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  • Success Story
  • Union City, NC

How Union County Built a Digital Government Ecosystem


When Union County, North Carolina looked to refresh its website, the Public Communications team embarked not only a UX redesign, but a cultural shift that has led to a digital-first approach throughout all interactions both internally and externally. Granicus provided tools and support to keep pace with Union County’s expanding vision for serving its community.

“Granicus makes it so much easier to organize your content and feel confident that what you're putting out there is accessible to the end user. And when you consider the widgets that are available, I’d say it’s a better way to present your content in general.”
Erin Steele, Digital Content Manager, Union County, North Carolina


  • 15% web traffic increase (2022-23)
  • 96% quality assurance compliance
  • 94% accessibility compliance
  • 93% SEO compliance
Must have Granicus Solutions

Turning a Redesign into an Overhaul

Located approximately 30 minutes southeast of Charlotte, Union County, North Carolina, has grown over the last 10 years to reach a population of approximately 250,000 residents. Keeping up with the demands of this active population, county leaders knew their website needed an overhaul.

But in making the decision to undergo a digital facelift, leaders also saw the opportunity to address the organization’s intranet as well and put in place the initial steps to a digital transformation that has continued to expand and evolve. Erin Steele, Union County’s Digital Content Manager, joined the team in December 2021 during this initial website redesign effort, led the project to its completion, and not only identified but put into action new and innovative approaches for making digital connections both among county departments and with the community.


For her efforts both in the original development and the ongoing vision for Union County’s digital present and future, Steele has been recognized with a 2023 Changemaker Award.

Joining the Union County team during a major project provided encouragement that allowed for creating a broader vision of Union County’s digital footprint, Steele said.

“Day one, they were kind of like, ‘Here you go. Here’s this project. You’re the leader,’” she recalled. “So, that was a great experience to have in the back of my pocket as we completed that project and looked at others. I knew what was coming, what to expect from the project manager and going through that whole process.”

Closely tied to a public-facing website design, Steele wanted to make sure the county’s intranet reflected improved design and ease of use for county employees. The ambitious undertaking

started with an internal online employee survey to help identify the areas staff saw as most valuable. Armed with that feedback, Steele set out to build what could be an informational hub that helped county staff better serve the community and efficiently process internal work.

“The old website was very outdated,” she said. “We had recently released new brand guidelines and wanted a fresh look to really show that off on a digital presence.”

To help set the groundwork for an integrated public-facing website and intranet, Steele knew that a robust and agile content management system (CMS) would be critical to success, but she found the current tool placed limitations on their flexibility.

“Our CMS at the time was actually custom-built by a local company,” she said. “So, there was definitely a back end for content management, but we didn’t have access to hard coded areas and other aspects we were going to need.”

Meanwhile, organizing internal resources presented issues that also stood in the way of an efficient and easy-to-use intranet.

“Things were in seven different places,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a centralized spot where people could access the resources they needed. The goal was to centralize all that in one spot. So, I really had to wear my project management hat and utilize problem-solving skills to figure out how to build something from scratch and get it launched.”


Building a New Digital Culture

Steele found solutions to both her problems with tools from Granicus. Her first touchpoint in the digital transformation came with using govAccess to develop Union County’s website and intranet.

“When I started using (govAccess), I really liked it,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘I can really get behind this.’ So, I became this ultra-nerd on all the intricacies of it. There are a lot of nuances of building a website that you don’t know until you really dive in and just kind of mess around with it.”

One difference that Steele appreciated was the open nature of govAccess’ content management, allowing contributors from multiple county departments to easily collaborate on content to whatever level they feel comfortable.

“In our old system, only one person could make edits in the CMS,” she said. “With Granicus you can have your super users, and then as many content contributors as you want. That was a great switch for us, the decentralized way of editing the website.”

That philosophy of collaborative development extended to Steele’s approach to building interest throughout the organization for increasing digital development. Early on, Steele brought a group of employees from various departments together to help champion the ongoing digital projects. This group was called the Website Advisory Committee (WAC), and not only helped create shared ownership among stakeholders but generated increased interest in the growing digital vision.

“That helped us have buy-in, but it also started to create a buzz in the work environment,” she said. “Partnering with people one-on-one, especially people who don’t love technology as much, and giving them grace, giving them a way to understand how to engage with this at whatever level they’re on. It really helped build a culture of digital understanding that might not have been there before.”

As part of the intranet development, Steele used analytics and input to create an Employee Resource Finder that easily guides employees to quickly find the resources most searched on the site. To further promote the new intranet among employees, she developed a digital Scavenger Hunt in which staff searched the intranet to locate answers to ten questions. That user-centric approach to inclusion, Steele said, broadened the scope internally of employees who felt empowered to engage with the refreshed intranet, which she believes is aided by the flexibility that Granicus tools provide.

