RENO, Nev. -- In a three-day conference held this week at Reno's Atlantis Resort & Spa, city and state officials are honing in on social media, assessing strategies that engage citizens, control public message and humanize government offices.
At the 2015 Government Social Media Conference & Expo (GSMCON), held April 29 through May 1, leaders from across the nation have gathered as speakers from Google, Facebook and an assortment of jurisdictions update officials on latest techniques.
Interest in the event — which had more than a few sessions packed to the walls on Wednesday — is quite possibly part of an emerging trend to begin a new kind of government dialogue, one that’s less about conventional public announcements and more about continuous interaction.
A recent example of this pivot was seen in March when the White House hired Twitter’s Vice President Jason Goldman to spearhead its own communication strategies as the first chief digital officer. In his blog, Goldman called out a desire to reform the traditional broadcasting methods with connection and engagement tactics more prevalent in social media. The neighborhood social media platform Nextdoor — also in attendance at the conference — is further evidence as more than 700 jurisdictions flock to its services for targeted back-and-forth dialog with residents.
Out of the gate, day one of GSMCON showcased numerous pointers, including gamification tactics, tips from public safety agencies, handling open records requests and implementing archival tools from ArchiveSocial — a company that stores social media for public records. Beyond these, some presentations lauded the use of video for public engagement and offered practical methods to leverage current resources for social media campaigns.
Championing a call for video, social media consultant Nina Radetich, along with Geoffrey Radcliffe, CEO of Post Launch, a Las Vegas digital marketing firm, took to microphones to spell out uses for tools like YouTube and Vine, as well as breaking apps like the live streaming services of Meerkat, Periscope and YouNow.
Selling points for video, the two said, stem from its ability to get messages out quickly and in high-touch ways.
“It sort of demystifies what goes on in the halls of government," Radetich said. "And seeing public officials in that light is really endearing.”
At the center of this is the medium’s ability to portray an organization through the people who run it, leaders and staff, who can not only share logistics in video messages, but also show passion for their work.
Radcliffe added that video also is a quick way to generate content, as a quick session of video can be transcribed into two forms of communication: written and visual.
“By putting someone in front of a camera, you can get all of the information you need in a few minutes,” Radcliffe said.
Using the aforementioned live streaming apps, more immediacy and transparency can be given to public events, meetings and announcements, and top officials can hold question-and-answer periods on controversial topics.
As for technical needs, Radcliffe said any cell phone bought in the last four years could handle video, and a basic wireless mic has capacity for sufficient audio. The more pressing problems, however, weren’t technical but cultural; Radetich said some officials will require more support than others, and recommended practice video sessions and editing recorded clips to help. Other suggestions were to use free software — such as YouTube’s user-friendly video editor — or affordable software like Screenflow or Apple's iMovie for Mac.
There also was an emphasis on the practical matters of social media, such as staffing and finding content. Rosetta Carrington Lue, Philadelphia’s chief customer service officer — who is responsible for the Philly311 customer service platform — offered tips to keep social media functional and affordable.
The city, Lue said, has engaged its many social media followers — more than 76,000 on Twitter and nearly 17,000 on Facebook — with a lean social media team of three, which includes Lue and two other staff members. No new hires were required to form the team, Lue said she just had to hunt to find city staff with a curiosity and desire for the work. It was also not about a quick initiative, but a long-term approach focused on consistency.
“You can’t expect one big push and then to just go stealth,” she said, advising that officials take first steps by creating a profile of the type of person equipped to handle an organization's social media presence. In Philly, these characteristics included a fidelity to good grammar, a curiosity in government issues, and an understanding of the city’s culture.
Next, she said if a city has a press or public affairs office to draft a set of short social media guidelines to guide posting processes — in Philly this is about three to four pages of general rules of thumb. And finally, hold weekly planning sessions where three to six original posts per day are pre-scheduled and logged within a content calendar to highlight the city's different programs and initiatives.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.