How to promote your FixMyStreet site

So your site is up and running, emails are going off to the right places and everything looks good. There’s just one more thing you need: some users.

When people think of the phrase ‘publicity campaign’, they may imagine expensive TV advertisements, billboard posters and magazine spreads.

But there are plenty of ways to promote your site that cost nothing, or only a little. In this guide, we will be looking at some of the most effective ways you can publicise your site on a low budget.

Anyone can manage the actions we’re about to run through, and we promise they will bring you more users.

Things to do before you launch

Four weeks before launch: make plans

Will you have a launch party or other event? Who will you invite? Do you need printed materials? Now is the time to get everything in place.

Launch parties are not vital, but if you have contacts in the media or local government, they’re a good way to make a bit of a splash. They don’t have to be expensive: all you need is a few snacks and a good presentation.

Three weeks before launch: start filling your site with content

When people start to visit your site, ideally it will already look like a successful project that is getting problems fixed.

Consider asking your friends and family to start using it before your official launch, so that there is plenty of activity on display.

Or invite your supporters to be ‘beta testers’, with early access to the site. If you have a mailing list or newsletter, you can invite your subscribers. If you prefer to keep your site protected until your launch, you can always share the password with this small group of early users.

If all else fails, post some reports yourself!

Two weeks before launch: gather media contact details

You’ll be sending announcements to the media, so you’ll need to gather the relevant email addresses before your launch date.

There are often useful lists of these online - search for things like ‘press contact lists’ or ‘media contacts’.

Otherwise, most publications provide a contact page. Put together a spreadsheet of addresses that you can use to send out your press releases when the time comes. Here’s what your spreadsheet might look like at this stage:

National press
Name Contact Email address Did they write about us? Link to story Journalist’s name
The National News James Bloggs newsdesk@nationalnews.com      
The Daily Blah Diana Penfold diana.penfold@thedailyblah.org      
add more here...          
Regional press
Name Contact Email address Did they write about us? Link to story Journalist’s name
Smallton Times William Whistler will@smalltontimes.co.uk      
Realville Mercury Editor editor@themercury.co.uk      
add more here...          

You can fill in the last three columns after launch.

One week before launch: notify councils and local authorities (perhaps)

Consider speaking to the authorities who will be receiving your reports — especially those who do not already have a fault-reporting system online.

You will know best how your site is likely to be received by these authorities. In the UK, we’ve had a variety of experiences, from a small number of councils who don’t see the point, or dislike our service, to those who think it’s wonderful.

Approach councils in the right way, and they may be glad to help you advertise your site to their residents. In any case, it’s always good to build up relationships with these bodies, because they can keep you updated about changes of email addresses or the different departments reports should be sent to.

At launch

Your launch day has arrived! Time to get busy.

Hopefully, your period of beta-testing (or while your friends and family have been using the site) will have helped you detect and solve any technical issues, so when launch comes, you can dedicate yourself at least a couple of days to promotion.

1. Tell the media

Newspapers and magazines, TV and radio shows — every time there’s a mention of your new site, it will bring you users.

FixMyStreet has a great advantage when it comes to press coverage: the overall concept is interesting to national media, while the local aspects of the site appeal to regional media, too.

Press releases

Send details of your launch to any outlet you think will cover it. Be clear and concise: explain what the site is for and how it benefits users.

Not sure how to write a press release? We’ve provided a template here.

You may wish to send out two types of press release:

  • A release for the national media, explaining that the site covers the whole country (if that’s the case) and that the great benefit for users is that they don’t need to know which council is responsible for which type of problem in which jurisdiction.

  • A release for local press, pointing out that residents in their area can now make reports quickly and easily. You can copy and paste the name of the region into each one, so it seems especially relevant to them.

But be careful: when the team behind FiksGataMi, the Norwegian FixMyStreet, sent press releases to every media outlet in the country, it attracted so many users that their server was overwhelmed with traffic!

You can avoid this with load testing, which makes sure that your servers can cope with increased amounts of traffic, or simply by sending out your press releases at intervals, over a period of time.

If mySociety is hosting your site, don’t worry: we’ve got it covered. Do let us know just before you start your press campaign, though.

Pere: We gathered the email address of every media outlet in Norway, and used this list to send press releases about the service. All local media, all national press, all tv stations, radio stations, technical magazine, everything.

This overloaded the service after a few hours. FiksGataMi went down after 2-3 hours. I believe we sent the press release around 8:00 in the morning, it went down before 11:00, and came back online around 14:00.

Quite a lot of local papers wrote about FiksGataMi, and suggested their readers used it to report problems. For example Adressavisa, the largest paper in the middle of Norway (Trondheim), published several stories over many days. This caused Trondheim municipality to get more requests than they could handle…

2. Local outreach

One of the most direct ways to publicise FixMyStreet is to take it out to the people who will use it.

