Revised with new information as of January 1, 2018

A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
charities, schools, public sector agencies & other mission-based agencies
by Jayne Cravens
via & (same web site)


For Local City & County Governments:
You Should Be Using Social Media.
Here's How.

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 countries. 

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 seconds.

What should your city council or county government share regularly and promptly on social media?

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 by 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."  

GooglePlus for 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 Twitter.

Instagram for 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 Instagram.

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 questions.

What about comments?

Disclaimer: I'm no lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice.

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 avoid them.

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):
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 look like.

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:

16 Ingenious Ways Local Governments Use Social Media, from a for-profit company called ViewPoint, that helps government agencies adopt "better technology."

Cities Must Change Facebook Page Names, or Else from Government Technology magazine

The City That Incorporated Social Media Into Everything (Roanoke, Virginia)

Social Media & Government: Cutting Red Tape for Increased Citizen Engagement, from Sprout Social

Social Media & Governments Legal & Ethical Issues by representatives of the law firm of Gilberts, Lindenhurst, and Wadsworth, published in November 2013

Use 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 handle comments.

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