The Power of Social Media: H1N1 and Local Government

In case anyone needs more reasons why investing time in social media should be strongly considered, especially at the local government level, I offer this case study (from my own view, of course). In the last three weeks, the H1N1 vaccine has been slowly rolling out to local jurisdictions. In Fairfax County, we’ve now hosted two mass clinics and smaller weekday clinics. We made an early decision to provide live coverage of the clinics on Facebook, Twitter and our .gov site so people could know wait times, ask questions and share their experiences.

The feedback about using these tools has been tremendously positive (as well as kudos on the actual clinics).

I offer this mini case study not to boast but to encourage other local governments to consider using these tools to meet a larger strategy — publish on platforms people are using everyday to connect with them and remain relevant. One primary reason we established social media sites was to meet needs during a local emergency or public health matter — it’s the local government’s responsibility to fulfill this mission as outlined in the National Response Framework, etc. We need ways to reach people immediately through already established networks — and in today’s media world, we can’t rely exclusively on the media to do that job.

Over the last three weeks since we announced our first clinic, we’ve had more than 1,000 people join us on Facebook and about 500 on Twitter. In a county of 1.2 million people, that’s still just a small slice, but it’s not about the numbers — those aren’t the tangible metrics we’re aiming for (but of course, they help!). As many of us know, information in social networks can spread rapidly, so we assume our fans and followers have served as information ambassadors for us during H1N1 vaccinations. When we changed the target groups midway through today’s clinic, we know people found info on our social media sites and called/texted their friends.

Here’s a sample of the (nice) things people are saying about us. We assume that many of these sample comments from Facebook and Twitter have been shared verbally among families, friends, faith communities, soccer games and elsewhere, too:

* “The H1N1 facebook updates were also great at keeping people updated. Fairfax County overall is one of the best run county governments I’ve ever encountered, and days like today make you really appreciate it.”

* “Wow, took my daughter today and was blown away by the entire process. Incredibly well thought out and done. My hats off to FFX county for providing such a wonderfully run clinic today.”

* “The frequent updates and answers on Facebook are extremely helpful and far exceed any expectations I had for communication. The clinic itself was run very smoothly with friendly people. After hearing stories of H1N1 distribution in other parts of the country, I feel very lucky to live in Fairfax.”

* “Thank you FFX County and all the volunteers who gave up their Saturday for this. I saw the update this afternoon on FB that there was no waiting, so I brought my 3YO. Excellent way to get the word out! The process was efficient, easy, and the nurses were wonderful. Great job everyone!”

* “I am SO impressed with how organized the clinic was, and THANK YOU for posting the updates on FB. We were in and out in less than 45min at ~4 pm. ”

* “This was perhaps the best organized operation I’ve ever witnessed. I was in and out with 2 kids in about 30 minutes — including 15 minutes of “observation” time at the end. Impressive.”

* “This process of notifying the public by Facebook and emails about changes in eligibility throughout the day…AMAZING! Utilizing technology in the best ways!”

* “The FB updates were great! We hadn’t planned to go until we watched the updates. Great job!”

* “Kudos to @fairfaxcounty for an amazingly smooth H1N1 flu vaccine clinic today at Gov Center. Happy to see tax dollars put to such good use.”

* “At the Fairfax Co. Gov. Center getting the wife shot up with H1N1 vaccine. We were lured by tweets promising no wait (turned to be true).”

* “SO impressed by the use of Facebook to update on the H1N1 clinics. I was able to get my daughter vaccinated at the last minute because the updates informed us of the widening of the eligibility group for today’s clinic.”

Of course, on social media sites, it’s important to engage people and answer their questions. We have tried hard every day for three weeks to answer as many questions as possible, especially during the mass clinics. If you’re considering using social media as one tool to communicate and provide customer service, consider this simple exchange over the course of an hour or two on Facebook:

* Resident A: How’s the line now ? Thank you

* County: Currently there are no lines, so please come to the Government Center by 5 p.m. if you meet today’s eligible target groups.

* Resident A: Thank you we will be there , my kids is 1 year and 2.5 year hope it would work !

* Resident A: Just finished!! So quick and you guys are awesome!!!!

We’ve also taken the time to listen to what people are saying/asking and addressing some of the hard issues with H1N1. Of course, one of the frustrations across the entire country has been availability. We took the time to post an extended note on Facebook explaining exactly why we’ve made some of the decisions we’ve made because many people were asking. Of course, some people appreciated the explanation while others disagreed with the methods, which is fine because there’s no way to meet everyone’s needs and we understand and wish we could do more, — everyone who wants the vaccine will eventually get it. Take a look at this note to see how we tried to communicate more in depth to people who really wanted this level of explanation that a short Facebook or Twitter update can’t provide: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=298337780458&ref=mf

Finally, before H1N1 vaccination clinics started, we began surveying our fans and followers to gauge their levels of satisfaction with our use of social media, what they want to see more/less of and how we can make better use of the tools. With all of our new fans and followers who have joined us in the last three weeks, many of the comments have focused on our H1N1 updates:

* “Currently, the H1N1 updates have been great. I was able to attend one of the clinics this week that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about until the evening news. I don’t think to check the website often, so Facebook is a great way for me to find out new/updated info.”

* “frequency of postings makes facebook a viable tool-be obvious that this is a resource people can count on for the most current information.”

* “Great real time communication on the h1n1 vaccine process. Very helpful. Arguably the best in the metro region. Well done!”

* “It has become my go-to aggregator for local information. I don’t have to look anywhere else besides the FFXCo page to see what is going on. While the FFXCo website is very good, the Facebook page can’t be beat for a quick overview of what’s going on in the county.”

All in all, our efforts at using these tools as part of a larger strategy have paid off, especially during this time of H1N1 vaccinations.

I hope this little case study from our small part of the world shows the value of social media at the local government level and how it can truly make a difference to residents. So the next time someone says, “I think Twitter is dumb; why do I want to read about someone eating their soup,” here’s yet another example to mention amid the many great examples at all levels of government.

Thanks for reading!

— Greg (@g_r_e_g and @fairfaxcounty)

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Wow. Very cool case study. I think these type of real stories help others sell it up their chain of command. This isn’t “cute, fun stuff” but really powerful tools to help solve business problems.