Revised with new information as of
January 1, 2018
For Local City & County Governments:
Should Be Using Social Media.
No excuses: your city government or county government MUST be using
social media to communicate with your community. To not be using social
media to deliver information and to engage means you are denying critical
information to much of your community and promoting an image of secrecy
and lack of transparency. In fact, the lack of use of social media can be
seen as your city council or county government trying to hide something,
and even lead to rumors that are much harder to dispel than they would
have been to prevent.
The days of everyone getting their information from one newspaper, or
listening to a small town radio station to get critical information, are
over for much of the USA. Newspapers and local radio stations continue to
disappear and most of those that are left don't readily provide local
government-related information anymore.
This list of tips is mostly for US cities and towns under 100,000 people,
or counties under or around 500,000 - but there are certainly suggestions
here that large municipalities could use, and is easily adapted for other
Social media helps government officials and public sector officials build
relationships with residents, show transparency and exhibit a human touch
in working with the public. Yes, it means that the public will have an
outlet for anger online, but it also means they have an outlet to be
eager, committed, interested, funny and committed to their communities.
The public is not the enemy, and they shouldn't see the government as such
- we're all people, and the public deserves the very best effort of
elected officials to engage them.
Remember, you aren't creating any new text or information to share
on social media - you are using information you already have
prepared for other communications, like print newsletters and press
releases. If you are preparing public information in any format, it needs to
be provided on your social media accounts as well. Often, that means just
cutting and pasting information from another platform - it takes just
What should your city council or county government share regularly and
promptly on social media?
- Office closure reminders
- Public government meetings dates and times, like your upcoming city
council meeting or meetings where the public is invited to comment on an
issue; include links to the online agenda
- Links to the minutes from all public meetings
- Links to surveys soliciting public comment
- Links to interviews with public officials in online media (TV, radio,
- Openings on city and county citizen committees, like your historic
commission, arts commission, public safety commission, bicycle and
pedestrian commission, housing commission, etc.
- City or county government office paid job openings
- Repostings from other government agencies, like the fire department,
the police department, the city library, waste management, etc.
- Repostings from key nonprofits in your area, like the local community
theater auditions or performances, dates of parades, etc.
- Anything you are publishing in a newsletter you include in a public
utility bill (make each information item a separate post)
- Deadlines for registering to vote for an upcoming election
- Reminders of upcoming elections
- Links to non-partisan, neutral information about upcoming ballot
measures or bond issues
- Election results
- Road construction updates and road closings
- Reminders about key community events, like the weekly farmer's market
or the upcoming county fair
- Information about government representatives that will attend at a
public event, like the upcoming county fair, and where your display
table will be
- Press releases and press statements
- Reminders of school closures and in-service days
- Public service announcements, like days that it is too dangerous to
leave pets or children in parked cars for ANY length of time
- Awards to government officials
- Thanks yous to departing interns
- Announcement of retirements
- Announcement in changes in senior staff at major city or county
- Major warnings about the weather
- Acknowledgements of key observances, like Black History Month, Earth
Day, and key religious holidays
You may want people to know about the availability of flu shots, about
a traffic light software glitch, about public transit changes - whatever
is going to affect a large portion of your community and may result in
phone calls and emails to your city or county offices.
But what about the law?!?
In collaboration with a member of your legal team, create a policy
regarding what comments are allowed, and what comments are NOT allowed and
will be deleted, and clearly state these policies on all of your social
media accounts and your web site. There is some great advice regarding
legal issues and how to create a social media policy via Social
Media & Governments Legal & Ethical Issues
representatives of the law firm of Gilberts, Lindenhurst, and Wadsworth,
published in November 2013.
Which social media should you be using
Facebook for all of
the above. Yes, all of it. Until Facebook is no longer so popular, all of
the above needs to be posted to your Facebook page promptly.
Remember: Most people will see your posts in their newsfeed, not because
they decided to go visit your Facebook page. The more people that like
your Facebook status update, and the more people that share it, the
greater chance it will show up in people's newsfeeds. You will also want
to use the Events feature on Facebook to input information about upcoming
official events; anyone who chooses "interested" or "going" for the event
will get reminders of the event automatically (but if you need RSVPs, you
need to make sure people know that if they mark "going" as to whether or
not this is an official RSVP or not). and remember that you should have a
Facebook PAGE for your city office or department, NOT a Facebook account
that people "friend."
all of the above as well. I know that GoogePlus is not that popular, but
posting here greatly improves the search engine results on Google for your
city or county government office. Just post exactly the same thing you
post to Facebook to your GoogePlus page.
