Four Truths About Social Media

Posted on March 3, 2023

A woman holds a smartphone while surrounded by illustrations representing social media

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Danielle Rogers, Community Marketing Manager for the City of Newton, Iowa. Connect with Danielle on LinkedIn.

What I’m reading: The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey

What I’m watching: National Geographic’s Trafficked with Mariana Van Zeller

What I’m listening to: I’m rotating between SIX: The Musical (Studio Cast Recording) and P!nk’s TRUSTFALL

Whether we like it or not, social media is the communication tool that can reach the most people in your city. More than your Council meetings. More than email newsletters. More than your website. More than your local media. Since 2006, I’ve used social media to market a junior hockey team, I’ve used social media to help salespeople sell promotional products and market the corporate company brand, and today I’m using social media to connect with the community that the City of Newton serves. Right now, I manage 15 different social media accounts across four social media networks for my municipality. It’s a powerful arsenal of communication tools, but it’s also a burden that can be very heavy. And if you aren’t in it daily, you may need help understanding it. Let’s jump to four truths about social media that everyone should understand, especially if you have a member of your staff managing your social media and aren’t in it every day.

  1. It’s exhaustively frustrating. 

Yes, I just went through an explanation of how it’s necessary. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating. As someone with a journalism background, I would much rather put information out and *poof* people find it, read it, and understand it. But that’s not reality. Social media is not known for being a place of unicorns, rainbows, and glitter. Using social media professionally should not be done in less than five minutes once a month. You must spend some time on the platforms to ensure things are hitting right and your messaging is getting out there. Sometimes your content will be well received; other times, you don’t know what happens when a post goes “viral.” Social media shouldn’t be the only place you publish information. Still, sometimes it feels like the only place you can reach people. Social media can feel like an extra distraction to add to your life, which can be frustrating when many of us try to manage four or five other tasks.

  1. Social media can be challenging. 

It truthfully wasn’t initially meant for organizations, brands, etc. Some might argue with that. But I remember Facebook being where I could find that guy from my 8 a.m. economics lecture and figure out who he was, or where I would write on my roommate’s Facebook wall about nonsense that no one would understand even while we sat across the room from each other. I also remember social media being where I shared many random updates, photos, and stories about my personal life — from the party I went to during Drake Relays or the road trip with my friends. I took to Iowa City for a football game. It was not where I went to find valuable or new information, but that’s what it’s become. And as local governments, some of what we need to communicate is challenging and only sometimes makes sense as people scroll by on their phones. Then add the First Amendment, open meeting laws, public information requests, and other laws that differ by city and state; using social media in a government capacity can be challenging.

  1. It isn’t pleasant, and it’s evolving.

Social media is an ugly place. People hide behind computer screens and will send you hateful messages, spew disinformation, and constantly harass you. They might be your actual residents or constituents. But in many cases, the harassment comes from an anonymous profile picture with a made-up name. It makes it hard to find the good in the world when the ugly continues to throw itself against the screen of your computer. And suppose you’re someone who struggles with change. In that case, it can be even more challenging because social media constantly changes. Even on a single network, such as Facebook, the features and functions can radically differ from one month to the next. And we frequently have to pay attention to laws, regulations, and changes being made at different levels of government or even within our own that change how we interact with social media (and many times, we’re never brought in until AFTER a rule has changed).

  1. It’s vital.

But in the end, social media is vital to reach the residents of our communities. In 2022, Hootsuite found 4.74 billion people worldwide using social media. The average user will visit 7.2 social media platforms each month. Thankfully, no local government is trying to reach billions of people. Still, many of my community’s residents turn to Facebook for information before visiting our website. Social media is essential, and it can’t be ignored. (Even if we wish, we could ignore it).

These four truths should make you consider the staff you have managing your municipality or agency’s social media. Check on them, ensure they take care of themselves, and let them know you understand that their job isn’t easy but that you appreciate everything they do. Because, in many cases, a simple acknowledgment makes a #socialgov professionals’ day (or week) easier.

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