How New Technologies Can Help You Do Old Things Better

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1 Elements of a Social Media Strategy How New Technologies Can Help You Do Old Things Better By Derek Belt

2 The term social media means different things to different people. For some, it s a set of marketing channels used to push out information. For others, it s a method of generating buzz. And for the really savvy, it is customer service reimagined. Whatever your perspective, social media has changed the way we communicate and there s much more to it than simply hitting publish. Also, roughly 25 percent of online Hispanics and African- Americans are on Twitter, compared with just 14 percent of whites. Instagram is mostly women (68 percent) and people under 35 (90 percent), while LinkedIn has the white-collar audience and skews toward men (61 percent). However, LinkedIn also offers the least diversity, with 80 percent of users identifying as white. In our everyday lives, social media is the Facebook group that connects former coworkers long after they ve left the company; the Twitter chat that unites educators from across the country to learn about new teaching trends; the Pinterest page a couple uses to keep track of their home remodel ideas; or the blog a student uses to document her first trip abroad. And government that is for the people needs to embrace social media in a way that reflects these everyday uses. It s about making connections and bringing the public back into public service. Used appropriately, social media gives people a voice and makes them an integral part of the decisionmaking process. BUSINESS AS USUAL King County, Washington, has a social media specialist, and this position serves as copywriter, strategist, analyst, customer service specialist, and player/coach. A social media specialist advocates for new media, ideally by embedding social media in the organization s existing communications plans. Social media shouldn t operate in a bubble to be successful, it must be part of everyday operations. The role of technology is constantly expanding and changing the way we do things. Two decades ago, few people could work remotely because they physically needed to be in the office to stay connected to coworkers. The Internet has obviously changed that. And today, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs are changing the way we operate again. Interactions between people and government and are easier now, and they can happen faster, and engage new audiences. Facebook s fastest-growing demographic is adults aged 45-54, a segment that has grown 45 percent since Government that is for the people needs to embrace social media in a way that reflects the way citizens use it every day. These tools present governments with wonderful opportunities to connect with the people and communities they serve. But making proper use of them means knowing who is using which social network and which ones are right for the job at hand. Just as a golf glove isn t especially useful at a baseball park, and it doesn t make sense to start a YouTube channel if the jurisdiction doesn t have videos to publish. Remember: Right tool, right fit, right opportunity. KNOW WHAT TO MEASURE An important part of any social media strategy is choosing what to measure. To figure this out, a government needs to consider what success looks like and identify the metrics that will reflect it. Social media return on investment (ROI) can be different for every team and every project and that s fine. Following are a few social media metrics to understand: n Reach: How many people see the message. Amid rounds of public hearings dealing with possible bus cuts, King County s #MetroFuture hashtag on Twitter was used 634 times during a single meeting, reaching 271,000 people. It was the top trending topic in Seattle, meaning more people in the region were talking about Metro bus cuts than anything else on Twitter that day. n Engagement: How people interact with the jurisdiction s content. Every April, King County celebrates Earth Week by sharing household tips people can use to be green at home and help the environment. Throughout the week, the county posted 12 tips on Facebook, generating 255 likes, comments, and shares. That s 23 interactions for each post. n Traffic: How many people visit the website. King County Archives posts old photos, maps, and records on Pinterest, October 2014 Government Finance Review 27

3 a popular photo-sharing site. One month s metrics showed that 16 pins drove 126 clicks to the archives website, or eight visits for every picture shared. That s great ROI for a team that has traditionally struggled to drive website traffic. n Growth: How quickly people follow the jurisdiction s pages. This can be measured over time or for a specific event. Followers King County s main Twitter account, for example, increase by 5-10 percent every month, whereas each tweet promoting the county executive s e-newsletter yields 20 or more new subscriptions. n Time/Money Saved: The King County Assessor s Office recently launched a custom-built ipad app for its 140 property assessors to use in the field. The time and efficiency savings they have realized will save an estimated $6.1 million over the next five years equivalent to eight full-time employees. That s big-time value for a relatively small up-front investment. PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE Government agencies that are looking to invest time or budget in social media should choose a combination of traditional and social media that complement each other and reach relevant audiences. Social media isn t the only option it s merely part of the solution. King County s internal communications team mixes old and new media to connect with employees. Posters and printouts are widely distributed across county facilities, while an e-newsletter reaches most employees, and a blog for the public, along with a Twitter account and LinkedIn page, connect with other audiences and prospective hires. To help teams make strategic decisions about which tools are appropriate for their needs, they submit a social media action plan to the social media specialist. This three-page document helps teams kick off their internal discussions about social media, moving them to think about integrating new tools into existing strategies. The county doesn t Social media presents governments with wonderful opportunities to connect with the people and communities they serve. But making proper use of these tools means knowing who is using which social network and which ones are right for the job at hand. want teams winging it on brand new channels, or starting new ones just because they can. The social media action plan explains where certain channels Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram are better fits than others. It also covers goals and objectives, target audiences, resources and staff time needed, marketing and public outreach strategies, and realistic success metrics that are both easy to obtain and capable of providing information about what has been learned and what we be improved. Overall, the county s goals for social media are to improve customer service, support media relations, and promote community engagement. CUSTOMER SERVICE People don t look at social media channels like Facebook and Twitter just as sources of information. In many cases, they are direct lines of contact to organizations and officials who can be difficult to reach otherwise. Whether people feel more comfortable reaching out to their government by a phone call, , trip downtown, or tweet, the county s objective is to be a responsive government. Listening to what people say is the backbone of great customer service. That s why the description for the King County Facebook page says, Learn about King County services you can use, and tell us how we can serve you better. The county gets all kinds of inquiries and comments on the Facebook page, and it s customer service policy specifies a 24-hour response time. Another component of great customer service is the ability to reach people where they are. People no longer need to be in the office or in front of a television set to get the latest news and information. The county s social media posts come right to them. Metro Transit riders get real-time updates via and text messages while they re on the bus. It s a popular feature, and more than 60,000 people signed up for transit alerts across the Puget Sound region. 28 Government Finance Review October 2014

