BEST PRACTICES, Social Media. Name of Local Government: City of Port Coquitlam

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1 2012 COMMUNITY EXCELLENCE AWARDS Category Worksheet BEST PRACTICES, Social Media Name of Local Government: City of Port Coquitlam Project Summary Paragraph Please provide a summary of your project, program or practice in 150 words or less. The City of Port Coquitlam started using different forms of social media in 2007 as a way of increasing citizen participation, creating a two-way dialogue with citizens, and reaching residents who previously didn t engage in their local government. As the first local government in Metro Vancouver to launch a Facebook page on February 29, 2008, we have developed a continually growing social media program that includes newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, online surveys, videos and photo-sharing sites. Social media tools are integrated in all of our communications plans and strategies, are supported by dedicated staff, and are leveraged in a way that reflects the best practices of that media. Our social media initiatives have enabled Port Coquitlam to increase citizen engagement at a time when public participation in local government is waning. Port Coquitlam continues to be regularly approached for social media advice by other local governments. Check off the social media tools you use: text messaging x comment-enabled blog or website x micro-blog service (e.g. Twitter, Tumblr) instant messaging or online chat service x online discussion forum x social networks (e.g. Facebook, Google+) x video or photo sharing service (e.g. YouTube, Flickr) Help us find your social media tools on-line (provide website link, account or user names): Facebook: Facebook 2: Twitter: Youtube: Flickr: Mayor s blog: Project Analysis Please answer the question in 300 words or less in 11 pt Arial font (our judges value directness and brevity). If you experience difficulty answering a particular question, consider the aspects of your program that may relate to the question and show us how they are linked. 1. FOUNDATION a.) How did your local government come to the decision to integrate social media tools into business operations? Tell us about your process.

2 Port Coquitlam was an early adopter of social media, having immediately recognized its potential in enhancing the City s dialogue and relationship with our citizens particularly those who didn t typically engage with the City. In 2007 we launched our E-Update newsletters that send City news and initiatives directly to our subscribers inboxes. We were also the first local government in Metro Vancouver to launch a Facebook page on February 29, 2008, and among the first to use other social media tools such as Twitter and blogging. Even so, our early efforts were somewhat conservative. Our plan was that Facebook would not replace our traditional outreach strategies, and initially we used our page mainly to push out information and drive citizens to the City website, and did not allow public comments on our wall or posts. City staff could not access social media internally, and the page was exclusively maintained by Communications staff. Our approach evolved over time. We opened our Facebook wall to posts and feedback, introduced terms of use, targeted our content and tone to our audience, and used the page to actively encourage two-way dialogue. Staff were provided access to social networks. While we had initially expected our Facebook audience to consist of year olds, we found we were reaching older adults as well, given the growing popularity of Facebook with people of all ages. Today, about a third of our Facebook users are ages and a similar percentage are ages Following our success with Facebook, we launched into the use of other social media platforms outlined below. b.) How long has each of your social media tools been active? E-Update newsletters active since 2007 Facebook active since 2008 Mayor s blog and City Twitter active since 2009 Video active since 2009 Online surveys and forums active since ROLE Discuss the role of social media in your local government s overall communications strategy. Social media has played a key role in the evolution of our communication strategy. We have always believed citizen engagement is critical for sound local government decision-making. However, we were challenged by the fact that citizens have limited free time, that traditional engagement methods (e.g. open houses) are inconvenient and becoming less effective, and that there are limits to how much information can be cost-effectively shared through traditional means (e.g. printed brochures). By building social media into our communication plans and strategies, we now reach out to citizens through a variety of vehicles, have developed a twoway dialogue with the community, and are reaching people who previously didn t engage with the City. Goal: Engage citizens who previously didn t participate. More than 3,500 Facebook fans, about 30% ages More than 1,400 followers on Twitter, most popular with ages Facebook is the top referral source of visitors to the City website, referring 14% of all traffic. About 30% of website visitors referred by Facebook have never visited before. Goal: Engage people at their convenience. Feedback to online surveys exceeds input through open houses and public meetings. 2

