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8 tips for better communicating and engaging with your community

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As the nerve centre of every community, local governments are responsible for sharing a wide range of information every day, from public safety, to community announcements and promotions, and routine council business.

Deloitte performed a detailed analysis that showed Australians conduct approximately 800 million transactions with government departments every year, with 40 per cent of these still completed through traditional, costly manual methods. The report estimates that digitizing customer transactions could lead to cost savings of $26.6 billion over 10 years.

Governments have an obligation to be accessible, which has limited the digitization of services in the past, as physical contacts or mail were the only practical way of conducting transactions. Now, with the growing adoption of smartphones, internet availability and social media use, there’s a real opportunity to leverage smart communications technology to transform the way you interact with your community.

Here’s a few ways that councils, shires and other institutions around Australia are already starting to streamline their communications.

1. Embrace the full power of internet enabled smartphones

With nearly 80 per cent of Australians now using smartphones, and 93 percent using the internet regularly, it’s logical to focus on shifting transactions to this channel. Communicating digitally is substantially more efficient, as highlighted by Deloitte in this breakdown of the cost of interactions:- Face-to-face: $16.90- Telephone: $6.60- Postal: $12.79- Online: $0.40.

2.  Multi-channel message streams

Messages should be sent on the appropriate channels needed to make sure the community is reached, including SMS, voice, on demand HTML 5 micro apps, RSS, social media or email. SMS is king when urgent messaging is needed - 97 per cent of mobile users will read a text message within 15 minutes of receiving it, and 84per cent will respond within one hour. Not all information is urgent, though, so email can still be a cost effective contact channel. Social media can improve engagement with some demographics, such as younger residents. Monash University, for example, has found that publishing notifications about upcoming IT service disruptions to Twitter and Facebook has much greater response and engagement with students, saving time and money by reducing inbound support calls.

3. Offer dedicated text-in information numbers

Essential announcements like weather alerts can be distributed via automated SMS, to quickly and cost effectively reach affected residents.This service can also be used to replace or supplement inbound contacts for most community information, from essential services and events, to environmental, parks, gardens, pets and animal management.The Shire of Kellerberrin in WA implemented automated messaging to inform the community on hot days with high fire risk that harvest bans are in place, to keep heavy machinery out of fields. The service proved so effective, the Shire expanded the use to a wide range of areas, from letting people know when the local gym is closed, to notifying council staff when their leave has been approved.Communications for the Christmas street party, the local show, the agricultural show, and even the local council newsletter are now all managed by SMS.“We’re probably keeping the shire more informed than we ever have” - Natasha Giles, community development officer, the Shire of Kellerberrin.

4. Opt-in service for visitors

A modern community contact database should include phone numbers as a priority, to enable SMS as a contact channel.Leverage physical outlets like your Community Resource Network, visitor’s center, council website, local papers, etc to publicize the benefits of opting to receive information via smart phone.These announcements could be safety related, but can also be used as an effective way to share information and promote upcoming events and attractions to visitors.Contractors working in the WA Wheatbelt can benefit from the Shire of Kellerberrin’s messaging service. Several of the state’s major utilities now tell their workers to sign up to the council’s messaging service, for weather and safety warnings.

5. Message automation

Best-in-breed communications suites be connected through API integration to existing IT platforms and databases to trigger automated messaging flows, providing a range of automated, high value communications options.For councils, some of these could include:- Automatically publishing news and alerts to social media channels;- Publishing information via RSS feeds to the council website or third party news sites as needed; and- Digitizing and automating routine council business interactions.

6. Digitize access to day-to-day council activity

Bills, fines, permits and licenses can all be made accessible online or through smartphone. Centralize access to information through self-service portals to reduce the volume and cost of manual contact.Consider the development approval process, which has traditionally been paper based, with forms and plans needing to be viewed and lodged in person. These applications can now be sent directly to affected residents, who can view full details on their smartphones, and respond the same way, including taking photos to validate any concerns.Responses are tallied and sent to town planners, applicants and architects as needed, with minimal human intervention needed to activate any of the contact steps.

7. Remote, secure cloud infrastructure

Remove critical information assets from the path of disaster. When a severe weather event like flooding or fire affects a community, local government needs to be able to communicate without disruption. There is the very real risk during these emergencies of data centers and communications infrastructure being impacted.Secure, distributed, cloud hosted platforms will allow governments to keep communicating even in the worst case local damage scenarios.In the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, entire communities, including councils and many local responders were unable to communicate, as their core infrastructure assets were knocked out. Moreton Bay Regional Council is one of many local governments that have moved their critical communications assets to the cloud, to ensure that communications can continue even when core information infrastructure is disrupted.

8. Centralize communications from a single tool

Best practice communications platforms allow cross channel messaging, which provides interactive, responsive communications, comprehensive reporting and message delivery status transparency for key staff and senior stakeholders.

Learn more about our cloud platform that automates intelligent, rich communications for crisis management, operations and community engagement here

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