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Middletown, Md., Works to Outline Social Media Best Practices

Though the town does not rely heavily on multiple social media platforms to interact with constituents, officials say a policy is an important step to ensuring the tools are not used inappropriately by staff.

by Ryan Marshall, The Frederick News-Post / January 17, 2019

(TNS) — When it comes to deciding how municipalities should use social media platforms such as Facebook to inform and engage their residents, sometimes it’s complicated.

Middletown, Md., is developing policies for how the town should use social media to interact with the public.

The town’s burgess and commissioners discussed a draft policy at their meeting Monday night, and Burgess John Miller said they will continue to edit and revise the policy before approving it.

Little guidance is available for government use of social media, Commissioner Jennifer Falcinelli said.

The town doesn’t have a social media policy, Miller said.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here. But it is something I think we should have in place,” he said.

The town has a Facebook page, as well as an email account and a website, which is monitored on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and during emergencies.

According to the draft policy, social media should be used for spreading information that is time-sensitive as quickly as possible; sending and receiving feedback from town residents and businesses; and promoting information about the town to the widest audience possible.

Social media posts should contain links whenever possible that direct visitors to the town’s website for more information, according to the draft policy.

The town reaches many more residents through its Facebook page than through email or its website, Town Administrator Drew Bowen said.

“The toughest thing in local government is reaching your residents,” Bowen said.

In the city of Frederick, all sites must say that they’re authorized by the city, and accounts can be used only to promote news or events that are of general interest to the city, spokeswoman Patti Mullins said in an email Wednesday.

Accounts are monitored by an administrator who can address or remove inappropriate content, and state that there is a 24-hour phone number to call with concerns. The accounts are not monitored on a constant basis, she said.

Political posts are not allowed, except for the announcement of elections, and connections to elected officials’ campaign pages are not allowed.

Sharing or reposting content or posts from other people or organizations isn’t allowed unless the content pertains to events or issues that are sponsored or endorsed by the city.

Frederick County government has an overall social media policy for all its employees, and some divisions may have more specific policies depending on what type of work they do, spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said in an email Tuesday.

The county’s policy reminds employees that they are responsible for the appropriate use of social media, and posts should be authorized and follow the county’s policies.

Employees should not speak for the county unless they’re authorized to do so, the policy says.

“If you are not authorized, you may speak only as an individual providing a personal opinion and should so note,” the policy states.

Employees should not expect that any message created, sent or received on county property such as cellphones, computers, email, mobile devices, or other items has any expectation of privacy, it said.

The Maryland Municipal League has received a lot of requests in the past few years for guidance on how to handle social media, said Jim Peck, director of research and information management at the organization.

The league has compiled a list of web resources and suggested policies that they send to towns looking for advice, he said.

Peck said he can’t say whether most towns have guidelines for their social media use, but many do.

“I suspect there are more and more all the time,” he said.

But many communities may not have the resources to maintain an active social media presence.

Peck pointed out that the median-sized municipality in Maryland has 1,800 people, 10 employees, and a budget of about $2.2 million.

Meanwhile, Middletown will continue to consider how to use the technology, and the opportunity it offers to inform residents.

“In 2019, you have to be using Facebook if you want to reach people, unfortunately,” Miller said.

©2019 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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