Things have come a long way from the town criers of old. While you no longer post important announcements in the village square or pay someone to yell at those who pass by, the need to communicate with your constituents remains.
As with any communication, there is always room for improvement. Ask yourself, do your citizens feel informed by your organization? Are there sections of your population that you just aren’t reaching? Are you getting the right message across to the right segments at the appropriate time? If not, here are some easy ways you can immediately improve communication with your constituents.
1. Reduce Government-ese
Chances are if you work in government, you are fluent in government-ese. You probably haven’t even realized that’s a new language you have acquired. Quick – update that resume! Unfortunately, most of those in the community you serve do not speak this language, which makes most communication from government sources confusing for the public at large.
Review your communications before they go out to the public with an eye towards plain language. Does it sound like something said in a committee meeting? How would you explain it to your neighbor? Lean towards the latter and your community will begin to listen to what you are saying.
2. Centralize the Source
If you are a larger organization with multiple departments, consider having one single Public Information Officer (PIO) that coordinates and reviews all outside communication to the public. Timing is very important when it comes to press releases, and sometimes information from multiple departments can be combined into one efficient release to the public.
Additionally, the PIO will be able to ensure that the information gets to all the sources of communication and no channel will be missed. This will allow for one single media contact for the press, easing interview scheduling and facilitating talking points for the issue at hand.
Having a single point of contact also allows one person to be the “keeper of the brand” to make sure all messaging and imagery are consistent with the brand guidelines your organization has developed.
3. Don’t Make It Difficult
How hard is it for the average Joe to navigate your website and figure out where their tax dollars are going? Do you even have a website? Government websites, when they exist, are notoriously cumbersome due to the multitudes of information they need to provide the public.
Having an outside source perform a digital audit is a great way to get insight into improvements you can make. There are often small changes that will have a big impact on how your citizens access or understand information from your organization.
4. Accessibility Matters
Is the information that you are providing accessibility to everyone in your community? How are you communicating with those not on social media? What about those without internet access? In today’s climate, it is important to communicate or do business in a way that reduces in-person interaction.
Is your website accessible for those with a disability or those who speak another language? If you are advertising, are you considering non-traditional methods or advertising in other languages? Accessibility matters in communicating to your ENTIRE constituency, not just your traditional listener. Furthermore, if you aren’t reaching a segment of your citizens, you may be risking litigation.
5. Massage the Message
Before you hit the send button, think about what you are sending and how it will land. What questions are people going to have? Can you answer them? If not, what CAN you tell them? What information is missing? What do you need to explain? Even if you understand it, chances are, the public does not. If you’ve told them before, remind them again. We are a forgetful people who have a million messages flying at us constantly.
Finally, if you want people to change a behavior or do something new, give them the WHY. Tie it to their life so they can understand how it impacts them and why it matters.
6. Pay to Play on Social Media
The days of high organic reach on social media are sadly over. But with a small budget, you can increase the reach and engagement on your accounts by specifically targeting those within your geographic area.
If you are trying to access previously hard-to-reach segments of the population, targeting through demographic qualifiers offers a great way to do that. This, in turn, will help increase the followers on your account which will assist in your organic post reach.
7. Be Everywhere
If there is a message you are trying to get out in your community, it should seem like your citizens can’t turn their head without seeing your content. Website and emails are great, but how else can you communicate with your community?
Website retargeting ads, social media ads, print advertising, radio advertising, media pitches (for news story coverage), billboards, posters, bus advertising, newsletters, opinion editorials, and in-stream video advertising are just a few examples of ways to saturate the market with your message.
But wait, can this be done on a budget? Absolutely! You just need to be strategic about where your media spend is spread so you can get the biggest ROI for your community.
8. Make Friends with The Media
Journalists want to help you report the pertinent news to those within your community. Help them help you. Your centralized source should be on a first-name basis with all the journalists in your area – press releases should flow from you to the media, and the media should always be able to contact you for comment before running with a story. If they don’t, there may be some relationship work to do. Don’t treat them like the enemy, they are your friends, but the relationship goes two ways.
Journalists are very open to pitches as well. Is there an angle to a news story they don’t know about or haven’t thought of? Is there someone you can help arrange an interview for? Do you have any additional background information on a story they may be investigating? Make their job easier and everyone will benefit.
9. Engage Your Audience
Angry and frustrated citizens often feel unheard. Great communication involves hearing AND listening. What forums do you have to listen to your constituents? If you’re thinking the 3-minute public comment section to address your board, council, or commission during your public meetings is the answer, you’re missing out.
Don’t expect emails, letters, and phone calls to be sufficient either. Go to where your citizens are and be open and honest, and let them know you want to hear from them. Solicit feedback. Townhalls, forums, community events, and surveys are all great ways to round out your listening toolbox.
10. Strengthen Your Stakeholder Network
Meet with your stakeholders regularly to create an open dialogue. They are your allies and will help you in these endeavors, so share information with them on what you are trying to communicate to the public. They have their own network and can spread your reach farther than you alone. Together, you make a strong community, and it helps if everyone is on the same page.
These are great, easy steps to take, but this is just the beginning of your journey. If you need help in further developing your communication strategy, let us know. We have experience consulting with many municipalities, counties, state departments, and economic development organizations. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, either. Outsourcing part of a project or an entire department is often a great way to help reduce costs and increase efficiency in times of budget reduction.