Social Media: A Communications Tool for Local Government

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If you live in New York City, Seattle, or even Virginia Beach, you might not be surprised to find out information from and about your local government available on Facebook and Twitter. These cities lead the way in using social media as a communications channel – but what about small town America?

In suburban and rural locations, social media isn’t as widely adopted as a communications tool. That’s a shame, as small governments often have much smaller budgets than their larger metropolitan counterparts. Using an official Facebook page or Twitter stream, a local government could communicate lots of information to area residents, including:

  • Office hours and contact information for code enforcement, zoning, animal control and other officials
  • Information about local road conditions, including any emergency closures or construction delays
  • Information on local fairs and festivals
  • Shared updates from local schools, including back to school opening dates, closures due to weather, etc.

Using Social Media Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Other Communications Channels

Small governments are often resistant to sharing information through social media because they already distribute this information through other channels, such as a community newspaper or posting flyers in local businesses. However, it’s important to have a public discussion about how many people are actually reading the newspaper or seeing the flyers, compared to how many people get their information primarily through their smartphone or online.

Choosing to use social media doesn’t force small governments to abandon other communication channels they’ve grown accustomed to using. There’s no law that says you can’t post a notice on Facebook and also let the local newspaper know. It’s okay to use both communication channels.


Education Makes Social Media Less Frightening For Local Officials

One of the big worries small town governments tend to have about social media is the unregulated nature of the internet. There are worries that people will post inappropriate, inflammatory, or otherwise problematic content, and that will disrupt or upset local residents.

There’s no way around it. There are always some people who, given the opportunity to act badly, will act badly. However, it’s never appropriate to let the actions of a few deprive the majority of a useful tool. The fact that one person litters would never lead a town to close their park or beach. One foul-mouthed person spewing negative comments shouldn’t sideline social media efforts.

Providing local government staff with education about the moderation tools available for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms will help keep these spaces family friendly and safe for all residents. Education eliminates fear, and empowers small towns to take advantage of the free communication channels their larger counterparts are already using.

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