Local Governments Using Social Media

The social media uses by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign may very well turn into one of the biggest case studies of this decade. His ability to engage new audiences and interest young voters through social media networking powered a movement despite overwhelming odds against him.

His campaign was able to raise more donations, not through fundraisers but tapping into social media resources as well as organizing local groups to help gain millions of supporters, get people out to vote and fight smear campaigns.

A year later, Obama hasn’t stopped using social media. He now uses it to govern, often sending out email blasts to garner support for various bills. Now local governments are jumping on the social media bandwagon and as Kelli Matthews writes in Thoughts Out Loud: Local Governments Using Social Media, there are some tips that they need or should follow in order to be effective.

One key point I found extremely important is the ability of local governments to be human and be real. Social media is all about interacting. If people feel that they are being sold or told how to think or feel, they aren’t going to pay attention. They want to engage, to give opinion and to have conversations.

How should governments participate? Three main points: Listen first, be authentic and be strategic. Governments need to know what conversations are being had so that what they want to talk about is relevant and important to its online constituents. Be authentic. If you aren’t, the internet is too fast with too many people and wrong or misleading messages can blow up, and quick.

And what about those who have negative comments. I say perfect. This is the time to clear the air or respond appropriately and publicly. One suggestion Matthews gives is to have a policy in place for hate speech, porn or other inappropriate material. Both Facebook and YouTube empowers people to alert them of inappropriate material, local governments should too.

Social media, no matter who you are or what you do (ie Employees being discreet about their jobs, professional athletes engaging with fans), there needs to be a set of guidelines and I think this blog does a great job of that.

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8 Responses to Local Governments Using Social Media

  1. Dawn Gilpin says:

    Amanda, great post topic. The City of Phoenix Planning Dept. was a client last semester; you might want to use them as an example, since they have started doing a few things with social media after reading student proposals.

  2. bgansar says:

    It’s true that government now has such a great advantage with social media being at its height. No matter what the valence of topics, if the research is done to see what is being said, then using the power of the government to send out a message or ask what can be done to change an attitude is so simple this way. It is taking people who we, as citizens, think are unreachable and putting them on a level with us. My only skepticism is with all of the “fakers” out there who make a mock twitter account and pretend to be someone they aren’t. Is there a way for us to make sure we are following the correct people? How do I know that the Obama campaign I follow is really his when it only updates once a month, but with legitimate comments?

  3. Dawn Gilpin says:

    Amanda, I just noticed you didn’t tag your post with your team’s category–please go back and do that. Also, you appear to have copied and pasted the text from Word or some other software, so the formatting is off. Please fix it. Let me know if you need help doing that.

  4. kinoshita says:

    I agree that President Obama’s campaign will be an influential case study for years to come and serve as a measurement for how powerful social media can be. Without a doubt Obama blew his competition out of the water with his understanding and use of social media.

    Matthews gives a list of reasons why local governments should engage in social media. She’s right. The conversation is going on without them regardless of whether or not they participate. We’ve heard this countless times in class. If they join the conversation they can begin to influence it, and I don’t mean influence in terms of manipulation. Be authentic and transparent goes without saying. Even more so in government because there is distrust between government and the people to begin with. I think negative comments are good for the reasons Matthews mentioned and guidelines for typical online protocol is most appropriate.

    I can’t help but wonder, however, if local governments should participate in social media if they aren’t going to devote the time, energy and means required to really use social media effectively. Social media platforms demand time and thought- strategy. The conversation needs to be casual and intentional at the same time. That’s not always natural or easy. I guess my point is local governments need to be involved in the conversation, but they shouldn’t jump in and out of the conversation either.

  5. mkuhl says:

    When Obama was running for office, I remember hearing about the statistic of the average amount donated to his campaign. It was somewhere around $20. That is astounding, considering in the past it has been noticably higher, as well as the average amount for McCain’s campaign also being significantly higher than that as well. A lot of this came from the youth of America, and I think this says a lot. It was nice seeing the youth get so politically active and I know social media played a big part in doing that. I think social media is now not only smart for political candidates to take part in, but essential.

  6. glindsay says:

    This is one thing I’ve been watching fairly closely as it ties in with what I help out with at Phoenix Fire Department. It can be tough to respond to true criticism for certain areas of the government, but I think it’s important to because the conversations are happening anyway whether a government agency adds its two cents or not. Great post!

  7. sclarke says:

    I have been very interested in the government and how they use social media effectively. I can honestly say that politics has come of interest to me because of the youth movement that was formed through the Obama campaign by using such sites as Facebook and Myspace. They even created an “Obama Application.” This is something I have no seen a lot of or I haven’t noticed until last year.

    This case study is an excellent representation of how social media can really enhance somebody’s reputation. Good job on this post. Very interesting to read!

  8. cgharai says:

    I agree, social media is all about interacting. This component is now equally as important as other PR initiatives. The goal of social media/media relations to boost performance by creating a consistent voice. Obama’s voice is indeed a great example of gearing towards your audience. As far as the government participation is this, they should outsource this responsibility to create more jobs in the US right now. That is just my personal opinion, given the current uncertain conditions of our nation. I agree with Matthews, certain policies should be in place to guard against tarnishing public initiatives like hate speeches. The point of social media is to develop measurable goals, and such policies can make sure that those goals are achieved through targeted audiences.

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