CityOfKannapolis.com has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top city government websites in the state of North Carolina. Below you'll find an interview with Karen Whichard, Communications Director for the City of Kannapolis.
- CityOfKannapolis.com is a top-notch web portal; what has been your role in its development?
I led the effort to develop the web strategy, design and implementation of cityofkannapolis.com.
- Can you summarize the history of Kannapolis’s web portal?
The City launched its first site in 1999 and went through several design iterations over the next several years. These sites were very basic, and included little opportunity for the general public to make service requests. Navigation was also difficult at best.
The current site, launched in May 2009, features a robust customer service portal as well as a user-friendly search engine and much deeper content than previous versions of the site.
- What are the overarching objectives of Kannapolis’s current e-government initiatives?
The main purpose of the city’s online initiatives, whether it be via social media, enewsletters, the traditional website, or micro sites, is to provide information in such a way that residents, businesses and others can find what they need to know at their convenience. We put this information on multiple platforms in what may seem to be a duplicated effort. However, the more places we can populate on the web with information, the better chance our residents have of finding information via search.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by CityOfKannapolis.com, both on- and off-line?
First and foremost, we crosslink whenever possible. So, a post on Facebook links back to the City blog, which links back to the website. Or, a bi-monthly enewsletter directs those interested to more information on the city website.
Another key area is making sure our sites are set up with the correct meta-tags and other features that make them search-engine friendly.
We also promote the website in all of our print publications as more and more of our residents gain access to high-speed internet service.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Kannapolis’s e-government services?
The primary place where citizen feedback has influenced the city’s web initiatives is in our social media efforts. We actively use Facebook, YouTube and a city blog to communicate small bits of news items and events, as well as respond to citizen inquiries on issues ranging from service requests to general community information. Because of the nature of social media, we have incorporated suggestions left by citizens in the comments sections of these communication tools to further enhance our efforts.
Ideally we would have the funds to conduct a full, scientific survey, but for now we also look closely at our analytics and push information that is most popular to more prominent locations.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
In general, three main areas get the most clicks on the city website – HR, Police and Parks & Recreation. The most used feature is the events calendar, which holds primarily Parks & Recreation information.
- In what way has your city blog allowed you to connect more directly and personally with the citizens of Kannapolis?
The blog has been a fantastic edition to our communications efforts. With the demise of our local newspapers, it is our best way to get out information that residents would have traditionally expected to see in the newspaper, but now no longer do. People comment fairly often (either on the blog or on a link of the latest blog post to Facebook), which has opened a good dialogue with a group that I feel wouldn’t normally connect with city government.
- What tools have you integrated in order to give citizens an interactive experience and provide them with the most government information possible?
Our main tools are traditional web and social media. Our primary social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. The deepest and broadest content lives on our traditional website, while the social media outreach is designed to be more brief and conversational.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Kannapolis’s web portal?
I think one area where government organizations in particular are really lagging behind their private sector peers is search engine optimization and search engine advertising.
Your online efforts are only as good as people’s ability to find what they need, and these two areas are critical for driving site traffic. I expect to implement extensive campaigns in both areas next fiscal year, especially with a new economic development microsite that we plan to launch in December.
- Is there anything else you would like to tell us about CityOfKannapolis.com?
I would say that our web strategy and efforts are the most important piece to our communications efforts. It is cost-effective, and each year in our budgets we move further away from traditional printed information and add more digital efforts.