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Value of including leadership in your social media efforts

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Government social media coordinators are sometimes so focused on doing their work well that they forget the tremendous value of bringing in agency leaders. There’s an art to doing this strategically, and it ensures a consistent reminder to leadership of the good work you’re doing for your organization.

Don’t get into the mindset that as long as you remain under the radar, your social media program can continue to function unbothered. While this may be the case for some agencies, more often than not, communicating your successes to leadership will help reinforce buy-in and ensure continued growth of your program. Social media should be constantly evolving, adapting and meeting your citizens’ needs. The best way to keep that happening is to loop in leadership on your social media successes and strategies to earn their ongoing support.

AVOID INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Virtually all the social media platforms you use offer some type of data analytics. This ranges from information on reach and impressions to demographic characteristics to full-blown charts and graphs. Before you start pulling together 20-page social media reports with all the supporting data you can find, take some time to consider who you’re preparing the reports for, and appropriately tailor the style and information you present.

Department heads are usually interested in social media results that pertain directly to their programs, while the highest-level reports are most likely to resonate with executive leadership and elected officials. I always recommend using visuals with charts or graphics that highlight the pertinent information and make it easy to digest with only a glance (which is usually all the time leadership can afford to spend). Keep in mind that leadership has many demands on their time, and a short executive summary of the key highlights is usually preferred.

SHOW, DON’T TELL

Another approach for looping in leadership with your social media strategies is to directly involve them in some aspect of it. For instance, ask them to participate in a particular tweet-along, live video or live tweet. This tactic can be fitting for department heads, commissioners, mayors, chiefs — virtually any leadership position.

Make sure that you’re extremely organized, the activity is well-planned and they’re well-coached. Include an outline, talking points and anything else that will enhance an agency head’s experience. The point is that they’ll see your behind-the-scenes process, which is likely much more sophisticated than they expected.

When using the show-don’t-tell approach, don’t forget to come full circle when the social media activity is complete and provide them a mini-report showing them the direct results of their involvement. Seeing the impressions, reach, comments and so on can show them how their participation resulted in tangible interactions. Sometimes, drawing the direct connection between effort and real-world results can make all the difference.

It continues to be an exciting and important time for social media in the public sector in 2018, and support from leadership can be critical to your agency’s efforts.

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Best practices for elected officials engaged in social media

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

In an ideal world, we want elected officials to feel comfortable about embracing social media yet balance that energy with the knowledge of how to properly administer their profiles.

As Twitter gains momentum as a platform for public-sector leaders, it’s more important than ever to take the opportunity to review best practices for use of social media by elected officials.

DOES YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY EVEN ADDRESS ELECTED OFFICIALS?

Many government agencies have an official social media policy in place, which is a good thing. But most of those policies don’t address what elected officials can do on social media. Elected officials have a role at your agency that is inherently different from regular staff. Your social media policy — or a separate one unique to electeds — should be very clear in social media guidance for elected officials. You want to be specific about what they can and can’t do, but still encourage their use of social media.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELECTED OFFICIALS CAN’T DO ON SOCIAL?

While there are many things elected officials shouldn’t do on social media, there are also a few that they can’t do. At least, if they don’t want to violate any laws.

Federal and state open meetings laws ensure that the actions of public bodies are conducted openly and citizens are given proper notice. If a quorum of any public body (usually three or more elected officials) merely comment on the same social media post, they could be in violation of open meeting laws. Make sure your electeds know this.

Does your agency have administrative or communications staff who maintain social media profiles for elected officials? While this is a common practice, it’s important to make sure everyone (staff and electeds) is aware of what needs to happen during campaign season.

Public employees can’t use, or be directed to use, official government profiles to campaign for candidates or for ballot measures. This is because government funds, including staff time, can’t be allocated toward pushing a particular candidate or referendum. There is a fine line between educating the public about various sides of a ballot issue and violating campaign laws, so always include your agency’s legal counsel when you’re crafting your policy language and training program.

DELETING COMMENTS AND BLOCKING USERS

Keep in mind that elected officials can be sued for blocking Twitter users. Our First Amendment protects freedom of speech from government interference, and governments need to be cautious about censoring an individual’s right to free speech. If a commissioner or council member blocks a social media user, it could be argued that they are blocking future speech made by that person. If your sheriff, for instance, deletes a negative comment, that could be construed as blocking free speech. Your electeds should be educated about how these laws are interpreted with their social media profiles. Again, involve your legal counsel in these decisions.