You can do this in your own local town — and if you have friends and supporters in other towns, you can ask them to put up posters or leave leaflets in public places for people to take.

In the Maldives, the MakeMyIsland ‘roadshow’ handed out leaflets on the street, and explained the service to passers-by.

You could do the same: is there an area that is particularly notorious for problems such as potholes or rubbish tipping, perhaps? That would be a good place to chat to people.

Print up or photocopy a few leaflets. These can be very simple and direct, so long as they explain the concept and include the URL. Here’s a postcard that the UK FixMyStreet has used:

FixMyStreet postcard

The nice thing about postcards is that they can get your message out twice: once to the person who picks it up, and once to the person they send it to.

Put up posters, anywhere people are likely to see them: on universities’ notice boards, in shops and cafes, libraries… anywhere it’s allowed.

When you design your leaflets and posters, don’t include any content that will date (eg mentioning that the site is new and has just launched), and you will be able to use them at other events in the future.

After launch

So, you told lots of people about your FixMyStreet site, and it got lots of interest. That’s great.

But people have short memories, so it’s important to keep dedicating some time to promoting your site.

You might not have the time or resources to do everything that’s suggested below. Why not try a couple, and see how effective they are, then try another couple later on, and compare? That way you can find out what works best, and where to dedicate your time.

Social media

Set up accounts on whichever social media is most used in your country: in the UK, we have FixMyStreet accounts on Twitter and Facebook. You have the option to set up links to your social media accounts in the site’s footer, report pages, etc: you can read more about customising your FixMyStreet site here — or contact us if you need more help.

You’ll need to monitor your accounts daily, in case people ask you questions that need a prompt reply. The easiest way is to set up your accounts so that you automatically receive an email every time someone mentions you.

For Twitter, go to https://twitter.com/settings/notifications to set your preferences for email alerts.

Twitter settings screenshot

And for Facebook, go to https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=notifications to set your preferences for alerts. Click on ‘pages you manage’ to find the settings for your FixMyStreet page.

Facebook notifications screenshot

Use your social media accounts to send out regular messages to your followers. You might:

  • Link to your most interesting (or infuriating, or puzzling, or funny) reports. If they’re interesting enough, people will share them, helping you publicise your site even further.
  • Answer your users’ questions about how the site works.
  • Find people who are complaining about their local community, and tell them about your site.
  • Generally promote your site with timely messages. In the UK, we talk about potholes in the colder months because that is when they tend to appear; and we remind people to report broken street lights when the clocks go back and people are walking home in the dark.
  • Things tend to get fixed more just before the elections - a cynical view, but one that’s true. So this may be a great time to encourage people to make reports, and highlight those that have got things fixed.

Keep a blog

Let users know what enhancements you’ve made, events you’ll be at, or just what you’ve been doing lately, with regular blog posts.

Regular press releases

Don’t lose that spreadsheet of media contact addresses - you’re going to need it again. In fact, make a note on it of which outlets wrote stories about your site, and the details of the journalists who wrote the stories, so you can contact them directly next time.

Pere: To remind the press about our existence we’ve sent press releases about FiksGataMi on and off since the release.

Of course, you don’t want to irritate your press contacts with over-frequent press releases, but if you make sure that you have a good story to share, many will welcome your emails.

What makes a good story after launch?

  • Statistics. Use the FixMyStreet dashboard or your Analytics programme to find out things like:
    • how many reports have been made? (Check /stats in your site’s admin dashboard for the overall count, or count for specific councils/within specific timeframes)

    • what are the most frequent types of report? (Difficult to be precise, but /summary?show_categories=1#category-fix-rate will give you a general idea)

    • which area is filing the most reports? (Check /reports on your live site, but do remember that if council areas are of different sizes or population densities, that also affects numbers)

    • which reports are the most people viewing? (Use your analytics programme, and filter to see URLs containing report/)

  • Unusual or funny reports. You can use your Analytics programme to see which reports have been most-viewed: often they are the ones with the most human interest.

In the UK, one of our most-viewed reports was about a rare bird which had been spotted after it escaped from its owner.

FixMyStreet screenshot: report 242529

The UK FixMyStreet site includes this page. You might like to include something similar: it’s great to point press towards, so long as you keep it up to date.

  • Success stories Check the reports that have been marked as fixed, to see if any of them has made a really big difference to a local community.
  • The local angle Send local media summaries of the most common types of report in their own area, or the numbers of reports made.
  • Local radio In the UK, we are often invited to speak on local radio when they are doing a feature about issues such as potholes or rubbish clearance. Normally, we just talk for five minutes, telling people about the site and what it does. If you have a radio network that covers all regions, contact them to let them know that you are available as a speaker, and you may be added to their list of people to include in such features.

