December 13, 2018 | by Josh Faust

The need for real-time information is now the norm, not the exception. Any municipality can tell you that residents expect quick answers and accurate information as part of their daily lives. From breaking news to “sound bites,” quick blurbs of information appeal to the individual on-the-go far more than an expansive report or binders of complex engineering data. The average customer wants an answer, not an explanation.

How can organizations meet this growing need for immediate news? Many are turning to social media solutions.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, about two-thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news on social media. Pew also reports that 68 percent of U.S. adults are on Facebook—most of them logging on daily—and nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults use YouTube.

It’s unsurprising then that, even for government agencies, social media can help answer the information needs of large customer networks by delivering real-time information to residents and officials 24/7. A savvy social media program can provide important alerts to residents on-the-run, delivered to smart devices, iPads, tablets, and computers.

For example, a large, urban department of transportation might reach out in real-time using social media solutions to notify residents of issues potentially affecting the transportation system, such as impending seasonal storms and forecasted impacts, major road conditions, clean-up efforts, public works programs, and individual project statuses like neighborhood resurfacing or rehabilitation projects. A social media platform can also be used to advertise special events like National Public Works Week or community meetings.

At the federal level, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has cultivated an enormous following on social media, with nearly 30 million followers on Twitter alone. And as you might expect, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses numerous social media platforms in its efforts to provide information and engage with the public during all phases of a disaster.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) takes a lighthearted (but still educational!) approach to airport screening regulations in its “They Brought What?” series on their YouTube channel.

The center of TSA’s social media efforts, Ask TSA, is a social hub for addressing travelers’ questions and concerns that has received tens of thousands of inquiries since its launch.

But social media is a good choice for more than federal agencies! To see some creative ways that local governments are using social media, check out this blog from ViewPoint Cloud.

Small investment, big return

Government agency social media programs have seen impressive returns in positive public response, improved customer satisfaction, and diminished complaints—and have seen millions of page views on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube from an engaged public.

In addition to offering real-time information, other benefits of leveraging social media in public programs include:

  • Opportunity to provide general information about services, projects, meetings, etc.
  • Ability to evolve to meet changing needs and conditions.
  • Increased citizen engagement and stronger community relations.
  • Constant communication during emergencies.
  • Ability to respond to questions and concerns.
  • Potential employee connections and recruitment.
  • Coordination and engagement for events.
  • Integration with GIS and with maps, infographics, and other visuals.
  • Minimal costs to taxpayers to implement.

Citizen engagement

Because of the inherently social nature of social media, communicating on the social web offers expanded opportunities for citizen engagement. Social media is a smart, efficient way to collect public feedback from and engage with a large, diverse array of followers. Just a few possibilities include:

  • Live Tweeting or hosting a Twitter Q&A session.
  • Using Facebook Live for public meetings.
  • Using social media to solicit feedback on a specific program or project.
  • Conducting a survey via social media to get community input.

Not only is it important for agencies to ask questions and offer opportunities for feedback on social media, it is also important to respond to comments received, good or bad.

The ability to cross post, share, retweet, etc., also means greater opportunities for collaboration among agencies and communities to spread critical information. For example, local law enforcement agencies have used Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods, to share important alerts about crime and other potential threats. City and county social media programs may likewise monitor and share content from surrounding areas that will be of interest or concern to residents.

Communications convergence

Within an organization, integrating communications to reach customers with important messaging and information is also an important part of leveraging social media solutions. By merging social media, in-house IT solutions, handheld devices, internet, print newsletters, websites, and more under one integrated communications program, an organization can expanded its outreach efforts significantly to an entire customer base.

Yet, even with social media’s widespread popularity as a communications tool, government agencies have been behind the curve in the effective use of social media. A social media platform is a powerful tool for getting information to those who need it, when they need it, and should continue to be embraced by agencies charged with serving the public.

EBA Engineering welcomes the opportunity to speak with your organization about a real-time information program and social media solutions.

Josh Faust is a Public Outreach Manager for EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 240.777.7642 or josh.faust@ebaengineering.com.

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