The Starting Line
Social media is being used by more and more citizens, and local governments are playing catch-up as we try to figure out how to use Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms effectively. ELGL has published a few articles on the subject and saw an opportunity to share lessons learned from the “Great Oregon Twitter Race.” In this bi-monthly feature, we’ll give you behind the scenes access to each city’s approach, basically, a “Hard Knocks” type series without football, hitting, cameras, and HBO.
What is the Great Oregon Twitter Race? Towards the end of 2013, Patrick Preston, Hillsboro public affairs manager, decided to issue a challenge to neighboring jurisdictions. They wanted to expand their social media presence and specifically focus on making their Twitter account more accessible and active. So they contacted other nearby cities and a competition was born. The race was on to get to 2,014 followers in 2014, the first community to get there would be declared the winner and bragging rights would be theirs.
Not only have other cities taken notice of the “race,” newspapers, television stations, magazines and radio stations have highlighted the Twitter race.
- West Linn Tidings: First to 2,014
- Tigard Times: Cities battle to gain most Twitter followers
- Oregonian: City of Hillsboro challenges other local cities in friendly Twitter throwdown to hit 2,014 followers
- KATU News: Twitter war: Which city (or county) will win?
- American City County Magazine: The great Oregon Twitter race
- City of Beaverton: Hillsboro Issues Twitter Throwdown
The Current Standings
- @CityofTigardOR – 1,018
- @CityofHillsboro – 1,011
- @CityofBeaverton – 960
- @WestLinnUpdate– 745
- @WashcoOregon – 625
What about where each account started at? Well here were the standings on December 16, 2013
- @CityofTigardOR – 874
- @CityofBeaverton – 823
- @CityofHillsboro – 821
- @WestLinnUpdate– 666
- @WashcoOregon – 500
Now that we’ve taken care of the introductions, it’s time to hear from the competitors as they respond to the following five questions.
1. What are two strategies you’ve used to increase followers?
- Using the challenge as an opportunity to connect with our community partners such as SupaFresh (@SupaFreshYFarm), Tigard-Tualatin School District (@TigardTualSD), Balloon Festival (@TigardBalloon), and Tigard Hoops (@tigardhoops).
- Getting our staff involved with either creating a Twitter account or using the account that they already have.
Alerting our community that they will get news on our Twitter feed & website first. We announced the hiring of a new Police Chief, the opening date of our renovated Library branch, and the expansion of our community festival, Celebrate Hillsboro, on our website and then seconds later on Twitter (with a link to the website) a few minutes before we emailed news releases to the media.
Hillsboro City Council President Aron Carleson (@carleson) has gone so far as to offer personal thank you notes to those who follow the City of Hillsboro’s Twitter feed! We love that kind of support from our elected officials.
- Sending regular and consistent updates on city initiatives, events and news, etc. on a broad range of topics.
- Participating in Twitter trends, such as Throwback Thursdays.
- We profiled the Twitter Challenge in our print newsletter. In a recent survey we found that while 64% of West Linn residents use social media, but only one in four of those residents are connected with the City. So we are starting a grassroots efforts to connect our residents with our social media accounts, and the Twitter Challenge is a great place to start.
- We shared the Twitter Challenge with our City Council during their goal setting retreat, and encouraged our two Council members who are on Twitter – @CouncilorTan and @MrThomasFrank – to cross promote the challenge.
- We are following an extensive list of community partners and encourage them to follow us. Whenever possible, we try to include a partner agency’s Twitter address so we can engage in a brief conversation. The dialogue helps us support one-another’s messages while also making @WashCoOregon visible to our partner’s followers.
- Job postings seem to increase followers more than any other topic. We try to highlight recruitments that have wide appeal, such as registered nurses or administrative positions.
2. What are two challenges you’ve dealt with in increasing your Twitter presence?
- Getting people to care and understand why this challenge is a huge opportunity for expanding our communication efforts. This task was made easier by the “buzz” created from newspaper articles and radio interviews.
- We have number of Twitter feeds (economic development, library, police, roads, downtown) which can be a positive and a negative. It’s helpful to have other city feeds to spread the word about the challenge, but it’s a challenge in making sure we aren’t over communicating with citizens to the point that they “unfollow” one of our accounts.
Finding time to add Twitter content during the day when balancing other work responsibilities.
- Capacity, the public information program uses a variety of tools to connect with the community, so we have limited resources to use on each tool. However, we see the value Twitter has and are looking for ways to spend more time using it. After a three year absence from Twitter, mainly due to a lack of capacity, we are playing some catch up with the other cities and that has been a challenge in itself.
- Internal Communications, because the city is so large we may not be aware of all newsworthy activities going on. While we have frequent meetings with city departments, sometimes things fall through the cracks, so we’re working on ways to enhance cross-department communications.
- The idea of “quantity over quality”, we would rather have our Twitter followers be West Linn residents or interested in West Linn issues, than just numbers on a listing, but this is a competition to increase numbers. We want to make sure that the followers we’ve added want to read our news and updates.
