This blog post is a response to a recent article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune on social media in government. It was a great article, but I felt compelled to respond!
I work for a company that does digital communication management (email/text/rss/social media) exclusively for the public sector. It’s relatively common for cities and counties to struggle with social media, but what many of them fail to understand is that networks like Facebook and Twitter simply provide them with another channel to communicate to citizens. The benefits speak for themselves:
- New audience. Social media is an opportunity for government to talk to people in the spaces that they are comfortable in – their social networks. There are citizens on Facebook that may not be going to a city or county’s website for information. Facebook and Twitter allow government to reach this audience and also gives them an opportunity to promote and direct them back to their website.
- Immediacy. People pay attention to breaking news, because it’s new and different. Providing timely information through Facebook and Twitter means more people will pay attention and get information faster. This is especially important during weather or other disaster related emergencies. In fact, during recent massive flooding in Thailand, Twitter was key in pushing out emergency messages and helping to find people who needed help:
- Analytics. Government agencies can use Facebook Insights, the analytics tool that helps you track your “Likes” over time; interactions with your page; messages with the most impressions and feedback; etc. With this data, cities and counties can not only report on the impact of their multi-channel communication efforts, but they can also gain an understanding of what type of content is resonating with their stakeholders.
- Expansion and engagement. Facebook is more than just facebook.com. With the immense growth over the past few years, you can now leverage Facebook on your website via Facebook widgets, mobile integration so you can update your status with a text message, and customizable apps. The City of San Francisco’s 311 Customer Service Center app is a great example. They created an app for Facebook that leveraged their customer service request forms so the citizens of San Francisco could report a pothole to the city on Facebook. The main point: Facebook helps you create interactions and engagement across the web.
If there are any cities and counties out there who are having trouble getting upper level decision makers to sign off on a social media plan, check out this blog post from Government Social Media on how you can help introduce the use of social media in your organization. It’s an older post, but I think the suggestions still ring true.
Worried about negative feedback? There are some great tips on another blog, Reach the Public. The key is to have and post a commenting policy. By proactively notifying citizens of what is and isn’t acceptable, cities and counties give themselves the power to remove anything inappropriate.
There are so many local government agencies out there that “get it”, and are doing social media well. I’m surprised that Minneapolis and St. Paul were not mentioned in this article. Minneapolis has 2 of the top 10 most-followed local government Twitter accounts, according to a recent infographic by Government Technology. Both cities do an excellent job of posting pertinent information, as well as engaging citizens with local events and activities. Locals should check out @CityMinneapolis and @cityofsaintpaul for more!