Communication trends and expectations on local government
And the survey says….
Local government communications has assumed a more prominent role since the pandemic began. We surveyed our clients and colleagues who work in and for municipalities about their experiences, trials and tribulations. Here are the top three takeaways from the survey results:
1. Local Government is playing a bigger role as the go-to source for information, news, and updates.
Local government has been hit hard by the pandemic. As federal and state levels of government are scrambling for medical resources, instructing shut-downs, and hastily seeking emergency stimulus money to brace for the peak of the pandemic, local government is left to communicate this rapidly developing information with the community.
National news has been a steady stream of new mandates, statistics, and CDC recommendations, etc. – it’s overwhelming, like drinking from a fire hose. But many local governments have been filtering through the noise to identify and share the information most pertinent to their communities.
Every single one of us is affected by the pandemic in some way and the macro-view of what’s happening in our country and across the world is important to understand. But it doesn’t necessarily tell us what we need to know about soldiering on with our day-to-day lives. People are looking to the local level for recommendations on how to keep safe, information about community resources, and updates on what’s open and what’s closed to the public.
Some municipalities are practiced and communicate regularly with their people, but others may lack resources and this experience has been a shock to the system, as they’ve had to up-their-game quickly.
Municipalities that have dedicated in-house communications experts have a leg-up in adjusting to the new rhythm and expectations, but others are looking for resources, turnkey tools, and support to manage the transition.
2. Digital is here to stay.
We were already pretty far down this path, but for anyone dragging their feet, this pandemic has forced a whole new level of digital savvy. Many municipalities have had to make swift changes to how they communicate, activating new social media platforms or reviving dormant pages, sending more emails, and updating websites daily.
This is not easy, but it’s likely not going anywhere, even post pandemic. One of the most interesting shifts in digital communication is around holding virtual public meetings and engagement.
Inclusion is top-of-mind as we transition to online meetings and people are careful to make these meetings accessible to different demographics. Check out Guide Studio’s white paper on virtual public engagement best practices and the pros and cons of different platforms.
Communications were already trending digital pre-pandemic, but this experience has accelerated usage dramatically, leaving people with an expectation that they can find timely information from their local government whenever they need or want it.
Messaging really matters.
Of course, information needs to be accurate and straightforward, but it’s not just the information that you deliver; it’s how you deliver it. Some municipalities have felt that, in the past, they couldn’t get the attention of their communities, but that’s not the case anymore. The spotlight is on you and what you say can either positively or negatively impact reputation.
When it comes to the pandemic, it’s important to communicate in a way that doesn’t diminish the significance of the situation. But we also want to instill confidence and share our optimism with our communities as well. This is a tricky balance and one that has been challenging to our clients and colleagues.
You may not have felt the need for on-brand key messages in the past, but now that everyone is listening, you have an opportunity to elevate your reputation and garner more support and buy-in from the community. Listen to this mini webinar on the Silver Lining of Crisis Communications for some ideas on how to manage this.
We’ve just begun.
This experience is still in its infancy as we slowly reopen the country and continue to navigate this pandemic. Returning to “normal” will come some long-term changes in how we operate and what we expect. Regardless, we have seen some big changes in how local government communicates and we can expect more to come.
Count on us to continue conducting surveys, polls, and roundtables to connect you with your peers and helpful resources throughout this process.