Citizen Say What? Moving Government Responsiveness Forward in the Age of Social Media


People talk. People ask questions. People sometimes kick, scream, curse and kung fu karate chop complain until the sun comes up.

And that’s just in person.

Add a sitting duck government profile and the comforting curtain of perceived social media facelessness to the equation, and you’ve got a recipe ripe for dishing out some of the most committed keyboard warriors to ever grace the digital landscape.

But what if there was a way to loosen the enemy line, and maybe, just maybe work to create allies?

Social media has grown from a way for friends to connect to a place where brands – yes governments are brands – have the power to not only educate and inform, but also respond and influence perception.

Gone are the days where agencies can sit idly by as the sphere of social conversation swirls around them. We, as public organizations, have the opportunity to push beyond passive communication and truly engage. Thinking progressively about the blend of content we’re promoting and how we interact with our constituents, can allow for enhanced performance both in terms of social analytics and general sentiment.

As a communications professional handling social media in the public sector, I live by a few rules that I’ve found help me make this happen on a daily basis:

1. How Can I Help You?

Having a presence on social media is one thing; being fully engaged on social media is an absolutely different ballgame. We’ve all come across “box-checker” profiles before – when you ask a question, crickets reign. The digital space has become our new utility bill window and 1-800 number. When people have a problem, they’re turning to social media more and more often to seek solutions, and as a result, we, as social media managers, must think of ourselves as front-line customer service representatives for our organizations.

Social media doesn’t turn on at 8 a.m. or quietly sneak out the door on Friday afternoon. It’s always on, and while you can certainly post your agency’s business hours or include a disclaimer that you’re not always available to answer questions on social profiles, the digital world still keeps turning.

Being active and available outside regular business hours to field questions and respond to concerns when folks need answers is a game-changer. People appreciate this, and sometimes, quick responses can deescalate those who may be frustrated or even prevent an issue from snowballing out of control.

2. Opportunity to Respond

Sure, as social govies, we all know that our agencies are out there working extremely hard to make the communities we call home better places. Unfortunately, that isn’t a universally understood fact. Unresponsive government on social media only adds to the ever-growing perception that a bunch of lazy bureaucrats are sitting around wasting hard earned tax dollars. As managers of our organization’s digital presence, we must be active and engaged in creating extremely responsive profiles.

In the same way we celebrate our biggest fans with a clever high-five GIF, we must embrace those who take the time to engage with us in an adversarial manner. In fact, those who disagree actually provide the biggest opportunity. Sometimes what we have to say may not be exactly what an individual wants to hear, but we can still listen, be responsive, and provide the opportunity for constructive dialogue to occur.

By responding to our constituents on a regular basis, we build credibility. We become known as organizations that are open, responsive, and engaging – exactly what government should be.

3. The World is Diverse – My Content Should be, Too

You know how annoying it is to see the same exact commercial over… and over… and over while you’re trying to watch the latest episode of your favorite television series? Yeah, people feel the same way about those repetitive, too-lazy-to-think-outside-the-box-and-try-something-different posts they see while scrolling through their Facebook feeds.

If we want the public to engage with our content, we have to invest in developing strategies for creating content that blends our need for disseminating government information with, well, being social. Social media wasn’t created for boring, repetitive content. In fact, the almighty algorithms are actually punishing you for this.

Change it up, have fun, and think about what causes you to “slow the scroll” next time you’re putting together content. Post engaging pictures of your community, host a live town hall, or maybe let your public safety team get in on a little carpool karaoke.

Whatever you do, get creative with it.

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