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Building a Trusting Relationship With Your Community

It’s fair to say that we are bombarded with emails; in fact according to the Radicati email statistics report 2018-2022, an average of 121 business emails are sent each day which means that our inboxes can easily become clogged with information we don’t need or did not ask for.

Local Authorities have a duty to provide residents and businesses with essential information and to make sure that they can access useful news and alerts on relevant topics.

At Sheffield City Council we value our residents’ autonomy to decide what news and alerts they receive from us. We ensure that we only ask for and use the personal data needed to fulfil those requests. Whilst it is important to provide important information – especially during the current pandemic – it is vital that each person has requested that information and it is relevant to their needs.

In Sheffield our work is as collaborative and communicative as possible. We want members of the community to actively come to us, as a trusted source, for the knowledge they need. We don’t want to diminish that trust by bombarding them with updates or news that holds no value to them.

Streamlining to grow our subscriber base

Before the days of GDPR, we had around 115,000 subscribers to our online newsletter. When the new laws came into effect in 2018, we decided to completely refresh our subscriber lists and undertook a re-subscription exercise which resulted in 45,000 residents signing up. While this was a big reduction in the number of subscribers, we were absolutely confident that they were all people who wanted the information we were providing.

Through the Granicus govDelivery platform, we are able to distribute emails to the right people at the right time. The trust gained from this streamlined approach has seen our subscription rate grow over the last three years from 45,000 to 141,000 subscribers – more than we had started with. Our overall engagement rate shot up from 47% to around 80% providing us with our most engaged digital channel.

Existing subscribers are sharing with their own networks too, from their email inbox and across their social media. For residents receiving this shared information there is inbuilt credibility of receiving updates from trusted and reliable sources (Sheffield City Council via friends, family and neighbours).

We align our subscription topics with Sheffield City Council Services, connecting to pages, where a resident can go to seek support and sign up to receive updates in their areas of interest.

Taking security into account

Data security is firmly on our customers’ radar, and we’ve all heard concerns about whether data is being shared unknowingly. We understand that it is important to safeguard data and ensure that our residents feel confident in their data security and how it is being used. In Sheffield, fortunately, this is not a problem, we use an automated email system, which allows users to opt-out at any time, only providing essential data which is secure and private.

The pandemic has heightened the need for visible, trustworthy and accurate information on Covid-19, often countering dis- and misinformation. Our automated email system has allowed us to provide factual, credibly sourced information to around 90,000 subscribers since March 2020. Our consistent open and click-through rates tell us that our subscribed residents are regularly engaging with what we share, and we adapt content and frequency based upon regular evaluation.

Keeping it customer-centric

The content within the emails, newsletters, or any other online delivery needs to be relevant, which can be achieved by reflecting on what residents are looking for and making that information easy to access. We spent time aligning our topics and nuancing them for relevance from the viewpoint of our residents. We use our email platform to inform residents about relevant new surveys and consultations, which have significantly increased engagement and completion rates from a wider and more representative demographic than we have previously had.

Our email platform allows us to track the engagement and specific areas of interest of our bulletins. Automated email sits at the heart of our multi-channel communications. By monitoring interest in specific topics through email we’ve been able to prioritise and adapt communication across channels to ensure that it is more valuable and meaningful to residents. A great example of this is an automated jobs bulletin which auto-fills and sends when our jobs pages update. We know that there is huge demand for this information, it does not take any resources to run and because it is delivered direct to the inbox of the subscriber, it’s of great value.

We have adapted our email format over the last couple of years to be clean, simple and user-friendly. Our bulletins provide a gateway to more information, sign-posting to news, information and transactional sites with clear and obvious calls-to-action.

By shaping a system around the customer, everything becomes easier, regardless of whether you’re a council employee or a resident looking for personalised information. When it comes to building trust with your community, you need to put the resident at the heart of everything you do.