How a Government Uses Social Media to Engage Its Citizens in 6 Steps

Ranked first in the 2015 Digital Counties Survey, Fairfax County, Virginia, uses social media to provide better information security, transparency, and citizen engagement through digital communications.

This local government now offers innovative lessons for governments of all sizes on how to use social media during emergencies and to inform future government initiatives. With the help of Hootsuite, Fairfax County successfully scaled social media—starting with one social account and expanding to 30 across several departments.

6 steps Fairfax County took to scale social media across departments

The centralized Office of Public Affairs decided to start off with one official account for each social network. In the long term, staff knew that a handful of accounts couldn’t support 1.1 million constituents served by so many departments, but their first step was to understand the channels and best practices for security.

“We wanted to build momentum and measure our success on one account before expanding across the entire organization,” says Greg Licamele, director of external communications for Fairfax County Government. “We needed to know why social—what are the challenges, risks, and benefits, and what’s our strategy for each department.”

The steps:

  1. Departments apply for social media accounts, bringing strategy and content ideas to the initial discussion.
  2. Licamele, as the Hootsuite super administrator, creates all accounts and adds users into their Hootsuite organization with appropriate publishing access and team collaboration abilities. This gives the super administrator centralized control and secures the account, but also allows teams to coordinate content, assign messages, and easily access metrics—all without needing to share passwords.
  3. All team members go through social media training before accessing Hootsuite. This is when team members learn how to publish and engage as a government spokesperson—especially for emergency communications. They previously had training in place for engaging with press, but added social media training for security, efficiency, and branding reasons.
  4. Departments start publishing and listening through Hootsuite dashboard. They’re encouraged to cross-promote content from other departments and engage with constituents based on best practices learned during training.
  5. Establish centralized office and command center for support, coordination, and listening. The Office of Public Affairs oversees all social media accounts and can assign Tweets to the right account. Centralized coordination is essential during emergencies to send information out quickly and provide guidance if needed.
  6. Measure success by running metric reports that show the health of accounts through fan and follower growth, impressions and reach, popular content, and long-term patterns, to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not.

“With Hootsuite, we can assign Tweets to police, for example, and send the same Tweet out over all accounts to reach as many people as possible during a crisis,” says Licamele. “If there’s a large scale emergency, we have policies and know how to act.”

Using digital communications to improve public services

“We needed to shrink Fairfax County’s 400 square miles into one centralized dashboard in which we’re all collaborating toward the same mission,” says Licamele. “For security reasons and scalability, we need to be organized and see everything.”

Before social media, Fairfax County would hope that media would pick up a story and relay the right information to the public. Today, they take control of the story. Using social media, they can quickly squash rumors, share emergency information, and market events or services.

“Numbers don’t always tell the whole story,” says Licamele. “We know that more people are getting our information—and that is a quantitative result of using social media across so many accounts within Hootsuite.”

Fairfax County now successfully distributes emergency information fast and efficiently through coordinated efforts across social media. For example:

  • A prisoner escaped from a hospital at 4 a.m.: Roads were closed, the hospital was on lockdown, and transportation services were put on hold. The Office of Public Affairs immediately supported the police department as police relayed critical updates emergency information and updates across their social channels until the prisoner was captured.
  • Fairfax County Animal Shelter increased its live release rate from 75 percent in 2009 to 95 percent in 2014: Before social media, the animal shelter department didn’t have a dedicated channel to share images and information on animals needing a home. Thanks to social media, the animal shelter drives more awareness and now has a 95 percent placement rate of adoptable pets.
  • A rumor spread that an Ebola patient was in the hospital at Fairfax County: The health department was aware that something like this could happen, but when rumors turned into news stories and viral social media messages, Fairfax County Health Department had to act quickly. Three staff members took the lead on social media. Two staff answered questions and reassured the public; the other monitored feeds, assigned messages, and strategized the best approach.

“‘Ebola patient in Fairfax’ was trending in our Hootsuite streams,” says Anne Cissel, communications specialist for Fairfax County Health Department. “We found out later that it was a mere rumor, but at the time [the Health Department and Public Affairs] divided and conquered the messages in Hootsuite to contain the crisis.”

Fairfax County turned in part to Hootsuite not only to scale social media, but also to mitigate any risks by being strategic, collaborative, and organized. They now empower departments to embrace social media.

Learn more about how other customers #WinWithSocial using Hootsuite.


The post How a Government Uses Social Media to Engage Its Citizens in 6 Steps appeared first on Hootsuite Social Media Management.

from Hootsuite Social Media Management


Author: Dewey D. Guinn

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