6 Ways to Improve Constituent Engagement
by Lydia Stowe, on February 03, 2022
1. Manage Constituent Requests Efficiently
The global pandemic meant a surge of crisis communications flooding into agencies, city councils, and mayors' offices, in addition to the pile of usual constituent requests. Serving your constituents plays a unique role in the overall communication strategy. The reactionary, multi-way conversations with agencies, constituents, and staffers require an organized, unified approach.
"It's important to make sure everyone in an office is on the same page with messaging to constituents", said Benjamin Aiken, director of constituent services at Arlington County Manager's Office in Virginia.
"We strive to create consistent customer experiences and maintain a unified voice across the enterprise," Aiken said. "By not having internal transparency into the constituent interactions, we don’t know whether action has been taken or responses have already been provided."
Since this work can be time-sensitive, it’s important to establish a system that allows you to streamline the process and keep things organized internally. Keep updated notes on a case so everyone is aware of the case status internally. It is also helpful to have software to manage this rather than relying on internal email chains.
A lack of internal transparency and consistency results in a lot of extra work: "Having to discuss between teams, exchanging messages, having meetings, and escalating inquiries to determine what level of attention a constituent has received," Aiken explained. "For a routine inquiry, if a standardized response or redirect doesn’t exist, this can take up to several staff hours to validate information and provide a final answer to a constituent."
2. Respond to Constituent Inquiries Quickly
Responding to constituent inquiries and issues in a timely manner is one of the most effective ways to improve engagement and open communication. While there is no legal obligation to respond to every message, it’s certainly a best practice to do so.
Constituents take notice, and they care about how engaged you are. Over the last few years, legislators and agency staff have seen a big jump in inbound messages from constituents stating their opinions on a piece of legislation. Since 2017, Fireside has measured an unprecedented level of civic engagement, with three times the volume of incoming mail compared with a few years ago, and the numbers continue to trend upward across the board.
Make sure your responses are not one-and-done. After your constituents reach out, make sure to keep track of their interests and keep them updated about previously addressed topics.
3. Keep Constituents Informed Regularly
A key part of managing relationships with constituents and your community is asking for support but letting them know how they can stay involved and sending them updates on the legislation or regulations you write, support, or oppose is just as vital.
If you’re not already sending a newsletter, consider adding this simple and effective way of constituent communication to your calendar. A well-scaled outreach plan extends beyond just a monthly newsletter and can be the difference between strong district engagement and a disconnected constituency. Nailing down frequency and the medium of contact ensures that your efforts will be cohesive rather than sporadic.
Your messages can typically find the most success when you diversify the communication mediums. For example, some constituents prefer paper mail over an e-newsletter, or website updates rather than telephone town halls. No matter the medium, keeping your content consistent across all platforms is essential.
4. Use Surveys Effectively
Surveys transform your constituents from passive participants into active members of the conversation — and you can quickly glean constituent sentiment about a particular issue from their responses, which helps your strategy. Here are a couple of tips you can follow to build an effective survey:
- Keep it short. Only about 45 percent of people are willing to answer a survey that takes 1 to 5 minutes. As a survey gets longer, the number of people who don’t respond or respond incompletely increases dramatically. Keep it short to keep your response rate high.
- Clarity is key. Imprecise wording can limit your survey’s effectiveness, just like lengthy surveys can — 71 percent of people give poor answers because of logistical problems with survey questions. By keeping questions straightforward, you increase your chances of accurate data.
5. Use Multimedia Elements
Text-based messaging, for all its brevity and convenience, can be a cold and impersonal method of communication. To increase constituent engagement, sometimes you have to jazz it up a little.
Keep in mind that real people receive your correspondence and reminding them of your humanity encourages them to engage in a more meaningful way. To increase engagement on your newsletters, try adding multimedia elements like images and videos to ensure your correspondence makes a lasting impact on your constituents.
A strategically placed image catches the eye and draws readers into a story. Images are easier for the brain to process, so people are often drawn to them first over plain text. They have great potential to grab attention and engage emotion. Images or informational graphics in your newsletters can excite and engage your constituents around important issues.
Videos, like images, increase engagement, especially with younger audiences. Often, people prefer video because it delivers information in a shorter and more digestible manner. Video doesn’t only benefit those on the receiving end. The brain processes videos similarly to face-to-face interaction, thereby personalizing the viewer’s connection to the content. A deeper emotional connection to your message has excellent potential to spark meaningful engagement with constituents.
6. Leverage Technology to Boost Engagement
Too often, state and local government staff find themselves drowning in endless emails and spreadsheets, struggling to keep everything organized. A surge in inbound emails over the last several years, coupled with constituents’ desire to stay connected and engaged, means an increased demand on staff, even if budgets have not grown to meet it.
Choosing the right technology can take you to a whole new level of constituent engagement, which could make all the difference in getting reelected. A robust Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) solution can help you sort and quickly reply to messages, manage constituent requests, and keep constituents informed.
Having a great CRM in place for constituent management is critical, Aiken said. "CRM helps create consistent experiences for both the public and staff. Systems will improve the velocity and quality of information and place inquiries with the responsible staff in as few steps as necessary according to internal controls. Operational performance is increased by removing unnecessary redundancy and avoiding complicated escalations to executive teams whenever possible. The overall benefit to such a system is to increase customer satisfaction by handling requests expediently."
Using a CRM that can help with all your day-to-day tasks can be a huge time saver. Fireside is a budget-conscious solution with an easy-to-use interface that eliminates the need to switch between multiple tools for constituent management, communications, and outreach, so you can focus on more valuable work, like optimizing your messages and responses.
Find out how Fireside State can help you untangle the mess of spreadsheets and email threads at work and effectively manage constituent communication and outreach.