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Digital Media Communication: A primer framework for city governments

A digital communication plan uses every online tool a city has to its potential. It leverages, coordinates and organizes them to create a communication loop that serves the needs of its varied taxpayers, residents, businesses and stakeholders. It has several parts unique to cities and governments. Education, news, information, cultural advancement and emergency management are all part of a modern digital communication plan that creates a voice taxpayers and stakeholders trust.

A digital communication strategy and framework combines social media, storytelling, digital trends and journalism. It is customized to benefit citizens, taxpayers, stakeholders and residents.

1) ADDRESS CITY AUDIENCES WITH A FIRST-CLASS COMMUNICATION PLAN Digital media forms the foundation for a comprehensive government communication plan. It can distribute news, programs, stories and governance efforts to constituents with instant reach. A good foundation relates to residents, businesses and economic development. Furthermore, the framework addresses digital communication issues that are overlooked and ones that are sitting on the horizon. It provides the city with a first-class digital communication strategy that makes it a model for the county and region.

2) USE THE BENEFITS OF A DIGITAL COMMUNICATION PLAN TO THEIR POTENTIAL A new best practice calls for a city to have a social media and digital presence that illustrates a cohesive narrative that provides authentic honest news. Through this framework a city will illustrate solid partnerships with residents, stakeholders and business community. It will also have mechanisms to dispel half-truths and rumors in a professional manner.

The benefits of a good city image are more important today than in the past. Digital media has made visits from economic development site selectors a thing of the past. Now, site selectors review city websites, social media and other online presences to determine if the city is a good fit for them.

Furthermore, the city’s potential new residents and small businesses are doing this too. They are conducting “listening” campaigns inside social media. They are reading, viewing and making judgements about the city based on the way leaders act on social media. By the time site selectors and residents have contacted the local city representatives or realtors, they have already learned a great deal about the city.


A good city digital communication framework will address trends that sit on the horizons for cities and governments. Archiving and digitization processes for digital media are growing topics in the industry. Legal and storage issues about digital media will be gaining attention in coming years and the city should be ready to talk about how it will address it.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, will be another trend that municipalities will have to address in the next decade. AI creators expect the intelligence to infiltrate social and digital media with news it created. This means any digital communication plan should also have a mechanism to maintain print production. Today, print materials address audiences that are not digital first. In the future, print could become the distribution platform that proves the information is from a human.

4) CELEBRATE AND BUILD RELATIONSHIP WITH RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES Social media's instant nature makes it a perfect place to hear real-time feedback. Today, cities can post surveys, online questions, feedback posts and discussion forums. These platform abilities make it a robust engagement tool.

If the city wants to know where to put a park or what roads it should consider repairing, it can post surveys and questions on social media to gain an immediate response from residents. While a social media poll may not be the only way a city will engage residents, it has become a strong toolkit item.

5) USE A PROFESSIONAL PROCESS TO DISTRIBUTE AND RESPOND TO CITY NEWS Print media newsletters, mayor columns, online newsletters, pitches to reporters, distribution of press releases and other publications or messages are all first-rate material for digital media.

As newsrooms move out of newsrooms, cities can become their own distribution platform. Building project reports, city manager updates, taxpayer resources and emergency notices can now be distributed without hesitation. This digital framework allows all these stories and conversations to become treasure troves for business, residents and stakeholders.

A COMPREHENSIVE FRAMEWORK TO MODEL Many cities talk about digital communication methods but they do not incorporate them into a comprehensive framework.

This plan aims to incorporate a holistic approach to city online communications. By using all of a city’s current media to their potential the city will not have a “social media plan.” It will have a “digital communication strategy” that other governments will model.

Lora-Marie Bernard is the principal consultant of She helps municipalities and governments navigate new technologies to engage residents, taxpayers and stakeholders.

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