Since the world went into lockdown to beat the Coronavirus, we have all learned how to balance work, school, and other activities from home.
Water utility conservation staff have an additional challenge: how do they connect with customers and continue to promote water use efficiency programs? Many utilities are using online webinar platforms. CalWEP staff recently supported and attended the City of Sacramento’s “Break Up with Your Lawn: The Basics to Achieving a Thriving Landscape” webinar, and we asked William Granger, the City’s Water Conservation Coordinator, to share that experience with the CalWEP community.
The event was held on May 29th from noon to 1:30 pm. William said the lunch hour was picked so as not to interfere with regular work hours. A stunning 445 people from Sacramento and beyond attended! Two landscape professionals participated as speakers: Cheryl Buckwalter with Landscape Liaisons and Martin Carrion van Rijn with Landscape Symphonies.
William told CalWEP, “The most amazing thing is that we would have originally only reached 85 people. Doing it online we reached 4 times as many.”
The event had been originally planned as an in-person workshop but once shelter in place was instituted, the City pivoted to an online meeting. William and City staff worked hard to get the word out. According to William, in round numbers 50,000 residents receive their utility bills online. This was the first group contacted. Of the 50,000 emails that were sent, 1,194 residents visited the link to class information. That initial email was sent on May 19. William also reached out to the Regional Water Authority and other CalWEP members who shared the link with their email lists. Between May 19 and May 29, 1,124 people registered for the webinar.
Ahead of the meeting, William reached out to CalWEP, Irvine Ranch Water District, and BAWSCA staff to gain insights that would help him run the meeting based on their online meeting experiences.
William used the Zoom platform for the meeting, which provided a list of registrants’ email addresses to be used for follow-up messaging. William was also able to track how people found out about the event. His most successful outreach was a single-subject email that garnered 530 registrants. Other registrations came from the City’s Facebook page, other regional group and utility email mentions, Sacramento’s City Minute e-newsletter, and other City employees sharing via their own email communication.
William, Cheryl and Martin developed the course outline and presentation and took turns speaking. William covered the City’s rebate programs, went over the basics of irrigation, and introduced the concept of River Friendly Landscaping. Cheryl and Martin dived deeper into River Friendly concepts and shared their expertise on everything from turf removal methods and design basics, to healthy soils and plant selection.
In terms of advice for other agencies planning a similar webinar, both Cheryl and Martin said having a planning session to talk through objectives, deliverables and subject matter content was key saying, “When everyone is on the same page, this helps build great relationships.” Both advised that in a virtual format, especially if doing it for the first time, allow for ample planning and scripting. They also stated that information needs to be delivered succinctly and clearly as possible, especially if recording the session.
Using the chat function, participants were able to pose questions. Speakers could see all the questions, and when they were answered, participants could see them. Polls of the participants were conducted to both help gauge interest in the City’s turf removal rebates, and to keep participants engaged.
Just under 100 participants asked questions, with many posing more than one. Folks outside of Sacramento asked about rebate programs in their areas and were provided lists of neighboring utility programs. Many people simply asked how to access a recording of the meeting. In terms of “how to” questions, they ranged from those about sheet mulching, irrigation methods, and costs, to questions about application eligibility, and more.
Since the event, William and staff have sent a follow up email to all registrants and participants with a link to the webinar recording. In addition, they are following up individually with those residents who didn’t get their questions answered live during the event. In turn, residents have thanked staff for holding the event. William reports they have not received any negative feedback.
William reports that he considers event a huge success. He credits the fact that people are staying at home and turning their attention to projects like improving their landscaping to the large attendance numbers. Since the shelter in place orders took place, the City has seen an uptick in rebate applications, according to William.
CalWEP will be offering members a free “How to Host a Zoom Webinar” virtual training on July 8th at 10:30am. Executive Director of External Affairs, Tia Lebherz (and CalWEP Zoom Queen) will run through what it takes to host an engaging event – from outreach and prep to production and follow up. CalWEP members can register here.
To watch “How to Break Up with Your Lawn” visit this link.