Social Media and Local Governments

by Roy Wells on May 7, 2012


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Social Media and Local GovernmentLocal governments have made significant investments over the past decade in building websites and experimenting in what types of content they should contain. The question has been how to get the public and local businesses to take full advantage of the content local governments are distributing.

The Challenge For Local Governments

The challenge for local governments has been how to increase website traffic so that you can see the return on the investment.  Before the advent of social media, technology forced each citizen to monitor the website for new information as it was posted. Since only the most concerned citizen would do this, the vast majority of the public forgets that the site exists, and consequently, derives little value from it.

The evolution of social media has allowed the one-way conversation between local governments and the public, to transform into a two-way conversation. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr have made the internet more social, allowing communities with shared interests — be they families, friends, neighborhoods, brands, or local communities — the opportunity to converse with one another in real time by just hitting the enter key. Today, when local governments post new information on their website, theycan use social media to broadcast it out to everyone who is paying attention. No longer does the public have to come to you for information; the information finds them.

The Case For Social Media

The first step in determining a social media strategy is figuring out whether the people you want to reach are using social media. According to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 79% of American adults said they used the internet and nearly half of adults (47%), or 59% of internet users, say they use at least one of the social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter.  This corresponds to two studies that were done, one in 2010 and the other in 2011,  that pointed out that almost one in two Americans have a Facebook account. With somewhere around half of your constituents logging into social networking sites—and 25% of them logging in daily on Facebook, your audience certainly is present.

The more valuable the information that you post, the more likely you will build an audience of citizens, who will “like” and “follow” your social media sites. Obviously what your community will view as valuable will be dependent upon each individual local government. But identifying and distributing that content will determine how successful your social media strategy will be.

Social Media Does Not Stand On Its Own

If you want to successfully communicate with your constituents, social networks are just one part of your overall communications strategy. As pointed out earlier, though half of your constituents might be on Facebook, half are not, and upwards of 21% may not even be on the internet. When calculating how you will reach as many of your citizens as possible, the larger the number of communications channels available to you, the broader the audience you will reach. In a time when budgets are constrained, and local governments are searching for ways to reduce costs, social networks might prove to be a low cost strategy to keep the public informed when printing and postal rates continue to climb. By viewing social media as part of your overall communications strategy, you may be able to reduce costs while at the same time increasing the amount of information you are providing to the public.

Too learn more, feel free to download my white paper, “The Case for Local Governments to Establish a Social Media Presence.”

 

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