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Ellory Monks

Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities. Yes: infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: USMC, real food, women engineers, Rice University. No thanks: running.

Created: Friday, May 17, 2019 | Updated: Friday, May 17, 2019

During one unConference session at #TLG19, cities discussed local government social media: why use it? who should use it? how? which platforms are best?

The city participants discussed reasons you may want to consider upping your government social media game:

  1. Tell your city’s stories, connect with residents: If you do it well, social media can be an incredible tool for communicating with residents, NGOs and philanthropies about different city projects and initiatives, and why they matter. Check out NE OH Regional Sewer Authority’s Twitter feed for an excellent example. Similarly, the City of Topeka posts videos of potholes being filled…and residents love them!
  2. Discover colleagues and teammates: The underlying motivation for all social media, of course, is connection. For government staff, it can be a tremendous resource for finding colleagues with similar interests, and can even be the initial spark for future collaboration.
  3. Crowdsource problem solving: the Internet is full of examples of using social media to crowdsource solutions to tough problems like these. For government staff, social media can not only help solve tangible problems (e.g. what’s the best way to manage my to-do list?), but big ones too (e.g. advice for managing initiatives across several departments, motivating and inspiring your team.)
  4. Boost your career: If there’s one thing social media is good at, it’s giving individuals a platform on which to be heard. In a professional context, for local government staff, social media is an incredible opportunity to establish thought leadership on a specific topic – leading, ideally, to invitations to speak at conferences, to submit articles, to be interviewed about topics you care deeply about.

Local Government Social Media Platforms to Consider

At this point, everyone’s familiar with Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. But what about some of the newer or smaller social networks?

Government social media! PC: Image Works Creative,
PC: Image Works Creative,

We discussed….

  • Snapchat: This is one of the platforms that local governments are just beginning to consider. For some, there may be some significant FOIA concerns with its use. Check out this article from Govloop for a great overview on lessons learned from the federal government’s use of Snapchat
  • Photovoice: Admittedly not new, but maybe not a platform folks often think of. It can be great for gathering input from young people about community issues.
  • NextDoor: Many cities are beginning to use NextDoor with varying degrees of success. The City of Olathe uses NextDoor to respond to resident concerns and aims to respond within 24 hours. The City of Houston used NextDoor with great success in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Cultural Barriers (and Solutions!) to Local Government Social Media

During the unConference session, city participants discussed at length how many local governments may need a culture change to see increased adoption of social media. Many city officials are both conservative by nature, time-constrained and really hesitate to share much publicly. But folks need to be better at sharing local government successes, because that’s how cities learn!

Many government staff are rightfully concerned that their statements could reflect poorly on their employers. This is a legitimate concern. The phrase “all views are my own” isn’t a panacea.

Participants discussed the importance of checking to see if your city has a social media policy. Beyond your city’s specific policy, here are some super basic suggestions for city staff that are hesitant to use social media. Most of these are “duh” tips, but they’re always worth laying out:

  1. Represent yourself, your interests and your opinions as an individual, not as a representative of government.
  2. Keep things civil & professional in tone.
  3. Don’t do it during work hours. Or from government computers.
  4. If you’re not sure, don’t post it.

For more specific guidelines, with examples, see the federal government’s guide to social media.

Here are topics discussed that are always worth considering sharing on local government social media:

  • Where costs are being incurred/savings created.
  • Universal themes, lessons you’ve learned, and how you have or will apply them.
  • Opportunities for improvements in processes. Ever had an idea for how to make department-wide meetings more efficient? Share it!
  • Materials you’re reading, listening to, or watching that are work related, and what you found most interesting.

What are your favorite examples of government social media? How are local governments getting creative?

Want to ask other local government officials & staff questions about this article? To react, comment & ask questions:
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