Telling local people about the hotchpotch of unrelated council services is a big problem at the best of times, and with cuts this really isn’t the best of times. Worse, most people don’t care about council services; at least, they don’t until they notice they aren’t working or find they are in need of particular support.
That’s not to mention the services that people do not know that local authorities provide so don’t think to ask. This results in many excellent neighbourhood services going under the radar, used only by the vocal, involved minority.
Why is digital marketing the answer? It’s cheaper than a leaflet, and it can be very focused. Crucially, it is increasingly the first way people find out about the services they need.
Where to start?
It can be a daunting task entering the world of digital, especially if there is little resource or chance of investment. However, there are some simple things councils can do to do it well:
Your digital ecosystem Just thinking “let’s have a Facebook page” won’t get you far. The gov.uk site, whatever microsites you have, your accounts on Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, and Yammer, plus your local strategic partnership site should work and link together.
Promotion Promote your Twitter accounts on gov.uk. That doesn’t mean an obscure link in the page footer – pull in the feed and keep it engaging. Put relevant links in tweets back to content on your main site and microsite, and put links (and ideally captions) on your YouTube video descriptions linking to relevant pages.
Social networking Use Facebook for things people have an emotional connection to, something they care about – a fan, or replicating an offline group, or a shared interest. For example, a Facebook page combining parks, allotments and Britain in Bloom entries will gain a more active and focused audience than a Facebook page for the council alone. Have more than one Twitter account and focus them on different topics. Set an expectation of tweet frequency – either daily or weekly – and try to be as human as you would be face-to-face. Remember to respond to people, retweet, and follow.
Using SEO Focus on your search engine optimisation, or SEO. This doesn’t just mean making sure the council appears top of the search results’ list – it’s the long “tail” you want to worry about: those pages on your site full of detailed and specific service information that is potentially life-changing and needs to be findable by a simple search. Check your analytics. Do sample searches. Yes, they may be visited by a only few hundred people but they can be visits that really matter.
Publish maps Use some of that work the council’s been investing in geographic information systems. If that’s too complex, edit your own Google map to show people what is offered, and where.
Who are you talking to? Don’t try marketing everything to everybody. Reach out to a specific community that wants to know about things regularly. Publishing as “the council” will usually only be important when something big is happening: severe weather, rioting, elections, strikes, or local controversies.
Instead, you should understand what people’s relationship is to the topic and talk to them in that way. You can communicate to fans of the local arts scene, to specific local community groups about neighbourhood news and issues, and to interest groups such as carers or parents.
These are just a few suggestions to help get councils on the road to having a cohesive, far-reaching voice. The key is to keep it simple, plan ahead and, importantly, stay sociable.
is a senior consultant at digital communications agency
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