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How Orange County, CA built its Social Media Guide

Ted Nguyen, the Manager of Public Communications, for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), has done some very good work developing Social Media Guidelines for the OCTA. I asked him if he would share the process that he and his team went through, as well as the guidelines they produced. Here are Ted’s thoughts, in his own words.

Social media is the latest buzz with even the most ardent critics now acknowledging that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are more than just mere frivolous entertainment.That’s because organizations – businesses, nonprofits, government and public agencies – are using social networking tools to engage with their customers, stakeholders and/ or constituents.

We’re leading a quiet revolution in Orange County by using social media to boost transparency and openness in government like never before.

It’s a low-key approach because it’s more about connecting with our constituents – transit riders, toll road customers, freeway users, business and community leaders, taxpayers, elected officials, the news media and other key stakeholders – in personalized ways by providing information to their questions or an active listening ear to their suggestions or complaints.

It’s also the Nordstrom model of customer service excellence applied to serving community members as a public agency. We didn’t build the social media program overnight without guiding principles. Like everything I do, it’s based on research, research, research.

Before setting off to launch our public involvement program using social media in what we’ve coined our public “e-volvement” program, we talked to social media practitioners in Southern California and throughout the United States. We asked for examples of best practices in the development of a social media guide throughout the country and tailored it for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

There simply is no big social media bag that fits all. After participating and speaking at numerous local, regional and national panels and conferences where social media best practices and guidelines were discussed and debated, I came away with the realization that there was no “right” way because of the diversity of organizational structure, values and business goals.

But I did find some strong common threads that created a fabric of openness, transparency, engagement and authenticity.

Because our success in social media depended upon those with which we engaged, why not ask them for their thoughts and feedback. That’s exactly what we did. It’s not about using these social media tools and … poof … your organization will be more transparent and engaging.

You’ve got to simply practice what you preach or it’s meaningless. Social media users can spot hype and hypocrisy instantly.

During several panels and workshops, I’ve shared our draft social media guide and asked for feedback from social media users. I also posted the guide on my blog. After all, isn’t that what public engagement is all about? You can download the guidelines here.

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