“Some people are really into it, and willing to tinker around and mess with things,” she said. “Other people aren’t. And that’s okay because we can just meet them where they are. The back end that Granicus provides makes it a lot easier for them to understand what to do. There’s some education there still, but it’s a lot easier than others in the past.”

Part of that education came in the creation of a 13-page “Website Governance & Content Guidelines,” document created by Steele, which touched on employee responsibilities, provided tips for writing for the web, and explained the importance of accessibility. She also developed additional resources for content contributors across more than a dozen county departments for easy reference, provided step-by-step guidance on how to add events, and even made PDFs accessible before uploading them online.

This library remains a valuable collection of resources, with many of the online trainings readily available for viewing. Steele also stands dedicated to being available for employees for additional training and website content improvement. But Steele said she believes the increased interest in involvement comes from excitement around what the new digital tools allow departments to accomplish.

“I think the website looks so good that people are actually excited to get on it and be involved,” she said. “They're not burdened to have to use it. The user experience is high quality. And I’d say that’s in large part because the Granicus CMS makes it so much easier to organize your content and feel confident that what you're putting out there is accessible to the end user. And when you consider the widgets that are available, I’d say it’s a better way to present your content in general.”
Erin Steele, Digital Content Manager, Union County, North Carolina

Success and the Vision to Expand

The outcomes of Steele’s efforts speak volumes about her impact. Under her leadership, the county’s public-facing website has significantly improved engagement by surpassing industry averages in key metrics. With a quality assurance compliance of 96 percent (compared to a sector average of 78 percent), the county ensures high-quality content and services. Accessibility compliance stood at an impressive 94 percent (compared to 88 percent) at the time of submission, and the website’s SEO compliance of 93 percent outpaces the sector average of 84 percent, showcasing proficiency in optimizing content for better search engine visibility.

For Steele, however, the ability to connect staff more efficiently with internal resources and the public stands is one of the strongest results of her efforts during this digital transformation.

“Especially with the intranet, there was a lot of parsing down and removing stuff that we knew didn’t need to be there,” she said. “It’s nice to hear people saying that it’s easier to find the exact documents and policies that they want. I think I attribute that to the internal search function where we can tag documents with keywords. It helps with search, with SEO, and just feels more modern.”

The website redesign, Steele said, has become the inception point of a greater overall approach to digital government within Union County, leveraging Granicus tools to help create even more efficiencies.

While a new Development Services microsite brought together resources from six different county departments in a one-stop hub for users, Granicus’ EngagementHQ tool is being used to help connect the community to comment on public projects involving everything from fair housing to septic system repair programs. To effectively inform the community about all these projects, Union County relies on the govDelivery communications tool, which Steele said also reflects the multiple-user centric approach that she appreciates in Granicus solutions.

“I wear a troubleshooting hat when it comes those messages, or I’ll function as the point person for sending out emergency messages,” she said. “We have four Public Communications partners who coordinate with all of the departments regarding communications. They’re writing the newsletters, press releases or alerts and plugging those into govDelivery, then it’s off and running.”

As the digital ecosystem continues to grow in Union County, however, Steele looks to push forward with projects such as converting PDFs into webpages, an arduous task of turning long policy documents into more easily accessed resources.

“We’re going to take a look at all of our content again and see what needs to be redone,” she said. “Because we know that we have content contributors who are already familiar with the system and are now comfortable doing that. Maybe not the policies that are 50 pages long, but there are a lot of PDF forms that are frequently used that are easy to convert with the forms component in the back end of Granicus.”

While she may see herself as an “ultra-nerd” when it comes to the tools at her disposal, Steele said she is glad to have a support team in Granicus that can provide assistance as she pushes these projects forward.

“When people come and ask me for help, 98 percent of the time I know the answer,” she laughed. “But I’m also the queen of issuing support tickets to Granicus. They probably recognize my name very well because I issue quite a lot to them. I’m not afraid to ask for help. That’s probably the way that I’ve figured out half of the issues, user error or not, that we’ve had with the website. By reaching out to them and asking for help.”

Regardless of what projects she undertakes for Union County, however, Steele said that the priority that guides her is a simple one.

“Accessibility is number one,” she said. “Sorry if that’s a boring answer. But, with the auxiliary pages and applications that we use, we must think about, and make sure, that those are fully inclusive. I’m not an accessibility expert. I’m learning as I go along on this ride.”

Steele is already planning the next large digital project related to continuously improving the accessibility of content on the Union County website, armed with great resources and support both internally and through Granicus.