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10 Examples how Local Governments can use Twitter

This is a cross-post of: http://dotgov.com

I attended an eGov seminar some years ago. One of the speakers was a city webmaster and he kept raving about Twitter. At that time, Twitter was still pretty new and mainly used to tell your friends that you had a bad hair day.

His presentation set the tone for the rest of the event and most of the next 2 days were about how to get your town hall on Twitter. My main question was: “Why on earth would governments want to get on Twitter anyway” (since they can’t get bad hair days, right?).

A lot of local governments have been experimenting with Twitter since. Especially federal government has embraced it, but I was really curious how Twitter could be useful for local governments to offer better service and transparency to the public. And if I could find best-practices that could be applied to all local governments.

So I put on my CyberTie, jumped into LinkedIn, FaceBook, GovLoop and Twitter and here is what I found:

1. News & Events
Obviously, the first step is to use Twitter for press releases, news & events. It only adds an extra communication channel next to the local newspaper, website and RSS feed. But it is an important step, because you will reach a whole different group of people, which you might not have reached before, and it is a great way for your organization to start experimenting with Social Media.

Tweet City of Grove, Ohio

2. City Service Announcements
A natural next step is adding City Service Announcements to the feed. The City of Bryan (@CityofBryan) tweets all about street closures, neighborhood enforcement team announcements and police announcements.

Tweet City of Bryan

3. Job Postings
This is a great one that every organization should do instantly (especially with the current economic situation): Local Governments of Georgia (@galocalgovtjobs) combined forces and tweet local government jobs.

Tweet State of Georgia

4. Transportation
The Oregon Department of Transport (@oregondot) has been doing a great job by tweeting on road conditions, traffic jams, weather and travel information. They also have a great safety tip: Don’t Tweet ‘n Drive!

Tweet Oregon DOT

5. Emergency Management
Twitter is extremely useful in any situation when service delivery may be changing quickly, like a pandemic situation or Public Health and Safety in general.

The Utah Department of Public Safety (@utdpspio) offers a real-time Twitter feed of current calls to the law enforcement dispatch center. The feed offers a comprehensive view of incidents that the Utah Highway Patrol is responding to, including the nature of the call, the location, and the status.

Tweet Utah DPS

The City of Altus (@altusem) has a more generic approach by using Twitter for Emergency Management for anything from H1N1 to wildfire.

Tweet City of Altus Tweet City of Altus

6. 311 City Services
Let’s add some real action by allowing citizens to ask questions and submits services complaints about street cleanings, graffiti, potholes, garbage etc, like the City of Francisco (@SF311) recently introduced. Wow!

Tweet City of San Francisco City Services 311 Tweet City of San Francisco City Services 311

7. City Council
Now, we have our city services and announcements up and running, our next step is to open up the decision-making process by bringing the City Council to Twitter. The City of Seattle (@SeattleCouncil) has a very active feed with everything from city council agenda’s, live video, vote results and discussion.

Tweet City of Seattle City Council

8. Council Election
The City of Regina used Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to provide information on the 2009 civic election and better engage citizens in the process. As candidates submitted their papers a ‘tweet’ went out to let people know. It seems like one way to overcome the issue of getting the media to pay attention, and to go straight to your citizens with the news. On Election Day, Twitter acted as the most direct channel for the vote results. Unfortunately, they took their Twitter page offline.

9. Innovations & Ideas
Get your citizens involved and come up with great ideas that can help lower costs or solve complex problems. The City of Manor (@manorlabs) started with “The Open Innovation Tweets”, a brainstorm channel were every citizen can share his ideas for a better local government.

Tweet City of Manor

10. Citizens groups
Well, if for any reason you haven’t been able to get your organization on Twitter, you can also rely on the many very enthusiastic citizens groups to help you further.

Tweet City of Vaughan Citizensgroup Tweet Wake County Citizensgroup

Everyone can open a Twitter account right now. But it takes more than that to start. One of the City webmasters, who gave me advise on this article puts it this way:

“In order to make effective use of these tools, a government organization first needs to decide that frequent, clear, direct communication with the public is a priority.”

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Ari Herzog

No doubt there are case studies from examples such as those you cite (thanks!) but the big question is who in the organization will do the tweeting, and at what frequency. Also, if a community does not have x% of its constituents using Twitter, how important is it for the community to use Twitter?

These are issues I’ll be grappling with over the coming months as my 2-year debut term as city councilor starts in January.