Top Chef, Marketer Edition: Engage Your Citizens With Website Design
Gordon Ramsay would say...well, we can't really PRINT what Gordon Ramsay would say so we will paraphrase:
"You have to have the correct ingredients and the right mix to make this dish special enough for your guests." Imagine that filled with curse words and spat in a manic English accent and - well, don't because that really kind of disturbs me. Let's get back to the topic at hand, shall we?
THE INGREDIENTS FOR "DIGITAL COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT SOUFFLE"
(Serving Size: Your Community)
- 2 - cups of government website, nicely designed, with fresh content. DO NOT use anything old or canned; it just won't work.
- 1- cup digital citizen engagment, fully packed.
- 1- cup easily found documents (either agendas for upcoming meetings or news releases or request for bids - any of those, but they must add up to a cup).
- 1/2- cup of reservable public facilities (with the ability to reserve them through the website).
- 3- tablespoons of direct communication with your citizens, through subscriptions, RSS feeds or having them sign up for local alerts.
- 1-1/2 teaspoons of action items that you need citizen response to.
The crazy thing is, you may already have the correct ingredients already there. If you have a website that allows conversations back and forth between officials and citizenry; if you have a system that allows you to send notifications immediately when you publish them if citizens have signed up for those notifications; if your website accepts e-payments and allows people to book recreational facilities, then you have a pretty good set of ingredients. Let's talk about how to mix them in just the right way.
First and foremost, start with the results. (Kind of backward, but stick with me.) You want a more engaged community - a community that is interested in and contributing ideas to its government. Well, you have to start with a government that will listen to their constituents. You then add a heaping helping of knowledge (in the form of CivicPlus) and the willingness to look forward as opposed to saying, "We've never done it that way before." You might as well sell your cookware and eat bad take-out food for the rest of your life, metaphorically speaking.
Many people say that its the presentation that makes the meal; that is, how the table is laid out and how things are arranged on it. Let's apply that principle to your website. Is it easy to navigate? Are the buttons large and easy to see? Is there an easy "flow" to how folks can read the front page or do they really have to concentrate and study to find exactly what they are looking for? Are links highlighted and easy to see or do they blend in with the rest of the text? Do you have to scroll to see the entire front page? Is there a good balance of complementary colors or does everything clash (kind of like when you let a toddler dress him or herself)? In other words, are you serving on fine china with matching silverware or are you using paper plates and sporks you lifted from the neighborhood convenience store?
If you are unsure if your website is easy to use, there are a couple of ways to test it. One is to ask your friends and co-workers to take it for a test drive. When they are done, ask them directly if the website was easy to use and if they found what they needed. If they reply that they couldn't, then you probably have an issue or two with your website design.
The other way to check your website's functionality is to go to here: www.digitalcommunityengagement.com. Take the assessment (it only takes a couple of minutes) and it will give you a score on a scale from one to six, six of course being best.
I know it's a bit of a stretch to compare a website with a dinner table, but then again, you want people to be satisfied with what you're serving them for dinner; why wouldn't you want the folks who engage with your website to be any less satisfied? If you truly want to engage the citizens and visitors who use your website, if you want to be a good host (for lack of a better term), then you have to realize that first impressions are extremely important. If the place settings look good, the food you serve (or information and services you provide through your website) is probably going to have that much more appeal.
Think it over and then let us know if we're off base. Leave a comment or a question because we would love to hear from you.