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Chatting with Carol Spencer, Web Manager for Morris County, New Jersey

This past weekend I was listening to Government 2.0 Radio and the guest was Carol Spencer, Web Manager for Morris County, New Jersey. Carol brings some truly unique insights to this role based upon her past roles as an elected official and multiple years spent in Marketing at IBM. I followed up with Carol after the show and here is what I learned.

Q. What is your role in local government?
A. I am currently the Web Manager for Morris County NJ. This position is located in the Information Technology Division of the Department of Information Services (DIS). Our Public Information office is also part of DIS so there is a significant interaction / cooperation between the PIO and me. I served in elected office for 10 years, having been elected to the Town Council in Denville NJ twice and also to a four-year term as Mayor. Prior to that, I was a Marketing Representative with IBM for 11 years.

Q. How did you convince your local government to move forward with social media? Did you make a business case?
A. I’ve learned from experience on both sides of the table that when an opportunity arises to make your case to elected officials, it’s important to be fully prepared. So, I studied social media. I set up Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts for myself so I would understand each application. I read about various tools and tried them out on my own accounts, evaluating which worked for me and which would work best for the county. And, I took the initiative to set up a Morris County Facebook
page without publishing it. I set up YouTube, Flickr, Scribd and Twitter accounts but didn’t populate them with any content. My office designed backgrounds and branded everything before formal launch. This accomplished two things. We were able to capture MorrisCountyNJ as our
name in all social media and we were to launch immediately (literally within an hour) as soon as we got the nod from the governing body.

New technologies need to be sold to elected officials, so an effective business case was crucial to getting a positive response. Social media statistics were a big part of that case. Pew Research and other evaluative studies show that government is reaching fewer and fewer constituents with traditional media while use of social media is skyrocketing. I had monitored other government FB pages for examples of interactions to dispel fears of ‘government bashing’. Most importantly, though, I compared the comment / response timeline of an angry
constituent writing a letter to the editor in a local weekly paper with an angry constituent writing a comment on Facebook. I reminded them that, in a newspaper, some would see the letter but not the response the next week, leaving people with a bad impression of the elected official. Some would see the response and not understand it because they hadn’t seen the original letter. BUT, on social media, everyone sees
the original comment AND the elected official response, PLUS the response is immediate, not a week later. And, I asked “Wouldn’t you rather know what people are saying about you and have the opportunity to respond than to know they’re talking about you around their dinner table where you do NOT have the opportunity to respond?” They understood the positive benefit presented by social media to
increase their awareness of public opinion / commentary, to immediately respond to an issue, and to have that response connected with the original comment / complaint.

When selling, it’s important to make a long list of benefits and then select the benefits you anticipate will match the concerns of the buyer. My buyers were originally my direct management and then the elected officials. Immediate response, broad demographic reach, and low cost communication were the three benefits I chose when presenting my business case. While I used a PowerPoint presentation rather than a written document, I had really thought through what I wanted to present and the points I wanted to make when given the opportunity. And, of course, I fell back on that great IBM sales training of ‘feature – benefit – reaction’, followed by addressing objections and asking for the order.

Q. What processes did you put in place to enable going social?
A. We only have two people in our web group so adding social media to our repertoire was going to be difficult unless we found a way to automate it. After evaluating various tools, I went to the white board in our office and drew how I wanted it to work. It took some trial and error, but we’re now poised to update other social networks
easily through our use of ping.fm. (I’ve attached a diagram of our process. It looks more complicated than it is. When I do presentations on our “automation”, I break it down piece by piece.)

Q. How did you go about tool selection? What tools are you using?
A. We currently use Blogger, RSS (Feedburner), Hootsuite (for scheduling tweets and allowing multiple twitterers for one stream),Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Scribd, and Flickr.

We have created a page “Social Media We Use”.

We have created a “Learning 2.0” website.

Q. What social communication policies have you put in place?
A. Morris County has very recently established a Web Advisory Committee. The Policy subcommittee is currently reviewing draft social media policies. I had written policies last year that were not formally adopted. With a WAC now in place, it will review those policies and provide recommendations to the governing body. We’re creating both policies and guidelines.

NAGW has participated in conference calls with NASCIO (National Association of State CIOs) so that we’re involved in the work being led by that organization with respect to Social Media vendor Terms & Conditions. Changes were made by several vendors for the Feds, but not for State and Local users. This is an important, but as yet unresolved, issue for all local and state government social media users.

Q. What level of participation do you have from local employees and local politicians?
A. We’ve been meeting with departments and agencies, teaching them about social media as well as exploring the types of information they should consider publishing via social media. We have departments send information to us, at this point, and we write the tweets. Our Office of Health Management, Morris County Library, and Municipal Utilities Authority currently write their own tweets. We retweet from those agencies as well as the Morris County Visitors Bureau and TransOptions (traffic advisories).

Our “politicians” are very pleased with our social media use, and we’re looking at other ways to use it. We are in the process of designing a system where municipalities can enter emergency road closures and similar information via Hootsuite that will be aggregated into one feed on the Morris County website. I’ve also presented to Morris County municipalities and school districts at a “Shared Services” forum to help educate Morris County
local governments in social media use.

Q. Do you measure ROI today? If yes, how? What have been the early results?
A. We do not measure ROI in dollars. We measure twitter followers, FB fans and Scribd subscribers. Our Twitter followers have grown faster than FB fans. We’re well over 800 Twitter followers and have just shy of 350 FB fans in just over a year. We were surprised at the number of Scribd subscribers (more than 70) since this is a broad-based document publishing repository.

One of the problems in engaging conversation on our FB page is the lack of a back up solution. By posting the same thing on FB that we post via Twitter, we can comply with records retention laws by backing up Twitter. Once there is an effective FB ‘Fan Page’ backup solution that grabs entire threads, we’ll begin creating more ‘community’ and engaging citizens in more conversation.

Q. In your experience where are people most often confused when delivering social media solutions?
A. The greatest confusion lies in understanding how social media works. The greatest barrier is fear of privacy. The caveat on both of those is that my opinions are from interactions with peers in the 40 to 60 year old age group. And, they tend to learn one application and stick with it, not grasping that the use methodology is the same from one to another. I also don’t find as many folks in my peer group using YouTube or Twitter. I’m always surprised that they’ve never heard of Hulu.com!

Facebook seems to be the jumping-in point. I suspect that will change as more of my peers get used to using these tools and figure out that they can apply the concept of one to many others.

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