BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The township’s new website is expected to go live Wednesday, March 27. Residents can use the current URL to access the website or a new URL [which TAPinto Berkeley Heights will publish when site goes live].
That was the big announcement made by Chair of the Communications Committee Pam Yoss when she updated the council on the objectives and activities of the Communication’s Committee at its March 19 meeting.
"I really feel like we’ve come a long way” in the past year, she said, and laid out some of the committee's responsibilities and plans. The committee is responsible for supporting the township and its local government, as well as community-wide events run by the local government and, where possible, public events run by non-profit local organizations, she said.
In the coming year, the committee will work with the township to “formalize township communications,” Yoss said. That means they will give "a consistent look and feel to all the township communications," across all the boards and committees. There will be more "branding" work done by the committee.
The committee will also work with the township administration to establish a social media policy, continue to write and distribute the township newsletter via email and paper. The “open rate” on the email newsletter is 57 percent, and the subscriber rate is up 41 percent since October, she said.
The “listening sessions,” which were started last year will be continued. “We want to keep working with you to create informal ways to talk to residents,” ask questions and talk in an informal way, she said. Last year they ran a pilot program, with sessions monthly, which was too much. This year the sessions will be quarterly.
The committee will also conduct a survey of residents so the council members can continue to hear what residents want and need. The environmental commission also wants to survey residents, so it may be possible to include the environmental commission questions in the survey.
Yoss announced the end of the video program, “Berkeley Heights Here and Now,” formerly called “The Mayor’s Roundtable.” She said, “It’s time to reimagine” the show and how video is used.
While TAPinto Berkeley Heights has been the township’s main avenue for communicating with residents, the committee plans to expand the methods it uses to get its message out to residents, she said.
Turning to the website, Yoss credited the volunteers, in particular Herman Matfes, who ran Tuesday night's slide show, and Sander Raaymakers, with making this all happen. She called “Herman and Sander a crackerjack team,” and said they have gone above and beyond to get the website up and functioning.
The search for a new website started because the current site is hard to use and to update. What people may not know is that about 70 percent of residents who access the website are doing so from a phone or tablet and the one that has been in use “is not mobile friendly,” she said. It also can only be updated by a third party and there are a limited number of items that can be placed on the website.
The committee worked throughout much of 2018, seeking input from many residents along the way. The committee picked CivicPlus to design the website in late summer, after a public tryout session, and kicked off the design portion of the project in the fall of 2018. They received feedback from active users throughout the process and there was a three-day training session for employees recently.
The website is expected to be live on Tuesday, which Yoss called “Day One.” She cautioned everyone to remember, “This is an evolving process.” What residents see on Day One is not what they will see in coming days. There is a lot of opportunity to grow what can be communicated to residents through the website, but that will take time. The website will continue to grow daily, Yoss said.
Matfes said the website “will continue to get better. On Day One there may be one form to fill out online,” on day three there could be 10. As new projects such as electronic recycling are started, they will be added to the site and to the appropriate calendar. Yoss said she envisions a day when there is a “shopping cart,” on the site, where one can register a child for a sport, sign up for a class or pay a fee, all in one transaction. But, that is still to come, because the “website is evolving,” she said.
Even the URL is easier to remember than the old URL Yoss said.
Yoss urged residents, when the new site goes live, “if we experience any growing pains … remember our township employees are hardworking and overtaxed, and are learning something new on the job, a little bit on the fly,” so be a little patient and understanding.
Editor's Note: This story was edited to reflect a change in date for the website going live.