The time and effort required of a public agency to maintain and monitor its social media sites can sometimes be overwhelming. With the public using so many different ones, some government agencies don’t have the manpower to keep them updated on a daily basis.

Catawba County, N.C., officials believe they have found a solution to this emerging problem that runs their social networks in a fraction of the time and allows the county to add new networks as demand arises.

Lee Yount, a programmer analyst for Catawba County’s Technology Department, said for the last two months the county has been experimenting with NutshellMail, a free-to-use service from Constant Contact that alerts a user when there are updates to that user’s social media sites. A user can schedule a time for an e-mail to be sent that lets him or her know if anything new is happening on a specific site.

“I have our county Facebook page hooked to that service, and at 8 a.m. and around noon, I’ll get an e-mail that tells me, ‘This is how many new comments are on your [social media] page.’ ‘This is how many new stories you have on your page.’ ‘These are the people that are now following you on your Twitter site,’” Yount said. “I’m not having to go out to every one of these different sites and having to monitor them.

NutshellMail monitors social media activity for him. With that taken care of, Yount, like many government officials, also has automated the posting of official government information on social media. For instance, the county sends information through its content management system built into Twitterfeed.

This approach — the automation of monitoring and posting — has reduced how often Yount manually posts on channels like Facebook and Twitter. Unless it’s time-sensitive, like a local emergency, social media doesn’t take any of his work time anymore.

This efficiency is allowing the county to add social media websites as they become popular. Last week the county began adding content into Foursquare, the location-aware network where users can check-in at destinations and leave tips about them. Users also earn online badges by checking in at businesses. Catawba County doesn’t offer the badges, although officials said they might someday.

“For instance, for the building I work in, we put a few tips here for different departments,” Yount said. “I work at the Catawba County Government Center, so if I check in here for the first time, and I’m following Catawba County on Foursquare, it will say, ‘Hey, check out the Board of Elections. Have you registered to vote? It only takes a few seconds.’”

Part of the reason for integrating Foursquare into Catawba County was to make county information accessible on what younger people use. Location-based technologies are the domain of the young. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 1 percent of online adults are using location services such as Foursquare.

Dave Hardin, public information officer for Catawba County, said it’s important to reach out on the social media tools that younger generations are using.

“The younger generation may not be going to the traditional media at all — I’ve been encouraged by younger folks that social media is a good place to communicate,” Hardin said. “Foursquare has an audience, and people are using it to share their locations.”

And thanks to Yount’s social media strategy, the county isn’t burdened by this new social media channel.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.