Social Media Is More Important Than You Thought: Going Where the People Are
With 79 percent of U.S. adults on social media, the technology is undoubtedly heavily ingrained in daily life for Americans.
Since social media’s early inception, public agencies initially struggled to find their footing in the digital landscape. Although, public agencies have made strides in using these tools for good, leveraging even the newest and flashiest features to inform residents about necessary business like ballot measures, road closures, new parks and the like, agency staff don’t often have a moment to ponder the reasons agencies turned to, and should stay on, social media.
As your public information support team and all-around communications nerds, you can leave it to Tripepi Smith to philosophize on this matter with you. Here is some guidance on why social media can be useful for your agency, and the new ways public agencies are using social media to its fullest potential to foster conversations with constituents, promote public safety and involvement, and advance customer service.
Social Media is Society’s Digital Watering Hole
Early adopters of Facebook and Twitter in the public sector initially saw these platforms as additional channels of communication, alongside email and print, to issue community advisories and updates. Public expectations have since evolved. Today, an agency’s social media is not only seen as a source of news, but also as a means to directly contact and engage with the agency. Social media has become a “digital watering hole,” where you can find almost anyone and everyone at any time of the day. It is the perfect place for any organization to set up shop and relate to the people they serve.
A public agency can post a community bulletin, a weather advisory, a road closure notice, or advertise an event or meeting and can directly respond to questions from constituents. And in times of panic where fear-induced information is abundant, an agency’s social media becomes a direct connection between a community and the public servants they know they can trust.
Speedy Information Builds Trust
Thanks to broad accessibility to pocket-sized smartphones, most people get social media notifications wherever they go. When used correctly, these notifications can become a vital component of your public safety effort.
Advising people to stay away from an intersection where your staff and medical professionals are helping folks involved in a car accident becomes as simple as issuing a Nixle post that auto-posts to mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Enhancing public trust with your police department can look like interviewing one of your officers about their goals as a public servant on Instagram Stories. You don’t have to wait for the evening news to inform the public anymore.
PRO TIP: Verify your agency accounts on social media. By doing this, you remove all guesswork about the legitimacy of your page and the informative content it shares. Visit the following resources to get your verification checkmark on your pages and show your community which pages it can undeniably trust: Facebook Help Center and Instagram Help Center.
Note: Twitter’s verification account program is temporarily on hold and not accepting new requests as of this writing (March 2020). Keep an eye on this Twitter Help Center webpage for updates.
Content x Distribution = Impact
There is a precarious relationship between content quality and distribution quality. If you aren’t including social media in your distribution plan, the helpful resources you place on your website won’t make it to the masses. As you create communications that are designed to inform the public, ensure it is both easy to digest and easily accessible by posting it online.
For example, did you know that social media is one of the quickest and most effective ways to inform the public of new legislation? According to the Pew Research Center, 62% of Americans get their daily news from social media. Direct mail is expensive and email deliverables are unreliable, but posting about new legislation on social media is free and can reach many residents. Posting online also offers potential for your message to go far beyond your initial network.
Post helpful information regularly and be responsive to comments and questions to maximize your reach within and beyond your community. See Tripepi Smith’s Insights on 105 Social Media Post Ideas for Public Agencies to supplement your feeds.
PRO TIP: Expect to spend some money to boost traffic or posts on social media to kickstart your audience growth or to ensure that really critical messages are seen far and wide. A few dollars ($50, $150, $500) can make a huge impact on the audience reach of your content.
Video and Photos Win the Day
One of the best features of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is the ability to post and share visual media. Visual storytelling has immense value for public agencies. It is informal, can convey information quickly, broadens the scope of your messaging and can be used creatively to humanize your agency and come across as relatable to constituents.
We’ve seen agencies use videos and photos for holiday greetings and congratulatory messages to residents, businesses, and schools as well as highlight agency staff and elected officials to broadcast the inner workings of local government. This visual storytelling aids the kind of transparency that can build trust with your community. Take North Lincoln Sanitary Service’s ‘Meet Your Driver’ photo series as an example.
If a picture can tell a thousand words, video tells many more. Video can be used to advertise events or build excitement about new community developments. Posting a snippet of staff setting up for your summer concert series can encourage turnout while a “virtual tour” of your new recreation center or a preview of things to come can foster satisfaction with the community’s investments. For example, the Woodland Aquatic Center in Woodland Park, Colorado posted a video showcasing plans for the facility just as ground was being broken.
Live-streaming can also be very useful for making local government more accessible to more people. Tripepi Smith Business Analyst Skylar Hunter distilled his insights from engineering and running the Facebook Live broadcasts of the City of Lake Forest’s council meetings in our Insights article, In the Weeds: Live Streaming City Council Meetings.
We hope this inspires you to take advantage of social media and get use out of all its possibilities. Remember that social media can easily and efficiently reach your stakeholders while broadening the reward from the time and effort you already put into your agency’s communications. It has the added benefit of helping your agency better understand your community’s sore spots and priorities so you can work towards a better relationship with it.
Tripepi Smith helps dozens of public agencies execute on social media strategies that earn public trust, including for cities like Culver City, Indian Wells and Hawaiian Gardens. Reach out if you’d like some guidance and/or to see how we can support your efforts. Tripepi Smith is here to help.