Improve how you communicate your coronavirus response

On this page you can find ideas and examples of ways to improve how you communicate your coronavirus response with residents through your council website.

These tips will help you make the most of your existing resources to communicate important information in a way that is user-friendly, accessible and inclusive. They can also be applied to any crisis response in your region, such as flooding.

General guidance for local councils during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on GOV.UK.

Website and communications checklist

Here are 8 ways you could improve your website and communications:

  1. Add a banner that stands out on your homepage
  2. Use the language that your residents use
  3. Include web forms for new coronavirus-related services
  4. Make sure contact details are easy to find
  5. Use different social media platforms to reach your users
  6. Make your services available to digitally excluded residents
  7. Provide content that is accessible to people with disabilities and non-English speakers
  8. Feature live service information

1. Banners

Consider adding a clear, impactful banner to the top of your homepage that directs residents to the most up-to-date coronavirus information.

Adding a COVID-19 banner to the top of every page, as Lincolnshire County Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have done, makes it easy for users to access relevant information from anywhere on the website.

A great banner should:

  • feature up-to-date information on affected council services, or links directing website visitors to this information
  • include accessible text
  • use alt text if the background of the banner is an image
  • use a striking image or contrasting colour background to make the banner stand out from other content on the page, as Leeds City Council have done

Adur and Worthing have used an eye-catching image for the banner on their homepage. The text clearly states what help is available.

2. Language

Using your audience’s language can make it easier to engage them. Rather than using a phrase such as ‘community hub’, consider plain English alternatives such as ‘get help’ or ‘get support’.

Naming services

When creating a new service or a tool to help your residents get help with COVID-19, give it a name that will make sense to them. Then, take the time to explain what your service does and how it can be accessed.

For example, Suffolk County Council has an app called Home, But Not Alone that connects volunteers with people needing help. They provide a clear explanation of what the app is and how it can be accessed on their website.

3. Web forms

Many councils are developing new services and creating related web forms to enable people to request help and support.

Web forms should be straightforward to fill out and give a clear indication of when people can expect to receive a reply.

A great example of this is the form for vulnerable people created by Luton Council. This form includes:

  • clear information on who should fill it out
  • contact details for people needing urgent help or who may be struggling with the form
  • an indication of when you can expect a response

4. Contact information

If your council is signposting people to dedicated phone lines for vulnerable people or volunteers, make sure the phone number is clearly displayed on your website.

On the Ribble Valley district council, their coronavirus support phone number can be found at the top of their homepage.

It’s also a good idea to have more than one way for your residents to contact you, and to make this easily accessible on your website.

Provide more than one way of contacting you

Many councils provide several ways for their residents to get in touch, including a dedicated phone line, an email address and a web form. This means that if one channel becomes unavailable (such as a phone line goes down), residents can still get the support they need.

Multi-tier authorities

It’s particularly important to make contact information easy to find in multi-tier authorities. Your residents should be pointed to the correct contact to get help, regardless of whether they go to the county council or district council website.

Gloucestershire have one hub hosted by the county council that six other authorities direct people to. This means that no matter what site the resident visits, they can still access the same level of support.

5. Social media

Many councils have been using social media in innovative ways to reach different demographics, from reposting central government and NHS content to creating their own original content.

Newcastle City Council have been using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to provide updates and advice to their residents. This is an example from their Facebook page.

Explore new platforms

Some councils, including Liverpool City Council, are even using TikTok! In this article they explain why they started using TikTok and how it has helped them to engage with a younger demographic. They have been using the platform to create engaging videos that showcase their residents and city – including this video of an unusually quiet Liverpool.

Tailor content to the platform

Tailor your content to each social media platform you use to better engage your different audiences. For example, sharing an article about the coronavirus might be great for a LinkedIn post, but a video will be more suitable for Instagram or TikTok.

Use hashtags

Include relevant hashtags in your content to help it reach a wider audience. Some councils have been using the popular hashtags #stayalertsavelives #coronavirus and #COVID19.

It’s a good idea to do this if your content can benefit people that are not necessarily your residents, such as Southwark Council’s Stay at home library.

6. Digital Exclusion

Not everyone has access or the required skills to use technology, so consider ways you can reach those residents.

Take it offline

East Suffolk, North Norfolk and Stroud local authorities have all sent postcards or letters to their residents, containing contact information for local and national support services.

You could also consider creating content that can be printed off and shared with others, such as Stroud District Council council’s Community Information Pack (PDF). This can be easily printed off and shared with people that might not have access to technology.

Local radio is another channel that can be used to reach digitally excluded residents, as Ealing council in London have done.

7. Accessible Content

Taking accessibility into account is particularly important in times of crisis.

We’ve seen many inspiring examples of councils making sure that their content is accessible to everyone. This is an example from Leeds City council, who provide both audio and sign language versions of their content.

Devon County Council also provides clear guides on how to access their information in different languages and formats.

Newcastle Council have produced YouTube videos in a number of different languages, including Urdu, Hindi and Romanian, that inform people how to stay safe during this crisis.

By understanding the differing needs of members of your community, you can make use of various communications channels to reach the digitally excluded and non-English speakers.

8. Service Updates

We’ve noticed that a number of councils have added service updates to their websites, which is a great way of keeping residents up to date.

Croydon Council have designed a page that clearly displays any issues affecting key services. Each service is broken down into key themes that clearly explain what the alterations are, with contact details and links to central government advice where appropriate.

Meanwhile, West Berkshire Council have added a section containing live service information to the homepage of their website:

More ways councils can help residents

Some councils are going the extra mile to support and communicate with their residents.

Local newspapers

Woking council have paid for the local newspaper to be delivered to every house in the borough

Livestream council meetings

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been live-streaming council meetings, including leaders’ question time. This enables residents to join remotely or watch later.

Community services

Some councils, including Stroud District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, have created lists of services that are available specifically to support residents.

This includes information on local community support groups that provide services from dog walking to collecting prescriptions.

Tell us what you think

We want to hear your feedback on these tips and what has worked well for your council. Use the form below to share your ideas and examples with us.

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