Tell journalists to subscribe

You can tell local journalists about the alerts service on FixMyStreet. There are links to instructions on setting up alerts on all map pages on the site, or on /alert.

This functionality allows anyone to subscribe to their local area, so that they get an email every time anyone makes a report within that neighbourhood. It’s an effort-free way of staying up to date with the issues that concern their readers, and also means the journalists can be the first to see any potential stories.

Myf: In the UK, we also spent a bit of time contacting very local publications, including parish newsletters and community magazines. Although each publication may only be read by a couple of hundred to a few thousand readers, they are really focused on their own neighbourhood, so the FixMyStreet message works well for them.

Because such publications tend to have few staff and not much time, we provided them with a ready-written news story and also some graphics, so all they had to do was drop them into their templates.

Events

Get involved with events in your area — it’s a good way to meet potential users. Or, for most of the types of event listed below, if you can’t attend, you could send some leaflets and posters along and ask for them to be distributed.

Community fairs, festivals, conferences and meetings

Ask if you can have a table. Take leaflets, and a smartphone, tablet or laptop if you have internet access.

One very direct way to explain what FixMyStreet does is to invite people to search the site and see the problems reported around their own home. Everyone is interested to see what has been reported in their own community.

Then you can guide them through the process of making a report themselves.

Optionally, ask people for their email addresses so that you can sign them up to a newsletter.

Set up your own events

Your local library, hall or co-working space may be glad to let you have a room and internet access so that you can show residents how to use FixMyStreet. Put up some posters and invite people to drop by for a fifteen-minute demo.

Clubs and societies

Certain types of societies’ members will be particularly interested in FixMyStreet.

Are there any associations in your country who volunteer to keep the streets clean, or do gardening in the local parks? Local history organisations tend to be full of people who also have an interest in keeping the community to a good standard! Consider women’s groups, local co-operatives, church societies… and any other groups with a stake in their community.

In the UK, we provided special downloadable ‘packs’ for clubs and societies: see the Community Group pack on this page.

FixMyStreet posters screenshot

FixMyStreet is for everyone to use, not just those with technical skills — but you may find that some of your strongest supporters come from the coder community. Because the code is open source, developers can use it to develop their own tools, too. Perhaps they will contribute some improvements to the main codebase.

Newsletter

You might have a newsletter that goes out to all supporters of your organisation, or one that’s specific to your FixMyStreet site. Either way, send regular messages. If you are doing some or all of the activities listed above - events, blog posts, news stories - you will already have content for your newsletter; you’ll just need to link to it.

Make sure you invite users to sign up to your newsletter. Check our documentation on customising your site, or mySociety can help you include a message about the newsletter at various key points, like:

  • in your email alerts
  • at the point when people have completed making a report
  • in the footer of your site

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is an effective way of getting your site known — and it’s free. But generally, people won’t talk about your site unless you explicitly ask them to.

In the UK, we created this page, with downloads of resources that help people spread the word about FixMyStreet. They can print out posters and flyers, and there are templates for news stories they can send to local magazines or newsletters. There are even activities for school children and Girl Guides, Scouts, Cubs and Brownies. Feel free to copy anything from that page and adapt it for your own site/culture/language.

You may also wish to send this same message - “Please tell your friends about this site” - via your email alerts, your newsletter, social media, and when you meet users face to face. You can never ask enough!

Myf: In the UK, we took this idea one step further. We identified some of our site’s most prolific report-makers, and emailed them to congratulate them for being “FixMyStreet SuperUsers”.

We offered to send them a tote bag and stickers which we’d printed up with the FixMyStreet logo, as a way of saying thank you — and we also sent them a large stack of promotional postcards, asking them to leave these in spots around their local town.

These people were obviously already predisposed to feel positive about FixMyStreet, so they gladly performed what was, however you look at it, a task that benefited us more than them.

FixMyStreet superuser notice screenshot

Of course, the nice thing about a bright bag is that it also helps promote the site as its owner carries it around. Some recipients even photographed their bag and put them on Twitter and Instagram!

Online advertising

If your organisation is a registered charity, and if you operate in one of the eligible countries, you can apply for free Google Adwords advertising worth up to US $40,000 per year. Find out more here.

mySociety can help you with setting up your account, if required, once you have got the grant.

Share your experiences

If you’ve tried any of these ideas, let us know how it went. What did you learn? Any tips for others who are about to launch their own FixMyStreet sites?

Maybe you have some more ideas, or can tell us how you promoted your own site. Please share your thoughts and stories on the FixMyStreet mailing list, so that everyone can benefit from your knowledge.