By Clare Liening, Director of Public Relations
Hometown pride. It’s an innate feeling, but can it also be inspired by external factors? Local governments should consider this question as they evaluate their economic development strategies in the context of a click- and like-based society.
It’s no secret: the attraction and retention of residents and businesses is critical to a thriving local economy. However, many city and township officials struggle to create a concrete plan designed to engage key stakeholders.
To be sure, economic development and placemaking plans are the first step. But without a marketing and communications plan to support such efforts, they often fall flat. Local governments must communicate consistently through every access point with current and potential residents in order to be effective in driving the local economy.
There is good news for communities interested in taking the first step: residents and business owners alike are a highly receptive audience. Everyone wants to take pride in the place they call home. They often simply need the tools and information to do so. Tapping into and engaging locals will help to not only retain them, but to leverage their networks (read: potential residents and business owners).
When engaging residents, local governments should look first to their existing communications tools. Are they being used efficiently? What tools (or communication channels) are residents responding to, and which ones are most likely to end up being ignored?
Once communities have identified the tools that are most effective, the next step is evaluating content. The focus should be on creating content that is valuable and shareable—both via social media and by word of mouth.
If residents are responding with questions and comments on a topic, showing up at council meetings to discuss it or addressing it on social media, it is likely an issue that should be prioritized across all platforms.
When negative issues or feedback arise—as they inevitably will—being as transparent as possible will help build trust with the community. Once local governments have developed an open and consistent cadence of communication, local residents will understand they can rely on their city officials to be forthcoming on issues of importance.
It is also critical to think outside of the traditional communications toolbox. If younger residents—the next generation of parents, homeowners and business owners—are on a particular social media platform, the platform should be explored as a potential avenue for shareable content. Events are another channel for engaging locals. Tap into trends in events, like pop-up food trucks, urban craft markets and other popular concepts, to create excitement around all the community has to offer.
When creating content, particularly for social media, cities and townships should consider what residents are already proud of. Do they love their library, their schools, their downtown? Effective communicators would be wise to lean into those assets and celebrate them, too. Business and resident spotlights are a great way to feature points of pride in the community, while also rewarding those individuals who make the community great.
In creating an effective municipal communications strategy, focus first on hometown pride. With solid local ambassadors engaged, communities can establish a consistent stream of surround sound communications.