Can an April Fools’ Day joke get your council excited about smart cities?

This year, Tesla’s Elon Musk declared bankruptcy, actor Seth Rogen signed his life over to Netflix and Where's Wally found his way into Google Maps.

Tech companies understand the power of April Fools' Day to engage their audiences.

But can an April Fools’ Day joke on Facebook get the community excited about a local council’s business plan?

Ask Nigel Morris, Chief Executive Officer of the District Council of Yankalilla, and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

For the last two years, Nigel has used April Fools’ Day as a platform to encourage community consultation around a host of issues.

Last year, Council “confirmed rumours” of a plan to build a 65.4-kilometre bike path from the mainland to Kangaroo Island. The bike path – dubbed the “Fleurieu OS Bike Gateway” – would feature free WiFi, a refreshment stand next to the “whale pass” and complimentary ponchos to protect riders from sea spray, Facebook readers learnt.

This year, residents were regaled with Council’s determination to purchase snow-making equipment to “turn our top 10 beach into a ski slope”.

More than 70,000 people engaged with just two social media posts.

 

The power of engaging people

Nigel says the April Fools’ Day campaigns demonstrate the power of digital engagement.

“Digital engagement is instant, interactive, informative, cost effective and can be used as a learning tool not only for the community but for Council,” Nigel says.

“We can instantly inform our community of an approaching bushfire or a found dog, squash the latest rumour going around or share information about infrastructure that is about to be installed.

“But it also helps us to get an early understanding of community sentiment and concerns around a project. We can then target our communications, and ensure we are better prepared for public meetings and presentations.”

Leading a small and dynamic regional council, Nigel wears many hats, including that of “social media dude”, which means he is responsible for most of Council’s interactions online.

When Nigel took on the role in 2015, just 200 people followed Council on Facebook. “This has now grown to 1,115-plus people, which is impressive considering we only have a population of around 5,600 people.”

Overseeing social media “allows me to post with courage, and to quickly shut down any inaccurate interactions. And I’m better informed and more in touch with the community’s feelings towards Council,” he explains.

From keeping a close eye on what people in the community are posting online, Council gets “raw information” which “helps us to stay informed, to know how people are engaging with our region – both locals and visitors – and to identify our infrastructure priorities.”

 

Digital by default

According to the Smart Cities Council Smart Cities Readiness Guide, 85 per cent of people now expect government services to be as good as those they receive from private companies. And that means going “digital by default”.

“Councils sometimes miss the mark when delivering to the community,” Nigel says.

“In the past, people may have kept their concerns to themselves, but in the digital world getting it wrong means knowing in an instant. This gives us an opportunity to enhance our services, or to better inform our community of a decision.

“Our council achieves amazing things with limited resources. With digital engagement we can celebrate our successes and engage the community to show them how their rates revenue is being used to create a better place for us all.”

Download the Smart Cities Readiness Guide to identify your city’s readiness to innovate.

 

This article has been created as part of the #SmartCitiesChronicles, a project by Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand, which is sharing the smart cities 'story' of eight local government organisations across Australia and New Zealand. You can find out more here.