- Ensuring that the voice we use on Twitter is consistent across the two people who maintain and post to the @WestLinnUpdate account.
- Having one person maintaining the County’s social media feeds can be challenging to the point of impossibility. Thankfully, content authoring is a shared responsibility within our County Administrative Office. When one of us is in a meeting or leading a presentation, another checks the feed and pushes out content.
- Managing expectation, we try hard to avoid the perception that all issues and complaints with the County can be resolved via social media. Instead, Twitter and our other feeds are there to bring awareness to sources of information or events that can be appreciated, even if attendance is not possible.
3. Have there been any unintended benefits from increasing your Twitter presence?
Tigard: I have been surprised by the interest shown by the media, other local governments, and the community. I think it’s partially due to the well-deserved perception that government is slow to embrace new ways to communicate. It also has opened my eyes to what other cities are doing. For example, the Las Vegas city manager hosted a Twitter chat this week. I’ve benefitted from staff, citizens, and family and friends who want to help out by giving suggestions or tips for increasing Twitter followers. What I’ve learned is there are a whole lot of opinions but it comes down to finding a way to make government news interesting whether through cool pictures, witty headlines, or engaging questions.
Hillsboro: We have seen the Twitter contest inspire coworkers and our community. The competition has given us a significant boost of followers in a short amount of time, including many high school students.
Beaverton: We’ve seen increased media attention from the Beaverton Leader/Oregonian, Beaverton Valley Times, KXL Radio, and KATU to name a few. They’ve provided the city with good exposure and helped us pick up some additional followers. Now that we’re on Twitter, other departments have begun feeding our team with more news content, which, in turn, helps keep our Mayor and City Council more informed.
West Linn: We were able to get our local weekly paper to write a story (and include a picture) about the Twitter Challenge. This allowed Twitter users currently following @WestLinnUpdate “to put a face with a feed.” We have gotten some traction from people in the community who are heavy Twitter users who now can communicate directly with us on issues of concern (most notably in the last week – transportation issues, and communications/outreach approaches).
Washington County: An important goal for our social media work is to open and maintain new channels for disseminating time-sensitive information during an emergency. Increasing our Twitter following only improves our ability to reach out to the public when they need us most. Another benefit has been providing another channel for communicating with our own employees. If all else fails during a natural disaster, social media may be one of the few ways to communicate about the status of County operations, public guidance about safety, etc.
4. Name a few other Twitter feeds that you think are doing it well and worth following.
- Otis White – @OtisWhite
- Bruce Katz – @bruce_katz
- SB Nation – @sbnation
- Bleacher Report – @BleacherReport
- @HillsboroFire, they both do an exceptional job of engaging with the Twitter audience and providing useful information throughout the day. We frequently retweet their posts.
- @OregonZoo, they have a very informative and fun twitter feed. Not only do you get to hear the cute animal stories, you stay informed on the latest conservation trends and sustainability efforts as well as local events.
- @TimbersFC, they have a great feed, never letting their avid fans go hungry for updates.
- @omamas, they are instantly accessible and responsive to readers’ questions and concerns.
- @washingtonpost, they are using “Twitpics” really effectively to make Twitter a visual medium with pictures and graphics.
- Rick Bella – @southnewshound, he is an adept Twitter user and he’s really fast with his posts.
- Washington County Cooperative Library Services – @wccls, we love their humor, positive tone, and responsiveness to patrons.
- Dana Tims – @DanaTims, journalist with The Oregonian, Dana has a clever way with words even when constrained to 140 characters.
- Trimet – @trimet, they do a great job of keeping the entire region in the loop about transit service. Timely tweets and a courteous tone go a long way.
5. Give the readers one piece of social media advice.
Tigard: You should be communicating seven days a week via Twitter. Just because you aren’t in the office doesn’t mean you can’t communicate from your iPhone or home computer. Your job may end at 5:00 p.m. each day but your citizens are seeking information beyond those hours.
Hillsboro: Whenever possible, include a photo.
Beaverton: Our stakeholders can often be our biggest advocates so be present and engaged. look for unique ways to interact with your stakeholders and connect with your community partners.
West Linn: We are consistently using the #WestLinn hashtag so we are able to highlight the news in our community, especially when we “live tweet” our Council meetings or share pictures and information about community events. Patrick Rollens from Oak Park, IL provided some great guidance on the potential pitfalls of using a community name in a hashtag, but we are trying to tweet frequently enough that we are “owning” this hashtag and it’s a way to market all of the great things from our community to showcase and highlight.
Washington County: We try to live by the motto “If it’s worth a tweet, it’s worth a link.” A good understanding of county government and the issues and services involved cannot be achieved through social media alone. Whenever possible, the context and data needed for this understanding ought to be available for followers using shortened URLs pointing to our website or that of a partner agency.
