The Benefits of Social Media for Local Government

Monitoring social media feeds is a common practice for major brands and companies trying to keep up with consumer sentiment and tastes. City governments are now tapping into those data streams to keep tabs on residents’ chatter and complaints about what’s happening around town.

Social media is no longer a “nice to have” option in local government. It is the new positive “disrupter” in community engagement. In fact, having social media skills has gone far beyond a niche skill. Together with adopting this concept, many municipalities have social media teams or divisions.

After launching the first social media presence for the City of Reno, NV in 2008, Kristy Dalton realized this new communication platform needed an arena to share best practices.  In 2013 Dalton introduced the  Government Social Media LLC, a community outlet for government social media professionals. Due to the success, an advisory council is now available, The Government Media Organization (GSMO). The annual GSMCON conference is one of first major social media conferences for practitioners in government. Since the first conference in 2015 attendance continues to grow. The next conference takes place in Seattle, WA on March 24-26 2020.

Image result for kristy dalton government social media  “There’s still a misconception that social media management is an unskilled profession akin to something an intern can handle. This mindset does a severe disservice to public agencies. When I write an update to this article in a few years, my expectation is that this hurdle will be behind us. I look forward to the day where the answer to the question, “What do you want to major in?” just might be social media management with a focus on public sector.”  –Kristy Dalton, Government Technology Magazine


One way in which social media is critical for local gov? Using social media is an effective alert system for inclement weather or emergencies.

For example, Roanoke, VA used Facebook during a snowstorm five years ago to encourage residents to send photos about the storm. This simple step resulted in over 400,00 views. The city recognized implementing social media tools needed to be a part of everyday business. Notably, followers on Facebook and Twitter grew to over 100,000 followers in just over a year.

Some of the benefits of using social media in emergency situations were reviewed in the ScienceDirect study, “Socializing in emergencies”.

•During disasters social media provides access to relevant and timely information.
•Has changed the information dissemination pathways in emergencies.
•Enable to transform the ways in which emergencies are tracked.
•Reliable during disasters when other channels are overwhelmed.
•Can self-regulate misinformation in emergencies through the masses.

311 and social media introduces a new customer service channel.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, 311 is the go-to civic hub for municipalities. To reinforce this concept, 311 is so much more than just a number. The community can bypass a call and send concerns to 311 social media channels. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and NextDoor are a variety of methods.

311 social media teams post important messages about weather, road closures and water interruptions. Equally important, 311 assists in promoting service delivery campaigns. For example, pothole programs, such as “Potholepalooza“,  an annual campaign in Chicago IL, Washington, DC and Alexandria, VA, now exist.  Additionally, messaging can spotlight parades, festivals and pop-up events. In some instances, 311 communicates city hall-related information about town halls, council hearings and neighborhood association meetings.

Creativity and fun fuels 311 social media techniques.

Some cities are having a blast with creative visuals or hosting interactive games to draw interest and engagement. In this case, the city of Atlanta comes to mind. For instance, ATL311 entices residents with a virtual 5k race to see who can enter the most service requests or encouraging participation in the annual CityHallSelfie day. Winners receive city swag and a spotlight on social media!

In May 2019 this creativity was recognized at the social media conference, Social Shake-Up Show. Atl311 social media specialist Aubrianna Kress was the recipient of the “Movers and Shakers Rising Star” award. Incidentally, she was the only winner from local government in this category. At the 2020 conference, Kress will be a keynote speaker at the Social Media Awards Breakfast and she will speak about the success of ATL311’s following and message count.

In the long run, social media is an essential and effective tool for local government. By and large social media in some form is a part of the life of the public. Local government is in a perfect spot to embrace the power of this disruptive and highly used platform.

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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

More agencies need to be considering this tool Janice! I’m glad you’re giving them insights into how to use it. That conference in 2020 also sounds wonderful.

Avatar photo Blake Martin

I couldn’t agree more – these new channels to reach citizens are crucial. As a Roanoke native, I loved the hometown shoutout and I can personally attest to the value it provides during disasters or other weather happenings with less notoriety. Social media is a great solution to ensuring important information is delivered to as many people as possible.