By: Amanda Knaebel
So what does a director of digital media for a post-industrial comeback city look like?
Easy. It looks like Detroit’s digital communication guru, David Lingholm.
Now that Detroit’s government buildings are filled back up with employees, it is making some changes. One of those changes included Lingholm’s new role as director of digital media, in which he is tasked with the reconstruction and maintenance of the city’s website, managing roughly 30 different social media accounts, and finding easy and efficient routes for Detroiters to “digitally engage” with their city.
This is the first time Detroit has designated a position that is specifically in charge of digital media.
Lingholm shared his experience in this new role, March 12, at IABC’s “Creating a Digitally Engaged Detroit” event, where he introduced communication professionals and students to his work on the complete overhaul of Detroit’s home website, www.detroitMI.gov. Under a three-month deadline, equipped with a team of six, Lingholm rebuilt the website in an effort to engage more effectively with Detroit residents.
Lingholm illustrated the last time the website was significantly updated by using cultural time references, such as the leading headline of that time, “Will MySpace ever lose its monopoly?” and a photo of a throw-back Nokia phone that was just hitting the market. With today’s growth of social media platforms and smartphones, it was obvious to see that the website update was much overdue.
The goal of the new website design is to simply get people to the information they need quickly. Lingholm explained that before the revamp, the organization of information didn’t make much sense to a typical resident, and it took a myriad of ‘clicks’ just to find the trash pick-up schedule.
“You had to understand our city government very intimately to get in and out,” said Lingholm.
Unlike revenue-based websites, which want to keep a user on its page, a city website should be designed for a quick experience that allows users to get in, get the information they need and get out.
To address the problem, Lingholm analyzed what residents were looking for and moved those top eight (not another MySpace reference) items to the homepage banner. Lingholm said that now 75 percent of the site’s information is just about “three clicks away” from the home page.
DetroitMI.gov is also equipped with an advanced internal search engine that allows users to organize results according to the type of document or date of publication. The website also features a “How Do I…” tab, which gives quick links to information residents need like, applying for permits, paying bills, filing complaints, locate transportation and more.
Another important element of the site is that it is now mobile-friendly. Considering 50 percent of the sites traffic is attributed to mobile browsing, it would make sense to add a mobile layout and some apps, right? Correct. There are other mobile features such as “Text Your Bus,” “Detroit Delivers,” “DDOT Bus App” and “DPD Connect Information.” Descriptions and downloads of these features can be found at DetroitMI.gov under the “How do I… apps” tab.”
Organization and accessibility weren’t the only obstacles Lingholm faced with the new site though. He also talked about the apprehension expressed by some city officials had who didn’t initially see the value in digital media. These officials still believed in the traditional method of picking up the phone and calling – which isn’t going away – and were hesitant to rely on the website to communicate with residents.
Lingholm said that skeptics shifted their views last August, during the 2014 metro Detroit flood. After Mayor Duggan declared natural disaster areas within Detroit, surveys had to be conducted for submission to FEMA. Because the information needed to be accumulated fast and more people were affected by the flood than the phone line could handle, the website had its chance to shine.
Traffic to the site was monitored and after the phone lines shut down, the amount of online forms being filled out spiked, continuing throughout the weekend. This also gave the city a database of information that allowed for FEMA to reach out to affected residents quickly and efficiently.
“These people needed to reach out to us when it was convenient to them, not when it was convenient for us,” said Lingholm.
By providing a small introduction, like the survey, critics were able to witness how digital media can play an important role in the city. Lingholm suggested that by giving “real bite-size pieces” and making it successful, it allows people to see the value in digital interaction and it opens the door to future communication.
“We needed to have that one proof-point to get them to start talking with us more often,” said Lingholm.
So, what’s to come in the future for Detroit’s director of digital media?
Lingholm said we can expect to see Detroit’s first official social media use policy, a published communications manual that will provide cohesive guidelines for city departments, social media roundtables to share tips and workshop problems on various social media platforms and an updated intranet for more efficient internal communication. He also announced a future expectation of GovDelivery, an email-marketing tool with text alert capabilities, which means that during a crisis residents who sign up can receive vital information directly through text message.
Detroit has been hustling at an unwavering rate lately, and the new website shows how the city’s government is planning to keep up.