City of North Post, Florida
Local government IT and communications leaders from throughout Southwest Florida gathered in North Port for the state’s first “Innovation in Online Government Academy,” hosted by the City of North Port and presented by Vision Internet, the City’s website development and strategy partner.
The hands-on workshop included a content strategy tutorial by Ginny Redish, website content expert, usability pioneer and author of “Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works.”
“Good, clear website design is critical, but content is king,” said Redish. “It’s the reason people visit your site. Every visit to your website is a conversation that the site visitor starts.”
Redish said city and county governments must speak to their constituents in clear and simple language that is coordinated across departments, devices and platforms. “Good content strategy delivers the right content, in the right amount, to the right person, at the right time, in the right medium,” she said.
Redish defined a successful website “conversation” as one in which site visitors find what they need, understand what they find, and act appropriately on that understanding in the time and effort that they think it is worth. This means that a significant part of any website makeover is taking inventory and analyzing current content. Local IT and communications professionals must decide what to keep, what to archive, what to delete and what to write.
Redish emphasized the importance of training for all municipal departments, saying that every piece of website content must be well thought-out and organized so the information is easy to find for visitors at all levels of Internet proficiency.
“October is City Government Month, a time when cities throughout Florida focus on connecting residents to their local governments,” said Erin Bryce, North Port’s community outreach manager. “Our website is the hub of civic engagement so this is great time to bring government professionals together to learn about and share the latest tools and strategies in local government communications.”
Midway through the session, participants broke out into groups for deep dive discussions. In one small group, conference participants were given photographs representing a wide variety of citizen personas and asked to brainstorm the kinds of services and information each would want to access on their city’s website.
“Government leaders need to have citizens in mind when they think about what content will be most valuable for their constituents,” said Ashley Fruechting, senior director of strategic initiatives for Vision Internet. “Also, knowing the top things current website visitors are searching for and what callers to town hall are asking for is critical in prioritizing content for municipal websites.”
The City of North Port recently launched an updated website, incorporating Vision Internet’s latest content management system featuring improved navigation, interactive tools and responsive design that optimizes the content for any device.
“Technology alone will not make a website effective,“ said Fruechting. “It’s what you do with it that matters most. Cities like North Port get that and are leading the way toward more responsive and effective local government.”