Qs on Activating Social Media for Local Government?

I’m working this weekend on my presentations for the upcoming National Association of Government Webmasters conference in St. Louis. I am doing both a 4-hour workshop and a general session presentation.

I’m wondering for the local gov folks, and anyone working to implement social media for their organizations, what kind of questions do you have regarding tools, strategies and tactics?

I have a lot of stuff in mind (I’m not so big on theory, more of a tactician), but I’d love to know that I’m directly addressing the kinds of questions folks have when they sign up for these type of sessions.


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Darrel W. Cole

THe biggest issue I saw firsthand as a gov worker, now doing PR for gov, and 13 years as print journalist covering local gov in 4 states, was who is doing what, and are they playing nice in the sandbox or are they working in silos. If this training is for the IT folks, then they need to engage with their colleagues in the PR/Communicatoins section on the topic. I have seen where one section does the SM, and completely cuts out the other. First, there needs to be that basic change in attitude and work philosophy, and that has nothing to do with SM, it has to do with leadership, and a willingness to break down barriers and walls. It only takes one person in those sections to make it happen, to set the tone. In gov, one way for them to see that it can work with current staff loads is more collaboration. Seek out like minded folks. Where I worked prior, collaboration on anything was rare between PR and IT (which included our Web team), but over a few years it was gradually built up because of a few staffers in the IT section and the PR section willing to cross boundaries with the idea of making something better. We often shared tasks and duties and it got to the point that when I was talking about successes, it invariable always included my great colleagues in the IT section. That is incredibly powerful and rewarding in gov. It’s inspiring to work in an atmosphere such as that, and you don’t need the person at the top to say DO IT. You just need them to be supportive but it has to start from the staff. So, my point is that in many govs that struggle with this, I have seen and currently see the silo mentality being the greatest obstacle. Yes, there are still govs where the IT section is doing SM, and completely shutting it out from the PR/Communications folks. The champions of collaboration need to do all they can to break down the walls before even the hint of SM or any kind of new tools will work. In many govs and corporations it’s tough, because some just won’t want to change. So, for theory and tactical purposes, I think a key to this is also giving them tools to change culture, one person at a time. They need to know what the first step is, what the second step is, and how they can make a difference.

Adriel Hampton

Great comment, Darrel. Makes me think about some of the conversations at my day job when I first proposed doing a bit of official social media. Very much it was about making key people part of the conversation and respecting their opinions. It doesn’t take much, but I’ve also heard the kind of horror stories of silos you cite. One of the key points I have highlighted is on recruiting non-Web staff for social media efforts.

Chris L. Latendresse

I’m doing research in this area, Local eGovernment. Local eGoverment is the furthest behind in the implementation of eGovernment. There are many key contributory factors …funding, expertise, demand, leadership, demand, digital divide, local broadband, etc. Social technologies are making their way onto local government sites in Canada, but more or less they are links out to existing platforms. I’ve not seen to many local government 2.0 sites like Ask Bristol in the UK (http://www.bristol.gov.uk/), the country leading in Gov 2.0 implementation at the local level. Secondly, local government is really tiered, with Cities leading the efforts, but with no spillover effects to other municipal governments at the lower tiers. I don`t think there is any one answer, however, shared efforts by municpal government, one-time funding programs from federal or state government, and expertise sharing from the haves to the have-nots would really give a boast to Local Government 2.0…as it has in the UK and Australia.

Kristy Dalton

Hi, Adriel. I posted a link to your question on the NAGW listserv. Thanks for asking for ideas!

NAGW is a pretty sophisticated audience on using the web and social media, so they already know the basics of what it is and why it can have value to their organizations. I’d go deeper into trends/tools they might not be aware of. The make-up includes techie programmers, content managers and project managers, by my feeling is that the org gets into more hands-on than theory at any level. My opinion is that the best NAGW conference presenters are the ones that go beyond the ‘what’ and also get into the ‘how’.

I think they’d also be interested in your work at Gov 2.0 Radio and all the interesting people you’ve interviewed on the show. See you in St. Louis!!

Cyrus Haskell

I definitely second what Kristy said. My main complaint about last year’s NAGW Conference was that it seemed dumbed down. Stay away from the basics and give case studies and specifics. Techinques and tools to integrate social media content into an existing site would probably be helpful for a lot of people as well.

Alex Showerman

Some of the biggest issues/questions I see with local government and social media are:

1. Many of the local gov pages I see are too dry. Often you will have the page that just posts new laws, rules, regulations and important meetings or events. Yes, this type of information is important to get out to your community, but it is very dry and does not truly engage the online community. Two questions are brought up by this observation: A. what kind of content should local governments be posting and B. how do local government get important nuts and bolts information out, while still maintaining a vibrant online community.

2. I feel that many local governments are either afraid to try social media, or when they do start they are afraid to really open up the conversation. When I built my online community for Canton, New York, I was fortunate that I was given free reign as far as content that could be posted, because of this I was able to create a very engaging community that grew quite quickly. Based upon this observation the question arises, what guidelines/ how open should your community page be? Part B, Should you treat your online community as a communications arm of your government or should it be treated as a platform for public discourse and you (being the local government) are simply the moderator?

3. Another big problem that many local/ any organization starting a new online community face is how to grow their number of followers and fans. Many organizations will start a new community with much enthusiasm, but then abandon it out of frustration that they just are not growing in size. So my last question to pose is how does a new community accumulate fans and followers?

Adriel Hampton

Chris, definitely there are a wealth of lessons to draw from. For local government, resources will always be an issue.
Kristy, thanks for spreading the word!\
Cyrus, sounds good.
Alex, thanks for the great comment – read your blog post about engaging local gov social media and really enjoyed. Your third point is what I really try to address and probably the area where I have the most expertise (more so with Twitter, as Facebook sometimes feels like a 10-headed hydra).

Wayne Segal

As part of their Promising Practices series, the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania did a study of cities that use social media. Their findings may be helpful to you. You can find the survey here.