Project Category: Social Media & Marketing

Digital Media in Chicago’s #EmergencyResponse Plan

Since 2017, Catalyst has supported the City of Chicago in developing, launching, maintaining, and enhancing a non-emergency 311 solution powered by Salesforce.

This 311 solution – called CHI311 – encompasses a constituent relationship management (CRM) backend built on Salesforce Service Cloud, a public-facing web-based Community Portal built on Salesforce Community Cloud, the City’s first-ever public-facing custom mobile app, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud through which City communications personnel can send email campaigns and manage City social media accounts.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicagoans looked to CHI311 for timely and reputable information about the virus, preventative health recommendations, City shelter-in-place updates, and most recently, re-opening guidelines.

In this period of uncertainty, CHI311 has equipped City staff and constituents with the tools to navigate the pandemic safely.

In sum, COVID-19 related service requests were added to the Community Portal and mobile app, along with up-to-date articles regarding public and preventative health and Chicago-specific safety guidelines. Marketing Cloud was then used to create and send City-branded emails about available housing grants and community letters from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as to track constituent conversations about the City’s response to the pandemic via social listening.

Quickly Accessing COVID-19 Related Services and Information

As the pandemic first began to sweep the City, the City’s 311 call center experienced a 35% increase in constituent outreach directly related to Coronavirus inquiries.

Identifying patterns in these calls and requests, the Catalyst team stood up a “COVID-19 Assistance” category on the public-facing side of CHI311 in under two days. This new category of type codes was created to meet the constituent needs that were repeatedly asked for in the call center and in the expedited timeframe that emergencies mandate. Please refer to the screenshot to see the COVID-19 type codes added to CHI311 to date.

As time is of the essence in emergencies, we note the following turnaround times for various COVID-19 service requests:

              • The City has collaborated with organizations like the Salvation Army to respond to and close emergency food requests in 2.5 days.
              • General COVID-19 inquiries submitted through CHI311 are answered within 24 hours, with a staff member at the Chicago Department of Public Health reaching out to the constituent directly.
              • Senior well-being checks requested have been completed in one day.

7,000 COVID-19 requests were received by Chicago’s non-emergency 311 within the first three weeks of the City’s shelter-in-place.

These calls were deflected from 911, easing pressure on emergency responders and enabling them to focus on pressing matters during one of the most unprecedented public health events in modern history. Similarly, because constituent self-service has always been at the crux of CHI311, a COVID-19 emergency banner resides at the top of the CHI311 mobile app and Community Portal, ushering constituents to the City’s COVID-19 microsite where they can find the latest information from their City leaders.

Communication is Key: Marketing Cloud and the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 Response

Among the channels the City of Chicago used to communicate its COVID-19 response plan were email and social media, as facilitated by Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Catalyst’s Marketing Cloud Subject Matter Experts.

The Chicago Department of Housing
To ease financial strain provoked by the pandemic, the City’s Department of Housing (DOH) established a grant program through which Chicagoans could apply for assistance to pay for their housing.

Over 83,000 residents applied for these grants, and Marketing Cloud’s Email Studio module was leveraged to send applicants information about the grant program itself on City-branded email templates. Information moves fast in a pandemic, and the Catalyst team helped the City craft and send the emails at a moment’s notice. Applicants approved for the grant were also notified with an email sent from Marketing Cloud.

Personalization always matters in public sector communications. Constituents want to feel recognized by local government, and this is all the truer amid crisis. The City of Chicago flexed this personalization muscle with the DOH grant recipients. Personalization strings, driven by AMPScript (Marketing Cloud’s proprietary scripting language for advanced personalization in emails), were placed in email templates sent to grantees to allow for varying combinations of the following to appear in one email:

  • The recipient’s name
  • A survey link specific to that grantee
  • DOH contacts specific to their housing case

AMPScript made it possible to send one email that rendered over 250 variations based on the data being pulled from the Marketing Cloud contact list to fill in these unique data points. Rather than send hundreds of separate emails, DOH could send just one email without compromising the personalization the recipient needed and deserved.

