In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Angela Thompson (LinkedIn & Twitter), Director of Communications and Outreach with the City of Canton, highlights the need for a new kind of communications. Sign up to be a guest columnist for this series.
Sharing information has never been easier than it is today, but one of the biggest challenges we have and will continue to face is competing for our community’s digital attention. Some days, it feels like we are screaming into a megaphone on the steps of City Hall and no one is listening. Like it or not, we cannot compete with big companies and corporations who have million dollar budgets to spend on social outreach. We can, however, do things a little differently to help us be more aware of and in tune with the needs and voices of our community in 2019.
One of the biggest challenges is to keep it real. Get back to the basics of why we all stepped into the wonderful world of public service and connect at an authentic level with residents and businesses. As any local government does, we struggle to engage our community with the everyday process of a municipality. We want to listen to what our residents have to say and let the conversation grow organically. So, if people aren’t coming to City Hall for meetings, go to them. Meet your community where they are with real, authentic discussions about the issues that impact them. If each of us can make a difference locally by humanizing what we do and why we do it, it can be the foundation for creating a bond within our communities. Build trust now by connecting with our communities so that when an emergency strikes, they will be tuned in for the important messages and trust it.
Another challenge we have to face head-on in 2019 – we need our teams to stop speaking “Government.” You know exactly what I am talking about. I have been in this game for over a decade and still have to think through some of the many acronyms thrown around in a Planning Commission Meeting. We want to engage our communities, have active boards, and see public participation sore, so we should speak in terms people can understand. I call this “People-speak.” Check yourself – are you so entrenched in the process that you forget to simplify the message? If someone doesn’t understand our process or the way we package the process, it should be our mission to explain it. People today expect to read news in 280 characters or less; our message should be just as concise.
One of the remaining challenges we face is the timeliness our message being seen by our followers. Social media is one of the easiest and quickest ways to connect with our communities. However, many of us in government communications have been baffled by news feed algorithms and our messaging actually being seen by our followers in their feed when we need them to see it. The good news is that many social media outlets are looking for ways to prioritize public information from government agencies (hooray!) and push us ahead of businesses who have simply paid for their placements.
We also have the opportunity to connect with our communities in ways many cannot in 2019 – in person. Step outside, grab a cup of coffee, and a have some real, face-to-face interaction. Keep that connection going with a genuine conversation that your grandmother could understand online (she’s probably on Facebook!). The formal voice of government doesn’t have a place in 2019 – we all just need to keep it real and remember why we are here in the first place.