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One Minute Raps in the City of River Falls, Wisconsin

Posted on July 22, 2014


Dawn Wills (LinkedIn), Communication Coordinator for River Falls, WI, takes us behind the scenes of these short, informative videos.


First off, give our readers a sense of the biggest issues facing the City of River Falls.

River Falls, a small University City (pop. 15,000), makes a conscious effort to embrace its small town charm, healthy downtown and existing neighborhoods while sitting in a vibrant, fast growing metropolitan region. The community has to both cherish the old and support new business parks and new residential neighborhoods.

The Kinnickinnic River is the backbone of the community and is a very important asset to River Falls. The biggest issue in the community is setting and shaping a vision of the community in the long-term.

Talk about River Falls’ overall communications strategy, and then, how it fits into assisting the City in addressing its biggest issues.

Scot Simpson, our City Administrator, began an increased emphasis 5 years ago on communicating effectively with a broad audience. I call it the “Avenues of Communications” when I’m talking with department managers. I ask: What’s the length of your message? And who is it for? Then let’s determine what Avenue is appropriate to communicate your message…

  • Traditional Press Release
  • City of River Falls Web Site
  • Social Media: City of River Falls Facebook & Twitter
  • City Wide Direct Mailed Printed Newsletter (Sent January, May, September)
  • SharePoint – The Source for City Employees
  • The City Insider (Monthly employee newsletter)
  • City Source Channel 18 (TV Program)
  • Streaming videos online (with that streaming link on your department web page)

The bottom line is that:

  • Positive News is Good News and we should share!
  • When possible, we want to put a “Face” on the City. Let’s show-off our outstanding work!

The one-minute videos are genius. Walk us through the idea to create the videos. 

Kevin Westhuis, Division Head of Media Services, wanted to come up with short video blast that inform, educate, and entertain. He believed that with a couple early examples of the short videos out there for people to see, and a little prodding, that we may be able to get Division heads to “go with” the concept.

In addition to Kevin’s thoughts, I heard at a conference this past spring that on the web, 80% will watch an entire video of 30 seconds and only 20% will watch the entire video of 4 minutes. It’s apparent that people want short burst of information.

I came up with the City Rap title with the “and that’s a Wrap” on our copyright to make it a play on words. Kevin thought it was important to have the one-minute in the title so people know they are not committing themselves to a long video. That is how the “One Minute City Rap” was born. Viewers have really embraced these One Minute “City Raps” and are learning important information in short bursts. A big benefit of social media is that these raps are easily shared so they have been getting passed around fairly vigorously.

I probably spend about 2 hours on a one minute rap with shooting and editing and posting. We have a talented Division Team and they usually can get their rap in at about 50 seconds (to leave room for the open title and ending copyright). I always like to get 3 – 5 takes. We try to get it in one take but it’s okay if we adjust the shot and do just the last part again.

Based on views and community response, which videos have been the most successful?

The videos that have a serious message in non-traditional settings seem to be popular and are creating a buzz. The stark contrast created by our Utility Director fishing in the Kinnickinnic River in a white shirt and tie while discussing the ease of automatic bill pay is an example of our “non-traditional” informational video.

So far, all of the “One Minute City Rap” videos have been received well and are being shared, watched, and commented on. It is certain that we will never run out of topics and information to share, but we will have to work hard to maintain the flow of creative juices while keeping them fun and interesting.

Everyone has a few setbacks along the way. Talk about three challenges that you faced in creating the videos.

To be honest this is a really new series and it’s gone smoothly on the production side. Helping Division Heads with the confidence they need to do these is taking a little work, but less than I expected. It is always a challenge getting our citizens more aware that these “raps” are out there and that it doesn’t take much time to view them. Our marketing and distribution is a work in progress.

Give us three tips for improving our citizen communication.

The City of River Falls is fortunate to have a media service department with a talented staff and good equipment.

  • It’s been more obvious to us that people do not have time for long government programs. Make your videos educational, informational and entertaining…and short!
  • Put a face on the City.
  • Mundane to staff can be incredibly interesting to citizens (Wipes in the Pipes, Parking Meters, etc.)

Give us a few other local governments that you feel are communicating effectively.

Oshkosh, Wisconsin does an amazing job of communicating with its citizens.

What’s next? How do you top the one-minute videos?

We have a list of program ideas but often it is a matter of finding the time to shoot and produce them – you’ll have to stay tuned to see.

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