From the Office of Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The Mayor’s Office also leveraged Email Studio to send newsletters from Mayor Lightfoot to subscribers, including:

  • An explanatory email in March when the pandemic first began to escalate discussing shelter-in-place guidelines
  • A voting-oriented email leading up to Election Day to recruit election judges
  • A community update to check-in with folks and bolster morale in Summer 2020 as the City slowly began to re-open

Within Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud suite of products is Social Studio, a social media management and social listening tool. The Catalyst team set up a series of social listening tools called Topic Profiles regarding COVID-19 to track constituent conversation, questions, and concerns around topics such as the virus itself, outdoor dining, and Chicago’s reopening plan.

Insights from these Topic Profiles were shared with Mayor Lightfoot to inform her communications plan, talking points shared in press briefings, and content published on the City’s website, social media and CHI311’s public-facing elements. The City also tapped into Social Studio’s scoring algorithm, called “Sentiment Analysis,” to determine the tone with which Chicagoans talked about COVID-19 related topics, paying particular attention to topics with overwhelmingly negative sentiment to inform where Mayor Lightfoot and the Communications Team needed to quell feelings of concern and fear.

Collaboration With the State of South Carolina to Respond to COVID-19

In times of crisis, state government needs to be a reliable and responsive outlet to whom constituents can report concerns, ask questions, and receive timely and accurate information.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Catalyst supported the State of South Carolina Governor’s Office with its emergency response plan called “accelerateSC” by way of a Salesforce Service Cloud and Social Studio implementation, as well as a cloud-based call center. These new systems work with each other to collect and manage COVID-19 related inquiries, concerns, and requests submitted by the residents of the State via web form, email, phone call, and social media.

This project was delivered in under 5 weeks, in keeping with the rapid timeline emergencies mandate.

The Public-Facing Channels

The COVID-19 crisis ushered in unprecedented circumstances; in response, the Catalyst and accelerateSC teams were bullish about establishing accessible and modern interfaces through which constituents are already accustomed to requesting services to get in touch with their government amid the pandemic. The channels through which constituents can now submit inquiries, concerns, and requests are email, Facebook, Twitter, a web form, and phone, as we stood up a digital call center with infrastructure supported by Amazon Web Services. A standalone case study about this call center is available upon request.

Note that, upon being submitted, these touchpoints are automatically routed into Salesforce as “cases,” at which point they can be addressed and resolved by customer service agents and departmental subject matter experts.

Deploying Salesforce Service Cloud

The Catalyst team implemented a case management system in Salesforce Service Cloud for accelerateSC in order to house all COVID-19 related cases submitted by citizens. Cases submitted across the public-facing channels include:

  • Requests for information about COVID-19 testing sites, essential versus non-essential business protocol, schools and daycares, and volunteer opportunities
  • Requests for emergency supplies like PPE
  • Complaints (“I can’t get an answer if I can re-open my restaurant or not. What gives?”)
  • Concerns (“This saloon is packed, and nobody is following social distancing!”)
  • General inquiries

A Knowledge Article in Service Cloud that was created to standardize the response to a question citizens frequently asked: should I wear a mask?

Once routed into Service Cloud, customer service staff triage the concerns among Tier 1 and Tier 2 support agents. Tier 1 agents handle more “straightforward” concerns that do not require niche departmental subject matter expertise for issue resolution. For additional guidance, Catalyst stood up a “Knowledge Base” populated with answers to frequently asked questions (see above) that agents can reference to provide the most accurate and standardized response to constituent inquiries.

To ensure closed-loop communication with constituents during this sensitive time, the Service Cloud backend can also send emails to the submitter notifying them of their case’s updates and ultimate resolution. Meanwhile, on the backend, agents engage with a “contact record” and a “case record” (shown below).

A contact record in the Service Cloud backend houses a constituent’s phone number and email, the history of the State’s interaction
with them, as well as their history of case submissions. Identifying information for the constituent and client has been removed.


A case record includes the submitter’s name and contact information, the category and details of the submission, the State
staffer(s) working to resolve the case, the status of the case, and recent activity and correspondence related to this case’s
resolution. Identifying information for the constituent and client has been removed.

