Tweets, Social Media Help More Officials Get the Word Out

Posted on August 6, 2012

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By Adam Silverman, USA TODAY

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A resolution that the City Council in Burlington considered in April at first appeared to follow the traditional format of government measures.

“WHEREAS,” the document begins in all capital letters.

What came next offered a hint that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill document — even though it was printed on an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper.

“The way people get the news, participate in political discourse and communicate with elected officials is evolving through the use of social media,” the document continued. And at the end, where the official list of the measure’s council sponsors typically appears, instead of signatures were printed: @CouncilorAdrian, @CCPrezShannon, @Karen_Paul and @rachelsiegelbtv.

Those are the Twitter handles for the four City Council members — a mix of Democrats, progressives and independents — who sought approval for a resolution that would officially assign the Twitter username @BTVMayor to whomever holds that office. The resolution passed unanimously.

City, county, state and federal governments nationwide are increasingly embracing social media — everything from the standbys of Facebook and Twitter to the emerging technologies of Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and others.

Social media provide municipalities and government officials a quick, easy way to engage and interact with a wide swath of constituents, according to the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C.

“The utility,” says Evelina Moulder, the association’s director of survey research, “is to get actionable information out quickly.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, based in Washington, says social media allow government leaders to communicate more quickly and effectively with constituents than traditional channels allow.

“Many mayors are even making major announcements first through social media outlets such as Twitter, before they hold a press conference or send out a press release,” said Tom Cochran, the conference’s executive director and CEO.

Recent examples include alerts amid threatening wildfires and rainstorms, efforts to have roads repaired, and the promotion of a city:

•From the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office near Colorado Springs on June 27, as the Waldo Canyon Fire raged: “MANDATORY EVACUATION: Crystola, both El Paso and Teller County. Take animals with you — you will NOT be allowed back in.”

•”On it,” tweeted Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker on June 26 in response to a question from a constituent via Twitter who asked: “Can someone please fix the potholes on Berkeley between North 7th and 6th Street?!”

•And back in Burlington, Mayor Miro Weinberger — using both his personal Twitter account and the official @BTVMayor handle — provided updates during two severe thunderstorms, on the Fourth of July and July 17. The mayor noted where flooding was occurring, which traffic signals had gone out and how long the power was expected to be off.

Silverman also reports for The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press. Contributing: Joel Banner Baird, The Burlington Free Press.

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