MatthewsNC.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 Annette Privette Keller, Communications Director for the City of Matthews.
- Can you summarize the history of Matthew’s web portal? What has been your role in the development of the new site?
Although the Town did have a website that was developed in the late 1980s it had last been updated in early 1990 and was neither user friendly nor contained timely information. The Town Board and Manager began discussions in 2008 about the need for communications with citizens and the media as well as branding the Town for the purposes of Economic Development.
I was hired in January 2009 as the Communications Director. In May I was able to secure funds for the 2009-2010 fiscal year to develop a brand program for the Town. The branding program to date has included a branding plan, a new logo and tagline, Guide of Standards for the logo, and a new website. I worked with the department heads and the Website Committee. We were able to find the right people in each department to be responsible for their department’s web pages. Website redesign and redevelopment was a town wide process. Once we formed the Website Team we began looking at other municipal sites and asking citizens what they wanted from our website.
- What aspects of the original website were influential in the redesign process? What features have been created or enhanced for the new version?
We completely redesigned the site. Nothing was kept from the original site. The site was created following input from staff and citizens. Research and input on the site was captured as part of our branding process.
- In developing the new Matthews website what were some of the obstacles that had to be overcome? How did you surpass them?
One key problem with the previous website was the platform it used. The Town’s one and only IT person was responsible for updating the entire site. It was so complicated and convoluted that no one else could do it. Adding one news release could take an hour because the site would crash continuously. This caused the website to be constantly out of date and difficult to use. Departments had no vested interest in how the website looked or operated because they had no control or input on it. Departments were spending money to have their own sites with their individual domain names. The site had become a sore subject with employees and citizens.
A website team was formed with representatives from every department. We decided to save money on the redevelopment of the website by doing the content management ourselves. This also worked to our advantage in that every team member learned firsthand how to load content and photos to the website. As team members began the process of loading content they were able to see how the public would interact with the site and they were able to make great recommendations on items that should be added and where they should be placed in order to best accommodate the needs of citizens.
We also had to work with town employees and educate them that the website is for citizens not town employees. The site needed to be in plain English - not the lingo of the Town. For example, Public Works means garbage and recycling to a town employee. However, the public did not know that nor think that the Public Works website page would have information about the Christmas Garbage and Recycling Schedule. I setup a team of people who represented every department in the Town. Meetings were held with each department head and key employees to garner their input on what they wanted to convey to citizens thru the website as well as what information the public most frequently sought from us.
- How have you used social media to connect more directly with the citizens of Matthews?
We are using Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis. It worked great during a recent storm that caused roadways to be closed. We were able to Twitter real time information to aid our citizens as they traveled around our Town. Getting the word out about Town events and posting photos of Town activities on the site has been good for us. We are constantly looking for better ways to use it because we see it as a very valuable tool.
- How have you created the new site to offer a more interactive experience for visitors?
We created categories at the top of the page. Are you a resident, a visitor, or a business person? We tailored the dropdowns to furnish information quickly for each of these groups. We have an up to date calendar of events that lets visitors know what is happening here. We tried to anticipate questions and information they would be seeking and provide it in an easy to read format.
- Why did you choose to make your news articles available for publishing on external news resources?
In this era of modern media the public needs to get the news from us – not from media outlets. We have seen the demise of our local newspapers and the media that do cover us do so on a limited basis. Additionally, there is never time for media outlets to tell the entire story correctly. We want our website to be the place people go to for news of Matthews.
- How are you using the website to further the town mantra of “We’re Connected”?
We are just now launching our economic development initiative. The “We’re Connected” tagline is part of this initiative. By posting business properties, resources and creating an online source of information for business owners we expect to see our economic development project take off. I hope to offer You Tube videos of the Town, more social media interaction and so much more in the future.
- Why is it important for city governments to be transparent and offer online documents for understanding government policies and town plans?
We are here for one reason to serve the people of Matthews. It is their Town. We provide services and functions that make their quality of life better. We must be transparent in order for them to understand what we are doing and how we maximize every penny of the budget in order to better serve them.
- What else would you like to tell us about MatthewsNC.com?
It is outstanding to see the response we are receiving from people who view the site. We receive compliments on it almost daily. We will continue to improve it in order to ensure that it meets the needs of the people who visit the site.