To some, the phrase ‘digital communication in local government’ may seem a bit of a paradox. This is because many departments in local government still operate in a pre-digital age. This includes requiring “forms to be printed out and mailed, payments taken only in cash or check, appointments have to be conducted in person and in offices open only from 9 AM to 5 PM” (Harvard Business Review 2016). This way of doing things no longer works in a digital world. Local government plays an important role in our society. That means it is essential for digital communication in local government.
A Connected and Customer Centric World
Our world is becoming more and more “connected and customer centric”. As a result, “customers have come to expect that their needs will be met quickly and frictionlessly” (Harvard Business Review 2016). Innovative local governments understand five key things (Harvard Business Review 2016):
- Scale Matters: Many local governments measure impact in terms of thousands, rather than tens of thousands. Truly innovating governments are aiming for tens of thousands or even millions.
- Online and offline efforts have to mesh: Successful government organizations use both offline and online methods to build a digital audience.
- The citizen’s government accounts should connect seamlessly: Why not have one app that connects multiple services in one city? Local governments have an advantage because they can partner with different departments. This can make its citizens experience more seamless. So why don’t more take advantage of this?
- Engagement depends on smart segmenting: A citizens privacy is very important to a government institution. As such, communications specifically tailored to audience interests are more relevant and more likely to capture attention and engage.
- Influencers improve engagement: Citizens may not know what digital offerings are available to them. This is where key influencers can play a role and can help drive a message.
Challenges for Digital Communication in Local Government
So why isn’t there more use of digital communication in local government? Many local governments do use digital communication, but they face many challenges. This includes (The National Association of Regional Councils):
- Data Use
- Lag time
By recognizing these challenges, local government can better strategize their communication efforts. As a result, they will not only “improve the lives of the people they serve, but also demonstrate their value and increase civic engagement” (Harvard Business Review 2016).
So what is needed to ensure digital communication in local government? They will need the right technology and a well thought out communications strategy (Harvard Business Review 2016). This may prove difficult for many local governments, but it will be essential in the coming years.