Empowering Actual Communities With Social Media

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

Last week, my friend Scott Clark and I had the honor of co-presenting to the National League of Cities State League Staff Workshop in Louisville. Hopefully, what we covered helped league staffers better understand how they and their cities can use social media to help enhance communications with those they serve.

Part of our offering was to share some examples of cities, government agencies and even politicians engaging those they serve via social media. Some of those examples are below for you to chew on. I’m sure you may know of others, I’d love to hear about in the comments section.

I’ve long held the belief that social media can change our government. While you could argue Barak Obama‘s election proves that point, I think driving grass roots political activation in an election is just the tip of the iceberg. Certainly, the Obama administration is more open than those before it, but the reality of the staying power of bureaucracy proves even an idealistic new president’s approach can be stymied a bit.

But social media — or, better said, the power of the people — is having a positive effect on politics. Look at the administrations of Governors like Deval Patrick in Massachusetts or Mayors like Cory Booker in Newark, N.J., or David Miller in Toronto. Two years ago, I stood in a room and listened to one of the Governor of Kentucky’s primary communications people lament the existence of blogs, saying they were, “killing the message,” of government. Today, my Governor, Steve Bashear, has his own blog, extending the message of the Commonwealth. (No, you can’t comment on it. Yes, I’m ashamed to tell you that. But progress is slow in political arenas. Big ole’ cruise ships don’t turn on a dime.)

The Hamilton County Job and Family Services website features links to the department's various social media connection points.
The Hamilton County Job and Family Services website features links to the department's various social media connection points, plus RSS feeds of the site's content.

Look at what Mike Boehmer is doing with the Hamilton County Job and Family Services in Cincinnati, Ohio. The county department that handles welfare, child support and child protection, among other social services, is leveraging their own website, a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even BlogTalkRadio to reach their strategic audiences. No, their live chats on BlogTalkRadio haven’t had more than 30 folks at a time, but they’ve had 30 folks who need the information they are communicating. As word gets out how easily it can be had, more will come.

Even though they are just starting, Peoria, Arizona, is diving into social media. Kelly Corsette, their public information officer told me they still have some legal issues to iron out and are in the midst of a “soft launch” of sorts to get their feet under them in the social realm. But they’re hoping to use the tools strategically.

“The overarching strategy is to get our information to folks in the places where they’re looking for information,” Corsette said. “As you know, the fragmentation of the channels out there for us to distribute and receive information in is off the charts. I’ve been with the city over 11 years. When I first started, we didn’t have a website. We’re just adding the channels as we’ve had the resources and desire and need to do it. Understanding there are folks that are communicating and looking for information in these channels. If we want to connect with them this is the way we need to participate.

For me, it means more than just the fact you can Twitter with the city PR folks or see what the Mayor’s public calendar looks like, though. I imagine a day when city council meetings are not just broadcast on public access television, but on UStream.tv with a live chat monitor reading off public comments during the meeting. Or perhaps a congressperson readies for a vote, turns to their constituents on Facebook and offers up a quick poll to see how they would prefer he or she vote.

The more accessible our government and its leaders can be, the more actively we’ll all participate in it. Social media tools make it possible. It’s only prevailing attitudes that make it unlikely.

Let’s change that, shall we?

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).