Meadville, Pa., Considers Joining Facebook to Increase Accuracy of City-Related Info on Social Media

While official city Facebook pages would offer a number of advantages, they would pose some challenges as well.

by Mike Crowley, The Meadville Tribune, Pa. / August 7, 2017
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(TNS) -- Perhaps taking a page out of the playbook of President Donald Trump, Meadville City Council discussed easing the city into social media.

While Trump engages more than 35 million followers with early morning tweets on a daily basis, Meadville’s immediate plans are less grandiose and do not yet include an official Twitter presence, although the possibility was raised. Discussion at Wednesday’s meeting focused on the proposal to launch two official Meadville Facebook pages — one for the city administration, the other for the police department.

The goals, according to City Manager Andy Walker, would be to improve the city’s communication with a wider spectrum of residents, improve public safety and increase the accuracy of city-related information circulating on social media. Following 15 minutes of discussion, a unanimous council told city staff to “proceed with caution,” in the words of Councilwoman Nancy Mangilo Bittner. Mayor LeRoy Stearns was absent from the meeting.

The plan comes in response to what staff members see as a growing need to provide reliable information to an increasing number of people who are more likely to check Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media than traditional channels of information, such as newspapers, radio and TV.

“Obviously, it could be a quick way of disseminating information, and it’s a way of posting accurate information from the city’s perspective,” Walker told the council. “We see a lot of times out in the social media sphere, information that is sometimes incorrect and there is no good way of chiming in without making it worse. There’s not a good way of getting true, correct information out there.”

While official city Facebook pages would offer a number of advantages, Walker admitted that they would pose some challenges as well — challenges familiar to even the most tenderfoot of social media users who has glanced at the comments that people post.

“It’s found to be a best practice to let people spout off, so we would have to have a thick skin, I guess, in some cases,” Walker said, adding that profane or threatening comments would not be allowed. He pointed to examples of similar pages from Sharon, Butler, Titusville and Warren as possible models for Meadville’s pages.

Wednesday’s proposal envisioned an administrative page that would allow the city to post information regarding city services or link to upcoming events. But that page would not allow users to post public comments.

Another page would specifically represent the police department and would allow users to post public comments. The police department page could provide public safety information or to seek information from the public. User comments would have to be closely monitored, Walker said.

Councilman Bob Langley expressed concerns about security, suggesting that only one city staffer be allowed access to the page and that steps be taken to prevent others from accessing the account if that person happens to step away momentarily.

Mangilo Bittner suggested that any social media campaign on the city’s part should supplement its use of legacy media rather than replace traditional outreach efforts.

“It’s probably necessary. However, I don’t think we want to forget the 20 percent of our population that are elderly, that don’t even know how to spell Facebook and couldn’t care less. ... We need to make sure that we’re not forgetting just to put it on Facebook and forgetting those people because they matter, too.”

Mangilo Bittner and Langley agreed that even if the city allows comments from the public on its Facebook pages, residents should be reminded the best way to communicate with council is by attending meetings and contributing during the public comment sessions.

“It takes a lot more to show up,” Mangilo Bittner said. “If you care enough about something, show up and try to convince us.”

Council’s discussion did not touch on the fact that showing up at meetings can often be most challenging for the elderly, the same population that would likely be least served by social media outreach.

©2017 The Meadville Tribune (Meadville, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.