3 Facebook posts receive ongoing, enthusiastic feedback UBCM Community Excellence Awards Goal: Make it easy and convenient for people to participate. City website had 329,000 visitors and 747,000 page views from January to June 2012 up 12% from the previous six months. In the last year, the Facebook page has 900 new fans and Twitter followers have nearly doubled. E-Update newsletter subscriptions exceed 1,200. read rate and click rate are above industry average. Goal: Create a two-way dialogue with the community. Facebook posts promote widespread discussion of civic issues that previously didn t take place. Feedback to online surveys exceeds input through open houses and public meetings. 3. SUSTAINABILITY What measures have you put in place to ensure the continued operation of your social media operations? (e.g. staff time, staff training, plans, resources, financial) With the support of City Council and management, we have gradually invested more training and resources into sustaining and developing our social media outreach. In our Communications Division, a full-time Manager of Communications, Website and Communications Technician and a Communications Liaison Clerk are responsible for specific social media functions, including posting fresh and engaging content, monitoring statistics and ensuring timely responses to public questions and posts when required. Staff are constantly looking for opportunities to seize communication moments through both social media and traditional means; as well constantly looking at innovative ways to use social media to improve community engagement. Staff are provided with regular training and professional development opportunities to ensure that the City stays current with latest industry trends and best practices. Social media privileges and training have also been extended to other City staff in order to build social media capacity throughout the organization (including knowledge of best practices and trends), leverage ongoing communications opportunities, and provide more voices and perspectives through the City s social media outreach. All communication plans integrate social media tools to engage citizens. Information from traditional sources such as Council reports or media releases is consistently cross-promoted through social media channels. We plan to continue building on our successful use of social media through such avenues as more online forums; live tweets/posts from events, open houses and meetings; use of photos in posts to demonstrate the City at work and providing customer service staff from other City departments the ability to share information about services and programs. 4. INTEGRATION Explain how the social media tools you employ are integrated, and how they facilitate two-way communication. Integration: We use social media to cross-promote information delivered through traditional means to reach a wider audience. Examples: 3

4 Social media sits side-by-side in our communications plans with traditional outreach activities. Online surveys are initiated for many issues requiring input, augmenting traditional methods such as open houses. We post all news releases on Facebook, with links to the civic website. We have started providing suggested tweets/posts for Council on media release topics. We have separate Facebook pages for areas of widespread interest, including Port Coquitlam Celebrates 100 Years and Leigh Square Community Arts Village. We often use unconventional information to draw people to our social media sites, which then exposes them to conventional civic information. For example, a post about 30,000 ladybugs released on a City Hall tree drew close to 40 responses from citizens, who were then exposed to other civic information by visiting the City Facebook page. Dialogue: The feedback received through Facebook and online surveys far exceeds what is received through traditional opportunities, such as open houses. Almost all Facebook posts garner responses, and our fan numbers are comparable to or larger than those of other much larger BC cities, such as Vancouver and Surrey. Examples of increased dialogue: Participation rates have steadily increased: o Since July 2011, Facebook fan base increased by over 900 fans to 3,500. o E-Update newsletter subscribership: more than 1,200. o Twitter posts: more than 1,400 followers. Facebook provides a volume of feedback not experienced through traditional means such as open houses and allows for more timely responses to inquiries. Issues of widespread interest (e.g. transportation projects, changes to waste collection) commonly receive more than a dozen comments. Social media promotes a candor rarely seen at open houses and public meetings, providing the City with valuable insight into citizens views. 5. BEST PRACTICES What sets your local government apart from others in your implementation and use of social media? Why should your local government be chosen above the rest to represent Best Practices in social media? The City of Port Coquitlam is already widely recognized as a local government leader in the use of social media and technology to engage citizens. In the past five years, through corporate buy-in, we have integrated social media into our overall communications and community engagement strategies to ensure that citizens are provided with regular and consistent information and the opportunity to provide input. We have developed and dedicated in-house staff expertise to stay at the forefront of this evolving communications and engagement tool. As a result, we re employing the best practices of each social media type and deploying them in the most effective way possible such as providing audiencecentric information, using language that reflects how users speak rather than typical government communications, keeping users engaged during after-hour periods by scheduling posts in advance, and continually posting fresh content that provides up-to-date and relevant information to attract and maintain subscribers. We have also evolved the use of our social media channels, by creating secondary Facebook pages for some of our special interest groups and larger initiatives, allowing these users to have more community driven, focused dialogue. We also are continually looking for opportunities to ask questions and post information that is intended to generate discussion and foster two-way dialogue. 4

