Economic development, government transparency, efficient delivery of services, and excellent customer service are key objectives for many governments. Websites and social media play an important role in achieving those objectives. While many small cities, townships, and villages have a web presence, many of their websites are not visually appealing and are not kept up-to-date. Photographs, illustrations, full-color maps, and clear and connected formatting make websites attractive and user-friendly. Effective use of websites and social media presents information in a way that is understood by residents, business owners, officials, and the development community.
According to the Pew Research Center’s study of “Internet User Demographics,” as of January 2014, 87% of American adults use the internet. The US Census confirms that in 2014, not only are most adults on the internet, but also an estimated 78.1% of people in U.S. households had a high-speed Internet connection. Additional research by the Pew Research Center finds that overall, internet users believe that both the average American and the average student today are better informed thanks to the internet (December 2014). Their findings include:
76% of online adults say access to the internet has made both average Americans and students better informed, while just 8% saying it has made them less well-informed.
But our internet usage goes beyond the pc and laptop computer. More and more people are using smartphones to access information on the internet. A new study released April 1, 2015 from the Pew Research Center finds that 64% of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011. The study notes that smartphone ownership is especially high among younger Americans, as well as those with relatively high income and education levels. Most relevant to local governments is the finding that users are turning to these mobile devices as they navigate a wide range of life events. This means that municipal websites should be as informative as possible, but also be responsive to access from a wide range of devices, including smartphones. Google recently announced that they will prioritize results from Google searches in order of those that are “mobile friendly.” Websites that are mobile-friendly are those that:
- Include content that fits the screen of the device, keeping users from needing to scroll side-to-side to read the page.
- Offer larger text sizes. When the text is too small, users need to zoom in to read it.
- Space the links far enough apart to be activated when tapped with a finger, which is common on smartphones and tablets.
- Offers responsive design that automatically adjusts the “viewport” based on the device. The mobile viewport controls the width of the page for the device.
Social media tools are transforming the way people communicate. Knowing the right way to approach, utilize, and manage social media can improve the way local governments deliver information and receive feedback. Local governments have a variety of communication needs including:
- Advising the community of construction, road hazards, or utility emergencies
- Preparing for and advising on weather-related events
- Sharing dates, times, and locations of public meetings, activities, and events
- Inviting comments on conceptual projects, planning activities, and opportunities for improvement
- Encouraging dialog and collaboration between local government, businesses, and residents
- Recognizing accomplishments of community members
Social media can also drive traffic to your website. Many people may use Twitter, Facebook or other social media, but they are not aware of their local government’s website. A social media post from the local government that is shared or favorited by a friend, may lead new users to the government’s site. Social media also provides an opportunity to share success stories. It can turn around a negative issue that may have received some local press.