Web/media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, RSS Feeds, Linkedin, and YouTube are fast becoming the trend many local government officials and staff are taking advantage of. By getting the word out on local issues via these tools, not only are local governments able to influence their constituents in a quicker, more timely manner but they also are able to engage a portion of their population they would have otherwise missed.
The city of San Francisco, CA has a Facebook page with more than 260,000 fans. On this page, constituents can find information regarding city activities and services, and it provides an opportunity for users to comment on community issues. Hillsborough County, Florida also has a Facebook page with subscribed fans, regularly “tweets” on Twitter, and will soon be launching a blog where it will pose questions relating to the budget process and invite comments from the public.
Can social media ever really move beyond entertainment to linking people for the purpose of running on organization like a city? Maybe not, but it seems to be working so far and cities are using it. Whatever the shortcomings of these online tools are, it is showing how local governments are innovating their approach to sharing information and soliciting feedback. Not all citizens are interested in attending a town hall meeting. But many citizens could access a city website from their desk to see meeting minutes, send an email to their city about a problem, or comment on an issue that is highlighted on a city website/social networking medium. This is an interaction from a person who may not have done so without the online resources available.
Really, it’s not so much if local governments are using social media but how are they going about reaching their constituents. It doesn’t have to be standard social media tools. It could be a well thought out and planned city website. It could be more active personal engagement with the community – although, with budget issues, this may be more of a cost prohibitive measure. But until there is a mechanism a government can rely on to reach out to as many parts of their constituency as they can, Facebook and tweeting may be the way to go.