GovBytes: Palo Alto Mayor Uses Twitter to Chat with Residents

Social Media is becoming ever more ingrained in the political landscape, and the government of Palo Alto — a city known for its tech savvy — is taking advantage. Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh and City Manager James Keene participated in two Twitter discussions with resident recently. Participants could use the hashtag #askpaloalto during the established time of the discussions to ask questions.

The first pilot took place midday, and the city found that the timing was less than ideal. Few people engaged with the Mayor during that time frame, and the question’s weren’t top-notch. However, their second trial, which was done in the evening at 7 PM, was much more successful. The city says that they are still in the experimental phase of the program, but the results look good thus far.

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The biggest challenge facing the city’s use of Twitter is the limitation of characters on Twitter, at 140. They have found that it can be difficult to create concise points that effectively answer residents questions. CIO of Palo Alto Jonathan Reichental said,

“If you want to make broad points, you have to think through it and abbreviate your point within that constraint,” Reichental said. “So it’s a little bit of experimentation. … You learn from what you could have done better. We spiced it up with a little bit of humor where it was appropriate, and we had an effective session.”

Is Twitter a useful way for high-ranking government officials to converse with residents, or are more traditional methods more effective? Does it depend on the city, as Palo Alto is generally very tech-savvy?

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Chris Cairns

I’m not sure there’s every going to be one default method or tool for communicating with the public. I think using Twitter is currently one great method for communicating with a particular demographic.