Posting, Tweeting and tagging: Local government use of social media

Guest Blogger: Bridget Doyle

doyle1Bridget Doyle is the Communications Coordinator for the Village of Lombard, Illinois. She recently transitioned from a career in traditional journalism to government communications. Bridget worked for the Chicago Tribune for four years covering both the city and suburbs for the Metro Desk. Prior to the Tribune, she held editorial internships with Standard & Poor’s and Naperville Magazine. Bridget continues to learn and grow in the realm of local government while also pursuing freelance writing outside of work.  Bridget graduated with honors from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2009. 

Social media use and strategy continues to evolve, so there are no hard and fast guidelines to how to use these communications platforms for local governments.  Really, the goal here is to shift the idea that social media is silly and utterly self-indulgent (though it can be) and instead reveal it as a free and incredibly useful tool for governments to share straight-from-the-source information to their residents – without having to wait for press coverage. Fostering strong social media accounts and pages undoubtedly informs and empowers the community. It’s in our best interest to take advantage of these ever-growing communication platform and hone our message to share with residents.

Here are a few tips for running your government’s social media sites. Again, these are simply opinion and formed from experience. Suggestions and differing opinions are welcome in the comments!

1. Find a voice

As a government organization, we often keep written updates to the media and the public formal. While formal communication is important, social media sites are innately less formal. That doesn’t mean we go and communicate the way we would to a best friend over a drink, but let’s tone down the formality and level with our social media followers. Start by taking formal communication from various facets of your government and rewrite it in a way that’s brief, informative, readable and has a hint of personality. Giving a human side to government communication never hurt. I’ve gotten feedback from residents of my community that the personable Facebook posts makes them feel generally more positive toward our Village. Now they’re informed and fostering a better image of our day-to-day operations.

2. Be choosey about what you share

It’s important not to share every little bit of communication to residents that comes through employee email. Posting too often can lead to quick unfollows if you’re clogging someone’s feed. They’ll likely be annoyed if they’re inundated. Be able to differentiate what is important and interesting to your residents and what isn’t. A good test for this is to gauge how many “likes” or “retweets” your update gets. Important council decisions, severe weather updates and hot-button topics are good items to share. Police and Fire activity often bring in a lot of interest. Photos and video are wonderful to share, especially if they’re relevant to an informational post. What you post and how often is a delicate balance – watch your follows and unfollows after certain posts to find out what is important to your community.

3. Respond and interact

As holds true in any form of government, there will be those who are pleased with your organization and those who have criticisms to share – and now you’ve given them a new place to voice their opinion. Some will likely use your social media to share their thoughts, give feedback or ask questions. If you’re running the account, make sure those opinions are replied to and questions answered. Though it adds extra time and tasks to your plate, your residents will begin trusting your social media accounts as a credible source of information and your government as one that cares about its constituents. Turn it into a polite and thoughtful discussion forum.

4.  Use different social media sites differently

What belongs on your Twitter vs. Facebook vs. YouTube vs. Instagram aren’t necessarily all the same thing. Each social media site has its own personality and its own regular users. It’s important to do research and get a feel for what is appropriate on each platform. Twitter is obviously shorter, briefer updates but is set up to be used the most frequently without jeopardizing followers. Facebook posts can showcase more personality and make for easy discussions in its thread-like format. Instagram is a great place to reach younger residents with photos from around town and complimentary hashtags. Each social media platform is different – learn how and use them in the best way.

One response

  1. Nice post, Bridget. For those who aren’t sure where to start, please know that the only real way to find your voice is to jump in and do it. The “in the trenches” employees in your organization are doing great work. Find them. Here’s what happens. Nifty, huh?

    sanitation employee / good samaritan

    rookie firefighter

    Bonus video – FSFD centerfolds

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