Do you “tweet” citizens in your city? Please share your story!

Do you use social digital networks to communicate with citizens in your city or county? Can citizens “tweet” you about unrepaired potholes or malfunctioning stop lights? I’m looking for local and state level government practitioners to share stories about how cities and counties are using applications like Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and YouTube to communicate with residents. I’m also curious who maintains such applications … is it the mayor, city manager, or administrative assistant?

Please contact me! Check out my website www.kennawalsh.com. This further explains my research. Thanks!

I’m new to GovLoop. I’m a Ph.D student at Mississippi State University (public policy and administration). I’m a former government / military news reporter and am using my background to evaluate city websites and improve communication between officials and citizens, thereby increasing transparency at the local level government.

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Dorri O'Brien Morin

I am in Loudoun County Virginia in our Department of Economic Development. I am the communications manager. We began tweeting about 2 months ago. We tweet information mainly about business wins, community successes, local business in the news (contracts, etc.) notable rankings, cool things going on in the community and department successes. It is going well and we hope to branch out to other audiences (cover other content topics) in the near future.

Greg Hahn

I’m the webmaster for the City of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. We’ve been tweeting for over a year and use it for everything like tourism, election notices, road closures, transit updates, news releases, Mayor’s Blog postings as well as customer service. A tweet from a resident is treated the same as an email or phone call, and we do our best to respond as quickly as possible.

We’ve also put a lot of work into streamlining the system to have website updates automatically update our Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as create newsletters and RSS feeds and then target those updates to various groups using social media networks. So far it’s working really well.
You can see a list of all our sites here: http://guelph.ca/cityhall.cfm?subCatID=2220&smocid=2793

Stacey Cole Mann

Great idea! So now we can follow each other. I started the blog we talked about – it’s called The Final Hoop and I posted the first one today.

Wayne Segal

The City of Boynton Beach was the first municipality in Palm Beach County, FL, to utilize social media as a way to reach out to people who do not get their news from traditional sources. I began with a Twitter account (Dec. 2008 – @cityofboynton) and branched into blogs, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and, most recently, Facebook. As legacy media outlets have contracted, and the economy has impacted our budget so that we are unable to afford printed materials, social media has become even more valuable. In July 2009, Boynton Beach was recognized for its use of social media by the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. The city manager maintains a separate Twitter account (@BBCityMgr) and does receive and respond to citizen tweets. To my knowledge, he is the only city manager in this area to have an account. Also, I would encourage anyone who is using social media to reevaluate their departmental mission in terms of encouraging two-way communication and facilitating transparency in government. The City of Boynton Beach has also developed a social media policy which has become a model for other governments to follow. 05.04.05 Social Media.doc

Paul Day

Hey Kenna,
I think this is a good thing to study. I think one of the barriers to using Twitter is the top-down nature of government agencies and how slowly information moves. Twitter is about important info that’s relevant now, in real-time. If you’ve got to run it through 5 different people, then it’s not going to happen. I think the same is true of most social media. One person needs to be responsible. But if a citizen tweets about a pothole and nothing comes of it, that makes the tool a waste of time. There also needs to be reciprocation. You tweet about a pothole, and then 3 days later its fixed and the agency sends you a before and after shot. Talk about responsive government.

Conversion-Driven Government

Colin Walker

I have yet to see any implementation of Twitter that is useful in the overall context of civic engagement. Most who have implemented Twitter have done so due to the thought that “everyone is doing it.” In reality, the growth of Twitter has been driven by a few celebrities joining, and massive numbers of people wanting to follow those celebrities. The only benefit to the service is to the eventual media company which acquires it — they’ll have direct access to a mineable database of individuals’ affinities, along with cell phone numbers. I think this will happen sooner rather than later — Twitter in its current form has no real revenue model.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, NBC Universal, Comcast, or some other company acquiring Twitter solely for their database. Just think — someone who was a follower of Oprah could be getting text messages about the latest Oprah book being turned into a movie. If you look at the growth of Twitter, it aligns closely with the decrease in actual reporting done by media outlets. One needs to look only as far as the average cable news station to see that a large portion of reporting is now regurgitation of what viewers are saying. People like to see their name on the screen… by putting names there, viewership increases, and advertising sales soar.

This is one of the many issues that we face as government agencies moving forward with these tools. We don’t own the data: we rely on service providers to let us use their sites for free. This coupled with the fact that most government implementations of Twitter are worthless and reach only a fraction of the community. I’m an advocate for agencies to operate their own opt-in tools, be they text or email updates, to communicate real-time information to the community. Why rely on someone else to do something that we can do ourselves? What happens if the service goes down? What control do we have over how quickly messages get through? What if there’s an emergency and people rely on use of a system that’s broken? I guarantee you that a majority of the people we serve don’t either use Twitter or see it as trendy — they see it as a distraction and a waste of time. Sure, our systems could break, but we have direct control over fixing them. We have to manage expectations, and direct people to the most appropriate channels for communication.

Bottom line is that these are just tools in the toolbox, and we can’t rely on one any more than we would print publications or our website. I do like the concept of using tools like Facebook to allow users to align with certain issues, facilities, programs, or events — that’s great data for me as a marketer. I’m not going to completely abandon existing tools, though, in deference to the latest and greatest Web 2.0 tool.

I’ll step down from my soap box now.

Greg Hahn

Colin, I agree with a few of your points as far as Twitter just being one of many tools in your toolbox and that most of our residents don’t use it…yet. The rate of growth of Twitter has far surpassed the rate of growth of TV, radio, newspaper and even the Internet. To think that it’s going to be bought up and thrown away for it’s database is unrealistic. Their database is already open for anyone to access, there would be no benefit in selling it. Google has already proved the key to online profitability is through advertising, not information.

The whole point of Twitter is the ‘regurgitation’ of information, that’s what makes it so useful. It takes me 5 min per day to maintain our twitter account, and I can reach 1500 people instantly with a viral potential of over 100,000 within 1 level of our followers, and we can do it for free. Setting up email and text notices is fine too, but we’ve seen a large decrease in those numbers and they require more maintenance, software and cost and are a one-way conversation. If a company like Twitter is willing to offer a better service for free, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it. Sure the site may occasionally go down, but so do municipal website, and I can guarantee you Twitter has a much more qualified IT team than any municipality.

Kenna Walsh

Thanks to all who graciously commented! I appreciate the feedback and would like to stay in touch. I’m going to start blogging on different reasons localities should consider my “bite-size” approach to government when communicating with the media and citizenry. Social digital networks are one way of putting bureaucratic power back in the hands of the people. Thanks again!

Marian Doucette

The Huron County Health Unit tweets beach condition information during the summer months (@huronbeachinfo). Twice weekly our Public Health Inspection team visit lakeside beaches for water quality testing. While the test results are back from the lab, compiled and posted on our website the following week, this didn’t provide residents, visitors and cottagers the level of frequency they wanted. So, we incorporated a twitter feed into our beach conditions page that displays the most frequent tweet message.

Our list of followers is slowly growing in the past three weeks and the traffic to our beach condition app (http://www.huroncounty.ca/health/beaches_app/index.php) is growing. Twitter provides us with an efficient way to post messages from our team right to our website while they are in the field doing their testing.