Justin Thompson is the Communications Content Manager for the City of Alexandria. Working in the Office of Communications & Public Information, he is responsible for all production of web and television communications—video, websites, social media, and other digital media. Alexandria was recently recognized for having one of the Top 10 “Digital City” government websites by eRepublic.
When it comes to communications, we’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve, instead of trying to catch up with it. Especially in government, where resources can sometimes be scarce, and it seems that your latest and greatest technological achievement is yesterday’s news for everyone else in the field.
I wanted to share a few tips and strategies that have helped the City of Alexandria engage our residents through video and compelling content on our websites. Our biggest priority has always been to ensure information is easy to access, regardless of the device a person is using. Also, we always try to distribute our messages across a variety of mediums—mobile devices, social media, and on the city’s website—to maximize exposure and increase public awareness.
Here are the top ways we’ve been able to boost our web and mobile presence over the past couple years:
Maximize Citizen Engagement with Online VideoOnline video has been and continues to be a big part of the City’s web strategy. We currently use Granicus to automate the capturing, encoding, publishing and hosting of our video content which includes council, board, and commission meetings as well as various other original content geared towards community engagement. Since implementing the solution back in 2005, we’ve been able to streamline our video capture and delivery operation, and Granicus has given us a suite of features and capabilities that have made our content easier to navigate, and ultimately more valuable to the viewers. Through the use of our video webcast pages, our residents can access council meetings, PSAs, event highlights, emergency preparedness videos, and various other content on-demand.
Optimize Video Pages for Mobile DevicesWe recognized early that having mobile options was the future of web and application development. Personally, I’m a mobile kind of guy, and I wanted to make sure I could access our videos on my iPhone as opposed to having to wait until I got to my desktop. If other sites could make mobile video work, why couldn’t we too? Currently, we’re in the process of creating an overall mobile strategy, but for starters we wanted to make sure our popular “What’s New in Alexandria” program was accessible to the mobile user because it’s one of our most popular shows and features the latest and greatest City news. To do this, we joined Granicus' pilot program for their new mobile streaming architecture (which leverages HTML5) and made some simple customizations to our web templates in Granicus to retain our overall branding. Here’s how we did it:
- Implement a User Agent Redirect
The first thing we had to consider, was how do we identify the user’s device, and then make a decision if they should see a mobile template, or a standard template. We decided to write a very simple .NET user agent redirect application, which we deployed on the public server that hosts our main site. By routing through a specific URL (i.e. alexandriava.gov/Video), we are able to identify the device, and send them to the Granicus template that best adapts to the device our users are on—mobile, tablet, or desktop.
- Update Your Granicus Web Templates
I regularly tweak the view page templates in Granicus to showcase our original content and retain our overall branding, so I have become quite familiar with how to manipulate their code to achieve the results I’m after. I do this by utilizing the Templates tab in Granicus (Admin --> Templates). So for our new alexandriava.gov/Video user agent application, I needed to create the alternate view page that would display for mobile devices—for those of you that don’t know, the “View” page is your public web portal that houses your video archives. They are a part of the Granicus solution. After doing a little research on formatting for mobile devices, we were able to strip our template code down to the basics, so that only the essential information and links would display on the page.
Originally, I configured the new mobile view page to link videos to their corresponding MP4 files that were produced as part of the podcast service, and required a download to the device. Now, with Granicus’ new HTML5 streaming solution, select mobile devices can view our content without needing to download it to their phone, which is much quicker (especially for those long meetings) and more accessible to mobile users.
- Implement a User Agent Redirect
Check-out an example of some of the code snippets we used here: City of Alexandria’s Mobile Video Page HTML.
Highlight City Services with Original Programming
Beyond just webcasting our City Council and various Board and Commission meetings that lets people view their government in action, we create our own original programming to promote many City events and services. Our “What’s New in Alexandria” program was particularly popular, and we noticed a significant increase in the hits we were getting to those videos. However, although we have tremendous aspirations for creating original video content to promote Alexandria, I have to be really strategic about what I spend my time on, since I am the only one in this role here. What I have tried to do, with help from others in my office, is to create a system where we can regularly release a short 2-5 minute video, which will create a viewership, and get people interested in what the City has to say about any given issue. This helps our residents stay informed with the latest government initiatives or community events.
Maximize Video Exposure
We try to distribute our videos to as many different mediums as possible—we post our videos on our public website, and our Facebook and YouTube pages. So far, social media has been a tremendous success, and invaluable tool for us. We already have over 6,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 3,000 on Twitter, and integrating video into our regular status updates has helped us increase viewership of our video content. Through the use of social media sites, we are now able to embed our videos directly in the news feeds that our followers consume on a daily basis. Also, once they access our videos, they are able to discover the other content that we have available on our website and video pages, which feature a “Most Popular” video section that keeps visitors engaged in our most timely and informative videos, without forcing them to click around a lot. All of these strategies help Alexandria get as many “eye-balls” on our most important content as possible.