What happens when your local newspaper stops printing and a pandemic prevents traditional face-to-face Council activities being held? How do you keep your community informed and connected?
If you’re Mackay Regional Council, you expand your EngagementHQ platform to create a hub where people can participate in activities online and find information on all major Council projects.
It’s an increasingly popular new dimension to Connecting Mackay, Council’s EngagementHQ platform, which has been a part of local community life for a decade.
Community Engagement Officer, Debbie Knight, says Council had been steadily increasing the platform’s non-traditional content before the arrival of COVID-19 and physical distancing.
Site traffic increased by 65%, on average, over the past 12 months.
The expansion was already proving to be a hit with the community, with site traffic increasing by 65%, on average over the past 12 months. It’s proven timely, with the recent announcement by Mackay’s Daily Mercury to shift to online-only, creating a communication challenge for Council.
“We realized EngagementHQ could help fill that information gap,” Debbie says. “As well as providing engagement opportunities, Connecting Mackay now offers updates on all major projects.”
Debbie says one such example was the recent refurbishment of Gordon White Library. “The project didn’t require consultation but there was great community interest, so all information and updates relating to the project were made available on Connecting Mackay.”
Stay Safe, Stay Connected
Connecting Mackay is central to Council’s “Stay safe, stay connected” campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform is where the organization now delivers a range of programs traditionally offered face to face.
“There are Q&A sessions with artists, author talks and advice from nursery staff about what to grow in your garden,” Debbie says.
“Another popular initiative is ‘My Libraries, My COVID-19 Stories’, where community members can contribute text, images, and YouTube links to share how they are coping with isolation. The contributions will be collated and showcased in a traditional exhibition when social distancing has eased.”
Embracing EngagementHQ’s Flexibility
Connecting Mackay is a great example of how EngagementHQ can adapt to meet the emerging community need for information and interaction. It’s a function Mackay Regional Council likely did not anticipate when it started its digital engagement journey with Bang the Table a decade ago.
Back then, the engagement function was part of the Community Development team, and Robert Ryan (now Senior Coordinator, Community Programs) says the move into the digital space was a natural progression for Council’s engagement practice.
“I wish we’d had a position solely responsible for engagement when we began with Engagement HQ,” Robert says. “We could have made more use of the technology and its capability sooner.”
Robert welcomed the creation of a dedicated engagement team in more recent years and is pleased to see Connecting Mackay evolving into a single source of truth for Council projects online.
“Digital communication has replaced face-to-face contact in many circumstances, but where do you go for the information you need when there is so much of it online? Connecting Mackay is the ideal platform for Council news and it’s important we keep it front of mind for the community,” he says.
Better than Social Media
While social media is effective for quick updates, Debbie says Connecting Mackay is a more efficient platform for capturing a project’s progress.
“We can provide more details, images, and activities on Connecting Mackay.”
Facebook is also fleeting: it’s not easy to find older posts. “With Connecting Mackay, we have a portal where people can easily return and find information on a project of interest whenever they need it.”
The platform is now attracting more traffic than Council’s corporate website for information on major projects, such as the Mackay Waterfront Development.
“The Connecting Mackay pages had more than 6,000 visits for this project.”
“The Connecting Mackay pages had more than 6,000 visits for this project. The project ranks higher in Google for its Connecting Mackay page than it does for its webpage on our main Council site, which gets an average of 120,000 visits a month,” Debbie says.
“Connecting Mackay is smaller and more focused than our corporate site, so it’s easier to see what projects are currently active and find detailed information on past engagement initiatives and outcomes.”
A New Marketing Campaign
Council aims to build on the current growth in interest in Connecting Mackay with a new marketing campaign set to kick off in September. The campaign will be underpinned by the launch of a dedicated Connecting Mackay online survey community group.
“We’ll be encouraging locals to join a new online panel, which we’ll survey three times a year to help shape the region. We’ll look at creating sub-panel interest groups, based on members’ interest areas,” Debbie says.
The panel will be in addition to regular digital engagement activities on Connecting Mackay.
The platform, of course, continues to be an invaluable tool for projects where the community has the opportunity to influence outcomes.
The recent Woodlands District Park engagement involved broad engagement, with locals able to drop pins on a map on Connecting Mackay to show where they would like park features located.
388,000 people have visited Connecting Mackay over the last decade.
While there were face-to-face engagement opportunities (pre-COVID-19), much of the activity was delivered online. Connecting Mackay was promoted with signage in the park and via 1,100 locally distributed flyers. At the end of the engagement phase, Debbie downloaded and assessed all the data collected and produced a 60-page report, which helped shape the park master plan.
The Next Decade
Like local governments everywhere, Council is unsure what the future holds. But one thing is certain: EngagementHQ will help keep Mackay Regional Council connected to its community. To hear more about Mackay’s approach to managing an online engagement platform and driving traffic to their site, tune in to this episode of the Table Talks podcast featuring Debbie Knight, Community Engagement Officer at Mackay Regional Council.