City maximizes reach with social media
You probably see our posts every day in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. (At least we hope you do.) One such post probably even led you to this blog.
As we often say, keeping residents informed is one of the most vital functions of any municipality. Maintaining social media accounts has become standard operating procedure for towns and cities throughout the country as a primary means of fulfilling that function. It’s no different in The Colony, where the Communications team works to keep an active, engaged presence on social media as a matter of daily routine.
Diane Baxter, Director of Communications and Tourism, has worked for the City of The Colony for 29 years, the last 10 as the director of the Communications Department. She has witnessed many ups and downs in the community, and remembers well a time when residents often felt uninformed.
“But those times have changed,” she said. “We’ve always done our best to distribute relevant news and information to the community with what resources we had available. The advent of social media, however, has changed the game, and made it easier for everyone to keep up to speed.”
Not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter, of course, and the Communications team utilizes many different methods to get information out to the public. But the city has had a presence on Facebook since 2009, and with more than 4,000 Likes on the official page it has been the most popular social medium for reaching out to residents.
“The demographics of our Facebook followers mirror those of our city overall, and we work hard to tailor our content to meet the needs of our residents,” Baxter said. “It is our goal to provide you with everything you need to know while not cluttering your news feed.”
One of the benefits of social media in general is that it provides a fun way for brands to develop engagement with their audience. This is often apparent on many commercial Facebook accounts which have plenty of leeway to be irreverent. While the city does aim for a conversational and lighthearted approach, there are simply times when the business of the city is, well, serious business – meeting agendas, traffic notices, public service announcements, and the like.
The latest example came just recently when an EF-O tornado briefly touched down in the city the morning of March 8. The city’s Facebook page became one of the Fire Department’s primary conduits of gathering damage reports.
“Rather than flood dispatch with calls, the Emergency Management staff asked that we encourage residents to contact us on social media to report significant damage to homes and infrastructure,” Baxter said. “Facebook proved to be a very useful tool for augmenting our response to the situation. We were able to both gather and share information in real time.”
Crises aside, requests for city services are best handled through more direct channels with city staff in most cases but the Communications team welcomes direct messages and comments from residents asking questions or sharing their thoughts on any and everything in The Colony at any time.
The city’s Twitter account has also been active since 2009, and has accumulated more than 1,600 followers. For every Facebook post made, there’s a corresponding tweet. But unlike Facebook, more is often better, so Communications staff members don’t hesitate to post new content when necessary.
“Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, we want our residents to know they can rely on social media for important city news and information,” Baxter said. “We can’t monitor our accounts 24/7 but we can and will access them from anywhere when circumstances require.”
Utilizing a single, central account for municipal information is a recognized best practice but the city offers specialized content on a variety of other social media accounts as well. The Colony Police Department maintains Facebook and Twitter pages, as does The Colony Convention and Visitors Bureau, here and here.
The Parks and Recreation Department has a page for news about special events, rec center programs, and youth sports. The Colony Animal Services also has a page for sharing information about adoptable pets and low-cost vaccinations. Lastly, The Colony Economic Development Corp. has a page to promote the city as a destination for businesses. Information from all these accounts is typically shared on the main city pages as well.
In order to ensure consistency in branding and style, the Communications Department conducts annual social media classes for the designated departmental moderators. The classes provide the opportunity to share all the social media tips and tools learned at trade conferences and seminars.
“In both the private and public sectors, social media management can be a full-time profession,” Baxter said. “We try to keep our moderators apprised of trends and best practices so our pages have the look and feel of the best examples in municipal social media.”
One of those best practices is making sure you’re reaching the intended audience. While Instagram and Snapchat are extremely popular social media platforms, for example, they are primarily used by teens and young adults who aren’t typically interested in local government news.
“We want to make sure we’re spending quality time on the platforms our audience utilizes, rather than spreading ourselves too thin on too many mediums,” Baxter said.
Blogs, such as this one, also qualify as social media. Here, our Communications team takes you behind the scenes of city departments with long-form features intended to give residents a deeper look at city services and the people who provide them.
“It’s a way for us to put faces with names, and humanize the departments residents often interact with, as well as introduce them to ones they may not know much about,” Baxter said. “Hopefully, readers take away the understanding that our employees have a passion for what they do and take great pride in providing residents with the best service possible.”
Last but not least, the city also has a YouTube channel where it maintains an archive of current and past informational videos about The Colony, like the video below providing an overview of the Main Street Widening Project. As the city continues to grow, Baxter hopes to add more video content in the future.
“The Colony is no longer a sleepy, bedroom community surrounded by development in other cities. That growth and development is here, too, and we intend for our online presence to showcase and reflect that fact,” Baxter said. “So if you haven’t already, login to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and Like us! We feel confident you will find our pages useful and informative.”