5 Our continuing growth in social media followers and the ongoing dialogue we receive from our posts is evidence of our success and leadership in this area. 6. CHALLENGES Tell us about some of the challenges you have faced in the implementation and operation of your social media platforms and the solutions to these challenges. Social media was a tough sell to decision-makers five years ago, when it was still a new phenomenon for government communications. Our Communications Division made a strong case for testing out the use of Facebook to engage residents. Within six months it was apparent that social media was a valuable and innovative way to reach those who had previously not engaged in local government. It can be challenging to maintain the fresh and relevant content that is necessary to attract and keep a social media audience. Integrating social media into our communications planning for City initiatives, as well as training additional staff in social media posting, has helped to minimize the task of generating new content. When the City initiated our Facebook page, fears were expressed about liabilities in particular, lack of control over public comments as well as the staffing required to maintain the Facebook presence. Over time, it became clear that the occasional negative comment and staffing resources associated with social media are outweighed by its overall value in promoting a two-way dialogue with citizens, creating an interest and participation in local government, and engaging a different demographic. Social media was relatively uncharted territory for local governments when Port Coquitlam piloted our Facebook page. We had to anticipate needs and challenges, show potential benefits and develop terms of reference without the benefit of learning from other cities experiences. Research into social media best practices, and experience over time, have enabled us to integrate social media policies and practices into existing communications policies that work for our organization and are a model for others. 7. ANALYTICS Demonstrate through analytics or other data, how your local government s use of social media has supported dialogue between your local government and its citizens, community and business stakeholders. Facebook: With more than 3,550 fans, our City s daily posts promote initiatives and programs, share news, generate feedback and drive residents to our website. On average, our page receives about 4,000 interactions per month, including page views, comments and likes (an indication of support), providing us with ongoing insight into our citizens views. In 2012, 36% of residents surveyed said they use our Facebook page and 17% said it was their preferred method of communication. Facebook is also helping us communicate with a younger demographic: approximately 30% of fans are between ages Blogging/Twitter: Regular posts on Twitter and the Mayor s blog highlight City news and initiatives. More than 1,400 people follow our Twitter posts. Video: The City has produced a variety of online videos to deliver information and news via YouTube, the City website and Facebook. Total video views to date: over 20,000. Online surveys and forums: The City regularly uses online surveys to solicit public input. Thirty surveys to date have attracted over 4,000 responses, with as many as 500+ responses to surveys for major initiatives such as the corporate strategic plan and communications. We launched our first online forum in 2009 as part of the development of the City s first off-leash dog park. Other planned forums will allow residents to share waste-reduction tips and budget suggestions. 5

