Minnesota Cities Magazine

Two-Way Street: What Is Your City’s Approach to Social Media?

Pam Dmytrenko, assistant city manager, Richfield PAM DMYTRENKO
Assistant City Manager/HR Manager
City of Richfield

Social media has become the new form of communication for many people. Recognizing this shift, Richfield has enthusiastically embraced social media and developed a robust presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Yet, we’ve also proceeded with caution to avoid pitfalls that can easily derail our communication efforts.

Richfield’s approach to its use of social media has been to allow trained staff to participate in an online presence as long as they have the tools and knowledge to support the city’s communication goals and objectives.

The city first waded into social media by establishing city Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote upcoming events and inform residents of news and notices. Subsequently, we created additional Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts focused on specific interests.

On Facebook, our Farmers Market page features food and plant merchandise as they come into season. Our Urban Wildland Half Marathon & 5K page provides registration reminders, random drawings, and pre-race information. Our Richfield Liquor Stores page features product specials and promotional events. On Twitter, the Richfield Ice Arena tweets about open rink time and upcoming hockey games. Social media has also been used to inform residents about public works projects. Project fan pages include photos, status updates, notifications of road closures or utility outages, and public meeting dates and locations. Residents can also get their questions answered and problems resolved there.

Our Police Department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts— with 600+ followers and growing—help the department to better communicate with and protect residents. They post information about major cases, arrests, suspects, emergencies, and more. Weekly trivia questions and answers have sparked conversation and clarified laws.

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, the City also posts videos on YouTube. These include Council and commission meetings, “Out & About in Richfield” shows, the city manager’s video blog, and more. YouTube also allows us to embed the videos on our website, making it easy to keep an archive without taking up local drive space.

To ensure that contributing staff understand the nuances related to social media, the city developed a Social Media Use Policy and conducted staff training. Having clear rules regarding appropriate content and online interaction etiquette has been critical to a successful social media strategy for Richfield.

Jacque Larson, community relations manager, Minnetonka JACQUE LARSON
Community Relations Manager
City of Minnetonka

The City of Minnetonka launched its Twitter account in 2008. At the time, Twitter was in its toddlerhood, and early adopters were still trying to figure out how best to use this new member of the social media family.

At first, Minnetonka’s Twitter account was linked so that every update to the city website was automatically pushed to followers. This guaranteed a maximum flow of tweets with a minimum use of staff time, but users were bombarded with information—sometimes 25 tweets a day.

While several hundred people were following the Twitter account in its automated form, there wasn’t much engagement— the whole point of social media. So, @MinnetonkaMN went on a crash diet, jettisoning the automatic feeds and relying on manual updates from communications staff. This meant choosing events and information to tweet, and creating compelling messages in 140 characters or less. The result: followers doubled to 1,800, and became more engaged, frequently retweeting and responding to our messages.

Recently, the city’s most popular tweets were those announcing detailed snow removal efforts during every snow event, and live tweets from Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider’s State of the City presentation.

Twitter has given us another great way to interact with residents. But at this point we have not decided to use any other forms of social media, partly due to limited staff resources and also because there has not been a great demand from residents.

Using Twitter has been a learning experience. If your city is thinking of using social media, consider the following:

  • Try it first. Create a personal account with the social media tool you’re considering, and get comfortable with it personally before you try using it professionally.
  • Ask why. Is there a clear business purpose to use social media? Don’t join just because everyone else is doing it.
  • Plan ahead. Create a policy for your organization. Develop a general editorial calendar listing the items you want to post on social media throughout the year.
  • Assess staff resources. Social media users expect real-time information and quick response to their questions. Determine who will monitor city social media accounts after hours.
  • Have a plan for comments. Social media is a two-way street, so be prepared for comments from your users—including negative ones. The United States Air Force has one of the most admired models for responding to criticism via social media.
    View the Air Force flow chart (pdf)

Read the May-June 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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