Newcastle City Council

Newcastle City Council

Digital by Default (Strategy)

The brief

In the wake of severe budget cuts, Newcastle City Council (NCC) took the decision to reduce costs by making key Council Services ‘Digital by Default’. It knew a large number of citizens would find online services more convenient but, with no cash, a big advertising campaign was out of the question.

They tendered for an agency to run focus groups with the objective to validate some demographic customer profiles they had developed via Mosaic and desk-based research, to support a future communications strategy.

 Our approach

We felt traditional focus groups would not lead to the most practical or cost-effective outcome for NCC, nor give insight into citizens’ actual behaviour online. Challenging their brief, we proposed undertaking some social ethnographic research whereby we ‘listen in’ on online conversations across the City and use them to understand how citizens are interacting online – with each other as well as with NCC and other institutions. Our approach would also enable us to observe how well NCC’s current online engagement was being received.

NCC took a leap of faith and appointed us.

Revealing the true picture of Newcastle online

We set up the social listening activity, researching current and historic public online conversation within a 40-kilometre radius of the City. For context, we also undertook desk-based research into online behaviour, using credible free sources such as the latest studies by Government Departments and Ofcom, papers by reputable charities and niche communities such as the ‘Digital by Default’ Facebook page.

The results of the social listening were both informative and revealing. They debunked NCC’s demographic profiles as well as much of the received wisdom relating to the UK’s digital behaviour. Neither age nor access came to the fore as the barriers we might have thought from the general studies we and NCC had reviewed. Furthermore, the research identified the City’s most prolific ‘social media-ites,’ and where they were active in the issues that relate to NCC’s services.

With regards to NCC’s own activity, the research validated their strategy to be more ‘personable’ online but revealed missed opportunities, a lack of co-ordination of social media platforms and a propensity to inadvertently encourage a ‘complaints culture’ by the way their platforms were set up.

The results: a more informed and creative strategy

Working with the NCC we used the results to define a communications strategy that will enable NCC to:
–  enter into these online conversations appropriately
–  reduce resource through better co-ordination
–  convert negative comment into informed discussion
–  build a profile as a credible source of reliable and up-to-date information
–  use their improved engagement and visibility to promote their online services to the large segment of citizens who are comfortable with online.

As of February 2014, the team reported progress with a ‘Go Digital’ twitter feed and impending ‘Go Digital’ LinkedIn profle.

“The research you did for us was highly valued, we have used it to help improve our Go Digital programme.”

Louise Reeve, MCIPR Policy and Communications Business Partner


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