Getting the Word out – Town Hall Communication Strategies
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The flow of accurate, timely information is a key element of good governance and critical to robust civic engagement. This is true for all levels of civic discourse but is most immediately felt here at the local level. Over three years ago the Town created the new part-time position of Communications Coordinator to bolster the flow of information both to and from residents. Many new strategies have been implemented and new approaches are always being evaluated.
Of course, as fate would have it, three months after hiring Tiffany Marletta as our first Communications Coordinator, COVID hit. All of Tiffany’s time (and then some as she like many other staff put in many uncompensated hours during the height of the pandemic) was devoted to getting information out about local COVID policies, infection rates and eventually vaccine schedules. It was a crash course in getting information out on social media and improving the Town’s web site as a conduit of information.
As the COVID crisis eased, Tiffany has been able to implement a broad range of communication strategies. There are three basic types of information we try to convey.
1) Day to day operations and meeting details (examples include change in trash pickup, parking bans, special events, agendas and minutes, etc.)
2) Strategic Issues, projects and initiatives (construction project updates, studies, policy debates like dispatch services, upcoming votes at a Town meeting, etc.)
3) Emergency Notifications (storms, water main breaks, public health notices, water bans, etc.)
Nearly a dozen different communication channels are employed. The Town website contains detailed information on most every aspect of town operations and governance. Often other communication channels will refer people to the Town web site as the central repository of important information.
The Town’s Code Red reverse 911 call system has over 5000 phone numbers from residents. Messages can be sent within a few minutes to all those who have signed up through our web site to receive them. The system is used sparingly usually reserved for true emergencies. (Some praised the use for the fall town meeting while others felt this use was not appropriate.)
Some 2000 residents subscribe to the Town’s email alerts (Subscribe to "MBTS Alerts" here) While an email alert always accompanies a Code Red call, not all email alerts have a code red element. Again, sign-up through the Town’s web site.
Newsflashes appear on the homepage of the Town’s website typically announcing an upcoming event, deadline or other important reminder. About 300 homes subscribe to this.
Social media are utilized as well. We have 1644 followers on FaceBook, 1219 on Instagram, 368 Twitter followers and 59 who subscribe to the Town’s You Tube page where meeting videos can be accessed. Follow along at @townofmbts.
A quarterly newsletter is sent along with the property tax bills reaching some 2500 homes.
The weekly Tide email update is sent to the 2000 Email alert subscribers informing residents of upcoming meetings, project updates, recent COVID statistics and more.
Special flyers, lawn signs and other direct mailings are occasionally used depending on the given circumstance of a particular topic. The Annual Report and Annual Town Meeting Warrant are delivered to every home.
Public meetings of elected boards are filmed and can be watched on You Tube if not watched live via 1623 Studies, our local community cable TV station, or via Zoom. Meeting agendas and minutes can be found online for most boards and committees.
And, of course, the Cricket is frequently used for various needs – legal notices, weekly Select Board updates, press releases and my weekly article.
As extensive as this list is, there seems almost an insatiable appetite for more! On the one hand it is encouraging that people are eager for information but on the other hand, it seems that some residents are not taking advantage of what is already available. Regardless, we will keep working to improve the flow of information. Your suggestions and ideas are always welcome.