unfortunately, in towns that lack a single, reliable mode of communication, residents may be in danger.
Bridge the gaps
Community leaders must inform residents, and have strategies that work best for their municipalities, and their changing communication preferences – here are some key benchmarks:
Listen – Many municipalities use communications platforms to make broadcasts only. Encouraging resident engagement through content should be as important however. Content that generates two-way conversation and offers a chance for citizens to share their views.
Track what’s trending – Content moderators must get on social media to learn more about members’ interests and concerns. They should ask questions and respond to these – they should also track trending topics to raise them with officials quickly for faster responses.
Moderators should also keep an eye out for misinformation. The rumor mill works fast, especially in small towns. Community leaders have a responsibility to residents to listen for, and immediately correct misinformation. By knowing where residents hang out online, and by remaining vigilant, communications departments can set the record straight before fake news can cause damage.
Integrate service delivery and communications
When you have a blackout at home, what’s the first thing you do?
Contact the power company (to investigate) and who would try to fix the outage as fast as possible.
When a streetlight goes out however, it’s a harder to know who to call – many of us hope that someone in a position of power will notice it and contact maintenance teams.
Whether this takes days, weeks, or months, we never know, because when it comes to community services, we’re often left in the dark — figuratively and literally – in this case.
Power to the People
Innovative, progressive townships recognize that leaving community maintenance in the hands of a few is inefficient and ineffective. By contrast, “power to the people” is an approach taken by city officials in Jun, a small town in Spain.
If Jun residents notice an issue — whether it be a burned-out streetlight, a missing street sign, a pothole or an abandoned sofa — they can visit a designated community services forum, post a picture of the issue along with the address, and tag the mayor.
The mayor then tags the relevant party, who responds when the issue is resolved. This mix of community-wide accountability and transparency puts control in citizens’ hands, which happens to resolve Issue #1 associated with ineffective city communications: lack of trust.
Establishing a single communication channel
Establishing a single platform to broadcast important, authorized information for residents, is essential.
While you should not discount social media platforms, online forums, email, television and radio, you should, ultimately, choose a platform that supports exclusivity, security and reliability. You should also utilize a tool like NotifyMe that let’s you customize messages for individual recipients as well as talk to residents in real-time.
- As a content creation platform itself, you can create a NotifyMe channel to which citizens can subscribe. With authenticity requirements and opt-in requests, NotifyMe is a secure, troll-free platform – this gives residents confidence and trust that information received is legitimate.
- NotifyMe enables you to segment subscribers to send customized messages to individual groups. For instance, you can create a group for community volunteers, one for local business owners, one for parents with kids in sports, etc. By keeping messages relevant to select groups, you can reduce the risk of content fatigue among subscribers.
- As NotifyMe features a powerful auto-translate function, you never have to worry that non-English speaking members get left out of the loop – NotifyMe auto-translates notifications to the default language of recipients’ phones upon arrival.
Bottom line – NotifyMe is built to help city officials build a closer two-way rapport with citizens and we invite you start a trial today.