ENCOURAGING ENGAGEMENT

How do you get elected officials engaged with your agency’s social media efforts? Here’s a pro tip: Always show them the results of engagement that they produced. For example, if they participated in a live video, share with them a brief report showing them the impressions, the reach, the comments. When they see how their participation resulted in tangible interactions, they are more likely to remain connected to your social media program.

Help your elected officials to be comfortable about embracing social media, tempered with the knowledge of what they can and can’t do on social platforms.

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Why blogging is still relevant for social government

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

People aren’t talking about blogging like they used to — is it still relevant for social government? While it may have lost some traction as a big buzzword, blogging may be an underutilized resource for government agencies looking for a way to tell their narrative without some of the limitations of other social outlets.

When done well, a blog can be a useful collection of stories and multimedia posts. The key here, however, is “done well.” Remnants of the late-’90s-style blog design are still active on the Web and can make an agency look dated and out of touch. Yet the core function of blogs can be useful.

COMPONENTS OF A BLOG

We’ve seen agencies use native website functionality to create a blog, or they integrate it via tools like WordPress, Medium or Tumblr. But what distinguishes a blog from a simple news feature on your site? In both, entries are posted in reverse chronological order, so the newest items are at the top. But a blog is usually further distinguished by having an RSS feature so visitors can subscribe to posts using a feed aggregator.

Another major tenet of a blog involves having a personal voice. Posts should be written by a named person or people who work for your agency. If having an “About the Author” area on every post would be weird, then what you have is probably not a blog.

Blogs are also written in the first person — not in the usual press release third-person style that works for content on your news page. This takes effort because it involves staff training and likely an editorial review by a communications designee. It’s also the best part of a blog, because it speaks to people on a conversational level and tells the story of your agency.

OWNING YOUR NARRATIVE

The purpose of a blog in the private sector is to make money. Companies use content to build a sales funnel or they establish the blogger as a thought leader in their industry, both of which drive sales.

But government agencies aren’t driven by revenue collection in that way, so what’s the primary purpose of a government blog? I can’t stress enough the value of owning your narrative and how telling your story humanizes government.

And keep in mind that comments are extremely important for the conversational intent of blogs. Ensure that your content elicits feedback and ideas from citizens, and that comments are enabled and simple to use. Even though you’re telling your own story, you don’t want your message to be a one-sided piece — you want it to be a conversation with the public, which means you should also reply and encourage back-and-forth interaction.

WHAT WOULD A MODERN GOVERNMENT BLOG LOOK LIKE?

A modern blogging strategy incorporates multimedia. A “vlog” is a video blog in which content is filmed instead of written, but there’s no reason a contemporary blog can’t combine multiple formats.

An inherent challenge with social media is that it’s fleeting by nature. Social posts are designed to live in the moment. However, a blog can be a collection of your best material, a compilation of personal voices from within your agency. It can be a place to combine social media posts from several outlets, embedding your top YouTube videos, a collection of Instagram images, and your most engaging tweets and Facebook posts.

With the ever-shifting algorithms on social media, businesses and governments are seeing far less reach for their efforts. Perhaps breathing new life into an agency blog is one way agencies can take back ownership of their social content.

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Is it time for a social media coordinator?

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

When government agencies began experimenting with social media profiles a decade ago, there was a chance that their citizens would view their efforts with discontent. Why waste time and resources on a public resources machine?

Times sure have changed. These days, the general public is more likely to notice when government agencies don’t have a decent social media presence.

So why do some agencies still not have a dedicated social media coordinator? There are a couple common arguments against it.

1. CAN’T OUR COMMUNICATIONS PERSON DO SOCIAL MEDIA?

Your communications coordinator likely has the aptitude and is qualified to handle social media for your agency. In fact, they’re probably already doing it now. But have you ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”?

To make it easier to tackle, many agencies bundle social media responsibilities into an existing position such as a communications specialist or public information officer. Heck, my own title was “E-PIO” in my first role that involved managing government social media.

No one wants to call it what it is.

Here’s why I hate “bundling”: Your comms person, and anyone else you might assign social media to, already does the job of a small team. They may be the media liaison, publisher of print communications, newsletter writer, spokesperson, speechwriter, public relations guru, website content writer, plus a host of other things. To do social media well takes work and no small amount of time.

The No. 1 complaint I hear from people who manage social media is not having enough time to do everything well. If you think managing social media just involves writing a few quick Tweets and Facebook posts every day — think again.

