How City of Adelaide marketers are using digital and content to drive engagement

Director of growth shares the digital innovations and content gameplan in place to lift the council's community reputation and engagement


Citizen engagement is the name of the game for the city of Adelaide and it’s undertaken a digital transformation program and upped the ante on content in order to achieve those ambitions.

City of Adelaide director of growth, Ian Hill, told CMO the multi-year plan to overhaul the local council’s digital websites, invest in new content creation, management and distribution tools and bring on Hootsuite’s social management platform is all about improving consumer engagement in a way that elevates the council’s role and reputation in the community.

The director of growth, who has been with the council for two years, has an extensive background in tourism promotion and was formerly executive director of VisitCanberra. He’s the first to admit engagement – and the way marketing is perceived at a local government level – is very different from an external stakeholder perspective.

“In local government, the lens is on you for using ratepayer’s money on marketing… and from a community’s perspective, the role of marketing is not always understood and sometimes seen as a luxury,” he told CMO. “I don’t subscribe to the view, I instead believe local government has a massive role to play in connecting stories to communities so we are very close to communities.

“The decisions we make and services we provide are incredibly important to the community. Our ability to tell the story about what we do as a council is very important.”

For Hill, digital content is paramount to that. “Anyone in marketing knows content has always been king. How we integrate and tell the story through a diverse range of opportunities using digital platforms is key,” he continued.

For city of Adelaide, a four-year strategic plan was put in place focused on engaging communities more. From there, it looked internally at skillsets available, versus investing in more.

“We then spent time as executives on how to have more say in our earned media rather than bought media,” Hill said. “We have embarked on a dedicated pathway around content, video, podcasts, aerial footage, artificial intelligence (AI) including our chatbot, and user-generated content, and using all these things combined to tell an integrated story.”

This led Hill to bring on the Hootsuite management platform 18 months ago to not only get the many stories the council has to tell out to community, but to also understand how these are resonating with citizens and then amplify stories that matter most.

City of Adelaide now has about 20 social media profiles across the organisation and more than 15 users, including commercial business, subsidiaries, libraries and community centres. It’s using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin. The adoption of Hootsuite’s management platform allows distributed authorship/management in a controlled fashion, as well as centralised record/oversight.

“This has given us far greater ways to understand the community’s response to the stories we are telling. Previously, you’d tell the story and wouldn’t know if the story was resonating,” Hill said.  

As an example, Hill pointed to the story of the two Lepore brothers who combined, have been with the organisation’s horticultural department for 100 years.

“These two brothers have planted so many plants in the city of Adelaide, they’re living legends,” he said. “Their story is resonating beautifully with the community as they put their hearts and minds into unifying the city. We can’t get that story across in a press release or media call, but we can get that story across with digital platforms.”

Another successful engagement story has been its initiative, ‘Native Bee B‘n’Bs’, which saw the council create nesting housing for native bees.

“Our sustainability team spent a lot of time on this, and we put that out in the public domain in parklands. The community response was amazing, and while mainstream media did pick it up, online, it went off,” Hill explained. “There was a sustainability message around the importance of bees to our food supply, and it was a message that really resonated with the community. This may never have got the same engagement if it hadn’t been for the digital connectivity we now have with our consumer.

“And we have created more content on how to do that since. We’ve started to build a coalition of the willing, and linked that to City of Adelaide as driving this.”

Hill said he’s challenged the marketing team to be the best communicator at a local government level through digital platforms.

“I’ve told the team, let’s tell the story loudly, proudly and really engage with consumers,” he said. “Digital allows us to have two-way or more communications as we all share content.”   

User-generated content (UGC) is another vital part of the mix. To help, the council has invested in Stackla’s content aggregation tool to showcase UGC via its websites and social channels.

Digital shake-up

Hill’s content push is part of a wider project consolidating the city of Adelaide’s digital presence. The organisation had been running upwards of 20 websites for services including golf courses, aquatic centres, car parks, the City of Adelaide website, registrations and permits.

These have now been rationalised to seven through a new content management system and all carry the ‘Designed for life’ branding, with improved search functionality and fresh content. These have about 1.5 million users a year. Since the overhaul, the organisation has seen an increase in 30 per cent in traffic.

In terms of internal capability, Hill said the organisation benefitted from a relatively young crew keen to learn new things.

“I’ve allowed them to take more risk, as while they’re speaking for City of Adelaide and being mindful of how they’re communicating, to tap into what’s going out there and tap into those conversations,” he said. “And we’re investing in own development plans and knowledge so they continue to upskill in this space.”  

Digital innovation has also extended into a chatbot, which Hill claimed made city of Adelaide the first local government to streamline common inquiries received digitally. Thanks to its website dashboards, the team had been able to see what mainstream inquiries are coming through and automate some of those responses via the chatbot. These are largely transactional queries, Hill said.

“The chatbot automates some of that, enabling us to respond quickly to consumer need very quickly, 24/7,” he said.  

The chatbot was built in partnership with Adelaide firm, Hopstay, uses Facebook Messenger and is also accessible via buttons on the website. It can answer more than 150 questions posed by consumers, as well as has built-in functionality including the ability to report issues in the public realm, bin day notifications, a what’s on calendar, restaurant and hotel searches and recycling.

“We also get learnings about repetitive queries, so we understand questions being asked. And that frees up staff to work on other engagement pieces, so it’s a win/win,” Hill said.  

A fresh initiative to come out of these digitally driven insights was the ‘Adelaide 1836’ Minecraft game, released to coincide with COVID-19 and school holidays. This gamification tool saw kids building the city of Adelaide from the ground up. More than 700 downloads were chalked up in the first two weeks.

“This was about reaching harder sections of the community to engage with, and getting a younger cohort engaging in a pursuit they enjoy,” Hill said. “If you can create the type of scenario they engage in, it’s a huge win. Gamification is a great opportunity for local government as it connects the physical environment to what a new generation really enjoys doing.”

Off the back of this, Hill’s team is will shortly release an 'Adelaide 2021' world, which shows Adelaide's current built form, generated using GIS data.

COVID-19 impact

With more people now online searching for information pertaining to COVID-19, it’s clear content is vital in helping citizens get through the current crisis, too. Hill noted the organisation’s COVID-19 information page is now the most looked at page in the history of its website.

“People are coming to us to engage, and because they want information about health, grants or support packages. That’s really good. But we also have support content, helping people through what is a really difficult time,” he said. “Again, we never could have got that information out before if we were just in mainstream media channels. It’s important we stay engage with them.”

Top-line metrics of success include building the city of Adelaide’s following, and demonstrating engagement. ROI figures include 16 per cent growth in Facebook fans, the ability to centralise more than 20 social media properties onto a single platform, scaling the number of contributors from two to 15, and overall, optimising social content service delivery for stakeholders and citizens.

“What’s a lot more important is if content is resonating and meaningful,” Hill said. Such insights are also starting to be fed back into strategic plans as it’s a key way of understanding what the community is looking for, expecting and wanting the council to invest in.

“Having internal dashboards that show what things are resonating with the community is a fact-based research insight that’s live,” he said.  

As for next steps, Hill said he’s keen for his team to push boundaries. “I’m not definitive on what the next things will be other than deep, rich engaging content,” he said.

“I firmly believe we are a content aggregator and distributor. We have a million more great stories to all about this city, I want us to tell them with passion, and to be authentic.

“Telling that with purpose and passion will create more jobs for us, encourage more people to live here, encourage people to come and visit and explore Adelaide… it will put us on the map.”  

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