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Embracing Social Media Engagement: Tips for Public Outreach

image by Spredfast via Flickr

Most of us grasp the concept by now that social media has the potential to create a powerful a two-way dialog between government and constituents. So, why aren’t more municipalities embracing this form of public outreach? Cutting through the clutter of social media can be quite intimidating for the novice, we agree; however, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google Plus and even Pinterest can and should be viewed as a communications asset.

Recently, technology and communications experts from three U.S. cities were asked for their recommendations regarding social media strategies for engagement. Below is a list summarizing their most effective tips:

Two-way dialogue is key
Make your social media page social — Let people post to your Facebook wall, city website open comment pages, reply to twitter messages, and really begin fostering that interaction with the public.

Keep content fresh by monitoring and posting daily.
Whether posting yourself or taking advantage of automated feeds from your website content, keep your social media pages active Finding the balance between too little and too many messages; keep them relevant and ‘social’ - meaning you should also spend some time browsing what others are saying and commenting on their posts.

Take negativity in stride
Negative comments will happen. Be patient, and use it as an opportunity to present facts and improve services. As one expert noted, it’s hard when someone is very critical, but so often what they are saying is uninformed and they don’t have the relevant facts. Taking the time to respond and provide your department’s or the city’s perspective and the facts may give you the opportunity to shed light on incorrect information for everyone to benefit from.

Resist the urge to develop too many policies ahead of time.
Once you have permission to start a social media page, roll with it on a trial basis. Develop policies later, after you see what works best. It only makes sense to write policy on how to govern social media after people have had a chance to experiment with it and see what works.

Assemble key players
When working on policies make sure to have your city or county’s attorney involved, along with key decision-makers. Learn more about governments using social media successfully >>

Revisit security settings
Security settings can change often. Its good practice to periodically review the services’ privacy policies to see if there are any changes. Set appropriate privacy and security defaults and choose a complex/unique password for your account.

Multimedia is a must
Use photos and videos as much as possible to ensure your social media content is dynamic. Check out how the city of London, Ontario is using multimedia on their Rethink London website and through social media

One of the important keys to success is coming up with an effective vetting process for who does social media updating and what type of content is posted. Convey to the public that your messages are not just random posts; that there really is information within them that is of interest to them and worthy of sharing about the projects you are working on. When a project is large enough, it is a good idea to set up a separate account for messages specific to that project, which can then can cross-posted to spread the message organizationally. In general, posting two to three times a week is a good guideline to follow.

Although successful social media program does requires regular updates, there are sometimes more efficient ways to get the message out without having to separately log in to each individual account. Many municipalities these days host project websites that have functionality to automatically post to social media accounts via RSS feeds so that only one update is needed per message. Experts recommend that governments look into a similar approach if they are concerned about the amount of time employees spend posting to social media and for overall efficiency.

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