2. IS THERE REALLY ENOUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WORK TO TURN IT INTO A FULL-TIME POSITION?

You bet! Besides “simply” writing content, the social media coordinator needs to manage citizen comments and complaints, analyze data, evaluate ads, train employees on the right way to use social media, create reports, work with video and graphics, and more. This person should also be involved in writing social media policy, as well as strategic planning to facilitate agency goals via social platforms. He or she needs to understand social media archival, as well as First Amendment issues and sunshine laws as they apply to social media. This is not a simple undertaking.

Keep in mind that your agency won’t be a trailblazer for having a social media coordinator. It’s becoming more and more common to see this role in government. Agencies such as Mecklenburg County, N.C., and the Ohio Department of Public Safety are just a couple of entities that have staff in a dedicated social media role.

Government increasingly recognizes the value in social media. In many cases, the only interaction your citizens and constituents will ever have with their government is via social media. (How many people actually show up to your public meetings?) I encourage someone in your agency to spearhead the effort to hire a social media coordinator. Will you be that champion?

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What Do Smart Cities of the Future Look Like?

Kristy Dalton at #CES2017

I just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (#CES2017)  in Las Vegas, and I can tell you that it is a very exciting time for cities and states to invest in smart technologies! The team at Panasonic invited me (aka GovGirl) to cover their exhibit, and I’m thrilled that government agencies were a central part of their “future infrastructure” concept.

Panasonic is known for unveiling consumer technologies at CES, including high end audio and photography equipment. This year, cities took center stage as the company showcased connected technologies designed to improve the quality of life for citizens.

Check out my recap video of what I saw at CES:   

Want to be a #smartcity? It really starts with smart infrastructure. Why have one technology that talks to just one system when you can have connected technologies that integrate with the overall infrastructure?

Panasonic has partnered with the City of Denver over the past year, and recently the Colorado Department of Transportation, to bring the concept of smart cities and smart highways to a reality. Check out footage from the #PanasonicCES press conference, where they invited Mayor Hancock of Denver and the director of the Colorado DOT onstage to unveil their projects.

Have you seen the recent viral dash cam video of a smart car predicting a crash two cars ahead? Think of all the ways smart cars and infrastructure could impact our cities. One of the concepts behind smart transportation is that sensors in vehicles could communicate with other vehicles, pedestrians and the overall smart infrastructure in order to predict and avoid crashes. The number I’m hearing is that traffic accidents could potentially be reduced by 80 percent!

In the Panasonic booth, I got to see other smart city technology up close. Plans for a smart bus shelter are pretty impressive. Government agencies want citizens to use public transportation because it reduces traffic congestion, accidents and smog, among many other reasons. However, public transportation is typically underused. Citizens just don’t have a high expectation of the user experience. Enter the smart bus shelter. While waiting for your bus, you’ve got WiFi, charging outlets and a touch screen display where you can see where your bus is in real-time. If your bus is running late, you can schedule an Uber right from the touch interface. This concept shelter comes equipped with security cameras that are designed to feed into the central command center that gives the city one interface to monitor their connected devices.

Add in smart parking meters that allow citizens to find open spaces and feed the meter via an app, and also smart streetlights that dim to save energy when pedestrians and vehicles aren’t around – and you’ve got a truly connected community!

Here is a Facebook Live video that I shot while visiting the CES exhibit:

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3 Ways to Make Social Media in Government a Team Effort

Staff

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Most of your agency’s employees are not directly involved in managing social media or even contributing content. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (managing 1,000-plus contributors is tricky), but you should consider the benefits of getting all staff members involved with your agency’s social media presence.

Why bother? It’s really hard to present a united front when most of your staff members are unaware of your agency’s social media strategy. Department representatives might not even know what profiles your agency maintains on various platforms. They might also be unaware that they can contribute content (can they?) and the process they can use to do so.

There are likely a large number of staff members who work for your agency, but don’t work with programs that traditionally have public-facing social media content because they are an internal-facing division, such as auditors or fleet maintenance. But there are still opportunities to get them involved with your agency’s social media presence. This leads me to my first recommendation, which speaks to how you develop the social media strategy in the first place.

1. GET DEPARTMENTS INVOLVED IN SOCIAL MEDIA GOAL-SETTING.

A good social media strategy starts off by identifying goals. Involving other departments at this stage ensures that the high-level goals of your organization as well as departments are considered and incorporated from the beginning.