Twitter for most of
the above, particularly the urgent items, like weather-related closings,
and links to information that relates to your city or county government
being in the news lately. Do NOT create an online bridge between your
Facebook and Twitter accounts, where everything you post to Facebook gets
posted to Twitter! This creates truncated, meaningless messages on
for the fun stuff, like photos of city council members at the local
farmer's market. You can also do screen captures of short public notices
from your city or council newsletter and post them on your Instagram
account as photos - just make sure you also cut and paste the text in the
description as well.
YouTube for all
videos. You will also share links to these on Facebook and GooglePlus for
sure, and probably Twitter as well. You may also want to share videos to
It's not absolutely necessary for you to use the hottest social media app
for today that will be gone tomorrow, or something especially niche, like
Snapchat. But such tools can be great for reaching younger people, and for
posting fun things. These tend to be time-intensive to use, however.
How often to post?
It's not too much to post three times a day. You certainly should be
posting once a day at least three times a week. But what's more important
is that you must RESPOND. Not to every comment, but certainly to ALL
What about comments?
Disclaimer: I'm no lawyer and this should not be considered
Many government offices and elected bodies avoid social media because
they fear negative public comments and per unfounded fears of legal
issues. The reality is that those fears are mitigated just as they are
regarding onsite, public comments at, say, city council meetings. If you
are transparent and consistent about your policy regarding deleting
comments or closing comments on your Facebook page, you will probably
avoid most, if not all, social media public relations problems. It might
not be easy to read negative comments, but it is better in the long run to
have a full understanding of various opinions and needs than to try to
The reality also is that most people who comment on your posts on social
media are going to say "thank you" or something else positive - if anyone
posts at all. Don't be surprised if most of your posts never receive any
comments at all.
If someone has a question in response to a social media post, answer it promptly.
If someone has a complaint, address it, or link to where you address it, promptly.
The best approach to resolving a complaint posted in response to a
social media post you have made may be to invite the person that is
complaining to someone's office to explain face-to-face his or her
concerns, or ask the person to email a certain person with his or her
phone number to set up a phone conversation to talk about the issue.
If negative comments are becoming repetitive - the same negative comment
over and over - you may want to turn off commenting and end the response
period to a social media post, HOWEVER, before doing so, post a comment
yourself saying that you are turning off the comments because the
conversation has become repetitive, and remind everyone how to call or
email their feedback, or of a public meeting where their comments could be
expressed in person.
You do NOT have to respond to trolling comments, like "the county
magistrates are all a bunch of idiots", and those may be deleted, however,
they should be screen captured and that image saved on the government
office's hard drive or an intranet before the comments are deleted from
social media, in the remote chance that they are needed later for a formal
complaint or legal action. Again, if you fear more trolling, you can also
turn comments off, but before doing so, post a comment reminding everyone
how to call or email their feedback and saying, "We're turning comments
off for this thread."
You may want to email or send a direct message to a person whose
comment is being deleted, explaining exactly why the comment is being
deleted from your Facebook page and how the person can register a formal,
official complaint against the government office. Be sure to save this
communication in the remote chance that they are needed later for a formal
complaint or legal action.
What comments should be deleted from your social media page? Were I to
write a policy, I would say that the following comments should be deleted
(but only after screen captures and preservation of those images offline):
- a threat to safety (death threats or other threats of violence towards
- an accusation against an elected official, staff member, volunteer or
- the naming of an elected official, staff member, volunteer or
contractor who is subject of an allegation,
- a violation of your office's confidentiality policy,
- a message that could be considered as harassment,
- a message that could be considered racist, obscene, sexist, or
insulting to an entire nationality, region, religion or philosophy
(including people who are atheists)
- profoundly inaccurate information, like "Vaccines cause autism!" or
"the city council are all members of the Illuminati"
Don't just write these prohibitions in your social media policy: have a
training for key staff on what violations of these policies would actually
Encourage key staff to "like" posts
Don't require staff to "like" posts made to your city or county
government page, but do encourage them to "like" such. The more "likes" a
status gets, the more often it will show up in people's newsfeeds.
All communications staff must be involved in this
Some towns or cities are going to have whomever is in charge of public
relations to also do the actual posting and responding on social media.
Some are going to place the overall responsibility in that person's job
description, but have someone else to actually do the posting and
responding - even a volunteer. Whomever it is, remember that this
isn't just posting information; this is community engagement. Treat
it as seriously as you want the community to treat you.
