9 Ways City Councils Can Use Facebook

This is a crosspost of http://dotgov.com

With more than 50 million Americans on Facebook, there is no better place to bring local government to their constituents and to engage constituents in their City Council. Yet, a search for City Councils already on Facebook results in mainly United Kingdom and Australian Councils; American Councils number less than fifty.

Interestingly, many more US Youth City Councils have Facebook pages, reflecting that iStrategyLab 2009 statistics found “the largest demographic concentration remains the college crowd of 18-24 year olds (40.8%)”. However, the 35-54 and 55+ year old demographics grew 276% and 194% respectively over a 6-month period indicating that Facebook is not only for the younger generation.

Obviously, much more can be done to bring local government to the people. Here are nine ways City Councils can start using Facebook today:

1. Announce council meetings and events

Using Facebook’s Events Tab to announce upcoming council meetings like the Columbus City Council (with 310 fans) does may seem basic, but this is where the process starts. People can’t attend meetings unless they know when and where the meetings are held, and what place to notify them on Facebook where they spend much of their time.

The City of Belfast (827 followers) takes this a step further by announcing other events, festivals and happenings around the city.

2. Publish documents

By publishing the official public City Council documents, such as agendas and minutes, local governments can reach out to their Facebook fans, enabling them to begin discusses the issues. Although not affiliated with the City of Danbury, the Danbury, CT Facebook page regularly posts the Council’s agendas and meeting minutes.

3. Talk to the people

Facebook is perfect for discussions. The City Council of New York (1,047 fans) posts news and discussion items on its Wall and lets citizens react.

4. Use multimedia

The Columbus City Council posts audio interviews with Council members and “Call the Roll” – a weekly public affairs talk show created by the Council – on its Facebook Wall where fans can discuss and share with friends.
The City and County of San Francisco uses Ustream to hold interactive webcasts with the Mayor right on Facebook where its constitutes are. According to Ustream, “Users can interact with hosts and each other via Facebook Live Stream Box. Participant comments appear as status updates to their friends, which provides viral interaction and audience growth during the events.”

5. Provide elections information

The City of Regina used Facebook to provide information on the 2009 civic election and to better engage citizens in the process.

6. Offer more info

Using Facebook is a great way to help people find the information they need about city services. The Palmerston North City Council in New Zealand (111 fans) uses the Extended Info application to provide more information about the city and the services offered.

7. Collect ideas and feedback

On May 4, 2007 Kansas’ small town Greensburg was completely destroyed during an EF-5 tornado; the largest and most devastating category. The town has used Facebook to engage its residents and to solicit ideas in rebuilding; essentially Greenbsburg has a second opportunity to plan their town and, based on input, including via Facebook, Greensburg is taking great strides in going green!

8. Discuss issues

By using Facebook’s Discussion page feature, city governments provide citizens with an opportunity to interact and participate in city governance via a platform preferred by the citizen. Panama City Beach, Florida is one city government using its Facebook Discussion Board with increasing frequency to clarify administrative policies and solicit public feedback on constituent issues. By reaching out to the public on its preferred platform, public interest and engagement in civic matters increases.

9. Use a thematic approach

Most of the city council decision making is too complex for people to follow. A better approach may be setting up one Facebook Page per topic or council committee and to publish only news, events, meeting and discussions related to that topic or committee. This way more people might become more involved in issues particularly relevant to them. A City Council using this approach on Facebook has yet to be found…

How does your City Council use Facebook to engage its citizens in the decision-making process?

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