I’ll admit, the title’s a little bit of click-bait hogwash, but attention-getting is more difficult in this time of Kardashians. Based on some feedback from my last post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned working with municipalities and smaller organizations. And, touch on a few specific tools/processes that might be helpful to teams with very limited budgets, or who just prefer to save money wherever possible (taxpayers thank you, of course!). Some of this may be a bit 101 for the more tech-savvy, but we want to help as many people providing services, as we possible can, and focusing on those in most need doesn’t seem like a bad starting point.

We have used, and highly recommend, all of the tools we cover below. There are a few things to keep in mind, though, as move forward:

  1. Everything you do should be easily connected with your mission. Your mission should be simple, easy to understand, but provide enough context that you are able to take action. All municipalities need to deliver great service, but your mission should be a bit more specific than just delivering great service. Each department can have their own mission, and those should be simply connected to the overarching mission of your city or town. Writing your mission down takes it from the ether and makes it tangible – and easily communicated to others. Come up with one, write it down. Live it. Love it. It really will help with focus and how you prioritize your work.
  2. At MuniVision, we often separate our platform and service from traditional “market research” but, please keep in mind, there are still valid and necessary reasons to work with experts in “traditional” market research – and there are some great firms out there doing that work. Long form surveys, big data aggregation, and long-term recommendations are still relevant, and there are tools and tasks that these experts can provide and deliver on that the tools below are not a good solution for. Being able to identify what you are able to deliver successfully on your own, and what you will need support with, is a very important skill to learn. We all can’t build a rocket and put a car into space. There’s no shame in admitting as much, and budgeting for your longer-term needs.
  3. This is not an exhaustive, or comprehensive, list of tools and services. I tried to keep it relatively simple and you should be able to use these tools as jumping off points in Google, should you try something, not like it, and want to find another option. Or, as always, you are welcome to reach out to us and ask. We may not be able to respond to all questions in an hour, but we will get back to you.

And, with those bits out of the way…

Web and Social Listening

There are a number of enterprise-level platforms out there, that do great work, and at great cost. CloudCherry and Netbase are wonderful platforms, but likely not in budget for many munis. Some solid, affordable options do exist, however. We can recommend:

Hootsuite: Their team and business plans likely deliver enough value for smaller municipalities/departments, and are affordably-priced. The platform is easy-to-use, and they have a large community of existing users. One of the greatest benefits is the ability to schedule posts across many platforms and see all of your analytics in a single place. If you are managing a number of accounts across multiple platforms, Hootsuite will definitely save you some time.

Listen360: This platform integrates tightly with your CRM and delivers real-time notifications to you when users take action online regarding your service. It may be too expensive in larger organizations and it is mostly aimed at the private sector, but we have seen it successfully leveraged in the public space. To really be successful with it, it is necessary to have some resource available to take action – whether that is internal or outsourced.

Machine Learning / Sentiment Analysis

This is a very popular space right now, and there are many businesses joining the party. That is a good thing, if you like options. It can make it tough to know, though, who is delivering value and who just has a website that talks a good game, but doesn’t understand how to really take advantage of the technology. As of this writing, the “big” players – Microsoft, IBM, Google – all allow you to sign up to their various cloud services and process a certain amount of data at no cost. Microsoft has Azure, Google offers Cloud Computer, and IBM’s suite is BlueMix. They are all extraordinarily powerful platforms, but they all require a certain amount of knowledge to get started, the support for the free tiers is hit-and-miss (at best), and the results may or may not be better than some of the other options below. (the below may be leveraging one of the big platforms to some extent, but they provide added value – service or product – in their delivery)

Nexosis: We’ve had multiple conversations with Nexosis and highly recommend them. The platform is powerful, but the service is first-rate. You will still need to have someone with some development skills interact with their platform, but it’s a pretty narrow space, compared with the broad platforms mentioned above and, again, if you have any trouble, they are on-hand to help.

RapidMiner: Their platform stays on the cutting-edge, and they offer a free tier. So, if you don’t have a ton of data you are processing, you can take advantage of their work at no cost. Again, you are going to need someone with a bit of technical experience to set things up, but the budget to get started should be pretty minimal, and if you understand what you are looking for, the ROI can be great.

Surveys and Feedback

Just about everyone will be able to name three or four survey companies off the top of their head. There are thousands of them on the web, and depending on what you are looking to capture, likely tens of platforms that can deliver what you need in a simple-to-use and aesthetically-pleasing package. I could be edgy, and point you to some newer/hipper platforms, but when you just need a solid solution for posting questions and receiving responses, the two below are still likely to be your go-to tools.

SurveyMonkey: I remember when they were just starting out. I used them then, and if I am honest, I still find reasons to use them now. They continue to expand the platform into new areas, which, for some of our customers means that the interface can get overwhelming, but if you need surveys, they deliver.

Google Forms: If simple, but powerful is what you are looking for, you’ll search for a while before finding something that delivers more than Google Forms.

Yanay: And, for just a little bit of self-promotion, I’ll add Yanay’s free survey tool here, as well. It allows less leeway than the above options, but that is by design. When you want to keep it simple and quick for respondents, and understand the high-value data you are aiming for, it can be a powerful tool to deploy. Surveys can be linked to, embedded in sites and apps, or you can produce a QR code right in the platform, if you wanted to capture feedback directly from printed materials.

What Else?

That isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to affordable tools in the marketplace today that can deliver very high value for minimal effort to your municipality. Whether they are managed per department, or deployed from the top down, a little planning can allow you to implement these tools smoothly and painlessly, while giving you insights that will help you better plan your future goals and objectives.

As mentioned above, this list is – by no means – exhaustive. Not only are there a multitude of other tools that could have been added, but there are many other areas that could have been covered. Unfortunately, they don’t pay me to write, so I need to tie things off here, for now. However, if there are areas that you need some support with, or these tools are not proper solutions for your specific needs, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m always happy to help, if I can.

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