Now Let’s Hear from the Guru
We have recruited Patrick Rollens (@PatrickWRollens) to take a look at each participant’s twitter account to see what they are doing right, what they could improve on, and to pick out a tweet to highlight. Although he continues to protest, ELGL considers Patrick a social media expert; see his column, Broken Social Scene, and the recap of a great webinar on using social media in government, Social Media in Local Government. To appease Patrick we’ll refer to him as a social media guru and here is his take on each twitter account:
@CityofTigardOR: Tigard seems to be doing an interesting twist on the local hashtag. Rather than #Tigard for all things Tigard, they’re using #TigardVision to encourage local residents and amateur photographers to share their images on Twitter. Good stuff! This is proof that you don’t have to go the traditional route with a town hashtag.
This feed also tags other Tigard-centric users in its posts, which is great for engagement. Every time you tag another account, it sends that person an email saying they’ve been tweeted about. It’s an excellent little mini-ego-boost that takes virtually no effort on your part and really helps the community mesh together on a platform like Twitter. Here’s an example:
— City of Tigard (@CityofTigardOR) January 10, 2014
That’s three different groups tagged in one tweet. Very nice.
@WestLinnUpdate: The official Twitter page for the City of West Linn is generally perky and upbeat, which is great for driving engagement. The feed also includes plenty of meaty legislative stuff, including play-by-plays of council meetings. This is fine, as long as you’re getting some feedback from followers that they indeed want this sort of content. I generally don’t think it’s a good idea to troll for followers, so I’d avoid tweets like this:
— City of West Linn (@WestLinnUpdate) January 14, 2014
This doesn’t offer a whole lot of utility to your existing followers, which is what local gov Twitter accounts should be focused on. They’re basically being told that @WestLinnUpdate needs more followers…sad trumpet! Now imagine that that was the only tweet that a busy resident happened to see from @WestLinnUpdate all day long. I’m much more in favor of organic growth in followers based on quality content. It’s a slower process but yields more genuine followers who are less likely to unfollow you after a few short days (or hours!). But I can forgive it this time since these towns are all engaged in a cutthroat competition to accrue more followers!
@CityofBeaverton: This Twitter account is fairly new, having been resurrected in November 2013, but they’re ramping up fast. Here’s an example of a great meat-and-potatoes tweet:
It’s pretty foggy out there this morning. Have a safe commute! pic.twitter.com/U75BYtwAy8
— City of Beaverton (@CityofBeaverton) January 14, 2014
Tweets like this remind followers that you’re a part of the community and you’ve got their back each day. It’s short, to the point, and includes a photo that displays nicely on Twitter or Tweetdeck. The feed also links to their own content (that is, event listings on the Beaverton website), which is great for sending traffic back to “the mothership” as we call it in the industry. This sort of cross pollination can be done on Facebook, too. I’m seeing between 2-4 tweets per day on this account, which seems like a good volume of activity. This account is relatively new, and one of the best ways to build up a presence among your audience is by retweeting stuff from other Beaverton-centric accounts. Lastly, I noticed that several other Beaverton-ish accounts use #Beaverton but @CityofBeaverton doesn’t make use of this hashtag. Start using it!
@WashCoOregon: This feed is fairly utilitarian, focusing mostly on providing resources and directing followers to other sites and feeds for more information. Given that this organization is a county overseeing many different municipalities, I can see how this can provide value to followers. However, it lacks a clear voice and personality, which means it’ll be easy for Twitter users to lose @WashCoOregon in the tidal wave of tweets that show up in their feeds each day. But then again, maybe that is the best way for a county-level Twitter account to operate? Just thinking out loud here, but maybe the purpose of @WashCoOregon is to shine the spotlight on the many organizations that make up the county? If that’s the case, then this tweet is a great example of that on the local level:
— Washington County (@WashcoOregon) January 14, 2014
That is someone’s son, grandson, nephew, etc. And it directs users back to the Oregon County website for more information on the titular lake! I also noticed that Washington County boasts no fewer than three separate Twitter accounts, each dedicated to a particular service: @WashCoOregon, @WashCoRoads, and @WCSheriff. The sheriff thing I get, because it’s a political office as much as a public safety agency, but I’m generally not in favor of splitting your audience like this.
@CityofHillsboro: Not every tweet has to include a link or a call to action. Sometimes you can just use those 140 characters to wax eloquent about your town or organization. Check out this tweet from @CityofHillsboro:
— City of Hillsboro OR (@CityofHillsboro) December 31, 2013
That’s a really nice end-of-the-year tweet. It should resonate with your local followers and leave them excited for 2014.
Also, I’m really digging the vintage photography that a lot of these Oregon Twitter feeds are posting. Photos – especially vintage, sepia-toned pics of your downtown 100 years ago – are super for driving engagement and garnering retweets. The fact that most towns are literally sitting on a treasure trove of this stuff means we should all be doing more of it, ideally with a fun hashtag like #throwbackthursday. Pardon me, I need to go dust off some microfiche and see about starting my own vintage Twitter archive for @vopnews.