by Rick Aronhalt, director of online programs and product enhancement, ICMA
For every social media opportunity, there is an equal risk. For local governments, it’s important that you approach your social media strategy in a systematic way with a clear eye on what you want to achieve. Case in point, social media offers an opportunity to engage quickly with your constituents so that you can spread alerts efficiently and effectively. On the flip side, negative news and false reporting can spread at the same rapid pace.
A look at the risks and opportunities, along with some advice for local governments, was the focus of a 2018 ICMA Annual Conference presentation by Thomas Bryer, Ph.D., professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, and Sarah Stoeckel, Ph. D. candidate and member of the city council for the city of Titusville, Florida.
Bryer and Stoeckel offered a balanced perspective illustrating what can go very right and tragically wrong in the social media space. Concluding the presentation, Bryer offered the following six rules of thumb:
1. Be strategic in design and implementation of a social media public participation process.
“Having social media without a strategy can lead you into a path of uncertainty and potential problems with your citizens.”
2. Use available technologies but do not force technologies; every tool has strengths and weaknesses.
“Facebook is popular but it’s not the be all and end all. Twitter is popular but it’s not the most effective tool if you want to have two-way dialogue and communication.”
3. Be open to learn about technologies and how to improve their use for public participation from citizens.
“I use social media in teaching and I know that my students are more aware of how to use SnapChat and Instagram and other things than I am, so I ask them, ‘How can I best use this technology to facilitate our teaching and learning process?’ You can do the same thing with your citizens. Be open to learning from them.”
4. Promote civility and reduce timidity.
“That’s the civility code: You want people to participate but in a meaningful and constructive way.”
5. Be a full participant in discussions, and do not censor any perspectives.
“And you, yourself, as cities want to be a full participant in discussions without censoring any perspectives but by abiding to any civility codes.”
6. Use the same process as in an organizational strategic plan or public participation process plan: Know your objective, align strategies, and measure or track how you are doing.
“I can’t stress enough. Be strategic. Strategic. Strategic.”
You can access this presentation and other 2018 ICMA Annual Conference sessions through the ICMA Virtual Annual Conference archives.