Other sites that provide guidance on this topic:
Ingenious Ways Local Governments Use Social Media, from a for-profit
company called ViewPoint, that helps government agencies adopt "better
Must Change Facebook Page Names, or Else from Government Technology
City That Incorporated Social Media Into Everything (Roanoke,
Media & Government: Cutting Red Tape for Increased Citizen
Engagement, from Sprout Social
Media & Governments Legal & Ethical Issues by
the law firm of Gilberts, Lindenhurst, and Wadsworth, published in
Caution when Monitoring Comments on Your School’s Social Media Page,
from representatives of the Franczek Radelet law firm. This article ALSO
talks about government use of social media, specifically regarding how to
& NGOs: you MUST give people a way to donate online
- Mission-Based Groups Need Use
the Web to Show Accountability
The number and tone of media stories regarding mission-based
organizations/civil society and how they spent contributions in the
wake of various disasters have done little to help such organizations
better serve people in need. Rather, by concentrating on a few bad
cases, or by misrepresenting administrative expenses as somehow
unnecessary, they have made potential supporters suspicious of all
charities, and those these organization's serve pay the ultimate
price. There has never been a better time for mission-based
organizations to use technology to show their transparency and
credibility, and to teach the media and general public about the
resources needed to address critical human and environmental needs.
- Daily, Mandatory, Minimal Tasks
for Nonprofits on Facebook & Twitter
There are a lot of nonprofits using Facebook and Twitter just to post
to press releases. And if that's how your nonprofit, NGO or government
agency is using social media, then your organization is missing out on
most of the benefits you could gain from such. Facebook, Twitter and
other social media are all about engagement. Social media is NOT
one-way communication; you want people and organizations to read your
information, but you also want them to respond to it. And they want
YOU to respond to what THEY are saying. I broke these must-do tasks
down into the most simple, basic list as possible - these tasks take
minutes, not hours, a day
Online Activities: Online Action Should Create & Support Offline
Hundreds of "friends" on an online social networking site. Thousands of
subscribers to an email newsletter. Dozens of attendees to a virtual
event. Those are impressive numbers on the surface, but if they don't
translate into more volunteers, repeat volunteers, new donors, repeat
donors, more clients, repeat clients, legislation, or public pressure,
they are just that: numbers. For online activities to translate into
something tangible, online action must create and support action. What
could this look like? This resource can help organizations plan
strategically about online activities so that they lead to something
tangible - not just numbers.
- How to handle online criticism of your
- Getting More Viewers for Your Organization's
Videos are a great way to represent your organization's work, to show
you make a difference, to promote a message or action that relates to
your mission, etc. But just uploading a video isn't enough to attract an
audience. This new page on my site offers specific steps that will get
more views for your organization's videos on YouTube. Note that many of
these tasks would be great for an online volunteer to undertake, with
guidance from an appropriate staff member.
importance of Twitter lists
awesome power of tweet tags
I won’t follow you on Twitter
(was 13) things you do to annoy me on social media
A tongue-in-cheek effort to encourage mission-based organizations to do
a better job with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social
use to organize Women’s Marches: lessons learned
Facebook was an essential tool in organizing women’s marches all over
the USA in January 2017. They may have been the largest single day of
marches in US history. This blog is a list of things I learned observing
the online organizing first hand.
dark side of the Internet for mission-based organizations
social media success? You’re probably doing it wrong.
can help you reach more people on Facebook
Potential Power for Social Good – with REAL examples.
of Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services.
Not-for-Profit and Public Sector Agencies REALLY Use Online
use social media to invite community participation, show compassion
criticism, misinformation & hate speech online
- Basic Press Outreach for Mission-Based
Like fund-raising, press relations is an ongoing cultivation process.
Your agency strategy for press coverage needs to go beyond trying to
land one big story -- you want the press to know that you are THE agency
to contact whenever they are doing a story on a subject that relates to
your mission. These are basic, low-cost/no cost things you can do to
generate positive attention from the media.
- What are good blog topics for mission-based
The word "blog" is short for "web log", and means keeping a journal or
diary online. Blogging is NOT a new concept -- people have been doing it
long before it had a snazzy media label. The appeal of blogging for an
online audience is that it's more personal and less formal than other
information on a web site. Readers who want to connect with an
organization on a more personal level, or who are more intensely
interested in an organization than the perhaps general public as a
whole, love blogs. Blogs can come from your Executive Director, other
staff members, volunteers, and even those you serve. Content options are
many, and this list reviews some of
- For Nonprofits Considering Their Own
Podcasts: Why It's Worth Exploring, and Content Considerations
(includes my own podcast)
- How folklore, rumors and
urban myths interfere with development and aid/relief efforts and
how to prevent or address such.
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