Finding Your Untold Stories
By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant
When I talk with state and local government organizations that are interested in communicating more with the public, there is a usually a pretty consistent idea on what kinds of information should go out to citizens. Far and away the messages we see most frequently from state and local agencies include council and committee meetings and agendas, upcoming events, emergency updates, and news releases. These types of communications are vital to government transparency and community preparedness, and public information officers that are committed to the regular communication of these key types of information do their stakeholders an invaluable service.
But too often, public communication stops with these essential communications, without expanding the message topics to other departments and programs, where great stories are often hiding in plain sight. We often talk about why storytelling is a great asset in communicating – but what types of stories do your residents want to read?
I usually recommend that communicators consider including some new programs in their outreach plans every year, focusing on the offices or departments that have a high amount of interaction with the public. These regular communications help to drive more stakeholder participation and further the mission of each group.
Here are a few examples across the spectrum of state and local government of how both subscribers and departments benefit from storytelling:
1. Stories about Police and Law Enforcement Programs
I receive regular updates from my Precinct Inspector at the Minneapolis Police Department– the officer in charge of monitoring and preventing crime in my neighborhood. When I signed up for these updates, I had no idea that I had a Precinct Inspector, or what he did. Through regular communications from Inspector Schafer, I’ve gotten tips on keeping myself and my property safer, what to look for to prevent crime in my neighborhood, and have been alerted of criminal activity. I’ve also learned that overall crime in my area is down by 7% this year. Before I received these updates, I had no visibility into how my neighborhood was functioning with regard to crime and law enforcement. Not only do these updates give me the information to be safer and more aware of potential risks to safety, but I feel more connected to my community and confident that my neighborhood is becoming a safer place to live. This direct communication with citizens is something that any police, Sheriff, or public safety department could achieve by implementing a subscription process that allows key communicators to reach a target audience of stakeholders.
2. Stories from Animal Control and Animal Rescue agencies
Who doesn’t love stories about adorable dogs and cats? Some of the most visited sites on the web like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Reddit have been attracting explosive traffic for years using cute cat videos and stories about rescued puppies to lure people to land on their site and continue to click through to more pages. Why not harness these techniques to drive increased numbers of adopted animals and donations to local shelters in your community? Oakland County, Michigan began seeing an increase in adoption rates after their animal services team started communicating through email and social media about stories of pets waiting for homes. San Diego County features a pet of the week update to people subscribed to their County News topic that often attracts hundreds of views in less than an hour, which is often more visits than the typical animal in a shelter gets in an entire day. The City of Louisville, Kentucky created Paw Personals, a weekly newsletter from Animal Services with playful descriptions of animals waiting for homes to help alleviate overcrowding in shelters through more adoptions. If your animal services team is not communicating regularly to drive action, it might be time to think about how to incorporate the story of local animals into your regular messages to the public.
3. Stories from Health and Human Services organizations
Valuable health and safety communications often travel from public health organizations to hospitals and health providers to then disseminate to patients and visitors, but what about the residents who aren’t visiting health care providers regularly? How do they get the information they need to keep themselves and their families healthy? In Minnesota, we frequently deal with extreme cold, so this winter, the Minnesota Department of Health sent out extreme cold safety videos in multiple languages to hundreds of at risk residents, helping to increase the visibility of cold weather shelter programs. In Arizona, Maricopa County automatically alerts citizens if air quality levels reach a point that might be dangerous to residents in certain areas, keeping citizens with respiratory concerns safer. King County Public Health offers personalized SMS/text message updates on how residents can learn more about enrolling in health care by attending events in their neighborhoods. These are the awesome types of stories that can be shared with the public to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to health. If your organization’s goals for this year include a focus on increased citizen well-being through health education and outreach, start by building a community of engaged stakeholders to connect with regularly through a multichannel communication approach, and share what you’re doing to keep them healthier.
When I talk with GovDelivery clients about setting their communication plans for this year, I often encourage them to think outside the box when it comes to the types of information they’ll be sending to their stakeholders. Where are the untold stories of your organization? What types of successes could be shared on a regular basis? Chances are, you won’t have to look far to find them.