With the UK now over a month into a third national lockdown, the demand on local government continues to be high, as the majority of the public remain confined to their homes, with normal public services either not operating or at a significantly reduced level compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the country being subject to various levels of restrictions over the past 12 months, the third national lockdown is proving to be a significant challenge to the public, both physically and mentally, and it is these periods where local government officials have the ability to showcase true leadership, strategy and dedication to constituents.
Moving forwards, rules and regulations look set to continue to change as the vaccine rollout continues and, as tier and lockdown restrictions are updated, local authorities will need to remain reactive and transparent to ensure residents are aware of the changes affecting them.
What has been encouraging to see in recent research, is that local authorities have been able to step up their communication response to maximise relationships with residents since the impact of the first national lockdown in March and the subsequent varying of restrictions.
More than half of local authorities (52.2%) said they’re sending more messages to residents, while just over a third are sending the same amount (38.1%).
The majority of messages sent relate to delivery information (20.8%), appointment management (18.2%) and emergency information (18.2%). Put simply, they have been used to communicate things like emergency updates, and changes to public transport and local services such as libraries or leisure facilities.
It’s safe to say that public sector organisations have not had the easiest time when it comes to communicating updates to residents over the past ten months. With rules and regulations changing all the time, often at short notice, local authorities have had to step up their communications strategy to ensure all relevant parties remain well informed.
Maintaining a great level of engagement has never been so pressing for local authorities and it’s integral this focus continues in the months to come. Residents want to feel confident that their local council is on top of the ongoing situation and is making the necessary changes to keep them and their local businesses safe. Here are three tips on how to maintain effective communication throughout this third lockdown.
Be as transparent with residents as you can
One of the main frustrations amongst the public right now relates to the lack of clarity around restrictions; when things will be opening or closing, for example, and while much of this is uncertain a simple update to acknowledge this is being considered can often go a long way to instilling confidence.
Members of the public are never going to complain about receiving too many updates about the present situation - particularly those that are less savvy using online platforms. Taking this approach will leave fewer questions and with the confidence that you and your local authority are managing this challenging situation with their thoughts in mind.
Gather feedback where possible using messaging
One of the most effective ways to showcase your efforts and commitment to your community is by simply asking them for feedback. While many might see this as potentially opening a ‘can of worms’, a simple SMS survey, for example, can be used to quickly attain qualitative feedback to identify potential pinch points as well as showcasing what the public values.
This feedback is not only valuable to councils to identify areas of improvement, but it also makes it clear that the voice of the public is truly being considered. Use this feedback to personalise future updates between your business and the customer and establish this long term relationship.
Use as wider variety of channels as possible
Despite 96% of UK households now having access to some form of internet connection, 1 in 25 homes can still be considered as blackspots; with this increasing to 1 in 5 homes for those over the age of 65.
It’s therefore integral that any public message is broadcast via multiple channels to maximise engagement. For example, the latest figures suggest open rates for government-specific emails is just 34.2%, meaning other channels such as SMS, social media, PR - and for some - even letters are crucial to ensure mass messaging reaches the correct audience.
The full results of this research are available here
Will Hoare is a communications specialist at TextAnywhere