Buying Into Social Media

Posted on December 16, 2013

ELGL green icon

This is the first installment of the ELGL orginal content series, “Broken Social Scene” by Patrick Rollens, Oak Park (IL) communications and social media and reigning Knope of the Week. Patrick will share his experience in effectively using social media in local government. Prior to entering the public sector, Patrick worked as a digital producer for the Chicago Tribune.

Patrick Rollens

download (2)

Village of Oak Park, Communications and Social Media

Awards: First Place, Use of Social Media, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and Best Website Redesign Society for News Design

Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

Connect: with Oak Park Facebook, PinterestTwitterWorld Wide WebYouTube

Buying Into Social Media

vitage social mediaI made a few assumptions in my recent webinar about social media in local government – specifically, I sort of assumed that my audience was already dabbling in social media. But that’s not always the case. Plenty of municipalities are just starting to dip a toe in the water of “this whole Facebook thing,” or “the Twitter.” So this month I’ll discuss some ways that you can go about getting buy in for your organization’s nascent social media efforts.

In a way, I was pretty fortunate – the Village of Oak Park had already set up a bunch of social media pages when I arrived in summer 2012, and we had a social media policy in effect. I didn’t have to worry about seeking buy-in – I could focus on the daily conversation.

But buy-in is an essential first step for a municipality contemplating a social media venture. Sometimes it’s a slam dunk – maybe your elected officials have already been pushing the administration to go this route, and they’re just waiting for someone like you to step up and take the reins. Other times, however, you’ll need to make your case. Here are a few bullet points to consider when drafting that impassioned email laying out your case for social media in your organization.

Go where the conversation is

hangoutcapture1One of the biggest mistakes local government can make it trying to control the venue. Nevermind the message – controlling the message is fine and a necessary evil. But the venue itself is not something we can control – just ask any organization that has promoted a “town hall forum” for weeks and weeks, only to address a mostly empty chamber on the big night. Luckily for us, our residents are already on social media. Facebook has already become a digital hangout for neighborhoods around the country. Twitter keeps on-the-go citizens connected to their digital networks 24 hours a day. There’s room in this formula for local government, so it’s incumbent on us to engage with people on social media.

Expect success (with a few speed bumps)              

funny-gifs-speed-bumpHow quaint must it have been when television arrived on the local gov scene. I’m sure some elected officials and administrators resisted it (“How are we going to get anything done if we’re being watched all the time?!”) but of course, television made an indelible mark on our culture and we’ve never looked back. The same goes for social media. There’s a tendency among some local government folks to fear it because they don’t understand it. Local governments should plan for success rather than try to predict all the pitfalls. Sure, there will be a few speed bumps along the way. Errant tweets, broken links, irate Facebook posts from constituents – these are small potatoes compared to the universal benefits to local government that come through having a presence in social media.

Social media enforces brevity – and wit         

download (1)A huge pet peeve of mine is the word “utilize.” I hated it when I was a journalist, and imagine my shock when I came to work in local government –it’s everywhere! It shows up time and time again in forms, policies, contracts and commentaries. In every instance, we can just say “use” and convey the same message. But on Twitter, with its 140-character limit on messages, “utilize” shows its true colors and becomes a letter-hungry demon. The immediacy of social media forces local government to get over their penchant for wordiness and adopt a much more brief, informative tone. We’ll be challenged to get our message out there using a minimum of jargon and hedging. This is a win for the public – and if we can do it with a dose of wit and charm, all the better.

You’ll be painfully, tragically hip



I found my local gov job on Twitter, and I suspect I’m not the only one with that story. It’s a priority these days for towns and municipal organizations around the country to attract and retain the next generation of workers – as both residents and potential employees. Social media is the most important platform for reaching these young adults. They’ve grown up with it, and mobile technology has kept pace to the point where we all carry around our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram feeds in our pockets. Local government has a chance here to shed its image as a stuffy old bureaucracy and adopt social media as an important venue to communicate with young people.

Social media in local gov works best when it has buy-in at every level, from IT to the manager’s office. If you run into resistance, hopefully these points will give you some ammunition to press ahead with your plan. If you’d like to chat more about getting buy-in from your organization, don’t hesitate to drop me a line:

Supplemental Reading


Close window