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Convincing Local Governments

Notes From NAGW
The question I hear most often when I present about Morris County’s use of social media is “how did you convince your governing body to do this?”

Governments need to be in social media because their constituents are in social media. It’s really that simple.

Readership statistics tell the story. Newspaper readership is down, way down in younger demographics. According to Newspaper Association of America statistics, 56% of 18 to 24-year olds read the Sunday newspaper in 1998. Today, that percentage falls at 40%. Similarly, readership for 35 to 54-year olds fell from 71% in 1998 to 56% today.

Where are the other 60% of 18 to 24-year olds and the other 44% of 35 to 54-year olds? Why, on social media, of course!

Here’s a scenario I typically share to convince elected officials that they have to be in the social space:

A scathing letter to the editor, bashing a local elected official or issue, appears in the weekly paper. A couple thousand citizens read the letter. Any written response, best case, appears a week later. Another thousand people read the response. Some of those, though, never read the original letter. Some who read the original letter won’t see the response. Many people are discussing the letter(s) at parties, around the dinner table, on ball fields, and in other places. Speculation and rumor run rampant. The elected official will never hear what his/her constituents are saying, never have the opportunity to present facts or to help shape constituent opinion.

Consider the same scathing comments had been made on Facebook. The elected official could immediately respond with facts and a detailed explanation. Everyone who sees the response will also see the original comment. Supporters can chime in. Opponents can comment. Through social media, citizens become more knowledgeable about the process of government.

I always point out that, with or without a social presence, people are talking. Why not have the advantage of knowing what they’re saying and being able to participate in the conversation? Why not have the benefit of putting out fires quickly, of stating facts in the
face of subjective criticism and doing it where everyone can see both sides of the discussion at once?

Social media has so many advantages for governments and for elected officials themselves. If you can relate its use to their world, you’ll get the support you need to establish a successful social presence for your jurisdiction.

Carol A. Spencer is Web Manager for Morris County NJ and Treasurer of NAGW. She is a frequent presenter on local government use of social media. She is the former Mayor of Denville Township NJ.

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Adriel Hampton

It is actually as huge opportunity for government, simply because of the news cycle issues you mention in dealing with traditional media – especially for smaller gov entities.


I like the story-telling. I think that’s key. Plus showing how it compares to current situations like local paper is key.

Greg Berry

Great post Carol! I deal with local gov across the US every day, and with that, I see great examples of local govs using web 2.0/social media… but sadly, it’s the exception. The vast majority of local government agencies are barely using web 1.0 technology. As a former borough councilor, I felt the pain of being the “tech/web guy” on a council and in a town, that let’s just say, is still getting familiar with Solitaire. It’s a struggle for sure!

Justin Mosebach

This part is a key quote: “with or without a social presence, people are talking“.

(In full disclosure, I work for a company that helps governments put video of meetings online.)