4 King County is a leader in many such areas, including efforts to enroll people in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Recently, someone responded to a tweet about health-care enrollment, saying they were having trouble signing up. The county reached out to that person directly via Twitter and provided contact information for the public health department. Here s that person s follow-up tweet: I can t thank you enough for your help today!!! I didn t know where else to turn. Thank you, thank you, thank you! That s one example among many of how King County is using social media to help people access services. MEDIA RELATIONS Press releases are not the ideal way of working with the media every reporter gets exactly the same pitch. Where s the incentive in that? The idea of blanketing reporters and hoping they run a story is completely outdated in today s fastpaced digital age. There s even a term for it: Post and pray. King County uses social media to push the envelope and engage reporters. Last year, the county s Office of Emergency Management hosted a disaster recovery summit with stakeholders from across the region, including key executives from the private sector. The goal was to discuss what government should prioritize after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy. This was important work that was expected to generate media interest, but it didn t. The county had sent a media advisory and reached out to reporters via , but by 9 a.m. on the day of the event, no one was covering the event. Trying one more angle, the county sent a direct message on Twitter to the local beat writer at the Seattle Times. Direct messages are private messages between two people. It s basically Twitter s version of or a text message. The reporter responded to the tweet within a few minutes and asked to connect with someone at the event. The county passed along a cell phone number, and two days later, a great piece about the event appeared in the region s largest newspaper. Neither news release nor s had caught this reporter s attention, but a direct message on Twitter got through and led to the media coverage the county wanted. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT In-person public meetings can be a lot of work to set up and generally reach a small numbers of community members. Questionnaires and surveys are the definition of one-way communication where you talk and I listen. But social media allows for open dialogue that many people can participate in and share with their own social networks. Earlier this year, King County updated its strategic plan and needed public feedback on where to focus its attention over the next five years. The county hosted a handful of in-person public meetings, which were poorly attended, and also promoted the project through local ads and public service announcements. The county also gave people the chance to share their thoughts in an online forum, working with a third-party vendor to create a site that people could visit at their own convenience. All comments were visible on the forum for others to see, leading to even more meaningful discussions. More than 500 people participated in the project, which was much better-attended than the in-person meetings. The online forum also had more than twice as many attendees as a similar discussion in the past. When the county followed up with participants and asked if they would be interested in October 2014 Government Finance Review 29

5 attending a public meeting, most people said no, not if there was an online option available. People are busy, and it s tough to find child care or fight traffic to get to a public meeting at a certain time. Governments need to offer more choices, and social media is providing the solution. TAKING THE FIRST STEP Traditional media outlets such as newspapers and television were once the gatekeepers of information because they had the broadcasting power. Anyone who wanted to reach an audience had to go through the media. That s not the case anymore. Online technologies allow governments to go straight to the people they serve and engage them directly in real conversations. Social media in particular has leveled the playing field and given governments more ways than ever before to reach the right audiences. King County has used blogs to share story ideas with the media instead of blanketing them with press releases, and Government agencies that are looking to invest time or budget in social media should choose a combination of traditional and social media that complement each other and reach relevant audiences. hashtags to amplify time-sensitive information. The county uses YouTube videos to get people talking about current issues. And it has posted the county executive s entire State of the County speech in 140-character tweets. The point is that communications has changed. Social media has leveled the playing field and given governments more ways than ever before to reach the right people. It s a lot more fun and more effective to be innovative and forward-thinking. That can be difficult for government, but it s time to take the first step. Your constituents, partners, and stakeholders are waiting for you. y DEREK BELT is the social media specialist for King County, Washington. A former journalist, he uses social media to identify target audiences, build trust with residents, and bring it all together with strong analytics and reporting. Invest in your career! The University of Georgia offers Online Courses in Governmental Finance If you are a steward of government funds, these self-paced online courses from the University of Georgia can enhance your value and your career. All qualify for CEs. Government Officials Study online, anytime! Register today. UGAKeepLearning.com 30 Government Finance Review October 2014

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