Cities and Social Media Pt2

John Hope-Johnstone

Hola; my last post gave some examples of cities that are starting to use social media as a communications tool for their citizens. Many Governments are using the White House template, “Open Government Directive” and also using the followup by Microsoft template to help all forms of Government to become more transparent while still keeping within the myriad of regulations that surround a City. Although designed for the Federal Government it has many good concepts for other forms of Government wishing to enter the social media arena as well.

The most widely used social media platforms being used by cities are: 1) facebook for postings about such things as parks and recreation activities, upcoming meetings, special events or job wanted posts.  2) Twitter which is being used very effectively as a fast communications tool by; police, fire, roads departments and 311 responses. 3) YouTube to help explain departmental activities either to the public or for new employees.

We believe that social media can assist with city communications in the following ways:

  • Improved transparency of information
  • Improved responsiveness to citizen needs
  • Improved citizen engagement in planning and strategy

For example, the Phoenix police department produces a daily v-log titled the Last 24 reporting on crimes, tragedies and the progress on standing cases. This is a huge public relations tool (in the positive sense) for the police department of Phoenix as it shows them progressing with cases and gives a human faces and humanity to what can often be seen as just a uniform.

The City of Boston has designed an i-phone app in an effort to streamline some of its governmental bureaucracy, allowing citizens to report complaints ranging from broken street lights and potholes to graffiti and downed power lines directly to City Hall. After filing a complaint, users will receive a tracking number so that they can easily follow-up if the problem persists.

Governments are increasingly seeing social media not as a Pandora’s box never to be opened but as an opportunity to meet their obligations in truly constructive ways.

Social media falls under the marketing tool of Public Relations and more specifically, communications. We all sell something. It is inherent in our existence. City departments sell different things according to their mission statements but by and large, Cities as a whole, sell the fact that they are being responsive to their citizens, and are doing the best job possible, in fulfilling the citizens needs.

When cities fail to do this the gap of belief widens between the citizenry and the city. If this happens, then often when the city requires a vote on a levy, or tax increase it will be voted down. Voted down NOT just because the citizens don’t understand the measure (which they may not), but because they don’t trust the Government.

Bottom line for cities is about the same as non-governmental organizations:

  1. City Facebook fan pages will be populated mostly by people who in the commercial world would be considered “clients”.  You have to work at expanding the reach further than  preaching to the converted.
  2. Twitter followers are younger and are looking for something new; new information, gossip, actions or events. If your department doesn’t really have anything exciting to say or to point towards (and this doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a great job), then maybe Twitter isn’t for you. Departments that want fast response or 311 will employ Twitter successfully.
  3. Blogs deliver “thought leadership” they give the reader the reason why this department knows what it’s doing. Be it park management, road repair, transportation, senior citizen involvement or overall government. It shows why people should believe you know what you are doing.
  4. YouTube, Flickr, Podcasts are great tools to explain departmental activities and progress on a project. Especially if they are pulled into the City’s Web site.

Thank you for reading this post about Cities and social media. I hope you got some information out of it. Please leave me a comment if you have any additional thoughts about the emerging connection between city Governments and social media.


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