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Pennsylvania County’s Social Media Policy Targets Seniors

Carbon County, Pa., commissioners instituted a new social media and website policy allowing employees to engage with the public to bring awareness through its widely used social media platforms.

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(TNS) — Carbon County, Pa., offers its residents many programs, services and activities, but some people may not be aware of them.

That's why county commissioners instituted a new social media and website policy allowing employees to engage with the public and bring awareness through its website and widely used social media platforms, such as Facebook.

County employees, who are normally blocked from social media sites at work, would have permission to contribute to and edit department pages with the county's information technology people serving as administrator.

The ultimate authority for the content and the sites flows from the commissioners' office, which has had its own social media presence since March when the pandemic forced stay-at-home orders. County government, however, continued and commissioners and other meetings were livestreamed, allowing residents to participate safely.

Since then, numerous announcements, such as COVID-19 relief grant information, upcoming events and programs have been posted, in addition to the county meetings, on Facebook.

Commissioner  Chris Lukasevich  began livestreaming county meetings on his own Facebook sites while a commissioner candidate, and was eager to bring the county and its departments into the 21st Century, he said.

The website and social media pages will serve as a resource for residents, but also as a way for officials to provide better communication, enhanced transparency and be more responsive to residents, Lukasevich said.

Only six departments, however, were responsive to the idea of social media when Lukasevich floated the idea, but he hopes as the new social media pages roll out that department heads will see the value and commit.

Among those anxious to come on board were the county's Area Agency on AgingVeterans Affairs, Emergency Management, Children & Youth, Planning and Development and Geographical Information System, or mapping office, he said.

Susan Ziegler , who heads up Aging, isn't sure what the end product will look like for area seniors, but looks forward to being able to engage with members and get them talking to each other, especially now when pandemic restrictions keep people from gathering.

But social media will also allow Aging to get information about programs, such as the state Property Tax and Rent Rebate, out to seniors, as well as post events such as the annual Senior Games, Ziegler said.

"It's amazing. I never thought that generation would attach themselves to this technology," she said after hearing seniors talking about Facebook. "It's refreshing to see."

The pandemic is a tough time for everyone, but especially seniors, Ziegler said, and social media is allowing them to chat when face-to-face contact may not be possible. The platform will also allow centers to get information to seniors who may not be aware of programs aimed to help them, she said.

"It's a great thing for seniors," Ziegler said, adding that she'd like to see a site up by the end of the month.

Christine LeClair , who heads Veterans Affairs, believes social media will be a great tool to help veterans stay informed and connected.

Many times, veterans aren't aware that there are programs that could help help them or that they qualify for, she said.

"My primary focus with our presence on social media will be outreach and education," LeClair said.

She plans to post information about state and federal programs, activities or meetings local veteran groups are hosting and updates on the new suicide prevention and awareness program, Together with Veterans, she said.

"I think it'll be a great tool to help veterans," LeClair said.

A Facebook page for Veterans Affairs went up last month, and already provides a bevy of information, in addition to calling attention to local groups taking part in Wreaths Across America.

The county's GIS, or Mapping, Department also transitioned to a new page in the past month with the new policy going into effect. Director  Jason Shellhammer  said he's excited to showcase some of things that his department can do in the community.

The department maintains the regional GIS, or geographical information system landbase and data warehouse, but it's more than area parcel maps or floodplain mapping, he said.

Through social media, GIS will be able to map and showcase various natural, recreational and historical sites unique to Carbon County, as well highlight businesses or other points of interest, Shellhammer said.

The department's technology is capable of gathering and entering data to help identify and solve community problems, such as factors contributing to the opioid epidemic, he said.

With COVID-19, the department was able to create a coronavirus hub, showing which stores, restaurants or services were available during the shutdown, Shellhammer said.

The possibilities to use the information and technology for the benefit of the community are multifaceted and with increased awareness through social media and support of the commissioners, Shellhammer hopes the department can grow and expand its reach.

"GIS is the county government apparatus that acts as a facilitator to many offices and agencies to promote efficiencies, enhancements and productivity," he said. "This social media engagement will be utilized to bring awareness to these efforts."

(c)2021 the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.