Four Hot Topic Tips for Public Agency Social Media Posts
Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has grown into a social media behemoth. With more than 2 billion monthly users, the platform is one of the most common ways that people communicate and interact with friends and family each day. Growth in social media use across every demographic category continues to increase. As such, cities have been more proactive about integrating these platforms in outreach efforts to their residents. Still, engagement can get tricky when it comes to “hot topics.” This calls for extra steps to help ensure a better result for everyone.
Difficult or controversial community issues can be a tightrope walk for city staff. Some issues are sensitive, but that should not prevent you from posting brief updates on them. Stick to these four safeguards to ensure you protect yourself and your city from potential fall outs when providing updates on complex issues.
1. Be specific and factual.
This should go without saying, but sometimes, agency posts unintentionally lean one way or another. Stick to the facts and be specific. Ensure your facts are right. Once it’s out there, it’s out there for good. We don’t say this to scare you but to ensure you use the right amount of precaution.
2. Get the green light.
Once you have a draft post. Get it approved or reviewed by at least one of your superiors or a senior peer. This protects you with formal approval and it gets a second set of eyes on the post. A second set of eyes can be critical in finding flaws or suggesting additional details that improve upon the messaging.
3. Don’t argue.
We tell our clients time and again, don’t argue with your constituency online. You only dig yourself in a deeper hole. If they comment inaccurately, feel free to correct them, but only provide facts. Don’t hesitate to be technical by providing a specific ordinance or policy. Redirect them to a staff report and specific numbers. If the comments get personal, invite them to a phone conversation, but otherwise do not respond. Remember, your audience extends beyond the individual you’ve been exchanging comments with. Your audience is every other member of the community who is going to see these posts and comments. Keep in mind that your public agency is being judged for both the information and the tone of its responses.
4. Be brief.
The most difficult issues in our communities are often the most complex. You are not going to explain homelessness policy in 280 characters or a single Facebook post. Rather, create an information resource on your website, then link back to that for the facts that support your message or provide broader information. Using this method, your post becomes a teaser to garner civic interest.
Sticky issues will result in lots of comment. Those with the strongest opinions are most likely to express them. As a result, you read or hear the extremes. Negative responses will be common, but a response is a chance to engage and inform. The majority of residents appreciate the opportunity to ask questions and understand that the public agency might not have all the answers. Just be sure you respond to them, even if the answer is “Thank you for your question. We don’t have a response but will definitely look into the issue.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor have become great tools for public agencies to engage and communicate with their residents. But they are not without their pitfalls. That doesn’t mean your agency shouldn’t use them. It means your agency should learn how to use them appropriately and effectively to ensure your residents stay informed and engaged.