Governments can get valuable citizen feedback from social media, but there are keys to being successful.
In June, I started a biweekly chat on Twitter as a way to help government social media managers connect with one another. During one #GSMCHAT, the conversation focused on how to get meaningful citizen input through social media — input that agencies can actually use to aid decision-making. Here is some of the best advice shared by government staff members in the trenches.
Social polling is an effective way to boost engagement, get opinions and collect additional content for future posts or blogs. #GSMCHAT participants mentioned everything from Google Forms and polling on Facebook to text-ins and Wedgies (the social polling app, of course). Asking questions on social media is an easy and inexpensive way to gather feedback on areas such as policy changes, community issues and special events.
Sometimes we are lucky to get even a handful of citizens attending a government open house or community meeting. One technique to get participation from more people than just an in-person audience is to “live tweet” these events.
First, establish and promote a hashtag for the event. Giving your audience a searchable term on Twitter will let them follow along and join the conversation more easily. “Don’t forget to research your hashtag first to make sure it’s available & the results are appropriate,” noted @KaitlinKeeler on #GSMCHAT.
Retweeting comments and pictures from attendees will create more excitement, and the free Storify Web tool is a great way to recap the live tweet for anyone who did not participate. Another great tip from @JuanSVAS: “Use tools to ID the right people, then reach out via [direct message] asking them to invite 3-5 specific folks. Engage.” I also recommend preparing certain tweets in advance. The conversation happens fast and this allows you to copy and paste various tweets.
The key with soliciting input via social media is actually sharing those comments with elected officials and staff. So much public input via social seems to stay in the ether, so have a plan for using it.
In January, Austin, Texas, publicized the hashtag #myatxgov the week before a town hall meeting involving a proposal for a new way to conduct council meetings. Staff organized the feedback (209 tweets using the hashtag) into categories and submitted them to both the city manager’s office and the city council so they could weigh and implement changes suggested by citizens.
What: #GSMCHAT on Twitter
When: Every other Thursday at 1 p.m. PDT
Why: Connect with other government social media managers
In another example, the Neighborhood Commission Office of Honolulu held the agency’s first-ever #NCOTweetup in 2014. Officials needed to increase citizen engagement to reflect the true demographic makeup of the island. Participants had interactive discussions on the value and importance of civic engagement in the digital age. As a result of the event, the office received several ideas to implement and saw a marked increase in online interactions with both current and newly inspired constituents. Some attendees ultimately even became board members.
I love it when the online world has a meaningful impact on the offline world.