Elections and council websites – a great opportunity

SimonGeneral4 Comments

polling-stationUK county councils saw their web traffic double last Friday and Saturday thanks to their coverage of county and EU elections, according to SOCITM.

SOCITM Insight’s survey of online election results coverage by councils looked at websites of county councils and new unitaries to see how the results were being reported, following up on a similar study in the May 2005 elections.

This time around, some of the key features of successful online coverage of elections were:

Pre-election coverage and promotion – elections aren’t just about the count night and the results. Councils have a role (and soon a duty) to promote local democracy – in the context of local elections this means making sure people can vote (through promoting electoral registration and how to vote) and do vote (through increasing engagement with council activity and decision-making processes).

There’s a role for the full communications mix here as the challenges of increasing democratic participation vary across the different parts of the community.

Live reporting of results online – as the organisations running elections and with access to publish from the count floor directly to their online presences, councils can be first with election news. On the count night itself there were plenty of examples of council sites carrying election results, while local and regional news sites were still playing catch-up.

Estimates of when results expected – something that’s extremely hard to do accurately, but really makes a difference if it can be done. Needs a good working relationship between officers on the count floor and those working in communications and web teams.

RSS feeds for results – this is all about making data available in a way that can be easily reused by other people and services. A good example of this is how easy it is to republish RSS-based content onto Twitter – during the election Derbyshire County Council‘s Twitter follower count went up from 122 to 335.

For a really useful inside view on how one council put all its online election coverage together, check out two posts from Sarah Lay from Derbyshire County Council – parts one and two.

For councils, elections are a great opportunity to raise the profile of their websites among people that may not previously have had a reason to visit the site – councils need to think about how to harness this traffic and convert it to longer-term take-up of online services, as well as reaping the reputational benefits of being able to publish election results and news quickly and accurately.

4 Comments on “Elections and council websites – a great opportunity”

  1. Pingback: helenewilliams (Helen Williams)

  2. Great post Simon, thanks for the share. I undertook part of the Socitm Insight research about the elections; I’d like to add some thoughts.

    I investigated how easy it was to find election results by googling ‘council name’ elections and other variants. The results were decidedly patchy, eg there were examples of meta descriptions of the 2005 election (rather than 2009) results (there were also two that described the 2001 results!), or results which took me to an elections main page and I then had to navigate on from there to the right place.

    It is important that consideration is given in planning for election time to ensure that information from past elections moved out of the way (but still accessible). 90% of election content should be focused entirely on the election of the moment, not one that happened 12 or 48 months ago.

    There’s certainly scope for examining what the customer experience is going to be and plan scenarios around your findings. I always recommend that a web team should test drive a couple of unfamiliar councils’ websites (with over 400 to choose from there will always be one that’s new to you!) to seek out information, identifying along the way neat touches that work and could be employed on their own website, but principally to pinpoint things that jar, that don’t work, that make the customer think (unnecessarily). This applies across the board, not just to elections.

    I completely agree that elections are a great opportunity for promoting the council’s website, an opportunity not to be missed. But don’t forget to cross-sell other council services or information resources via the key election pages – you’ve landed a visitor to your website, so encourage them to have a poke around other content and get hooked!

  3. ‘councils need to think about how to harness this traffic and convert it to longer-term take-up of online services’

    yes, cross-market. I sometimes wonder if gov people think this is somehow wrong to be honest … this marketing malarkey …

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