Tasked with building a social media program for a city or county government, but overwhelmed with the details? Don’t fret. IT and communications experts from three U.S. cities have suggestions to help cut through the clutter and engage with your local community.
Susan Guthrie, managing director of external relations for Tyler, Texas, said it’s vital at the outset to encourage interaction, and embrace what social media is — a two-way dialog between government and constituents. This way, platforms like Facebook can be viewed as a communications asset, rather than a potential loss of control.
“It’s hard when someone is very critical, but so often what they are saying is uninformed and they don’t have the relevant facts,” Guthrie said of negative comments from citizens. “So when they say it, it allows us to respond, provide our perspective and the facts behind the issue. It really gives us a chance to set the record straight. If we didn’t have this platform, they would just be saying it out in the community.”
Tyler first dipped into social media a couple of years ago with Facebook and Twitter. Since then, the city has expanded its online communications portfolio to include social media newcomers like Pinterest.
In the beginning, Guthrie said she found herself spending a lot of time on social media sites, watching what other cities were doing and noting what practices worked best for Tyler as a community. But that time investment has shrunk to about 10 minutes per day as working with social media pages became routine.
Guthrie encourages other local governments that are just getting social media pages established to remember the importance of the word “social.”
“We can’t forget that word,” she said. “To be social, not only should you be posting, you should be commenting on other peoples’ pages. It’s a part of engaging and social interaction.”
Fremont, Calif., is all-in when it comes to the two-way dialog that social media provides. The Northern California city is in the midst of a year-long social media pilot program. Fremont has five Facebook pages — a main one and four for various city departments — two Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, a LinkedIn account and a Google Plus page.
Cheryl Golden, Fremont’s communications coordinator, believes that one of the important keys to success is coming up with an effective vetting process for who does social media updating and what type of content is posted. She said most of the things Fremont is posting on its accounts have something to do with promoting city programs, services and events.
“We’re trying to find the nexus between what the city has to offer in our programs and services with what we’re posting,” Golden explained. “So it’s not just some random posts; there really is some meaning and they’re useful in terms of the information being provided.”
Fremont is also conscious of the balance needed between too little and too much use of social media. Golden said staff members who are in charge of the accounts attached to city departments have been encouraged to communicate regularly on Facebook, but not to the level of spamming. Departments are posting two to three times a week.
Lea Deesing, IT director for San Bernardino, Calif., agreed that a successful social media program requires regular updates. But instead of separately posting on each individual account, she linked San Bernardino’s website RSS feeds to the city’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to automate content updates.
Each time someone updates the city’s website, the social media accounts pull fresh information from RSS feeds established for certain topics, resulting in a new Facebook status update and tweet. Deesing recommends governments look into a similar approach if they are concerned about the amount of time employees spend posting to social media.
In addition, Deesing is an advocate of the pilot program model Fremont is using. She encourages other cities and counties to resist developing policies ahead of time and instead test various social media accounts first, after securing approval from city management.
Deesing reasoned that it only makes sense to write policy on how to govern social media after people have had a chance to experiment with it and see what works.
“Come up with a plan on what you would like to do and what you want to get out of social media,” Deesing said. “Then go out and do a pilot and find out what you can and cannot do.”
Seven Social Media Engagement Tips
- Make your social media page social — Let people post to your Facebook wall and foster two-way dialog and interact!
- Monitor and post daily with fresh content — Whether posting yourself or taking advantage of automated feeds from your website content, keep your social media pages active.
- Take negativity in stride — Negative comments will happen. Be patient, and use it as an opportunity to present facts and improve services.
- Pilot first, policy later — Once you have permission to start a social media page, roll with it on a trial basis. Develop policies later, after you see what works best.
- Assemble key players — When working on policies, make sure to have your city or county’s attorney involved, along with key decision-makers.
- Revisit security settings — Security settings can change often. Make it a point to regularly check them.
- Multimedia is a must — Use photos and videos as much as possible to ensure your social media content is dynamic.