Pinellas Park, FL Builds Citizen-Centric Website with CivicEngage CMS
The Challenge of Civic Engagement
According to Lana Beck, City of Pinellas Park Government Relations and Communications Administrator, like most local governments, the City has been continually working to identify opportunities for its government to translate traditional citizen engagement opportunities into digital interactions.
“We were slow at first in establishing social media profiles and identifying innovative applications,” said Beck, “But now we are fully embracing electronic engagement opportunities. Over the past few years, we have gone from having an email database of 600 to over 10,000 and from having a few thousand Facebook followers to close to 9,000. We recently created a YouTube Channel and developed a mobile app too.”
According to Beck, despite such digital engagement advancements, the City had been slow to make improvements in one essential area of its digital communication strategy: its city website.
Like many local governments that developed early iterations of their municipal websites at a time when it was thought civic websites needed to serve primarily as digital organizational charts and resource manuals, the City of Pinellas Park’s previous website lacked a citizen-focused structure and navigation.
“Our previous website lacked easy access to what our citizens wanted to learn about,” said Beck. As an example, she pointed to the difficulty citizens faced finding information about the City’s recreation department.
“We have several rec centers which are very important to our citizens, but if you went to our previous website, you couldn’t easily find information about those resources,” said Beck. “The information was buried under Public Works, and unless a citizen knew our recreation centers were managed by our Public Works department at the time, they wouldn’t easily be able to find the information they were looking for.”
In addition to restructuring the City’s website content to be more intuitive, it was important for the City of Pinellas Park that its website’s content be accessible to all citizens.
“We wanted to move toward a fully compliant content model,” said Beck.
Not only was the City’s previous website not organized from a citizen usability perspective, it was not easy to maintain for its administrators.
“Our previous content management system was quite antiquated,” said Beck. “It wasn’t user-friendly. Our staff used an inordinate amount of time to make edits to the website. It just was not efficient at all.”
The Switch to CivicEngage
Initially, the City of Pinellas Park considered redesigning its website with its previous CMS vendor, but quickly realized it needed a more robust solution that would be easy for all departments and content managers to update and maintain, regardless of their technical experience.
“At the time, our various departments were managing their content, and we didn’t have processes in place for consistent oversight,” said Beck. “Some content managers were web savvy; others were not. As a result, there was no uniformity among the different pages, there were errors, and broken links, and many areas where we needed to improve the quality of our content output. We decided it was time for a new CMS solution.”
Before its transition to CivicEngage, the City of Pinellas Park added a staff member who was 60 percent dedicated to the management of the city’s website. The individual led an audit of the City’s current website and its needs, and its website management team participated in extensive internal discussions to determine what was needed to ensure high-quality digital output moving forward.
“We built a case to present to our IT department so they could understand from our perspective how difficult it was to be efficient with our previous CMS provider and how the ‘wild wild west’ approach of managing content in multiple departments just wasn’t working,” said Beck.
With permission to seek out a new solution provider obtained, the City reached out to several website solution providers, including CivicPlus, to ask for software demonstrations.
“It was like a Goldilocks story,” said Beck. “CivicEngage was just right.”
Beck was also grateful for CivicPlus’ ability to expedite the implementation of the City’s new website.
“It was easy to get the ball rolling,” said Beck. “We felt like CivicPlus had implemented so many other websites that it was easy to get the paperwork we needed and move forward quickly.”
A Streamlined Implementation
With a committed focus on redesigning its website to meet the needs and expectations of its citizens, every step in the redesign process focused on the City’s desired citizen self-service-first content management approach.
“We used data to inform our decisions relative to content, functionality, and navigation,” said Beck. “We had several meetings with our various departments the goal of which was to understand what they wanted from the website, why citizens were calling their offices, and what we could offer on the website from a self-service perspective to help eliminate those calls.”
Also throughout the implementation perspective, Beck worked with her CivicPlus project management team to learn how to leverage the system’s built-in workflow functionality to streamline content management efforts and allow the majority of updates and approvals to be completed by the City’s Communications and Marketing Department.
Since the launch of its new website the City’s content managers and citizens are all pleased with its intuitive navigation, self-service functionality, and ease of administration and use.
“Our new website has moved us toward that citizen service structure that we wanted and needed. The functionality and content organization of our new website has helped tremendously in allowing us to meet our citizens’ needs,” said Beck.
The City’s website now prominently displays the most commonly utilized citizen self-service features right on its homepage, eliminating the need for citizens to search menus and various department pages to find the functionality they seek.
“I’m confident that any service our citizens need can now be found in one to two clicks,” said Beck. “Now that services like parks and recreation, utility bill payments, and our performing arts center are up front on our website, it helps with our marketing and promotion of community services, which is important in showing our offerings to the community and in helping us generate revenue,” said Beck.
Also, from an administrative perspective, the use of the CivicEngage CMS now allows for the streamlined content management and consistent oversight that was needed.
“Having the ability to make sure the website’s content is correct, and its formatting is consistent helps the website’s overall look and feel and helps to maintain the integrity of our brand,” said Beck, reflecting on the disorganized approach to content that existed due to the City’s previous CMS.
The City’s digital content managers also appreciate the streamlined workflows and elimination of duplicative steps that were complicating their processes and slowing their efficiency.
“Our various departments have their own Facebook profiles, and now with CivicEngage they can post information directly from their department page to their Facebook account, which helps to drive more people to their Facebook pages which helps stimulate more civic engagement,” said Beck.
True to its commitment to continual innovation and constant improvement, the City of Pinellas Park is continuing to evaluate the performance of its CivicEngage website using the CMS’ built-in data analytics.
“Now we can better understand our audience and look at what search engines people are using, how many people are viewing our website on mobile, what department pages are viewed most often, and what content is of the most interest to our citizens,” said Beck. “We’re excited about how we can use that information to inform our marketing and communication efforts moving forward.”
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