You need to be interacting with your constituents. Do you know how?
In today’s fast-paced world, time is a commodity that many people are severely lacking. From work, family, home life and errands, it seems that each day is shorter than the one before. Often the last thing on everyone’s mind is what their local government is doing.
Sure, national politics may be a topic around the dinner table, but how about the bread and butter of everyday life. Issues such as property taxes, traffic, public safety, schools, growth and development, parks and recreation for the kids, and more, are all controlled by local government and are rarely a top topic for residents and families. Local governments today are finding it more important than ever to be able to cut through the noise and keep their constituents apprised of everything that is going on in their municipality.
Connecting with your community and the community reconnecting back is critical to a local government being responsive, accountability and engaged. Often, constituents are not upset about a project or issue, just frustrated they don’t understand the process or the timeline. That’s why it’s so essential for local government to relate to the community and provide various means of connection. From phone calls, emails and social media to old fashion public meetings, it’s not just what you say, but where and when you say it.
Now, don’t go creating your municipal Snapchat or TikTok account today, but be mindful of where your constituents are getting their information and spending their time so you can make sure your message gets in front of them. The more avenues of communication, the more organized your message is, and the more consistent you are in when you communicate, the better off you will be in engaging in meaningful dialogue with your constituents.
Don’t just set goals, share them and then claim success.
Municipal governments plan and are continually looking towards the future. From the annual budget to major capital improvement (CIP) projects and everything in between, planning is what the government does. But once the plan is in place, who is taking the next step to share that with your constituents? And no, a press release doesn’t count! Share your plans and goals through workshops and public meetings with the community, roundtable discussions, and speaking circuits to civic groups, neighborhood organizations, and local chambers. Impacted groups should hear from you. But here is the critical step, once your plan in place and you are checking items off the list, make sure to circle back to these organizations and stakeholders to share your success and let them know this plan and goal is being completed.
Your constituents are spending more time online, are you creating a conversation with them there?
A digital strategy is another fantastic way to help make sure that your municipal government is ready for the future. Most large governments have a newsletter, blog, or email distribution system to share updates, meeting minutes, and agendas. But how about taking the next step into the world of digital and social media? Beyond posts on Facebook but utilizing all social channels that your constituents or future constituents are on: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Flickr, and Foursquare. The key is to make sure these channels are not just places to post information and walk away, but truly engage with the community. Yes, of course, there will always be some who post negative comments or “troll” the accounts. Still, most users will be appreciative of the information and the responsiveness of your communications. Utilize the features available, including creating events on Facebook, stories on Instagram, and Facebook Live. And in today’s micro-targeting age, you can deliver paid content to specific neighborhoods, districts, or zip codes to share timely updates with only those who need to see it.
Control the message. Manage the situation. Protect your brand.
Every municipality has its brand or, you can say, its reputation. It can take years to create and with one mistake, years to fix. That’s why it’s critical government has a communication strategy in place not only for the day-to-day business of running government but also for when a crisis arrives. Creating and implementing standard operating procedures can help your government control the storyline. Make sure your local government has one point of contact for all media relations. Elected officials and key administrators understand the talking points, so your messages are consistent and that you have a crisis plan in place, just in case that day arrives. Remember, a crisis for your constituents may not be a crisis for your entire municipality. Assess the situation, bring calmness and security to the location, and communicate the facts as you know them right now to ensure residents are informed, aware, and updated.
Customer service is still priority number one when dealing with your constituents.
Let’s not forget the bottom line; government is there to serve the constituents. How you treat people when they visit their city hall or call their public works department or visit with a park ranger, is going to make the biggest impression with them. Many governments put their employees through sensitivity or customer service training. Often it won’t matter how many conversations you have online, emails you send, town hall meetings you host, a quick smile or a friendly chat can make your constituents feel their opinion matters, and they are getting valuable service. A 48-hour return call/email policy, follow up protocols during a project, and notices of completion to an issue, are crucial in making residents feel heard. While the world is changing in how we communicate, respect and acknowledgment still matter.
Municipalities today are on the front lines of dealing with the biggest issues. That means you need to be ready to not only solve these issues but communicate with your constituents about what you are doing and why. These little tips, while not the answer to everything, are an excellent place to get started in making sure your government is ready to engage with its community in a productive, informative, and helpful manner.
Rick Asnani is the president and chief solutions officer at Cornerstone Solutions.