Social media strategies should be unique to each organization — what works for one city or county does not necessarily work for another. A comprehensive social media strategy is guided by a number of variables, ranging from the high-level mission of the agency, to the strategic goals for key departments, to the city’s communication goals. Setting social media goals that complement the government’s guiding principles will help ensure a consistent and meaningful message.

Here’s a pro tip: Many department goals can be found in annual budget documents. While some of them will be very project specific, the higher-level goals may be a perfect fit to incorporate into your social media strategy. Better yet, talk to department representatives and ask them what the long- and short-term goals are. For example, if the public works division has a priority over the next couple of years to conduct major traffic flow infrastructure improvements, that can evolve perfectly into a new social media goal: educating the community about alternative mobility options. Be creative and get agency staff involved in social media goal-setting.

2. EMPOWER STAFF MEMBERS TO MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA.

A best practice I like to teach is empowering agency staff to monitor social media for citizen activity related to the programs and projects that directly relate to their role. Several free online tools can easily allow staff to monitor keywords and hashtags while also keeping track of conversations and posts related to a specific subject matter. Free tools available today include setting up Google alerts or using Twitter advanced search and social mention services.

3. ENSURE THE AVAILABILITY OF ONGOING SOCIAL MEDIA TRAINING.

Offer regular social media training agencywide for all staff, leadership and elected officials — not just for social media content authors. Consistent training helps employees and electeds stay up-to-date about the policy, rules and legal aspects of posting on social media, as well as stay informed as to why certain social media platforms were selected for an agency presence.

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Nextdoor Social Network to Appear at GSMRT

Nextdoor

We’re excited to announce that Nextdoor, the private social network for neighborhoods, will participate in our regional social media training in Huntington Beach, California, on Sept. 14.

Nextdoor works with public agencies to reach residents in their communities. Their team will host a session focused on how governments can get the most out of the network. Attendees will also hear how some of the agencies in California have used the free service, such as the Huntington Beach Police Department.

Learn more about the Government Social Media Regional Training and register today! Can’t attend in person? Grab your virtual pass to watch session recordings online.

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Top 10 Things People Do When They Find out Your Job Involves Social Media

Top 10 Things People Do

I had some time on the general session stage at #GSMCON2016, so I wanted to do something fun. My original idea was to do a spinoff of reading “Mean Tweets”, which would be “Mean Conference Feedback”, but Mai Linh Johnson, our director of events, told me it wasn’t a good idea… So instead, I presented the “Top 10 Things People Do When they Find out Your Job Involves Social Media”.

#10. They ask if you can fix their Facebook.

#10 They ask if you can fix their Facebook

Because you have nothing better to do. And not their “Facebook page” or “Facebook Profile”, just “Facebook”.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

Am I the only one? Relatives and their friends do this to me all the time. It will literally be a random article that happens to mention that a business has a social media strategy or something.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

Happens. All. The. Time.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

There are always some people who don’t see the value in social media for the public sector.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

Because it’s that easy. Don’t you think if we could make everything go viral, we’d do it for every single post we made?

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

Please, #StopOverHashtagging

#4. They say, “Does that mean you’re going to tweet what we’re saying right now?”

#4. They say, "Does that mean you're going to tweet what we're saying right now?"

Well, I wasn’t going to. But if it makes you uncomfortable…

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

Because if you’re unfamiliar with a random social platform that only 5 people are on, well you must be a fraud.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

They are probably wondering if this is really what you do for a living, because it couldn’t possibly be your bread & butter. But ouch.

#1. They ask if you’re hiring.

#1. They ask if you're hiring.

Because you obviously just play on the computer all day!

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3 Ways to Take Advantage of Your Social Media Downtime

Woman typing on laptop & coffee

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Your public agency’s social media program is in a good place. You have already developed a social media policy, implemented strategy, trained staff and are posting regularly using a social media management platform. What to do now that you’re done? The truth is that social media is never actually “done,” but here are three things you can work on when the rest of the process seems to be running smoothly.

1. Work on a process for resolving issues

What is your customer service process for responding to inquiries that are sent to your agency via social media? Do you have a 100 percent response rate displayed on your Facebook business page? Practicing and testing your citizen response process is something you can always work on.

Ensure that your process for answering citizen questions on social media has been made clear. Your profile pages should explain the timeframe in which accounts will be monitored, how quickly to expect a response, and include alternative methods of contact if necessary. Internally, staff members should understand the workflow for responding to inquiries and be ready to do their part.

