What the Pandemic Taught Municipalities about Resident Communication

Wednesday, August 11, 2021
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In mid-March of 2020, citizens in municipalities across the country embarked on an entirely different way of living.  People had to change from their “normal” life without any knowledge or concern about COVID-19 to one consumed with masks, rules about social distancing in public spaces, and learning how to protect themselves from the virus.  The pandemic affected how a person interacted with other people at work, home, school, places of worship, grocery stores and everywhere in between.

Local governments were not immune to the impact of the pandemic.  Municipalities adjusted their day-to-day business practices, most importantly their interactions with residents.  Many municipal meetings were canceled or moved to an online Zoom format.  Municipal offices were either closed, or office hours reduced to bare minimum in order to protect office staff from exposure to the virus.  Community events were modified or canceled entirely.  Many residents had questions on COVID-19 testing, food bank distribution, and other available community resources during the pandemic.  With all of these daily changes, municipalities quickly realized the importance of resident communication.  

Municipalities shifted their operations after the pandemic started.  Here are a few of the key points that municipalities learned during this uncertain period:

Response time is critical

The municipalities that faired best during the pandemic had an open line of communication with the residents.  However, even those with an effective communication plan recognized the need for a faster and more direct connection to residents.   Newsletters and other forms of communication did not have a quick enough turnaround time to communicate vital public health and safety information, as well as quickly changing municipal events, to residents.  The best form of communication with residents were those with notification systems, such as Savvy Citizen, which enables municipalities to reach residents within a minute or less via push notification (through the app), text message, or e-mail.

Social media doesn’t work for local government communication

Social media limits how your followers receive your messages due to algorithms.  For example, only 10% or less of a page’s followers ever have the post displayed to them.  As a result, municipalities that use Facebook to communicate with residents aren’t reaching them at all. Although your residents “follow” your page, they will never see the information you post in their news feed.  Social media has also become a highly politically charged platform since the last election and throughout the pandemic.   Social media has become a hotbed for miscommunication and rumors.  This type of communication medium is problematic for local governments.  For more information, please see our post about the dangers and pitfalls of using social media.

Residents look to their local governments for facts and help during emergencies

The pandemic highlighted the fact that citizens look to their local governments for health and safety information as well as information regarding community assistance programs during crisis and emergencies.  Although the federal government initially held news conferences in regard to COVID counts and safety information, they later ended them.  Citizens across the country relied on their local government to provide guidance on critical day-to-day items regarding the pandemic, especially in relation to local risks and trends.  Due to unemployment rates and the closing of businesses, many citizens leaned on community assistance programs such as food banks, to keep their families fed and safe.  Local governments stepped up and increased communication regarding these programs and services in order to help their residents.

Takeaway

In conclusion, the experience of operating during a pandemic gave local governments a new perspective on the need for better resident communication.  Those municipalities without a communication strategy in place quickly realized the need to increase information (and the delivery speed) being provided to residents.  Although social media is convenient, it doesn’t provide the same reach as other communication mediums due to algorithm issues.  Many municipalities utilized notification systems, like Savvy Citizen, to deliver alerts and information directly to residents in order to keep them safer and more informed.

 

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