Social media has become the most important tool to distribute news and communicate with residents. Granted, Hurricane Harvey changed the game for how emergency communication occurs, but it also taught cities that today they earn trust and authority through authentic conversations and constant engagement with residents, businesses and stakeholders.
1) A CITY’S SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE AND TRUST IMPACTS THEIR RESIDENTS SAFETY
Hurricane Harvey changed the face of social media forever. It taught people that immediate disaster information from reliable sources was still valued. Direct communications on social media had more impact than communication to traditional media.
Cities reported at the Texas Municipal League Conference this ability saved lives. They also learned they were still an authoritative voice. When they had a moment to digest they event, they learned a crucial new best practice. They were the authoritative voice in crisis because they speak to their residents all year long.
They determine that if they did not communicate regularly and build an audience during non-emergencies, their residents would not have trusted them during the disaster. This was tested when rumors were being spread through Facebook groups and feeds. When residents saw the City’s Facebook page responding, the rumors were stopped. Furthermore, the Facebook Groups handled the rumormongers.
As a result of an annual consistent “listening, responding and posting” presence, cities throughout the southeast Texas coast reported that social media was the best and most effective way to keep residents safe. No other form of media had the robust immediate capability to do that, not even television.
2) AS AN EDC & NEW RESIDENT TOOL A CITY SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE IS A MUST
The old days of economic development site selectors contacting a city representative at the front-end of a location search are gone. They treat city site selection like an effort that can be compared to “buying a car” or “buying a home.”
These unseen site selectors review city websites, social media and other online presences to determine the “truth” about a city. Unseen potential new residents are also doing this.
Among their techniques are “listening” campaigns inside social media. They listen to Facebook groups, Instagram hashtags, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos and other platforms to determine
if a city deserves a visit. They are looking for good and negative aspects that reveal themselves on social media.
They use this knowledge to determine if they want to put the city on its short list for relocation or building.
By the time they have contacted the local city representatives or realtors, these new residents and site selectors have already learned a great deal about the city.
A new best practice calls for a city to have a social media and digital presence that illustrates a cohesive and unified narrative. The city should be branded in an authentic way. It should illustrate solid partnerships with their residents, institutions and business community. It should dispel half-truths and rumors in a professional manner.
3) SOCIAL MEDIA AS A RESOURCE
Harvey also taught that cities that they need to be constant resource for its residents. A city should have information that residents look for such as “how to” or "what's happening" or “where do I go.”
Posts like these during the year and during non-emergencies build credibility. Residents will repost this engagement and become ambassadors.
Furthermore, residents will engage with their city as much as the city posts. Residents will begin to search for the city’s voice and message because they do not “go to the newspaper” for it anymore. While they might read the news, they search and prefer to hear from the city.
4) IMMEDIATE RESPONSE FROM RESIDENTS
Social media's instant nature makes it a perfect place to hear real-time feedback. Today, cities can post surveys, online questions, feedback posts and other techniques. These platform abilities make it a robust engagement tool.
If the city wants to know something about where to put a park or what roads it should consider repairing, it can post surveys and questions on social media and have an immediate response from residents. While a social media poll may not be the only way a city will engage residents, it is one of the most advantageous.
5) SOCIAL MEDIA IS BECOMING THE FIRST PLACE TO DISTRIBUTE NEWS
Print media newsletters, mayor columns, online newsletters, pitches to reporters, distribution of press releases and other publications or messages are all first rate material for social media.
As newsrooms move out of newsrooms, cities can begin their own. City councils that once needed a city channel, now only need Facebook to livestream meetings. Cities that needed to wait for the local paper to tell a story can now write their own. They can also distribute as often as they want on any single day.
These stories should be written from the city leaders, council or staff perspective. Known as "branded stories," they are a treasure trove for potential business, residents and stakeholders.
One of the first places to distribute is always Facebook. LinkedIn is a good place to talk to businesses and do promotion. Twitter reaches the outside world, news reporters and journalists. Instagram promotes branding efforts through captivating photos. Snapchat tells social media stories for a 24-hour period. Storify curates social media posts into a story format. YouTube is the new TV channel. Podcasting is the new radio format.
A city can use many methods to distribute its message to its residents. To start, it just needs to choose to engage with them.
Lora-Marie Bernard is the principal consultant of MuniMedia.us. She helps municipalities and governments navigate new technologies to engage residents, taxpayers and stakeholders.