Social media messages don’t always need to sound like they come from government.
One of the lessons I like to teach is that it’s OK to have fun on government social media. However, some social media managers aren’t given the leeway to try new things. Sometimes, the best way to get your elected officials or management to allow you to embrace a particular approach is to show them solid examples of agencies that are rocking it. While it’s best to have an eye for knowing when levity is appropriate, some risk-takers have landed on their feet with even risqué posts.
The Missouri Department of Transportation took a gamble on a tweet and it paid off. In a plug against distracted driving, the agency tweeted a photo of an electronic freeway sign that read, “Get your head out of your apps.”
Although this word play is something I’ve seen before, it’s bold for a government agency. The department admitted that it edited this image for Twitter, but expressed that this was indeed a message placed on digital signs along the interstates.
I like when agencies use humor for more than just belly laughs — as the attention-getter to drive home a message. In this case, the state wanted to get the word out that distracted driving is one of the leading causes of crashes in Missouri.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is known for its sense of humor on Twitter. In fact, its efforts earned two Golden Post Awards in spring 2016, honoring the clever use of social media by a government agency.
Two springs earlier, WSDOT tweeted one of my favorite lighthearted posts. Just because the agency didn’t have any video footage showing a black bear that was sighted on the freeway doesn’t mean it couldn’t have fun with the concept. In a particularly creative tweet, the agency noted, “Can’t see that black bear in I-90 median on camera, but here’s what it may look like.”
Then they proceeded to share a hand-drawn stick picture illustrating a bear-like figure waving “Hi” from the center of the busy freeway. Funny? Check. Hundreds of retweets and favorites? Check. Growing their audience with humor so they have their ear when WSDOT needs to share important messages? Mission accomplished.
Sometimes, being creative on social media gives a government agency the ability to showcase its community. The Downtown Round Rock, Texas, Facebook page received thousands of likes and shares when it posted about a teddy bear that was found at an outdoor community event.
The agency issued a Lost Teddy Alert that mimicked an official bulletin. The creative part is that it also used the teddy bear as an opportunity to creatively showcase the community using images. Pictures were posted of Teddy hanging out at popular downtown locations, all the while missing his human. Eventually the owner was found and the bear was publicly reunited with the little girl who lost him by the local police and fire departments.
I asked Round Rock’s social media coordinator, Austin Ellington, to share some insight on his approach. He explained, “It wasn’t complicated and didn’t take hours of planning, but instead was an off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment idea that was born out of an overall social media strategy grounded in being creative, keeping things lighthearted and most importantly … being social in our approach to connecting with constituents.”
Was all of this branded as a waste of taxpayer dollars? No. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and rightly so. Economic development and community branding bring both industry and dollars to cities. Ultimately the teddy bear campaign received more than 3,000 likes and shares, citizens were happy about belonging to the community, and a little girl felt special. Pretty impressive results if you ask me.