New research shows that less than 50% of European municipalities (towns and cities) make any use of social media. Yet over 390 million Europeans are involved in social networking and see Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and other social media as primary means of communication. A missed opportunity if ever there was one. But why should municipalities employ social media? How can they benefit from them?
Many municipalities view social media as an inconvenient phenomenon. Yet a majority of civil servants, when not on duty, use social media on a daily basis to interact with friends, family and even to do business. So where is the catch? Apparently some of the municipalities’ regulations and habits with regards to communication with citizens stand in the way of embracing these new technologies, which causes municipalities to miss out on a unique opportunity to engage citizens.
Here are just a few of the ways in which municipalities can benefit from social media:
- Find out more about what citizens want and care about
- Make citizens more engaged with and understanding of municipal policies
- Create more and better ways of involving citizens
- Create wider support for municipal initiatives
- Improve citizens’ knowledge of municipal facilities by making available online data
- Improve quality of municipal initiatives through citizens’ and businesses’ contributions
A three (or thirty) step approach
OK, so as a municipality we can benefit from the use of social media. But how do we go about it? Just starting to tweet or setting up a blog will not do the trick, surely? No, as with every initiative, careful planning will help you to be succesful. On the web there are a great deal of plans available, some simple, some very elaborate. Have a look at http://www.slideshare.net/HeatherWhaling/social-media-for-municipalities-government.
Basically, it comes down to three steps:
- Listen carefully – what’s happening in the municipality, who is saying what and how about municipal issues, how does this affect us
- Facilitate citizens – make social media available to talk with and about the municipality, through dedicated Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, blogs and sites
- Take part in the conversation – listen, divulge and react – and keep it up!
In part 2 we will discuss social media strategies for municipalities.