Social to Case

Today, public sector agencies must leverage social media as a channel to engage with their constituency. This is all the more true in an emergency, when constituents demand quick and convenient channels like social platforms to request the information and services they need. In the same vein as email-to-case, web-to-case, and phone-to-case capabilities, South Carolina residents can submit COVID-19 related inquiries and requests via social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook. Leveraging Salesforce Social Studio’s social-to-case functionality, these posts can then be immediately routed to Service Cloud for fast resolution.

On the frontend, South Carolinians can “tag” and direct message (DM) accelerateSC on Twitter and Facebook, asking a question or requesting help. On the backend, the post and/or DM populates in Social Studio. Leveraging backend automation fueled by Salesforce’s Social Studio Automate, posts populate in columns driven by rules and conditions set by the Catalyst and accelerateSC teams. For example, all incoming Twitter mentions and Facebook posts are housed in a separate column than incoming messages and DMs, though in the same Social Studio “Engage” dashboard view. As such, the social team gets a 360-degree view of all activity on a social account and can engage in a back-and-forth with constituents in an organized fashion, as well as send the case to Service Cloud to create a case and allow for the pertinent departments to investigate and resolve the matter. But the benefits of Social Studio stretch beyond social-to-case.

An example of a constituent tweet that could be made a case.

Intersection of Salesforce Social Studio, Social Media and Public Relations

With Social Studio, accelerateSC can now monitor constituent satisfaction with its emergency response on social media channels via social listening functions. These functions provide direct insight into the constituency’s feelings (positive or negative) regarding the response and other relevant topics, allowing the Governor’s Office to adjust its messaging and strategic communications accordingly, as well as schedule regular and emergency social media posts using Social Studio Publish.

Besides technology consulting, Catalyst resources also supported accelerateSC’s public relations efforts to advise upon messaging and framing used in social media posts and DM responses to transparently and effectively respond to and quell constituent feelings of frustration, fear, and anger.

Social Listening and Social Media Management
Using Social Studio’s robust reporting and analytics offerings, accelerateSC can monitor keywords to assess what constituents are saying about a given topic, evaluate constituents’ sentiment associated with that topic, and then use that feedback to inform its ongoing COVID-19 communications plan. For example, if keywords or phrases such as “South Carolina unemployment benefits” is identifying a pull in a lot of posts with a negative tone, the Governor’s Office’s Strategic Communications Team knows it needs to publish more resources to manage expectations better and clarify who receives unemployment benefits and when.

accelerateSC is also leveraging Social Studio’s Publish functionality to regularly post on Twitter and Facebook by sharing COVID-19 related news, resources, and re-opening guidelines. The accelerateSC team builds a content calendar with scheduled posts on a week-by-week basis, but also sends one-off posts to reach a broad audience quickly with emergency information and “breaking news.”

In all, accelerateSC has built “brand recognition” through social media and has solidified its place as a reputable outlet for COVID-19 information.

Notably, reports that were previously pulled manually from social media profiles and inserted into Excel via the native social application’s “Analytics” features are now run automatically in Social Studio and sent to the pertinent stakeholders’ email inboxes every morning as a visually-appealing and comprehensible dashboard. These reports ensure they start their day with an actionable view of the previous day’s activity on socials, as well as historical data of constituent sentiment on various topics related to the pandemic.

End User Training and Post Launch Support

End user adoption is always crucial, and this was deepened with accelerateSC end users given that these systems would be used to support an emergency response. Their self-sufficiency and confidence using the new Salesforce solutions would impact their ability to provide the best customer service possible to South Carolinians during challenging times.

In sum, the Catalyst team trained over 60 users on Service Cloud and Social Studio capabilities via remote training sessions and written training documentation. At all times, we kept it front-of-mind to communicate accessibly to empower end users of all levels of technical confidence with their new systems. To date, we have provided over 80 hours of post-launch support via “war rooms” and one-on-one sessions to ensure system stability and provide a helping hand to end users who had a one-off question or needed assistance while troubleshooting.