The power of social media is it forces necessary change.
– Erik Qualman
In the last decades, Government processes are transforming themselves to embrace the latest evolutions of the technological boom and Social Media can play a strong role in supporting this change. A challenge that needs to be accepted consciously by governments which would need to use Social Media not just as an outreach tool but taking advantage of their potential in deeply innovating public sector organisations.
While it’s encouraging that 85 percent of governments and agencies are active on social media, they’re often using social platforms merely as digital notice boards. – Hootsuite [*]
Public agencies should rather be focused on their inclusion mission and on being helpful and human, taking advantage of Social Media as a tool to connect with their communities.
Municipalities and Local Public Health Agencies are undiscussed protagonists of this potential change and based on extended researches conducted by Hootsuite and Civic Plus (see references below), I found there are seven very practical areas of opportunity and best practices for the local government using Social Media [SM]:
1. Connect with the Community and Encourage Participation
SM can have a great impact on democratic practices because they change the relationships between the governed and those governing. Communication through SM lies now in a two-way relationship, and it is not broadcasting to the citizens but engaging with them, encouraging participation and being at the center of the community to celebrate things happening locally.
Opening up SM channels means promise a dialogue and a direct line of communication that cannot be disappointed, and this dialogue needs to be open and transparent.
2. Reach the Right People with the Right Channel
Almost every internet user can be reached via SM, and this is a great opportunity for the government to reach citizens where they are, using a new strong channel to distribute their content at a lower cost than traditional media such as billboards and television. In fact, SM allow the government to have also access to the full set of insights about their citizen-followers being able to understand them better and send specific messages to specific audience segments.
For example, the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene leads the way with Social Advertising: they drilled into data provided by SM to tailor messaging and maximise engagement through running paid campaigns that target citizens by ZIP code. A great way to reach communities disproportionately affected by certain health conditions. Below the video example of their recent no smoking campaign targeting Chinese men, which has been probably distributed in boroughs more populated by the Chinese ethnic groups. [**]
3. Listen and Collect Feedback
Thanks to the huge amount of data offered by SM, government agencies can take into account citizens’ opinion and track their sentiment. They can listen to needs and collect feedback about services constantly monitoring the quality of the communication and gathering inputs to improve projects and processes.
4. Build Trust and a Stronger Branded Image
SM provide an ideal platform for agencies to engage with the local community and to showcase the good that they do in their community. First off, public agencies should understand the local network of social personalities and influencers focusing on building authentic engagement and genuine influence in a smaller sphere and with different voices in the community. This sort of activities will greatly contribute to regaining lost trust.
Agencies can shape their public image and the way they are perceived also sharing specific messages about all activities listed at point 5, still being sure what your communications reflect your true values and goals.
5. Inform, Provide Service and Create Meaningful Social Engagement
Marketers in the government can improve service delivery and citizen satisfaction by meeting the rising expectation of SM as a service delivery channel (which will contribute massively also to costs reduction). Activities related to this purpose are:
- Using SM as a Customer Service Channel: for example, adding Contact CTAs while sharing relevant content with the public, encouraging citizen to ask questions and showcasing the willingness to answer citizen inquiries. Similarly, tools like Chatbots can strongly support savings as well as increase customer satisfaction.
- Managing Emergency Alerts and Severe Weather Updates: SM are crucial to disseminate safety information before, during and after emergencies. Hurricanes, wildfires or any natural disaster need to be managed carefully from the stage of the awareness building to crisis communication disseminating very quickly any important safety information. During emergencies will be crucial to have a plan (including also the pre-approved content to be shared), listen what people want to know, be there to answer a question, reach your audience to lead the narrative also distributing messages through influencers.
- Supporting Crime Prevention and Police Assistance: Police Departments and local agencies can share crime prevention tips, time-sensitive information and also use SM to seek information on wanted criminals in a specific area.
- Promoting Activities, Events, and Class Registration: communities need reminders about things happening, upcoming activities and free classes to register for.
- Promoting Town Halls and Council Meetings: a great way for municipalities to encourage citizen to participate in local government matters is to offer live Council public meetings. Sharing links to the video on SM offers an archive and can remind citizens of the service encouraging them to join the following meetings.
- Offering Public Services Updates: SM are a great way to share information related to general health, safety and fiscal tips from various departments. SM can be used also to promote job applications, update about road closings and construction ongoing or special event causing services disruption.
6. Foster Collaboration with Peer Governments and Local Companies
SM helps support and publicise your collaboration with other governments and companies in the local area. Public perception of collaboration means lower public perception of siloed governments and encourages the willingness to share messages within the community.
7. Create Stronger and Branded Teams (Hired Through SM)
Local agencies can encourage employees advocacy sharing the organizational culture through positive employees stories, painting an authentic picture of life at the organisation or even sharing user-generated content (UGC) created by the employees themselves. Moreover, by getting employees engaged on social, you can introduce a referral program and reach your employees’ wide social networks as a source of new candidates. Hiring procedures are speeding up and modernising showing that SM can be an effective recruitment channel.
To close this long list of best practices and examples I would like to share this video of the City of Las Vegas. The video is showcasing most of the tactics discussed using great storytelling that involves employees and local businesses, all engaged in their advanced SM management.
The video explains how residents want a connection, and how the city is providing it to them through SM giving them more ownership and the chance to be proud of their community. At the same time, the City Government is invested by the responsibility of being a necessary part of supporting community growth empowering both residents and businesses. SM are confirmed here as a tool to make people know amazing things that are happening and to improve the overall quality of life.
All these best practices are strongly intertwined and to be effective they should be translated in rules able to cover when and how to engage with the public, how to respond to negative posts or complaints, and defining processes for archiving social content. Here a strong training is a must to ensure citizens and agencies themselves are protected online.
This is a dream that can become true in every city or small village of the world as long as competent and motivated people support the change. Marketers able to identify what SM can deliver to support agency’s mission, to overcome difficulties navigating procurement and to create a more streamlined delivery of service resulting overall in greater efficiency for the agency and a better experience for the citizen.
- ViewPoint, 16 Ingenious Ways Local Governments Use Social Media – May 15, 2018
- Civic Plus, 7 Ways Local Government Can Use Social Media 
- Hootsuite, Social Media in Government: Benefits, Challenges, and How it’s Used – February 8, 2017
- Hootsuite, The State of Social Media in Government in 2018 – whitepaper [*p.6] [**p. 7 – The whitepaper doesn’t refer to a specific campaign so the example campaign reported has supposedly been distributed to the Chinese population based on the described advertising distribution methodology]
- Forbes, Social Media As A Vital Engagement Platform For Government Outreach – Oct 2, 2017
- Synthesio, Leveraging Social Media For Government Agencies [publication date n/a]
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