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Digital engagement

Results from the Better connected digital engagement survey provide valuable information about use of customer accounts, email alerts, and social media practice and activity, but do not contribute to its ranking of council websites.

All 407 councils were surveyed on this topic

KEY CC = County Council, SD = Shire district, LB = London borough, MD = Metropolitan district, EU = English unitary, WU = Welsh unitary, SU = Scottish unitary, NI = Northern Ireland district

Issue All % ‘yes’ or average 0-3 score CC SD MD EU SU WU LB NI
Online customer accounts available and promoted D1 (Y/N) 33% 15% 30% 42% 32% 38% 18% 70% 0%
Email alert sign up available and promoted D4 (Y/N) 41% 56% 38% 56% 46% 44% 14% 33% 0%
Social media promoted across the website D 6-10 (Y/N) 43% 46% 38% 57% 44% 51% 45% 42% 80%
Promotion of digital engagement overall D16 (0-3) 1.5 1.5 1.4 1.8 1.6 1.6 1.3 1.7 1
Delivery of digital engagement overall D17 (0-3) 1.9 1.9 1.7 1.8 2 1.7 1.8 2.8 3
Promotion of social media policy D11 (Y/N) 24% 22% 21% 17% 32% 47% 18% 21% 100%

Why important

Promoting online services is just as critical making them easy to use. Encouraging digital interaction with citizens, take up of online services and achievement of channel shift is vital for ensuring the success of ‘digital by default’ strategies. Promotion of social media, and interaction between the council’s social media activity and its websites is a key part of this. In addition, promoting the availability of online options when people phone to contact the council is a no-brainer. We continue to survey councils’ ‘out of hours’ phone messages because astonishingly, a significant proportion still do not use this opportunity to direct

Promotion of digital engagement overall

In terms of use of digital engagement, 79 councils (19%) were rated very good, but 137 (34%) were rated poor. However, in 2014, just 40 (10%) were rated very good and only 4% in 2013.

Just 22 councils (5%) were rated very good for promotion of digital engagement, well outnumbered by the 215 councils rated poor.

Use of online customer accounts

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* full list in main report

The survey found that of the 139 sites that have a customer account facility, only 39 (29%) use it to manage more than two services, and only 46 (33%) offer the facility to register with the site as a whole, and hence for a range of transactional services.

These sites then often failed to adequately promote this fact or the benefits of signing up.

Sometimes reviewers found that multiple accounts were required for different online transactions on the same website, the likely reason being that they are all handled by different systems. This is understandable, given legacy systems, but a major inconvenience for customers, since they need to maintain multiple log-in details.

Use of email alerts

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More councils than were found may offer email alerts, but we did not see them promoted. They cover a wide variety of services and functions, far too numerous to list in full.

It was rare to come across an extensive implementation or for it to be well promoted. Only 59 out of 144 sites (41%) cover more than three services. The best councils have a clear link to email alerts from the home page and from relevant pages (eg jobs and planning).

Some councils mention email alerts alongside the main customer account facility, but often fail to fully explain what the alerts will include, or in what circumstances they will be sent out. Such barriers are likely to deter people from signing up.

Promotion of social media and social media policy

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Social media are well promoted on home pages but not other relevant parts of the site, including the ‘contact us’ page, and the emergencies page. The latter is a major omission as social media are now a critical part of post-emergency communications. Promotion of social media across the site (eg in a footer) is more prevalent.

The website and use of social media should of course complement each other, rather than being operated as separate entities. The website should promote take-up of social media; conversely, social media should drive traffic to the website to enable self-service and avoid unnecessary direct contact.

To support social media activity, councils should have and publish a social media policy / acceptable use policy.

Promotion of Twitter content

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Twitter is the most popular form of social media used in local government.

The Twitter bio should indicate what type of information the organisation will tweet about, whether incoming tweets are monitored, and whether it will be possible to get answers to customer service questions via the medium.

Twitter’s immediacy and rapid pace of update from desktop and mobile devices makes it highly relevant for communication during emergencies, enabling new forms of collaboration between authorities and citizens, so this aspect should be promoted

Councils recommended for digital engagement

Seven councils were found by Better connected to be:

  • very good on promotion of digital engagement (Question D16)
  • very good on use of digital engagement (Question D17)

However, there are no councils at all that meet all the criteria set out above, covering online customer accounts, email subscriptions and social media.

  • Barking & Dagenham
  • Hammersmith & Fulham
  • Luton BC
  • Newcastle upon Tyne City
  • Redbridge
  • Rochdale MBC
  • Salford City

Out of hours survey

For the ninth year running Better connected phoned out of normal office hours the phone number most prominently displayed on the website, to hear if the recorded message refers callers to the website. 21% of sites do not do so, with councils ranking lower in Better connected failing on this more often than better ranking sites, and shire districts (29%) doing much worse than average.