You hear it all the time: Facebook this, Twitter that, social media… blah, blah, blah.
But why should government care? Especially when many are in a pinch for resources and the costs for municipal goods aren’t helping them out so much.
Well for starters, two words: Time & money.
Now saving time and money are not the only reasons to use social media in government (for example, it can provide greater transparency, reach citizens where they are – online, and provide easier access to services and information for citizens). Citizens want to get answers quickly through the mediums that they’re most comfortable with – how often do you use Facebook to communicate with your friends/family? But saving time and money are definitely still of high importance when it comes to why governments could should become interested in using social media.
Now, a lot of social media tools are free to use. However, they do take time (and thus money) to manage and do properly – so don’t think of them as completely free. But when you compare them with other options, they can have the potential to save time and money (get the theme yet?).
The other week, we spent some time to cover The ROI of Open Government – FOR Government. Well, here are a few quick ways how using social media can actually help government to potentially save time and money. Have more ideas? Let us know in the comments below!
- Save Money: Postage.
If you’re a local government and you have a newsletter that gets mailed once a year (or whenever), how much is that costing you in the time it takes to stuff envelopes and mail them (let alone the postage it could take)? But… if you had a Facebook Page, then you could easily post a link to that newsletter online. And… for those citizens who don’t have Facebook, why not just set up a blog or an email list that people can sign up to? GovDelivery’s blog has a bunch of info about email communication for government. It might just be worth your while to do some research on it.
- Save Time: You won’t have to stuff envelopes (nor will your assistant).
You won’t have to order the right paper or wait for the printer to return the finished product.
- Plus, because this is where citizens are congregating naturally, they might just choose to pass the newsletter onto their friends. And it can be quite an easy way of pushing information out to a large group of people.
2.) Call Centers
- Save Money: Number of phone calls could be reduced.
By using Facebook or Twitter, you can quickly get answers to citizens (while not having to pay for phone calls over a 1-800 number).
- Save Time: Citizens can do the answering for you.
If you have enough citizens who are signed up to receive your posts, your Fans might just jump in and answer the question themselves.
- Save Time: Send them a link to the answer.
Instead of wasting your time answering basic questions that you have already addressed elsewhere, you can just send them a link to the answer on your website (possibly even a FAQ page).
- They say that word-of-mouth is the best type of marketing that there is. Well, social media can be one way that information is spread by word-of-mouth.
- Save Money: Advertising.
You could spend lots of money to create and broadcast a TV ad promoting why a neighboring state’s residents should visit your city. Or… you could create a website that crowd-sources photos of local events (provided by your citizens) on a social photo-sharing website and promote that through social media. This could also get your residents fired up about why they love your city. In turn, they might even promote it on their social networks (which most-likely include out-of-state friends) on Facebook or Twitter. All of a sudden, you could have plenty of reach without the expense of a TV ad.
- Save Time: Easily spread the word about events.
You can quickly spread the word about an upcoming (or even current) event to people both near and far. Even those who haven’t opted-in to receive your updates might still find out about the event if they come across a re-post that their friend has made regarding it.
So there you have it! What are some more ways that governments can potentially save time and money by using social media? We welcome your feedback! Let us know below!
Now, we’re not lawyers here and this shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. There are definitely things to consider before governments jump right into using social media, so make sure you get some legal advice (as well as a strategic plan) first.
A similar version of this was originally posted at the company that I work for’s product blog (Disclosure: the product deals w/ transparency, gov’t, & technology)
Pretty good suggestions, Justin. On number 2, I’d add a live chat feature on your city/organization’s webpage. Increasingly more people are enjoying the live chat option because it’s fast, effective, and requires minimal effort for both the user and responder.
Good points! I’d also piggy back on your Tourism suggestion to say that any sort of event promotion can benefit from social media. Facebook events or Twitter can help spread the word and also empower people to easily pass that information along themselves.
Thanks for the comments Alicia and Jeff!
Like the live chat idea Jeff! Especially if a local government has a call center.
Alicia, yeah I’d think that (depending on who your target audience is), social media could be key to getting the word out. At very least, giving the easy option for people to share the event with their friends just makes sense!
Hey Justin – I had the opportunity to do this exercise with a city just of Chicago. I asked them to name all of their current public marketing / outreach efforts, then mapped them to social media or other web-based tools using these two parameters of time and cost to show its value. Seemed to help them wrap their minds around the importance of moving in the direction you advocate…
Andrew – Cool… yeah, it seems like using tangible ways to show the ROI of social media would be the best way to go… it makes it harder for people to be against it if it saves time and money.
The first two are good but they would have to be opt-in programs which are always a lot of initial work to get going but will pay off down the road. Tourism though is completely legit and any local government not using social media to pump up their town’s awesome stuff should really be ashamed.
ListServs are still good – people opt in to receive info. so you don’t have to notify them.
Thanks for the post, it is spot-on, there are good and bad ways to use social media. I especially like the tourism point. I use those feeds all the time to keep up on events in my favorite places!