By Angelica Wedell, National Research Center, Inc.
Every local government has an invested interest in building and maintaining a meaningful relationship with its residents. But it can be hard to keep up with a world that rapidly changes the way it talks.
The average person today is walking around with a computer in their pocket, kids don’t know what VHS is, and most residents don’t show up to city council meetings. With more than half of Americans admitting to checking emails during face-to-face conversations and meal-time with others, we know that digital communication is king.
Yes, technology is on the move, habits are changing, and even cities and towns who excel at public engagement today must be ready to evolve tomorrow. But the good news is they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time. Local governments can tap into innovations and practices that are already proven to work. Private sector organizations and businesses want to reach the same audiences that municipalities do, and many of them have figured out ways to leverage the Internet to become wildly successful.
Marketers obsess over reaching the right people at the right time. But who are the right people? To help them understand their audience, successful businesses collect information about their consumers. They learn what their customers want and need, what they like and don’t like, where they live, what their purchase preferences are and a whole lot more. Marketers conduct surveys, analyze forums, study user histories and scour social media profiles to learn everything they can about the people they want to reach. Then they write out customer personas to help them picture all the big data.
Local governments can do the same thing to better understand their residents. Social media profiles and U.S. Census reports are easy places to start getting an idea of who is living in the community and what they’re talking about. Community surveys are another robust way to research what residents think on topics that matter most to your city, town or county.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Marketers know that the majority of their customers make their purchasing decisions online before they make an order, call a number or walk into the store. Google, Yahoo and Bing search engines are the first place people will go to hunt for information. Marketers want their website to appear first on the search list for products and services they want to sell. They will pay for that privilege or work to earn that spot organically.
When you Google the name of your jurisdiction, where does the official website land? Are tourism websites dominating the entire first page? It’s important for your residents to be able to find your website and information about the city easily. So if your official city/town website does not land on the top, first page of Google, consider putting an SEO strategy in place. And one of the most effective ways to boost SEO is content marketing. Which brings us to our next point.
You can use the official city/town website as a platform to tell the story about your local government organization for the benefit of your residents. A blog (filled with articles, stories and infographics – not spreadsheets and meeting agendas) can help spread city news and updates, debunk rumors and myths, introduce residents to city staff and elected officials, explore town history, and celebrate what’s great about your community. Marketers often call this “content marketing.”
Jurisdictions who use content to engage the community allow their residents to receive information directly, rather than through the local news filter. It gives your constituents a consistent window into your local government organization and allows them to build a better connection you. The articles in your blog are also perfect for sharing on your social media pages – creating more opportunities for digital engagement.
And besides all this, regularly telling your own story online makes your website rank higher on search engines. Websites that are updated regularly, contain keywords and synonyms that are relevant to users, clicked and spent time on, and linked to from other sites are more important to Google, Bing and Yahoo. The more important your website is to search engines, the higher it will rank on the list.
Content marketing not only makes the Google bots happy, it makes your readers come back to your website for more. So for local governments wanting to regularly engage with residents in a cost effective and authentic way, Content Marketing is a perfect strategy.