6 E-Update newsletters: With more than 1,200 subscribers, e-updates include civic news, initiatives and opportunities for input (e.g. online surveys), with links to relevant website information. E-Updates have a read/open rate of 43% (industry average is 23%) and a click rate of 10% (industry average is 4%). Subscribers accounted for over 50% of responses to our communications survey in AWARENESS Provide a specific example (case study) of how using social media has increased citizen engagement with your local government. To build up momentum and participation in the City s centennial celebrations in 2013, we created a separate 100 th birthday secondary page off our main City Facebook page that is driven and led by the community. We provided administrative status to our Port Coquitlam Spirit Committee volunteers, who post ongoing content intended to generate interest in the upcoming celebrations as well as pride of community. Content to date has included a series of 100 historical facts about the City, as well as an opportunity for residents to vote for their favourite neighbourhood. Our partnership with the community to create this special Facebook page has strengthened our relationship with core community volunteers while at the same time providing our residents with another way to engage with their City and a space to freely dialogue and celebrate their PoCo Pride. Although the centennial won t be celebrated until March 2013, the page already has over 300 followers. Over the year, the page will be used as a way to increase participation at the various centennial celebrations and events - helping build community spirit and awareness about local services and programs. We also used our Facebook and Twitter pages this year to promote Earth Hour. We provided daily practical energy savings tip to encourage residents to reduce their energy consumption and turn off their lights. A key outcome of this campaign was that residents were dialoguing with each other problem solving and sharing success stories and tips. 9. ACCOUNTABILITY How has this program/project improved upon accountability to the community's citizens? Social media is providing our citizens with more timely access to civic news and information, while also giving them immediate feedback opportunities. Facebook in particular brings criticism, questions and debate into the public realm, making the City more instantly accountable for our actions and helping to improve the services we provide. For example, in response to a Facebook post about a change in the green cart waste collection schedule over the winter months, we heard why the weekly schedule could not be extended by a week to allow for increasing volume of fallen leaves. We were able to follow up with ideas and tips on how residents can deal with the higher volume of yard trimmings and fallen leaves and inform them that the Operations Division was looking at ways to extend services over the holiday hours. This led to residents sharing tips with each other. This direct dialogue with such a wide audience would not have taken place through traditional means. The City is also increasingly using online surveys to collect public input and feedback, ensuring that citizen views and values are represented in our decision-making. For example, we received over 600 responses to our survey on how to improve communications services, many which came through social media channels. In addition, the Mayor monthly posts a list of the external meetings he hosts or attends on his blog as part of his commitment to being more transparent and improving accountability. 6

7 Social media makes use of existing technological resources and is less expensive and labourintensive to coordinate than traditional approaches such as public open houses and printed materials. At a time when City budgets are being cut, the use of social media successfully leverages existing technology and resources to increase public participation and engagement and ultimately serve our citizens better. 10. KNOWLEDGE SHARING What helpful advice would you share with other communities looking to implement the use of social media in their communications plan? Build in-house capacity. Train staff in social media best practices or, if possible, hire staff with social media expertise. Do the research necessary to ensure you are optimizing this new communications tool. Consider how many internal resources you can dedicate to social media. Just because it s easy to post doesn t mean you shouldn t put thought and strategy into the content. Ensure your posts and information are an up-to-date, relevant and rich source of information, to attract and maintain subscribers. Integrate your communications. Consider ways to include a social media component when planning communications for initiatives and events. Cross-promote between different traditional approaches (e.g. newspaper ads and civic publications) and new media (e.g. social media, online forums), and ensure consistency in message while using the tone and content best suited for the particular delivery method. Don t just jump on the social media bandwagon. Consider your communications objectives for your organization as well as the individual events/activities you want to promote. Social media may not be the appropriate communication method for every opportunity. Know and engage your audience. Communicate in the same tone as other social media users, identify your audience and target your communications accordingly. Look for opportunities to invite others to join the discussion. Don t just post information ask questions intended to solicit responses and start discussions. Leverage your subscribers to be part of your marketing team by sharing and re-tweeting your posts and links, exposing their friends and subscribers to civic information. Think of social media as you would a new program or an event you have to market it. Continue to promote your use of social media on an ongoing basis to continue to draw new subscribers (e.g. people new to the area or new to social media). 7

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