2. Craft crisis messages

Something big might happen in your community on your watch. It could be a major weather event, large-scale accident or something more nefarious such as a major shooting. When a crisis happens, the onset is usually swift and you’ll have little time to sort out what to say on social media.

While most communications your agency makes on social media will be very specific to the crisis, there are some messages that you can write in advance. These pre-written crisis communication templates are better handled in your social media downtime, not during the disaster.

Consider the first thing your entity should say to your citizens on social media when a crisis happens. Your first response should include a statement that your agency is aware of the situation. You also want to let them know that you’re in the process of looking at it. Finally, your last two elements of that first message should be to express that you care and state that they will hear back from you. While the particulars of these four points will change based on the crisis, the basic template can be prepared ahead of time.

3. Make a list of influencers

Social media influencers are important because their networks tend to be large, so they might be able to help grow your reach by sharing or drawing attention to your posts. Cultivating a decent list of influencers is a good use of your downtime.

How can you find key influencers? Jot down who any influencers might be as it relates to your agency, department or program. These might be people of recognizable status in the community, leaders of boards and commissions, or active participants at public meetings. Search Twitter and Facebook to see if the size of their social media followers reflects their offline status. If so, make an online connection with them.

Perhaps the key online influencers in your community are entirely different than the major players offline. You can use free online tools such as Social Mention or Topsy to discover the handles of online influencers. Simply search for hot topics in your community and take note of the active users. Many times, these individuals are happy to help share or retweet posts by your agency if they align with the type of messages they typically send. You won’t know until you reach out.

Your work is never “done.”

Hopefully these ideas will kick-start your approach to social media downtime and get you thinking about other ways to strategically use these quieter intervals. Remember, you are actually in a lucky position that many social media managers never get to experience.

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State of Government Social Media: What’s Changed in 2015?

Social Media

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Delivering a State of the City (or County) address to the public is an annual expectation of elected leadership. It’s their time to talk about major successes and opportunities for their community over the past year. As we look to the end of 2015, what better time to explore the current state of government social media and how it continues to evolve?

SOCIAL NETWORKS EMBRACE GOVERNMENT

It is exciting to see that social networks are beginning to recognize government as both a big player in the game and valuable to their future. Facebook has an internal government team headed by Government Outreach Manager Katie Harbath. Twitter has a large politics team, and LinkedIn is ramping up government efforts as well. In addition, Nextdoor, the private social network for neighborhoods, has invested in a major product dedicated to helping governments interact with their communities called Nextdoor for Public Agencies.

WHO MANAGES SOCIAL MEDIA?

As social media is now mainstream for most public-sector entities, it’s interesting to note what roles are involved in managing the platforms on the agency’s behalf. In 2015, it is still not the norm to have full-time staff members with titles such as “social media manager” or “social media coordinator,” although we’re seeing it happen more often than in previous years. What we do see are roles like “public information officer” or program managers encompassing more and more social media responsibilities.

PLATFORM EXPERIMENTATION

While governments continue to struggle with the sheer number of social platforms and trying to determine where best to spend time and energy, many entities are on board for experimentation. Snapchat is now being embraced by various agencies like Las Vegas, the Utah Division of Emergency Management and the White House. And several agencies are now experimenting with live-streaming apps such as Meerkat, Periscope and Facebook Mentions.

CITIZEN EXPECTATIONS ARE SHIFTING

Citizens now not only assume that government will be on social platforms, but also expect quick response times. The average person now looks to social media as a satisfactory outlet for complaining or requesting customer service. Agencies are struggling with how to handle social media inquiries during nonbusiness hours.

LAW ENFORCEMENT PERCEPTION CHALLENGES

In 2015, law enforcement in particular has been plagued with negative perception challenges, offline and online. There has never been a more valuable time to understand the nuances of embracing tone and managing citizen satisfaction on social media. New live-streaming apps also have caused challenges for public safety entities. On the one hand, they allow officers to share real-time updates. On the flip side, these platforms have many implications for the safety of officers and the public during real-time, unfolding events where the apps could inform fugitives of law enforcement’s next move.

WHAT’S NEXT?

As we look to 2016, it’s becoming more acceptable to not only spend ad dollars on social media campaigns, but also to hire staff members specifically for the purpose of managing social media profiles. Public agencies are digging deeper into analytics to ensure best practices, prove value to agency leadership and determine whether to continue on current platforms or redirect efforts to new ones.

Over the next year, a couple of government-related social media associations are slated to launch. This is an exciting step toward encouraging a strong learning network for public-sector social media managers.