Friday, June 04, 2010

Critiquing the city of Asheville's growing social media presence

From the Jason Sandford/Ashvegas column today in the Citizen-Times:

Asheville city government has launched an aggressive plan to communicate with residents in cyberspace. The problem: The city's trying to run before it knows how to walk.

The city on Thursday invited a group of about 30 people, including local reporters, bloggers, marketers and social media experts, to City Hall to hear details of its new social media strategy. It's a significant public relations push for local government, which is spending thousands of taxpayers' dollars to boost its online presence.

City spokeswoman Dawa Hitch says the goal is to increase “citizen engagement” by having government workers sending out and receiving information on social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. That's a fine target, but Hitch admitted that the city would concentrate first on getting information out and probably wouldn't be responding much online to residents.

If you're not going to be social on social media, why bother? The benefit of interacting with people online is the ability to provide valuable information quickly and the ability to show people that you're listening. If you don't do that, you won't gain many cyberspace pals.

Full column here. May require C-T login.

I sent my own ideas to Dawa Hitch in an email to her. Here's what I had to say as a social media marketer and experienced social media campaign leader:

As for me, I'd love to see the city of Asheville cultivate citizen
partners -- people who are willing to gather info (news, photos, etc)
and use that to engage social media users directly. I know there isn't
a huge budget in place for city social media (a shame -- it deserves
FT attention), but the street team/guerilla way of doing things can be
very effective. An example of a way to engage citizen users might be
to have a team of people livetweeting, webcasting and photographing
city events like Bele Chere, all using a hashtag. I think people would
LOVE to do that.

I would also love to see more meetings like today's, but with an
agenda and structure more clearly defined (I know today's goal was to
start things, and to listen). Maybe even have a networking event,
where local social media people can meet city employees (and each
other), and learn what they really do.

I'd love to see some very specific social media GOALS for Asheville
(use social media to educate people on accessing and understanding
budget data, have a regular schedule of budget data release, with
pre-publicity; post and share minutes from city meetings; create a
city Flickr account, maybe even with citizen access; create an
actionable, assigned social media plan for info-sharing and response
during emergencies/disasters) and it'd be lovely if they were created
in collaboration with citizen social media users.

I've wanted for MONTHS to have a disaster-response forum in which the
APD, Fire & Rescue, Charter, the city, Progress Energy, all got
together and decided how to best leverage social media in times of
disaster. Pre-create hashtags, have action plans in place for power
outages, snowstorms, flooding, you name it...

What else do we bloggers of Asheville have to say to the city about how it's using its growing new social media presence?

Please comment!


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ThomRansom said...

I'm Liking this idea Jennifer. It sounds like a very empowering way for the public to maintain transparency and accountability in local government. What's more, it seems like a great way for residents to show the character that makes this city such a great place to live. I think this is what Jason was trying to get at in his C-T article. I'm sorry I didn't think of it first. Cheers!

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Jeremy said...

Is this Facebook friend request I just received from "Asheville Nc" from the city? If so, the city definitely still has its training wheels on. Until they learn the difference between creating a Facebook profile and a fan page, I'm clicking "Ignore."

bmccall17 said...

Love these ideas Jennifer.
Can any of this be initiated BY the citizen social media users? I mean, would it make sense to put a small amount of time into organizing the basics (enough to paint the picture and share the vision) with the greater goal of approaching City decision makers on the idea?

Larger question: Does Government move too slow for Social Media?! We are in a NOW era... and government has NEVER operated in a NOW mode. Is it possible that government will never be able to keep up?

Great post!