Palm Coast, Florida, receives a high response rate on their recent open participation survey with a quality marketing and consistency.
The City of Palm Coast, Florida, recently received nearly 4,000 responses on their open community survey through Polco’s online platform. Typically, a few hundred responses is considered a win. But Palm Coast used a variety of marketing methods short of carrier pigeons and blimps in the sky and wound up with the highest response rate yet.
“We’ve made our marketing as broad as we can—from in-person encounters to every single form of digital media that we can get our hands on,” said Brittany Kershaw, Palm Coast’s Director of Communications and Marketing. “We tried to share the information everywhere we could.”
With open surveys, organizations can create their own questions on a relevant issue and post it directly online. Open surveys are less scientific than weighted assessments that are adjusted to represent a community’s demographics. Open surveys are also less intensive and require less time to execute. The goal is to use the results as supplementary information to consider in decision-making and planning processes.
Palm Coast's population age diversity is a driving factor behind the mix of marketing techniques.
The multigenerational city of 94,000 started as a retirement community in the 1970s, but the demographics are changing. The City is attracting remote workers who seek a slower pace and fast internet with a fiber-optic infrastructure plan. The small community is also home to three satellite universities. Two of the collages are medical schools that feed into the City’s three hospitals. Plus, an ideal location sandwiched between Orlando and Jacksonville, and short 20-minute jaunts to Daytona Beach and St. Augustine draws in a mix of age groups.
According to the 2021 census results, around 29 percent of the City’s residents are 65. About 18 percent are under 18 years old.
Different age groups consume media differently. The older generation still leans towards print, while younger millennials and Gen Z spend the most time on social media. Knowing this, the Palm Coast information team casts a wide net with their messaging efforts.
For the older population, Palm Coast relies on traditional marketing methods. They build relationships, make face-to-face connections, and produce tangible resources. For instance, the City prints a newspaper every month with local news and updates.
“But a lot of messaging is word-of-mouth,” Kershaw said. “We have a very engaged community that participates in our events through our Parks and Recreation department.”
The Parks and Recreation calendar of events is loaded with a different event each day. Activities include pickleball, yoga, basketball, nature walks, CPR training, and more. While the events are for all ages, many older adults consistently attend. They have built relationships with the parks and rec employees, who encourage residents to take the survey.
Example ofPalm Coast's monthly event calendar
“The parks and rec team is a huge outlet for us to be able to reach that population because they can have conversations with them,” Kershaw said. Similarly, City Council encourages survey participation at its events.
Kershaw and her small team go out of their way to make filling out the online survey easier for those who are averse to digital media. They print out hard copies, then manually copy those responses onto the online form for people. They also print out business cards with QR codes that lead to the survey page and hand them out at events. They even use radio ads to push the campaign.
The Palm Coast information team promotes surveys on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well. They also put out messaging on the Nextdoor app, a platform for neighborhood information.
Palm Coast Facebook Ad
“From a social media standpoint, we noticed that the most engagement and the most interaction is with video content, so we made a huge leap to video content for a lot of our communication efforts,” she said.
The community connects more knowing there is a real person on the side of the camera, she added. But she stresses keeping videos short and to the point, under 60 seconds maximum. The City also experiments with different styles of messaging. They made a more straightforward video, as well as a funny video satirizing 90s commercials.
Sometimes local news outlets will pick up their video clips, which expands their reach. Kershaw said the City has a good relationship with local media. Many local papers and magazines wrote about the open participation survey as well.
Above all, Kershaw suspects their online newsletter is their most effective outreach method. They’ve consistently sent a newsletter every Friday at 5 p.m. Today, they have a whopping 45,700 subscribers.
Regularity is a large contributor to Palm Coast’s survey success. City officials have administered a survey each year since 2002. They rotate between the open survey as a temperature check and The National Community Survey for a weighted, scientifically valid look at resident insights.
“Since the City’s been surveying for 20 years now, residents are expecting surveys,” Kershaw said.
Over the past two decades, Kershaw said there’s been a gradual increase in participation, nothing drastic. Moving the open survey online gave a noticeable bump, she said. But the success of their recent open survey shows that with that consistency and effort, any organization can reach a large pool of engaged residents who are willing to participate.