Six Ingenious Ways Local Governments Use Social Media

Posted on June 22, 2018

This blog reprinted with permission by our friend Rachel Keyser with ViewPointCloud! 

Social media has long been an integral part of daily life. We have never been so easily connected as now, and the benefits span far beyond seeing your friends’ Christmas photos and not-so-funny memes. From marketing, to journalism, to fundraising, social media has revolutionized professional industries.
For local governments, it can hold even greater prizes. Social media is part of a foundation for a new type of democracy and community participation.
If you’re not already on the bandwagon, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. For the rest—from the occasional Facebook poster to the obsessive Twitter manager—there’s probably still a lot more to do in order to harness the full power of social media.
Here’s a look at some of the most creative ways local governments are using social media today. It’s time to get inspired.

1. Connect

While your local government’s Twitter account probably isn’t as appealing as Ellen DeGeneres’s, many people will still push that follow button because there’s a promise of some useful information.
Now, you’re in. You have the chance to regularly pop up in their feeds, and therefore in their lives. That one little connection opens up a whole new world of possibility for your relationship. All you have to do is provide the TLC.

Be at the center of your community

When you celebrate things happening locally, followers start to see you as the center of the community. Connecting with you means connecting with everything else around them.

Local Government Social Media - Community Engagement
City of Evanston, IL promoting local art contest.

Acknowledging wider achievements by local residents also helps grow the sense of community for your hometown.

Silverthorne Colorado Olympics Homecoming Celebration
City of Silverthorne, CO shares pictures from their Olympic and Paralympic homecoming celebration.

Foster conversations

Posts don’t have to be complicated, sometimes a little nudge can get the conversation going. When you help residents connect to other residents, you’ve already served an important purpose.

City of Hillsboro OR Call For Comments | Transportation Map
City of Hillsboro, OR calls for comments on their transportation map and publicizes upcoming events for conversations.

Collaborate with peer governments

Social media helps support and publicize your collaboration with other governments. Public perception of collaboration means less public perception of siloed governments.

Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray, announcing city and county collaboration on transportation initiative.

2. Broadcast

People will most likely follow your social media accounts because they think they’ll get a useful stream of information. Do not disappoint, but get ready to get creative.

Make public announcements

Using social media as a platform for public announcements is a no-brainer. But putting the extra effort in to spice things up makes people actually pay attention.

Local Government Social Media - GIFs
New York City announces weather warnings with attention-grabbing GIFs.

Advertise local activities

Promoting local events helps you connect with community organizations, while also keeping residents in the loop. You’re creating a tighter community and placing yourself at the center.

Local Government Social media - promote local events
City of Evanston, IL promoting a tour of black-owned local businesses.

Giving a boost to other department specific city events helps too.

City of Arlington Texas Tiny Tots Triathlon
City of Arlington, TX promoting an family even hosted by the City’s Park Department.

Share local news

Stories considered “news” by your local news station might miss some important things. Create engaging ways for residents to learn about, for example, the city council’s recent impactful decision, by connecting it directly to their lives.

Local Government Social Media - News videos
City of West Hollywood, CA tweeting out an episode of their local government news updates.

3. Encourage participation

For those still citing Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alonesocial media is a godsend. It’s the chance to re-instill connection, and to reinvent the way we take part in our communities and democracy. Don’t miss out on the opportunity.

Make government accessible

Social media is the perfect way to bring old democratic institutions into the 21st century. It won’t solve civic engagement, but more people will participate if they know there are opportunities.

City of Vancouver, BC Hiring Constiuents for Election Work
City of Vancouver, BC empowering their constants to get involved with the local election.

Create new opportunities

Social media also provides the chance to create new ways for people to engage with their government and their community. The platforms themselves are new forms of engagement with government, and captures millions of people who never would otherwise.

Local Government Social media - new ways of engaging
City of Boston promoting a “mobile” city hall.

Make requests

Asking people to pitch in by making public requests can promote a culture of shared community. Just the request is a reminder they are part of something larger than themselves, and have the power to make a difference.

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Mosquito Prevention
Mecklenburg County, NC sharing a mosquito prevention tip to their community, with humor.

4. Self-Promote

As with every other sector, governments need to promote themselves, shaping their public image to reflect their true values and goals. Because social media allows users to add some personality, it’s one of the most effective self-promotion tools.

Brand your government (intentionally)

If you haven’t heard, governments have brands. Anything with a public image has a brand. Whether or not you’re actively trying to shape it is up to you. Social media can be your best friend with this endeavor.

Local Government Social Media - expressing personality
City of Atlanta expressing their social media persona, much to the delight of a local resident.


City of Kansas City, MO’s produces a personality-filled YouTube series “KC in 60”.

Show off your activities

Everyone working in local government knows you do amazing things every single day. Things that literally hold together the fabric of society. Does everyone know this? Why not?

Local Government Social Media - Showing off activities
City of Chattanooga showing off their public works project.

Improve public image

Have you ever scrolled through a social media feed to see something that gave you a warm, fuzzy feeling? The personal nature of social media gives you the power to shape the public image of your government overall, as well as specific agencies or departments.

City of Beverly Hills CA Infrustructure Week Public Works Department
City of Beverly Hills centering their Public Works Department in a commitment to infrastructure and jobs.

Humanize employees

Social media is also an opportunity to get personal. Your government’s brand will have it’s own personality, but don’t forget about employees too. When people remember that government is made up of people just like them, they can better understand the reality of what local government is and how it works.

San Mateo, CA City Employees Participating in Bike to Work Day
City of San Mateo, CA showcasing their employee participation in #BiketoWorkDay.

5. Collect Feedback

One of the things we learned from writing Being Nimble in 21st Century Citizen Service, is how few local governments strategically collect public feedback. Social media is the perfect channel to get a large, diverse array of input to improve your projects and processes.

Ask for feedback on specific projects

You can use social media as a platform to get input on projects from voices you’ve never heard from.

San Mateo Transit City of Redwood Fare Survey
The City of Redlands retweeting the SamTrans online survey on public transit fares.

Create a two-way channel

On platforms like Facebook, you can provide a permanent space for residents or visitors to provide reviews. Social media can also be an accessible, efficient place for people to ask questions, leave suggestions, or make complaints.

NYC Transit Twitter Q&A
NYC Transit shows another example of sourcing resident engagement on transit issues with a monthly Twitter Q&A.

Use analytics

Social media is data. But data is only as good as what you use it for. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to gain insights into your audience by looking at the analytics that come built into social media platforms.

local government social media - use analytics
Example analytics page for a Twitter account.

Keep exploring new platforms

Several years ago, many governments would have brushed off YouTube and Twitter as platforms not appropriate for the public sector. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone saying social media is not for government. Keep this in mind when exploring new technology platforms (like Snapchat and Facebook Live) and how they might work to your advantage.

Local Governments Utlizing Facebook Live | Social Media
[L] The City of East Providence, Rhode Island promotes an upcoming Facebook Live for their April Council Meeting. [R] The City of South Bend, Indiana uses Facebook Live to share their Mayor’s press conference regarding ongoing flooding.

Social media can be incredibly fun. But using it creatively and effectively is also one important step toward a 21st century government. Toward a government with modern technology, customer-centric services, and an open embrace of the future.
To learn more about how your local government can design customer-centric services, click below to see our eBook: Being Nimble in 21st Century Citizen Services.

Download: Being Nimble in 21st Century Citizen Service

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