Elections and council websites – a great opportunity

SimonGeneral

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.