Social Media Use Scarce Among Jefferson County, N.Y., Municipalities

Neighboring counties use social media daily to post jobs, budget resolutions and important news for residents.

by Brian Molongoski, Watertown Daily Times / November 27, 2017
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(TNS) –– Local governments across the country are expanding their social media use to keep the public informed; however, many in Jefferson County have yet to get on board.

Among all municipalities in Jefferson County, the town of Clayton is arguably the most active user of social media.

Beginning in 2014, the town government began using Twitter and Facebook to advertise town job openings, remind the public of upcoming meetings and provide agendas in advance, among a slew of other things.

While the town is required by law to send legal notices to local newspapers for publication, Alicia M. Dewey, clerk to the supervisor, said publishing any notice or meeting agenda through other platforms helps keep more people informed.

“We want to really make sure we do the best we can within reason to reach the most people,” she said. “Not everybody reads the paper online or with a hard copy, and not everybody’s going to our website often.”

All accounts are managed by Ms. Dewey, but instead of having to constantly update each platform individually, Ms. Dewey said it’s all done through the town’s website.

Using Wordpress, the website is set up so that any new posts added to the website are automatically added to the Twitter and Facebook pages. Using this feature takes less time and reaches more people, Ms. Dewey said, adding that this strategy also saves money.

“That’s why we do it the way we do it,” Ms. Dewey said. “If we could hire someone to do all of it all the time, we would. But we don’t want that with taxpayer dollars.”

Earlier this year, the Public Technology Institute released a poll saying that local governments across the country are increasing social media use. Most governments, however, do not allocate budget money for such efforts.

According to the poll, 85 percent of municipalities use some form of social media to disseminate information, but 88 percent do not budget for time spent using social media. Additionally, 63 percent of municipalities lack a system-wide social media strategy and 55 percent do not monitor how much the public visits a government’s social media page.

Aside from Clayton, few other local governments are as active or have any social media presence at all. The village of West Carthage has a Facebook page to advertise government meeting information but does not use Twitter.

The city of Watertown has active Facebook and Twitter pages managed exclusively by its Parks and Recreation office; therefore, information posted on those platforms pertains only to that office and not city government affairs.

A deeper search on Twitter turns up another city of Watertown page, but its last tweet was from Aug. 12, 2009 and reads, “Welcome to Watertown, NY.” The page’s very first tweet, dated April 28 of the same year, takes a comical jab at City Council’s supposed lack of enthusiasm for the platform.

“Five followers already and we don’t even know if City Council wants a Twitter Page,” the Tweet says. “If they do I will turn over the password.”

City Manager Sharon A. Addison did not return requests for comment.

City officials do plan to increase Watertown’s Web presence now that it has received $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant funding. The city is seeking the public’s input in how the funds will be used, prompting the creation of a www.watertownDRI.com website. There are also plans to advertise the DRI-related news through the Parks and Recreation Facebook and Twitter pages.

At the Jefferson County government level, neither the administrative body nor the Board of Legislators have social media platforms. Several county departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, the Watertown International Airport and the county Public Health Service, use their own social media accounts managed by department personnel.

Deputy County Administrator Sarah Baldwin said it is up to each department how each of their accounts are used. At this time, she said the county’s governing body will stick to using only its website to disseminate public information but did not rule out the use of social media somewhere down the line.

“We just haven’t had a big need for reaching out through social media,” she said.

In municipalities that do not have their own social media pages, some government officials use individual platforms to disseminate public information.

Sackets Harbor Village Trustee Molly C. Reilly created her “Trustee Molly Reilly” Facebook page to keep locals informed of village affairs.

Ms. Reilly was recently elected as the next mayor of Sackets Harbor, and one of the changes she said she hopes to accomplish under her leadership is to make local government affairs more transparent, particularly by expanding social media use.

Ms. Reilly said she wants to couple this effort with expanding the village’s Web presence, adding that it would be especially beneficial to a tourism community like Sackets Harbor.

“I think it’s really important, when we talk about tourist communities, that we use many channels to communicate with people,” she said.

Because it can be tough to come up with budget space to fund an increased social media effort, Ms. Reilly said the village could potentially hire interns or get help from nonprofit organizations savvy with social media.

©2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.